'The Hobbit' trailer: 5 signs that Peter Jackson is back to his best

'The Hobbit' trailer is a testament to the best qualities of director Peter Jackson's filmmaking, from weaving together various J.R.R. Tolkien tales to the signature look of the film. 

A screen shot from 'The Hobbit' trailer showing Gandalf and Galadriel in Rivendell.

The "Hobbit" trailer appears to have met some key objectives: getting fans buzzing, dangling some juicy details from the film, and leaving viewers anxiously in the dark about some other big questions.

In short, the suspense and anticipation has grown. Director Peter Jackson has struck again.

Mr. Jackson released the trailer for "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" on Wednesday. The film is scheduled for release a year from now, to be followed a year later by a concluding installment, "The Hobbit: There and Back Again."

In teasing the movie, the trailer is also a reminder of the artistry that Jackson (aided by a horde of other on- and off-screen talents) used to thrill millions of moviegoers when he released three other films drawn from the pages of J.R.R. Tolkien – the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

Not everyone loves fantasy movies. And even Tolkien fans don't all love every decision Jackson is making about "The Hobbit." But the director has undeniably honed his storytelling craft in this genre.

A few examples:

Dwarves. In Tolkien's world, these aren't just little humans, and the trailer delivers a glimpse of the 13 dwarves on a quest to reclaim their former homeland (with help from Bilbo Baggins – the hobbit of the title – and the wizard Gandalf). 

In the trailer, the dwarves look satisfyingly distinctive as a species, and suitably individual as well – drawing on the portraits given by Tolkien himself. Fili ("he has 'mischief-maker' written all over his face," comments the website theonering.net), the older Balin with a white beard, and leader Thorin Oakenshield are among those making appearances.  

Their music. The cohesive binding of the trailer is a song vocalized by the dwarves when they meet Bilbo in his home near the start of the story. "Far over misty mountains cold, / To dungeons deep and caverns old...." they begin.

Fans have done their own vocalizing, saying the song gives them goosebumps. Twitter user Rachel Stark posts: "So, so, SO excited about The Hobbit trailer! Thorin singing gives me chills...this seems so much darker than expected."

Note, though, that Jackson's artistry here includes the exercise of cinematic license. Tolkien wrote of the dwarves hauling out flutes, fiddles, and (for Thorin) a harp for accompaniment. We don't distinctly see or hear those instruments in the trailer.

And as the "darker than expected" comment suggests, Jackson reveals a vision for the film that blends elements of humor and lightness into a Middle Earth that encompasses the darker themes explored in "The Lord of the Rings."

The plot line. That brings us to the challenges of plot. Jackson is breaking one book into two cinematic parts, and adding in some Tolkien material that fits in the timeline but was not in the book. That material, surrounding Gandalf's participation in the White Council and its efforts to prevent the Dark Lord Sauron from regaining power, will help to connect dots back and forth between this prequel and "The Lord of the Rings."

But how will that material be woven into the two "Hobbit" films? The trailer doesn't answer the question, although it may give a glimpse of Sauron's bastion, Dol Guldur.

Some fans speculate that film one will end with a climax of sorts, as Bilbo and the dwarves get within site of the Lonely Mountain (where a treasure and the dragon Smaug await). That leaves some epic battles, and some hobbit ingenuity versus the dragon, for film two.

Note that in "The Return of the King" Jackson did an impressive job of turning Tolkien's difficult chronology into a seamless drama involving characters and subplots in various locations.

Assembling and keeping a cast. Part of a good director's skill is simply to gather, retain, and manage a strong cast. In a story with so many characters as this one, that's an important part of the job, and Jackson appears to be delivering. In addition to the central characters, the trailer shows that Cate Blanchett will be on screen again as the elf Galadriel, as will Ian Holm as an older Bilbo (while Martin Freeman assumes the main role of young Bilbo).

Other reprises from "Lord of the Rings" include more elves (Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Orlando Bloom as Legolas) and Sir Christopher Lee as the wizard Saruman, Andy Serkis as Gollum, and of course the Gandalf role played by Sir Ian McKellen.

The computer wizardry. For all of the vision that a director like Jackson can bring, it's contemporary computer graphics that have made the visuals possible. In the trailer, real-life actors and landscapes are enhanced and transformed by computer-generated imagery (CGI). The trailer gives short glimpses of action that may include sparring between Gandalf and Thrain, a dwarf king gone mad. That scene, a dangerous confrontation with trolls, and the magically glowing mountain realm of Rivendell are among the computer-assisted frames packed into the promo.

Some of the biggest computer pyrotechnics will be saved for film two.

Will the Battle of Five Armies that marks the climax of "The Hobbit" have a bigger cast than the apocalyptic Battle of the Pelennor Fields in "The Return of the King?" asked fan Peter Nolder a few weeks ago in a comment section on Jackson's Facebook page. "Looking forward to this very much!"  

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