We saw about a dozen and a half minutes of clips from the Hobbit, both the first and second movies. Plus a lengthy new behind-the-scenes featurette. Most of it was just as excellent as you'd expect from seeing the Lord of the Rings trilogy — but the new elements, like Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves, were also just mind-blowingly excellent.
In fact, even with all the returning castmembers, Freeman pretty much steals the show, judging from the clips we saw. Spoilers ahead...
Oh, and to the extent that there was some question as to whether this film would look okay in the more intensive 48 frames per second — the footage looked amazing and beautiful, more so than the earlier movies. (Update: I'm told this was actually shown at the standard 24 frames per second. My bad!)
The Dwarf Contract
So the first clip we saw took place in the Shire, during a meeting of a group of dwarves along with Gandalf, all sitting around a table with Bilbo standing in the doorway watching them. (First, we zoom in on Bilbo's house, with a Gandalf voiceover saying, "Far to the East, over ranges, over rivers, beyond woodlands and westlands, lies a single solitary peak. Ravens have been seen flying back to the mountain, as it was foretold.")
The dwarves are freaking out, because the dragon Smaug has not been seen for 60 years, and people are looking to the East — assessing, wondering, and weighing the risk. "Perhaps the vast wealth of our people lies unprotected," says Thorin Oakenshield. So do the dwarves hang back, while others take what's theirs? Or do they take it?
There's just one problem: the front gate is sealed, and there's no way into the mountain. Except, says Gandalf, that's not entirely true. He has an ancient key, which was given to him for safekeeping, and he's giving it back now. Where there's a key, there must be a door — and runes speak of a hidden passage to the lower halls. But the dwarf passages, are invisible and impossible to find.
"The task I have in mind will require a great deal of stealth, and no small amount of courage," says Gandalf. "But if you're careful and clever, I believe it can be done."
Everyone agrees they need a burglar — and Bilbo says it needs to be an expert. Suddenly, the dwarves all think Bilbo said that he's an expert — but he protests that he's never stolen anything in his life. The dwarves all agree with him that he's not really burglar material — the wild is no place for gentle folk who can't fight or fend for themselves.
Then Gandalf does the Thunder Voice and turns incredibly dark: "If I say Bilbo Baggins is a burglar, then a burglar he is." Everybody is startled and looks as though they've just been mind-controlled. Gandalf continues in a normal voice, saying that Hobbits are light on their feet, and the dragon Smaug is familiar with the scent of dwarves, but not so much the scent of Hobbits. "There is a lot more to him than appearances suggest," says Gandalf — and Bilbo has a lot more in him than anybody realizes, including Bilbo himself. "You must trust me on this."
So the dwarves agree, and give Bilbo the standard dwarf contract for going on an adventure — full of clauses in which Bilbo agrees to the terms of the adventure, including how long it'll take. And funeral arrangements. And we glimpse Bilbo's huge Hobbit feet for the first time! While Bilbo is reading the gruesome contract, the dwarves are muttering to Gandalf that they can't guarantee Bilbo's safety — and Gandalf agrees.
The dwarf contract gets more ridiculous — until Bilbo is indemnifying the dwarves for any laceration, evisceration or incineration he suffers from the dragon. "Oh aye, he'll melt the flesh off your bones in the blink of an eye," says one dwarf. A dragon is a "furnace with wings. Flash of light, searing pain, then you're nothing more than a pile of ash."
Bilbo seems fine for a second, then he faints.
Glimpses of Other Stuff
We saw a quick succession of snippets: Gandalf on his horse. Then Gandalf holding a great sword, which lights up the darkness. The whole company climbs an ornate staircase against a beautiful vista. Somebody is handling a strange-looking rodent. And then there's a quick shot of Christopher Lee as the wizard Saruman!
There's Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, looking amazingly shiny. Bilbo is holding a sword and looking at it. And there's a trapdoor which is opened by a bearded figure who stamps his foot, causing the floor to open up and reveal treasure. Bilbo and the dwarves are riding on a boat through the river. We glimpse Radagast the Brown, aka the Bird Friend, with birds landing in his hair, and then he puts his hat on over the birds. (Thanks to Flee2ShadesBelow for the correction!)
Then there's a sequence where Gandalf is walking into a misty landscape. "Wait," says one dwarf, "What if it's a trap?"
"Turn around and do not come back," says Gandalf. "It's undoubtedly a trap." He walks forward, sword in one hand and staff in the other. Then he's inside a maze of dark passages, with a monster hunting him. The monster scuttles around, and Gandalf runs . Gandalf gets his arm scraped, and clutches at it. And then the monster jumps out at him and pounces on him, and they stuggle together.
Gollum and Bilbo
Gollum is in a cave full of riches. And he's looking at Bilbo, who says he's a Hobbit from the Shire.
"Is it soft? Is it juicy?" Gollum asks.
Bilbo brandishes his sword. "Keep off! keep off! I'll use this if I have to!" He just wants to know the way out of this cave, and he'll be on his way. "I want to get unlost as soon as possible."
And then Gollum starts arguing with himself — "We know the safe path in the dark. Shut up! We wasn't talking to you." Bilbo is confused and a bit taken aback by the creature arguing with himself — and Gollum asks if Bilbo likes games. Gollum asks a riddle:"What has roots that nobody sees, is taller than trees, and up up up it goes, and yet never grows?" "The mountain," answers Bilbo.
