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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Hobbit:
The Dragon Problem (long)

MrCere
Sr. Staff


May 1 2008, 12:07am


Views: 7728
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The Dragon Problem (long) Can't Post

Stories of dragons are as old as the written word and probably a lot older. To keep things inside the J.R.R. Tolkien realm, “Beowulf”, one of the oldest written stories of Europe features not only the monstrous Grendel but his serpentine Mother.

Ancient biblical writings allude to the great serpent or dragon while global mythology has oversized lizard creatures popping up so consistently that some have suggested there must be some common shared memory or primitive survival instinct built into humanity to cause us to tell our tribal stories about such a monstrosity.

Tolkien's “The Hobbit” follows in that grand tradition, as does much of his grander cosmology. While some of the creatures in his bestiary, such as the fire-and-shadow balrogs are original, the great worm Smaug and his Middle-earth cousins are certainly not new.

And yet, Tolkien's works and his world building, and the importance of his influence on both fantasy literature and fantasy in popular culture, mean that Smaug gets a prominent chapter in the “Who's Who of Dragons.” Smaug, even for those who haven't read “The Hobbit”, is familiar even if he isn't original. Some of his chief characteristics worked so effectively in making him a memorable character that they were used often by not only by other authors, but by others using dragons in any medium.

Special effects tools of the last few decades have taken a creature difficult to create with size and scale on film and made it not a fantastic creature but another option as a character. Eragon (and my goodness how that name rings a bell in the Middle-earth chapel) is the story of a boy and his dragon that was a publishing phenomenon and a big-budget film that perhaps didn't achieve financial, critical or artistic success but did reaffirm the “reality” of a talking, flying dragon in the minds of the movie going public.

Sean Connery voiced a dragon of his own and the abysmal Dungeons & Dragons movie featured a fleet of the beasts in combat. Dragons, often the rarest and among the most magical of creatures in a given mythology, have become so common as to be, well, common. Harry Potter and his ilk keep them in chains, own eggs and use them for schoolboy trials of manhood. Smaug certainly wouldn't have allowed that, even at the hands of the mighty Noldor Elves. Demigods including Gandalf himself would have been hard pressed to place even a single leash on such a creature. Indeed Smaug was virtually immortal with his longevity and near invulnerability.

What this means for 2008 is that “The Hobbit” production has a dragon problem. It has been well argued on TheOneRing.net's own message boards that Bilbo's conversation with Smaug are at least an emotional highlight of “The Hobbit,” if not the climax.

I have not the expertise and have not done the scholarship to try to contend that Tolkien's dragon was the original modern dragon prototype. But I can say that the shadow Smaug casts in modern fantasy is large and dark and since Smaug or dragons similar to him have now populated popular culture like rabbits in vegetable garden, Guillermo del Toro and Richard Taylor and his WETA team bear the burden of the dragon problem.

Smaug will need to be a fully realized character (much more than a monster) that feels as genuine as any of the flesh actors that appear in the film. WETA, with Gollum under its belt, has achieved that before but not with a gigantic non-humanoid. The “Fellowship” cave troll also did some fine acting thanks to the digital team. This creature will not have humanoid features but will need to emote as well as a human and connect with or repel the audience with complex emotions such as pride and greed. A t the same time Smaug needs to be terrifying. We need to empathize with Bilbo that Smaug is both polite and terrible, proud and horrific, conversational but deadly. This alone would be a tall order and asks WETA to take things a step beyond its prior accomplishments but given the dedication and innovation, I have faith in the special effects team to get that done.

But then the dragon also needs to step out of the mishmash of dragons that have popped up everywhere in film and in books. Smaug must be Smaug The Magnificent, not Smaug The Other Dragon. And besides his conversation with Bilbo he needs to swoop down on an entire town of hardy humans and incinerate their town built on a lake. Here again, he must be fearsome and ruthless and intelligent and not feel like the same creature that was in “Beowulf” and feel as real as anything in life.

The voice is an important factor, and the choice of this actor is one of the most anticipated of the film. I have been appealing to deity since contemplating who might fill our ears with roars and threats that no actor previously used for dragon or lion in film be used again. I am horrified to think of an actors voice that causes the audience to say, “Ohhhh! That is Actor X!”

