An Unexpected Party

Part II: An Unexpected Party

After a visit from Gandalf, young Bilbo is surprised to have guest after guest arrive at his doorstep.

TORN’s Take

When Tolkien began developing this chapter for his children in 1930, little could he have imagined that 80 years later it would be turned into a lavish scene in a blockbuster film production. The genesis of “An Unexpected Party” is the stuff of legends: Tolkien, bored out of his mind, was working his way through marking an enormous pile of examination papers when he came across a blank page and for no good reason wrote on it, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” From there, Tolkien developed the idea of Bilbo and an unexpected party, eventually turning both into the foundation for a greater tale that wouldn’t be published until 1937. Yet despite being written in another time for another medium, the chapter’s contents work remarkably well for a modern feature film. (Indeed, “An Unexpected Party” requires much less tinkering than “The Long Expected Party,” the opening chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, to introduce the characters and kick off the adventure.)

The basic premise of the chapter is a joke; or more specifically, a gag. Out of the blue one stranger after another shows up, politely hangs up his belongings, and turns Bilbo’s home into… well, a party. It’s a fun idea that worked in 1930, and it still works today.

Following the book’s lead, the film introduces the dwarves somewhat slowly (and in the same basic order), except instead of five groupings (and five knocks on the door), there are just four. The most notable change, however, is Thorin’s entrance, which is delayed for dramatic effect, coming even after Gandalf has entered Bilbo’s home. It’s a younger and more threatening Thorin than seen in previous adaptations, with Richard Armitage (and the make-up crew) creating a persona reminiscent of a Klingon from Star Trek: The Next Generation. But the performance is compelling, and Thorin’s leadership is well defined, giving the character a solid foundation for Armitage build upon throughout the quest.

Martin Freeman, meanwhile, takes the baton from Ian Holm and makes Bilbo his own with his well practiced deadpan everyman style of comedy. Like Bob Newhart and Bill Murray before him, Freeman’s act isn’t about what he’s saying so much as how he’s saying it. His comedic timing drives the scene, and the more preposterous the situation, the funnier he is.

And yet through it all, Ian McKellen’s Gandalf serves as the party’s anchor, keeping the scene grounded—a slight change from the source material. Because The Hobbit is Tolkien’s first published novel, his introduction of Gandalf is bold and brash, making it clear Gandalf equals fun, adventure, and excitement. Jackson, on the other hand, has no need to set up expectations. Thanks to his Lord of the Rings films, not only does everyone know the Grey Pilgrim, but most everyone has accepted Ian McKellen in the role as if he’s an extended member of the family. With no formal introduction needed, the film is free to use the wizard at Bag End as an audience surrogate of sorts, with much of the audience watching the impromptu party more from Gandalf’s perspective than Bilbo’s. It’s a dynamic that keeps the scene from spinning out of control while the dwarves are at their whimsical best and Bilbo is becoming increasingly flustered. McKellen, of course, plays the part as effortlessly as ever, making it easy to take him for granted and overlook the brilliance of his work; but this chapter might be his finest performance. Even so, in the end he’s upstaged—deliciously so—by the Dwarven hymn. And this is how it should be, with the film being more about the dwarves than the wizard. The somber song represents one of those moments where music does what mere words cannot do alone, defining the dwarves and setting the mood for the trilogy.

For most of us at TORN, it’s difficult to imagine “An Unexpected Party” presented any better even if it were adapted into a one-act stage play.

TORN’s Geeky Observations

– For the transition from old Bilbo to young Bilbo, the filmmakers did a splendid job with the exterior Bag End set. Old Bilbo sits smoking on his September birthday, and the surrounding area looks just as it should at the end of summer (with Hobbiton, unlike New Zealand, being in the Northern Hemisphere), with greenish-yellow grass and few flowers. Young Bilbo, on the other hand, is smoking in April, and the surrounding area appropriately changes to a more springlike setting with greener grass and many blooms and flowers.

– It’s interesting to see how much Bilbo’s hair and clothes are like Pippin’s in The Fellowship of the Ring. Perhaps it’s a Tookish style? His waistcoat with yellow embroidery and the light greenish net-cloth do fit in with Tolkien’s description of Hobbits. In chapter one of The Hobbit, he says they dress in bright colors (“chiefly green and yellow”).

– Gandalf, as described by Tolkien in both The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, is wearing his silver scarf. (The scarf also appears, tied to Gandalf’s wagon, at the beginning the first Lord of the Rings film.)

– Gandalf has a different staff than the three he has in The Lord of the Rings.

