By Adam B. Vary
July 14, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Jordan Strauss/AP

The Project: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There and Back Again

The Panel: Director Peter Jackson, along with stars Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, and Andy Serkis (also second unit director), surprise guest Elijah Wood, and screenwriter Philippa Boyens. Moderated by the Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick

Footage Screened: The panel began with the latest behind-the-scenes video blog dispatch — which Peter Jackson has been posting regularly on The Hobbit‘s official Facebook page — on the final five days of production. We’ll post it on when it goes live, but there was a wealth of lovely moments, including interviews with Lee Pace, Orlando Bloom, Luke Evans, and Stephen Fry, all of whom seem to figure more prominently in the second film, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, which includes the climatic confrontation with the dragon Smaug. We also saw the final day of production on both the second unit — directed by Andy Serkis — and the main unit, including a scene between Bilbo (Freeman) and Gandalf (McKellan) with this dialogue (which was heard, but not seen): 

Gandalf: I need a horse!

Bilbo: Why? Where are you going?

Gandalf: In search of answers!

When the dispatch finished, Jackson took to the stage with a cameraphone in hand, shooting footage for an upcoming behind-the-scenes doc about The Hobbit‘s debut at Comic-Con. He introduced what turned out to be a whopping 12-and-a-half minute preview of both films of The Hobbit by noting that the music tracks were temp (and indeed, I picked up one cue from Last of the Mohicans), and that the effects shots weren’t entirely finished (though, boy, most of them looked like they were).

And then we were treated to four full scenes from the films, bracketed by quick montage-y looks at many of the more high action sequences.

Scene 1: Gandalf and the 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), debate whether Bilbo should be allowed to join their quest to reclaim their treasure from Smaug, since it’s not clear if he is clever and sneaky enough to help them break into his secret lair. Eventually, Gandalf stands firm, and Bilbo reads over the “standard” contract to join their quest, which includes clauses noting that “laceration, evisceration, [and] incineration” are possible fates for him. Bilbo faints.

Scene 2: Bilbo meets Gollum (Andy Serkis), looking (slightly) younger than he did in The Lord of the Rings but still very much gripped by his Smeagol/Gollum split personality — they debate whether to eat Bilbo, or play word games with him. Bilbo realizes his best chance of escaping the goblin tunnels alive is to play along with Gollum, so he proposes a game of riddles. If he wins, Gollum helps him out. If he loses, says Gollum, “we eats it whole.”

Scene 3: Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) asks Gandalf why he brought “the halfling” on this most unexpected journey, prompting one of Gandalf’s soul-stirring speeches about how it’s “the small deeds by ordinary folk” that best hold evil at bay. It ends with what I perceived as quite a tender moment between Galadriel and Gandalf, hinting at an unspoken ache in Gandalf’s heart for the attentions of this celestial being standing before him.

Scene 4: We see Bilbo find the fateful One Ring, and then cut to a later scene where Bilbo almost confesses to Gandalf about the new item he’s picked up on his way. “I found something in the goblin tunnels,” says Bilbo.

“What did you find?” says Gandalf, clearly concerned.

“My courage.”

Snap Judgment: You know how when you finally return to a once familiar place that brought you great comfort and happiness after a long time away, and you’re nervous that it may not quite be the same? Well, don’t worry. The Hobbit looks and feels very much like The Lord of the Rings, and even if the stakes don’t feel nearly as dire, Middle Earth still felt very much like home.

Freeman’s scene with Gollum was by far the most intriguing, since the audience is much more familiar with (and fond of) Gollum than they are with Freeman’s performance as Bilbo. There’s a younger edge to Freeman’s Bilbo; it will be interesting to see how the performance develops over the two films.

The Big Revelations: Beyond all the footage from The Hobbit and from the set bestowed upon Hall H, the biggest surprise is that none of it was in 3-D, nor unspooled at 48 frames per second. (Jackson did both at Cinema-Con earlier this year, to widely mixed reviews.) Otherwise, there wasn’t much by way of big surprises. It was heartening to hear practically every fan preface their question by heaping praise and gratitude upon McKellan, who radiated contentment and appreciation for the attention.

There was one revealing exchange, though. One fan asked if Jackson would make a film of The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien’s vast, mythic history of Middle Earth. After joking that he doubted he’d live long enough to pull it off, Jackson noted that the rights to the tome are wholly owned by the Tolkien estate, “and I don’t think they like these movies at all.” Jackson didn’t elaborate, so the crowd was left to wonder what about his wildly popular, acclaimed, and lucrative films had left a sour taste to the official minders of the Tolkien legacy.

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