Now the best actors can manage to create a whole different character and voice and take viewers beyond easy recognition but some voices are just too distinct. Doubly dangerous are voices that have already voiced dragons or lions or other obvious mythical beasts. Some lions and dragon voices have already been suggested on these forums, which gives me the shivers. I just don't want to say to myself while watching the much-anticipated film, “Who knew Smaug sounds like Darth Vader / Scar / Aslan!” This isn't the place to advocate any casting decisions (and beyond the fun of fan casting, no place is) but my opinion about that was expressed a few months back here.

So looking at the first of the two films planned for production, this Smaug challenge looks to me to be both the most difficult and the most rewarding. I can't wait to see how the dragon problem gets solved. That is the fun of hotly anticipating movies based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

I have no choice but to believe in free will.

The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie




(This post was edited by MrCere on May 1 2008, 12:15am)

Subject User Time
The Dragon Problem (long) MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 1 2008, 12:07am
    Hear hear! Sunflower Send a private message to Sunflower May 1 2008, 12:53am
    Consider the Balrog. Ataahua Send a private message to Ataahua May 1 2008, 12:57am
    That's no oooooordinary rabbit! Mirabella_Bunce Send a private message to Mirabella_Bunce May 1 2008, 1:02am
    Eyes and voice lumpkin Send a private message to lumpkin May 1 2008, 4:22am
        Well, Darkstone has N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand May 1 2008, 4:43am
        Look who the dragon dragged in! MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 1 2008, 3:56pm
    We have Tolkien's vision of Smaug: Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth May 1 2008, 4:40am
        Bilbo is too big in that picture. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand May 1 2008, 4:51am
    If John Howe's on board ... Eledhwen Send a private message to Eledhwen May 1 2008, 8:34am
        I'm just wondering: Ataahua Send a private message to Ataahua May 1 2008, 9:49am
            Ooooh .... Eledhwen Send a private message to Eledhwen May 1 2008, 10:17am
                Silicone... Ataahua Send a private message to Ataahua May 1 2008, 10:23am
                    Yeah, or like rocks Eledhwen Send a private message to Eledhwen May 1 2008, 10:33am
                        Interesting link! Ataahua Send a private message to Ataahua May 1 2008, 10:44am
                        It comes in quartz? I'm getting one!/ L. Ron Halfelven Send a private message to L. Ron Halfelven May 1 2008, 4:10pm
                            My sediments exactly. // Arwen's daughter Send a private message to Arwen's daughter May 1 2008, 4:13pm
                                a pun thread on Movie? Opal-eeeessse.../// weaver Send a private message to weaver May 1 2008, 4:20pm
                                    I think every board needs moh puns! // Arwen's daughter Send a private message to Arwen's daughter May 1 2008, 4:25pm
                                        yep, I'll granite you that.../ weaver Send a private message to weaver May 1 2008, 4:52pm
                                            We're getting boulder with these puns! // grammaboodawg Send a private message to grammaboodawg May 1 2008, 7:05pm
                                                isn't it marbleous?// weaver Send a private message to weaver May 1 2008, 7:15pm
                                                    I love gabbro-ing with you all./ Annael Send a private message to Annael May 1 2008, 7:34pm
                                                        What's our strata-gy here? // Arwen's daughter Send a private message to Arwen's daughter May 1 2008, 7:36pm
                                                        and I love it when things get iron-ic// weaver Send a private message to weaver May 1 2008, 7:41pm
                    Two rocks rubbing together would be silicon. Silicone would be two... oh never mind./ L. Ron Halfelven Send a private message to L. Ron Halfelven May 1 2008, 4:08pm
                Maybe not silicon based but thinking about it.. Hengist Send a private message to Hengist May 1 2008, 1:53pm
                    Diamond poop! Ataahua Send a private message to Ataahua May 1 2008, 7:45pm
                I think Annael Send a private message to Annael May 1 2008, 2:26pm