Then Gollum is torn as to whether to play more riddles or just finish Bilbo off now.
So Bilbo makes an offer — he wants to play at riddles with Smeagol. Just the, er, two of them. And if he wins, Gollum will show him the way out of there. But if Bilbo loses? "We eats it. If Baggins loses, we eats him whole." Bilbo frowns, but then puts his sword away. Fair enough!
Gandalf and Galadriel
Then we see an absolutely gorgeous scene of Gandalf talking to Galadriel. Why the Halfling? She asks.
"I do not know," Gandalf answers. "Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that it is not what I've found. I've found it is the small things, every act of normal folk that keeps the darkness of at bay — simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage."
Galadriel takes his hands and tells him not to be afraid — he is not alone. If he ever needs her help, she will come. She touches his face, then touches his hands again, then pulls away and vanishes. Gandalf is left alone by the sunset.
Bilbo finds a certain ring. He looks at it, and picks it up, curiously.
Then we see Bilbo talking to Gandalf — who says that Bilbo has changed. He's not the same Hobbit who left the Shire.
Bilbo smiles, sadly — Freeman really nails the weird mixture of emotions in this scene. "I was going to tell you." He reaches for the ring in his pocket. "I found something in the Goblin tunnels."
Found what? Gandalf asks.
Bilbo struggles, trying to pull the ring out of the pocket but not wanting to.
What did you find? Gandalf asks again.
"My courage," says Bilbo. He takes his hand away
Gandalf looks concerned, but only says, "Good. Well, that's good. You'll need it."
Then there are glimpses of sword-fighting against trolls! Gandalf fighting a giant with his sword, and the trolls with their massive rocky scary faces, throwing shit at everybody. Trolls scowl at the camera. There's a massive battle. And we see Galadriel looking lovely and ethereal.
And later, Legolas is aiming his bow and arrow at a dwarf, saying, "Do you think I won't kill you, dwarf?"
Then more shots of trolls laying waste to everything in sight, smashing and destroying. And then Gandalf puts his sword down in the ground, and light comes out of it!
Behind the Scenes
We also saw one of Peter Jackson's trademark videoblogs, a video diary of the last days of filming on the Hobbit movies — including personalized greetings from all of the Dwarves to the Comic Con audience, from the movie's set. And we glimpsed some pretty hilarious action, including a dwarf in a barrel being covered with real dead fish until they go over his head. "That was highly unpleasant," the actor says after filming the scene — then sees the camera filming him, and fakes cheer: "I mean, it was lovely!"
Also, we saw the filming of a scene in a house, where everything is built huge so that the Dwarves and the one Hobbit look tiny against all this massive furniture.
We also saw some amazing shots of the filming in Laketown, with the houses on the water — and a bit where the buildings are on fire, and someone breaks down the door of a house, and a huge fireball comes flying out and throws him into the water. We also glimpsed the Master of Laketown — Stephen Fry! — who seemed very jolly and joked about checking out the Dwarves' behinds. "I saw you shaking that ass," says Fry in his plummy voice.
And we saw a few snippets of Bilbo in a room piled high with gold coins and jewelry. ("Oh, no, I've lost my wedding ring in there," a crew member jokes.") Jackson says that the dragon will be added, about a year and a half from now. And we see Freeman standing there, saying that dwarves are hard to catch, and so are burglars — and then he puts on a ring!
The audience Q&A was especially powerful, because of all the passion that came across. Everybody had stories about their relationship with this book. One woman came up and said that when she was little, she was sad that there were no female characters in The Hobbit, so her father changed Gandalf, Smaug and some other characters into girls as he read it to her. So will the movie include more female characters? She asked.
Yes, the filmmakers say. "Gladriel is the most powerful character in Middle Earth," says Philippa Boyens. And a big part of the new movie is building that up and telling more of her story. "We did feel the weight of it being a bit of a boy's own story." So they created a new character, Tauriel, played by Lost's Evangeline Lilly. "We believe it's completely within the spirt of Tolkien."
And Freeman talked a lot about how comfortable he felt stepping into the role of Bilbo — because everybody was so welcoming and had so much faith in him.
For the first few days with the Hobbit feet, "it's a bit like a fledgeling duck, finding your flippers," said Freeman. After that, it gets much easier. But of course, any time he was having a hard time, he only had to look at the dwarves and the other characters wearing loads of prosthetics, to see he was having a much easier time of it.
The main thing Freeman brought to the role of Bilbo was trying to be an audience surrogate, as the closest thing to an audience member in the film. He saw Bilbo as having a great deal of vulnerability and courage, but not being riven with anything heavy.
Someone asks if Jackson will make a movie of The Silmarillion. "I think the chances of me living to be 110 are very remote," said Jackson. The Silmarillion is owned by the Tolkien estate — whereas the movie rights to Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are owned by Warner Bros. and MGM. The Tolkien estate doesn't like Jackson's movies at all — so the chances of him getting to film the Silmarillion are very, very remote.
And Andy Serkis was asked to do THE VOICE as Gollum, and starts arguing with himself — "You said you weren't going to whore yourself out," he says as Gollum, then argues with himself. It was a pretty hilarious moment, and hard to summarize here, sadly. (Let's hope there's video of this online soon!)