When I set myself the challenge of bringing Thorin Oakenshield's Company to plastic life in 28 millimetres, the original plan was to be well underway before casting was announced or, at the latest, before the forthcoming Hobbit character shots were available. Didn't work out that way. On the other hand, I knew I'd be assessing and reviewing the eventual reveals at some stage, so here I go with a rather belated and facetious review before I've even stumped up my attempts.
Penultimately it comes to the following image: In just over a month Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit will be released onto the world, promising visual interpretations of Thorin Oakenshield’s company which will, if the Lord of the Rings’ success has anything to say, become pretty much indelible in the public consciousness. Can anyone now picture, for example, Boromir without seeing him as Sean Bean? Or more potently, Gandalf as anyone but Sir Ian McKellan? In my lifetime I’ve had a version of Aragorn change from a rather faceless (not literally) hooded ranger, to an animation voiced by John Hurt and (unkindly) compared to Tonto, the finally and more recently and, yes, indelibly – Viggo Mortenson. Next stop: the classic greying, ageing, blue-hooded Thorin as played for ever more by Richard Armitage. Granted, a lot of how these figures will rise, fall or remain in the minds of your casual Tolkien watcher depends on the skills of the assembled actors; but then I could tell you about what seventeen years of Judge Dredd as played by Sylvester Stallone can do to the public imagination as well. I digress.
The point I should come to is that as previous posts have attempted to point out, Jackson’s designers haven’t had the luxury or challenge of carte blanch when it came to designing the movie’s Dwarves. Of the thirteen some are pretty well visually described – the main ones being Thorin, Balin, Dori, Bombur, Fili and Kili, pretty much. The others – perhaps Dwalin excluded (we know he’s strong enough to carry Bilbo), not so much, and presented with the real challenge of twelve distinct personalities to convey behind heavy latex and judiciously apportioned dialogue, it’s not surprising that some of the dwarves as depicted here are verging on the very limits of dwarf-ness. Kili is almost beardless (heresy!), Nori has hair that defies gravity as well as belief, and Bifur appears to be part badger, part axe-head, and, reputedly, everything but talk. Ori we could perhaps have had a guess at: in the story hints of his bookishness are all but there, fleshed out post mortem in The Fellowship of the Ring, so a clerical look he has, as much as an innocent again (I presume) informed by his eventual doom in the mines of Moria. Bofur was always going to be free license to any imaginative designer, perhaps his own face furniture tells a story as much as Kili’s, although you’d want to think that with it Jackson’s visual engineers could have foreseen the unfortunate moniker James Nesbitt’s character has since gathered among the online community – 'pedo dwarf'.
There’s a lighter, more comic touch to these dwarves, though – perhaps it’s even cartoonish. The proof will of course be on the big screen. In the mean-time, and not shown in this large image is the gathered storytelling implicit in the Hobbit dwarf designs – chiefly, we’ve become accustomed now to seeing the dwarves not as Tolkien wrote them – unarmed, hooded, carrying little but their wits, musical instruments and a heavy grudge, but as the post-LotR movie environment wishes us to view them. The Jackson dwarves are variously armed and armoured, mostly in a light way (I suspect once the army of Dain Ironfoot is seen we’ll be able to make a clearer distinction), but much more than indicated in the original novel – particularly at the start, the movie dwarves are to varying degrees ready for war. Some (Dwalin, Bifur) already look like veterans, and it’s this form of visual shorthand which intrigues me most. Some of these dwarves will have very few lines – Bifur may not have any, so anything that tells a story, fills in a background or otherwise provides detail is really useful not only in selling a movie in advance (and this should not be underestimated given The Hobbit is over fifty years old and available to be read anywhere in mostly any language already), but in telling its story onscreen. It’s considerations such as this which I’ll be taking into account when I resume my own race against time to complete the Fellowship of Oakenshield before The Hobbit opens properly.