                how about Michael Wincott for the voice of Smaug? Steelsheen Send a private message to Steelsheen May 20 2008, 4:46am
                    Pretty good choice {NT} MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 20 2008, 7:40pm
                    That makes TWO votes for Michael! CaerLaw Send a private message to CaerLaw May 22 2008, 8:56pm
            Maybe it doesnt exhale flame Hengist Send a private message to Hengist May 1 2008, 12:53pm
                I'm thinking Ataahua Send a private message to Ataahua May 1 2008, 7:47pm
            A theory... Earl Send a private message to Earl May 1 2008, 2:15pm
                So was this Hengist Send a private message to Hengist May 1 2008, 3:55pm
            Very good point. deej Send a private message to deej May 2 2008, 1:08pm
                The first dragon Ataahua Send a private message to Ataahua May 3 2008, 12:48am
        First of all, I'll have to agree with MrCere Compa_Mighty Send a private message to Compa_Mighty May 1 2008, 7:24pm
    After WETA's Kong, entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden May 1 2008, 12:59pm
        Smaug as important as a successful Gollum? lumpkin Send a private message to lumpkin May 1 2008, 3:08pm
            Great to see you too! entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden May 1 2008, 4:05pm
        Kong indeed MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 1 2008, 7:26pm
    No problem ... Elven Send a private message to Elven May 1 2008, 1:50pm
    I think a majority of Smaug's influence grammaboodawg Send a private message to grammaboodawg May 1 2008, 2:56pm
        Boone was good as Smaug. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand May 1 2008, 5:35pm
            Agreed, Boone was great AinurOlorin Send a private message to AinurOlorin May 1 2008, 6:15pm
                Concerning Dragons... Voorhas Send a private message to Voorhas May 1 2008, 8:32pm
    Hey, I resent that heading!! greendragon Send a private message to greendragon May 1 2008, 11:13pm
        Dragon bait is so easy to use MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 2 2008, 2:12am
    Hey Mr C. Tampa Phil Send a private message to Tampa Phil May 2 2008, 2:49am
        But.... Sunflower Send a private message to Sunflower May 2 2008, 4:57am
            Re/ Tampa Phil Send a private message to Tampa Phil May 3 2008, 4:23am
        You injure me TP! MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 2 2008, 6:01am
    The Dragon Problem Timdalf Send a private message to Timdalf May 2 2008, 12:20pm
        "who could recognize John Rhys Davies as Treebeard's voice?" ME! {NT} MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 2 2008, 4:54pm
            Treebeard's voice Timdalf Send a private message to Timdalf May 2 2008, 7:35pm
                I instantly knew entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden May 2 2008, 8:34pm
                Honestly . . . MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 2 2008, 8:35pm
                I'm pretty sure I would have sherlock Send a private message to sherlock May 5 2008, 1:48pm
            And me Starling Send a private message to Starling May 3 2008, 1:55am
        My vision of Smaug... CaerLaw Send a private message to CaerLaw May 4 2008, 7:55pm
        Voice of Smaug kathyrote Send a private message to kathyrote May 11 2008, 5:21am
            Not sure about female/male voice josefettwalker Send a private message to josefettwalker May 13 2008, 2:49am
                Dragonlore angolhir Send a private message to angolhir May 13 2008, 7:20pm
    Smaug has to be GIGANTIC, FAST and charmingly arrogant Unspoken_Request Send a private message to Unspoken_Request May 2 2008, 3:33pm
        A solution? Actaeon Send a private message to Actaeon Jun 3 2008, 4:18am
            Smaug musings.... durthang Send a private message to durthang May 22 2009, 6:47am
    Smaug - a Visual or Special effect? Owain Send a private message to Owain May 2 2008, 3:40pm
        Deux centavos... Guillermo May 2 2008, 4:05pm
            My belated opinion KateTheHobbit Send a private message to KateTheHobbit May 2 2008, 4:20pm
                Ah, yes- Guillermo May 2 2008, 4:22pm
                    Old calenders... KateTheHobbit Send a private message to KateTheHobbit May 2 2008, 4:25pm
                Overall, I like the Hilderbrandt dragon, but he is too small... Unspoken_Request Send a private message to Unspoken_Request May 2 2008, 4:37pm
