Trials, tribulations … and one nasty dragon await Bilbo Baggins in the second instalment of The Hobbit.

THE second part of The Hobbit trilogy, titled The Desolation Of Smaug, continues with the 13 dwarves – led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) – on a journey to reclaim their homeland in the mountains from the fire-breathing dragon Smaug.

Accompanying these dwarves is none other than the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who leaves his peaceful Shire and gets on the greatest adventure of his life.

Set 60 years before The Lord Of The Rings, the Dwarves have encountered not only adventures, friends and foes, but have come upon a realisation that Bilbo Baggins is more than just a competent thief.

As this unexpected journey gets the travellers closer to the Lonely Mountain and the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, they meet a skin-changer, a swarm of giant spiders, the dangerous Wood-elves and the destitute folk of Lake-town. Of course, the biggest threat of all is the dragon, Smaug, who lies sleeping covered in gold that was once amassed by the Dwarves.

In this film – based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien – director Peter Jackson not only deepens the conflict and the difficulties experienced by the characters, he has also included the “iconic Tolkien moment” of Bilbo coming face to face with the dragon.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, foreground) leads his men into the mountains in a bid to reclaim their homeland.

Phillipa Boyens, who co-wrote the screenplay with Fran Walsh, Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, said that for this particular scene, they wanted to create a perpetual underlying tension as Smaug very subtly pumps Bilbo for information.

In a transcript provided by Warner Bros. Pictures, Boyens said: “You couldn’t have a smaller person than the Hobbit, or a larger creature than the dragon. The scale between the two is huge, and yet they engage one-on-one. It’s an incredibly deadly game of cat and mouse.”

Freeman added: “It is a battle of wits, though it is less about the wit for Bilbo and more about trying to stay alive. He’s not feeling very witty, but he does what he needs to do, at great expense.”

Meanwhile, Jackson reckoned what sets Smaug apart from other dragons is that he can talk, is intelligent and a psychopath. Hence, he needed an actor who can bring all this and more when voicing Smaug the Terrible.

He found exactly what he was looking for in Benedict Cumberbatch, who auditioned at the same time as Freeman when both actors were shooting the first season of the popular television series Sherlock in London.

Cumberbatch recalled how his father read The Hobbit to him as a child: “My dad is an extraordinary actor, so he brought to life for me this already extraordinary world of Hobbits and dragons.

“It was a very rich way to be introduced to such an incredible book. So, when you can go home and say to your dad, ‘I’m playing Smaug, and I’ve got you to thank for it,’ it’s a very satisfying day in an actor’s life. He played Smaug as this amazing gravelly, growling creature, so I basically ripped off my dad for my performance.”

Thanks to the top notch performances by Freeman and Cumberbatch, this particular scene will get the audience holding their breath and at times chuckle at the dialogue between the two characters.

Ultimately, though, this is a journey about the Hobbit who finds his bravery so far away from home. For Freeman there were many aspects to Bilbo that he enjoyed bringing to the film.

In The Desolation Of Smaug particularly, it was the moment when the character found his backbone. “I was always saying to Pete (Jackson), ‘Is it now? Surely this is the time where he’s a bit stronger.’ And very often he’d say, ‘No, no, but it is coming, it is coming, not yet.’

“You spend so much time playing Bilbo as this reticent person who is just trying to find his voice and trying to find when to speak, just finding permission to breathe almost, that it is really good fun in this film when he does have to find that bit of steel inside himself.

“He really, really has to find that for his own safety and that of his friends.”

Even though he is often in dangerous situations, Bilbo never hesitates to do the right thing – which is to save his friends.

Freeman explained: “It is not a choice. He has to do it. It is always good to play heroism out of necessity, which is what heroism is, I think, a playable, real thing that we can all relate to – something that you know is true or has a bit of reality to it. Most people don’t want to put themselves in life and death situations, but you will do it if you absolutely have to. It is a bit like that for Bilbo in this film.”

* The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (3D and 2D) opens in cinemas nationwide today.

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