– Freeman likes to have Bilbo point and pause when he’s thinking about how to protest.

– Gandalf carves his symbol, the Elvish rune for G, into Bilbo’s door. (You can imagine the script writers looking at the book and reading about Gandalf scratching a “queer sign” onto Bilbo’s door that means “Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward” and see them saying, “How about he just scratches a G instead?”)

– It’s interesting that Gandalf would walk around with a rusty nail sticking out of the bottom of his staff. Unless he scratches signs on doors often (in which case he would be an unwelcome visitor) it seems more dangerous than practical.

– In the extended edition, Bilbo walks by a hole with a yellow door on his way to the market. This is the Gamgees’ hole which is seen in the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring and is the location of the final shot in The Return of the King.

– The market area (again, in the extended edition only) is set up just outside the Green Dragon, the Hobbiton inn that appears in The Lord of the Rings movies.

– At the market, Bilbo buys the fish he will eat later that night. Selling him the fish is Fredagar Chubb, played by Quint (Eric Vespe) from Ain’t It Cool News.

– Just after Bilbo buys his fish in the extended edition, you can see Lobelia and Otho Sackville-Baggins in the background as Bilbo talks to Mr. Worrywort about tubers. (Lobelia is the one with a ridiculous “garden” hat, and Otho is by her side in green.)

– Also in this scene, Bilbo thinks he sees Gandalf coming and runs away to hide. A few moments before the “big reveal,” where the figure comes into view and reveals himself to be just a hobbit carrying some baskets, you can see this guy quite clearly through the back of the tents.

– In this film, the Hobbits’ ears and feet are slightly larger than in The Lord of the Rings.

– If you listen carefully while a hobbit walks by Bag End at night (with a lantern), you’ll hear laughter and merrymaking from the Green Dragon nearby.

– The interior of young Bilbo’s Bag End is quite organized, very different than old Bilbo’s whimsical hole, representing a change in his character.

– Dwalin, the most cautious of the dwarves, is the only visitor to keep his eyes on Bilbo throughout his bow.

– As Bilbo is greeting Dwalin, you can see something going wrong with one of the candles behind them: it’s sputtering and melting like crazy.

– When Dwalin greets his brother Balin, you can see the same portraits of Bilbo’s parents (bearing the likenesses of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh) that appear in The Fellowship of the Ring. (They’re hanging over the fireplace.)

– The lower part of Balin’s beard has tips sticking up on each side, just like his boots.

– The Dwalin/Balin headbutt reminds many fans of Viggo Mortensen, whose similar greeting is featured in The Lord of Rings DVD extras.

– Kili differentiates himself from the other dwarves by greeting Bilbo by name (even if he gets it wrong) and complimenting Bilbo’s home. “It’s nice, this place. Did you do it yourself?” Most Dwarves, of course, prefer stone to wood, but Kili has a better appreciation for other cultures and how they live.

– If there’s one thing we know about Tolkien’s Dwarves, it’s that they have beards. And so some fans were taken aback by the appearance of Kili. As one Ringer said, “That’s not a beard, that’s my chin after sleeping in on Sunday.”

– As Bilbo goes to answer his door one last time, he walks by a Baggins family tree. This is amazing attention to detail by the filmmakers. You can actually see a similar family tree in the same spot in The Lord of the Rings; however the version in The Hobbit, appropriately, does not include Frodo.

– There’s a little addition in the extended edition where Bifur points to the axe in his head and says, “Khuzd belkur!” (We could tell you what this means, but we’ll let “Bifur” tell you himself in an upcoming chapter of this book.)

– The axe in Bifur’s head is a concept similar to that used in the one-act play, “Variations on the Death of Trotsky,” written by David Ives. Leon Trotsky, one of the founders of the Soviet Union, lived for a day after being struck with an ice axe, and the play features him seemingly going about his business on his final day with an axe buried in his skull:

Mrs. Trotsky: “But Leon… isn’t that the handle of a mountain climber’s axe sticking out of your skull?”

Trotsky: “It certainly does look like one…. And you know, Ramon was in here yesterday, telling me about his mountain-climbing trip. And now that I think of it, he was carrying a mountain climber’s axe. I can’t remember if he had it when he left the room…”

– In his books, Tolkien mentions that Hobbits have a passion for mushrooms “surpassing even the greediest likings of the Big People.” Apparently the same is true of cheese, as Bilbo has enough cheese in his pantry to last through an age of nuclear winters. (And we’re not even sure they have nuclei in Middle-earth.)

– Fili and Kili can be seen testing out the keg before they move it closer to the dining room.