                Size doesn't matter ;) leo Send a private message to leo May 10 2008, 10:11am
            This is, IMHO Arwen's daughter Send a private message to Arwen's daughter May 2 2008, 4:29pm
                Many weekends to come!! Guillermo May 2 2008, 4:33pm
                    HB II looks incredible. Brass_Ring Send a private message to Brass_Ring May 2 2008, 4:40pm
            I will buy those Centavos for a buck - at least {NT} MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 2 2008, 4:44pm
            Eyvind Earle... Owain Send a private message to Owain May 2 2008, 5:08pm
            Vermitrax Pejorative MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 2 2008, 5:17pm
                That would be very cool. deej Send a private message to deej May 2 2008, 5:35pm
            Beat by beat Owain Send a private message to Owain May 2 2008, 5:23pm
            Sleeping Beauty's dragon deej Send a private message to deej May 2 2008, 5:32pm
            Pictures of Vermithrax and Maleficent Idril Celebrindal Send a private message to Idril Celebrindal May 2 2008, 8:25pm
                I love the Vermithrax in those pictures entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden May 2 2008, 8:39pm
            More about Smaug Dragonlady Send a private message to Dragonlady May 19 2008, 7:51pm
    We should pin this thread its really good _V_ Send a private message to _V_ May 2 2008, 4:25pm
        Smaug's voice Brass_Ring Send a private message to Brass_Ring May 2 2008, 4:35pm
            If Christopher Lee was not Saruman, I'd like his voice for Smaug// Unspoken_Request Send a private message to Unspoken_Request May 2 2008, 4:50pm
                Agreed. deej Send a private message to deej May 2 2008, 5:40pm
                    Exactly! // Unspoken_Request Send a private message to Unspoken_Request May 2 2008, 9:20pm
                But have you heard him sing? MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 2 2008, 6:07pm
                    Corvar gave me one of those. deej Send a private message to deej May 2 2008, 6:36pm
                    Wow! He's got a great voice! Unspoken_Request Send a private message to Unspoken_Request May 2 2008, 9:19pm
                Me too, me too! leo Send a private message to leo May 10 2008, 10:15am
    Smaug Theory meltsar Send a private message to meltsar May 3 2008, 3:02am
    No Prob Tolkien Forever Send a private message to Tolkien Forever May 3 2008, 3:46am
        Me. N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand May 3 2008, 4:18am
            Figures Tolkien Forever Send a private message to Tolkien Forever May 3 2008, 4:27am
                What is "The Hobbit" about? N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand May 3 2008, 4:54am
                    I always thought Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins May 3 2008, 4:13pm
        Definitely not the Battle of Five Armies entmaiden Send a private message to entmaiden May 3 2008, 1:39pm
            Turning Point? Tolkien Forever Send a private message to Tolkien Forever May 5 2008, 6:21pm
    Smaug's Voice Actor Nickey08 Send a private message to Nickey08 May 3 2008, 10:31pm
        4:30 AM LONDON time. Guillermo May 4 2008, 3:40am
            NZ Hospitality Nickey08 Send a private message to Nickey08 May 4 2008, 4:05am
            Suave! Owain Send a private message to Owain May 4 2008, 5:42am
            Thank you Starling Send a private message to Starling May 4 2008, 6:30am
            Now there is a bit of news MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 4 2008, 7:50am
                *scribbles frantically* Oh yeah, fersher! *twitch* // grammaboodawg Send a private message to grammaboodawg May 4 2008, 1:24pm
                    Scribe II on board to cover Scribe I ... :D // Elven Send a private message to Elven May 4 2008, 2:18pm
                I'm surprised TORn... diedye Send a private message to diedye May 5 2008, 1:37am
                    And by "TORn" you mean . . . MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 5 2008, 3:11am
                        I'm not sure what you're implying... diedye Send a private message to diedye May 5 2008, 3:15am
                Off to tell Rodrigo Santoro to keep looking for work MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 5 2008, 1:45am
                    I'm going to be sitting in the dark theatre grammaboodawg Send a private message to grammaboodawg May 5 2008, 9:09am
            I just can't stop smiling grammaboodawg Send a private message to grammaboodawg May 4 2008, 1:22pm