– For The Lord of the Rings, Jackson found it advantageous to do some complex scale tricks early to establish the sizes of the characters in the viewers’ minds and sell the scale tricks on the whole. He found that by doing so, the characters’ heights and the simpler scale tricks tend not to be questioned later on, and the viewer pays less attention to “how’d they do that?” and more attention to the story. All these years later he does the same thing in The Hobbit, presenting a massively complex shot with a moving camera filming Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves as they interact and hustle and bustle around Bag End. (The shot begins with Bombur carrying the cheese.) Filmed with Ian McKellen on a separate set (so he could be composited in at the right scale), it goes on without a cut for one minute and eighteen seconds and is a cinematic marvel.

– When Óin and Glóin grab some chairs, Bilbo says they’re “Grandpa Mungo’s” (Mungo Baggins being the father of Bungo, father of Bilbo—as Tolkien has it). Later, when Thorin takes a seat, what does he sit on? One of Grandpa Mungo’s chairs.

– Glóin physically resembles his son, Gimli, and actor Peter Hambleton plays Glóin with the same accent (a modified Scottish) that John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) uses in The Lord of the Rings.

– When Bifur speaks to Gandalf in ancient Dwarvish, he says, “He is our leader. He is not here.”

– Dori takes Gandalf’s request for a “little” red wine a little too literally.

– What’s Dori’s drink? Whatever Gandalf is having. Dori first brings out two cups of tea and offers one to the wizard. After Gandalf says he would prefer red wine, Dori returns with two (tiny) glasses of these.

– When Óin blows on his ear trumpet, it sounds like a New Year’s Eve noisemaker.

– Just before the drinking contest (as the dwarves are being rowdy), Kili knocks his drink into his lap.

– When the dwarves hold up their drinks in the air, Bifur (a vegetarian) holds up a celery stick.

– Some people consider the belching contest to be a questionable introduction of sophomoric humor to Middle-earth. If we’re going by the chronological order of the films’ releases, however, it all begins with Gimli’s belches in The Lord of the Rings. (Apparently it’s a Dwarf thing.)

– For the song “Blunt the Knives,” Dwalin plays the fiddle just like in the book! (Meanwhile, Bofur plays the flute and Óin plays a teapot – which are not in the book.)

– Balin looks like he’s been through this “blunt the knives” silliness one too many times.

– Finally, the great leader of the dwarves shows up. The one who will lead them to Erebor. The one who will help them reclaim all they lost… and it turns out that he can’t even find Bag End! (Or the doorbell for that matter.) You do have to wonder how he’ll find the secret door of Erebor when gets lost twice trying to find Bilbo’s home. (Then again, maybe this explains why it’s Bilbo who does find the secret door.)

– Thorin’s dramatic entrance is enhanced not by music, but by the lack of it; a bold choice.

– Thorin wears a ring with a seal and symbol representing his kingship.

– Bilbo says he has some skill at conkers, a children’s game popularized in England in the nineteenth century. The game features two players with seeds tied to strings taking turns striking each other’s seed, or “conker,” until one breaks.

– Bofur calls Smaug “the chiefest and greatest calamity” which is what Bilbo calls Smaug to his face in the second film.

– Thorin gives Gandalf a trace of a knowing smile when the dwarves ask Gandalf how many dragons he’s killed.

– When Thorin cries out in Dwarvish (Khuzdul) to hush up the other dwarves, he says, “Atkât!” which means “Silence!” At the end of his speech, he says, “Du Bekâr! Du Bekâr!” which means “To arms! To Arms!”

– When Fili says (for the benefit of the slow people in the audience) “If there is a key, there must be a door!” he gets a look from Óin as if to say, “Well obviously.”

– Gandalf presents the key to Thorin with the flourish of a stage magician (or perhaps a conjurer of cheap tricks).

– The key has Dwarven runes (Futhark) written on it that translate to “Durin’s Heir.”

– Bilbo seems to have a creak in his floor at the entrance of his pantry. You can hear it when Dwalin and Balin are raiding the pantry and then again just before Bilbo faints.

– In a bit of foreshadowing, Bilbo has some pine cones sitting on a table next to his fire.

– The portrait of Bandobras “Bullroarer” Took has been drawn in the same style as the portraits of the actors at the end of The Return of the King.

– Throughout the films, Ori can be seen with a book. (You can see him conferring with Glóin and Bifur and writing in it in the background while Bilbo is sitting in his chair and Gandalf is talking to him about how the hobbit used to come home, “trailing mud and twigs and fireflies.”) This is a nice setup for The Fellowship of the Ring, where the Fellowship discovers Ori’s skeleton beside his book, which Gandalf reads from. (Adam Brown likes to joke that he lost a weight for his part in The Lord of the Rings.)