            What a weekend of information!! Elven Send a private message to Elven May 4 2008, 2:02pm
            Not really trying to second guess you here... Compa_Mighty Send a private message to Compa_Mighty May 4 2008, 4:53pm
                Well- Guillermo May 4 2008, 10:34pm
                    My guess Empedocles Send a private message to Empedocles May 4 2008, 10:51pm
                        Intersting Point Tolkien Forever Send a private message to Tolkien Forever May 5 2008, 11:50pm
                            Conversation with Smaug ... Elven Send a private message to Elven May 6 2008, 12:43am
                                Old Bones Tolkien Forever Send a private message to Tolkien Forever May 6 2008, 12:54am
                                    Maybe those jars are filled with pickled Dwarves ... :D Elven Send a private message to Elven May 6 2008, 1:22am
                        My take on Guillermo's comments on Smaug and the Environment Parker Send a private message to Parker May 8 2008, 2:20pm
                            Eyes and Voice of Smaug Eruwestial37 Send a private message to Eruwestial37 May 10 2008, 7:22am
                            Smaug and his environment weyhoops Send a private message to weyhoops May 10 2008, 6:19pm
                It could be he's grammaboodawg Send a private message to grammaboodawg May 5 2008, 12:45am
                    That's more or less what I was thinking Compa_Mighty Send a private message to Compa_Mighty May 5 2008, 2:03am
                        *snigger* Maybe the prisms grammaboodawg Send a private message to grammaboodawg May 5 2008, 9:11am
                    Another take ... Elven Send a private message to Elven May 5 2008, 2:21am
                        Thumbs up for your effort MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 5 2008, 3:20am
                            I think so too .. Elven Send a private message to Elven May 5 2008, 5:13am
                        Wow. That's thorough, Elven! BuckyUnderbelly Send a private message to BuckyUnderbelly May 5 2008, 5:10pm
                            The Hobbit book ... Elven Send a private message to Elven May 5 2008, 8:16pm
                            Rambo dragon is quite a good idea MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 5 2008, 8:58pm
                            OOOps sorry Bucky .. Elven Send a private message to Elven May 5 2008, 9:09pm
                                In my head ... BuckyUnderbelly Send a private message to BuckyUnderbelly May 5 2008, 9:22pm
                            I think it *has* been done Altaira Send a private message to Altaira May 5 2008, 9:31pm
                                Aw nutz! BuckyUnderbelly Send a private message to BuckyUnderbelly May 5 2008, 9:50pm
                The more I am thinking about this idea, the more I like it... leo Send a private message to leo May 10 2008, 10:25am
                    Smaug will be... bowencm Send a private message to bowencm May 10 2008, 2:20pm
                Now THAT got me thinking... Glaurung63 Send a private message to Glaurung63 May 10 2008, 11:51pm
            Guillermo, if you're reading.... Solicitr Send a private message to Solicitr May 30 2008, 1:55pm
    The "eyes" have it! BuckyUnderbelly Send a private message to BuckyUnderbelly May 6 2008, 6:52pm
        I think I would refute that MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 6 2008, 7:55pm
            I think perhaps I wasn't clear ... BuckyUnderbelly Send a private message to BuckyUnderbelly May 6 2008, 9:27pm
                Well said {NT} MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 6 2008, 9:42pm
            Sorry, but I cant agree. Elven Send a private message to Elven May 6 2008, 9:44pm
                OOps - I posted after bucky replied ... // Elven Send a private message to Elven May 6 2008, 10:00pm
                Nonsense Solicitr Send a private message to Solicitr May 30 2008, 1:58pm
    Smaug Samray Send a private message to Samray May 7 2008, 8:34am
    Smaug talking in Bilbo's mind DarthProject Send a private message to DarthProject May 21 2008, 4:00am
        My choice of actor for Smaug Dragonlady Send a private message to Dragonlady May 23 2008, 10:19am
            It will probably be someone we don't even know, but... Mirabella_Bunce Send a private message to Mirabella_Bunce May 23 2008, 1:12pm
                Not bad . . . MrCere Send a private message to MrCere May 23 2008, 10:24pm

 
 
 

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