– It appears that Thorin, Bofur, Glóin, and Balin sing the lyrics to the somber “Song of the Lonely Mountain” while the other dwarves hum along (and Dori sings falsetto).

– Just like the closing of the first chapter of Tolkien’s book, Bilbo falls into an uncomfortable sleep with the somber Dwarvish melody in his head.

Fool of a Took! (Mistakes)

– Bilbo is so flustered by Fili and Kili’s arrival that he leaves the front door open, yet it’s closed when the next set of Dwarves arrive.

– During the dinner scene, just before Bofur throws an egg at Bombur’s mouth, Fili is sitting to Bombur’s left. When Bombur catches the egg, Fili is gone and Ori is in his place.

– During the song “Blunt the Knives” there’s an odd cut from a shot with Balin in the background dancing to a shot of the opposite side of the room where he’s in the foreground, sitting, bouncing plates off one he’s holding.

– When Thorin mentions the mark on Bilbo’s door, Bilbo claims there can’t be a mark because his door was painted a week ago. If so, Bilbo needs to find better paint. A close look at his door while Gandalf is scratching the mark shows it to be weathered and peeling.

– There are some parts of the film where Dean O’Gorman is not playing Fili. (Originally another actor, Robert Kazinsky, was cast for the part, but he had to drop out for health reasons.) One example is when Thorin begins his song, though Jackson tries to cover this up by enhancing the shadows on Fili to hide his face.

Did You Know?

– A new costume and new hat were made for Gandalf, though they look identical to those seen in The Fellowship of the Ring. (Indeed, the new hat was made from the same pattern and same batch of fabric as the original.)

– For The Lord of the Rings, many details for the Green Dragon, Hobbiton’s inn, were conceived and built on set by sculptors. Unfortunately, this meant that ten years later there were no documents or photos showing the original designs with any clarity! The set designers for The Hobbit had to look at the previous films and just do the best they could to match the original look.

– As with most of the leads in The Lord of the Rings, many of the actors in The Hobbit came to New Zealand early for a “training camp” to learn how to ride horses (which would play the ponies), use weapons, move like Dwarves, and get to know each other.

– The first thing to be shot with the Dwarven actors was their doorway introductions, making their first appearances in the film (apart from Thorin and Balin) their first scenes for real.

– The dwarves, played by full-sized actors, are made to look short and stocky by having their heads, arms, hands, and feet enlarged and having their waistlines expanded and lowered. Thus all the Dwarven actors wear prosthetic appliances on their faces (even Aidan Turner, who, as Kili, wears a false nose), as well as oversized prosthetic arms and hands covering their real ones, and extra large boots over their feet. The dwarf that took the longest to prepare for each day’s shoot? Bombur, with actor Stephen Hunter spending two to three hours each morning in the make-up chair. “They told me these films would make me enough money for a house,” Hunter recalls, “but they didn’t tell me I’d be wearing it.”

– As with almost every character in these films, the Dwarf actors wore wigs (which helped make their heads look bigger). Theirs were the most expensive, made from Russian hair and supplemented with yak hair to give it a rougher texture. (The one character without yak hair in his head? Thorin.)

– John Rhys-Davies, who played Gimli in The Lord of the Rings, visited the set of the “Unexpected Party” to give the Dwarf actors his blessing. “You poor bastards!”

– The Dwarven actors did all their own singing (and humming).

– The “Song of the Lonely Mountain” sung by the dwarves (with another version sung by Neil Finn for the credits) was composed by Plan 9, the same group that performs “Flaming Red Hair.”

– Martin Freeman didn’t know much about The Hobbit before becoming involved with these films, but when he was cast as Bilbo he read the book and loved it. Born in 1971 (in September, just like Bilbo), Freeman was a big star on British television when Guillermo del Toro took a liking to him and wanted him as Bilbo for The Hobbit movies. But when del Toro left the project and Freeman’s new series Sherlock took off, Freeman thought he might not get the chance to play Bilbo after all. Fortunately, Jackson was committed to keeping him and working around Freeman’s television schedule. The Hobbit, of course, would pose significant challenges for Freeman, forcing him to use scale tricks to appear small and work with many elements that simply weren’t there the day of the shoot. “That is when you rely on old fashioned technique and professionalism,” he tells “It’s about being prepared and knowing where you’ve just come from and what the stakes are in the scene, and you react to that.”

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