With the recent news that Peter Jackson is finally returning to Middle-earth, it's not just fans of "The Hobbit" who are rejoicing. Just ask Ian McKellen or Andy Serkis. As Gandalf the Grey and Gollum, respectively, these two Tolkien titans are all but certain to return.
But what of the other characters up for grabs in "The Hobbit"? We took a look at some of the bigger roles available and picked our favorites. Following Jackson's casting decisions for "Lord of the Rings," we considered names that were known, but not necessarily big stars. Check out our choices below and then head over to the MTV movies blog where we tackle the big one.
Spoiler alert! Major plot points of the novel are revealed below.
Book Says: The greatest dragon of his time, Smaug the Magnificent guarded over the stolen treasure of the Lonely Mountain. He is nearly invincible due to a belly covered in gems, and his numerous strengths include his immense size and barbed tail. He also possesses a penetrating gaze with the power to mesmerize. Haughty and hateful, he has but two weaknesses: his arrogance and a small, bare spot on his underbelly.
We Say: Smaug will clearly be a CG creation, either through motion capture or pure animation. But while his appearance will no doubt be spectacular, it's his voice that should impress the most — conveying his intelligence, his greed, his great disdain for Bilbo, his love of possessing wealth purely for the purpose of possessing wealth. He thinks himself better and more worthy than any other creature, making his conversations with Bilbo a terrifying game of cat and mouse. He should be played by Jeremy Irons.
Alternates: Nobody does the sort of haughty disdain we're looking for better than Irons ... but as Lucius Malfoy in "Harry Potter," Jason Isaacs comes pretty close. We'd like to see him out of the blond wig and into the red belly of the beast.
Book Says: It is dwarf leader Thorin's great desire for his birthright that sets the action of "The Hobbit" in motion. Although old by the time the novel begins (even for a dwarf), Thorin is nevertheless a capable and cunning leader. Quick to anger, his great weakness is a fierce and legendary stubbornness. He refuses until the very last moment before his death to see the error of his ways.
We Say: Anybody willing to go through the makeup to become a dwarf is already a hero in our book. But while Jackson ultimately has to cast 13 of them, they all flow naturally from the decision he makes with Thorin, on whose moral authority rests, not just the honor of his fellows, but the integrity of the story itself. The role will not suffer the indignity of anything less than strength personified. The actor cast, then, should be someone who doesn't suffer indignities at all. Period. That actor should be Brian Cox. He's of the right age, physical proportion and temperament.
Alternates: If physical qualities weren't an issue (which is a kind way of saying, "If we weren't looking for a stocky actor"), Ben Kingsley would make an ideal Thorin for all the same reasons as Cox.
Bard the Bowman
Book Says: A skilled archer from the town of Dale, Bard fires the arrow that fells the mighty Smaug. Described as somewhat grim of face, Bard is nevertheless a fair and wise man, who takes leadership of the town after the departure of the Master, ultimately becoming the king of Dale. He is the closest we get in the story to "LOTR" characters like Aragorn or Faramir, an Anglo-Saxon hero in the mold of Beowulf.
We Say: The role of Bard is the easiest and most tempting way to shoehorn a huge star — a man's man like Russell Crowe or Christian Bale — into the production. Although he's more of a straightforward good guy, lacking the nuance of representative men from "LOTR," we'd nevertheless like to see Jackson cast an actor who could invest the character with the same type of soul that Viggo Mortensen and Sean Bean did with Aragorn and Boromir. We'd like to see Jackson mend fences with Ryan Gosling, who left the director's adaptation of "The Lovely Bones."
Alternates: We said we wanted to resist the temptation to cast a big star. Is it too late for Gerard Butler?
Book Says: King of the Silvans, Thranduil leads the Elves of Mirkwood. He imprisons the dwarves when they trespass through his forest, and then demands a share of Smaug's bounty once the dragon is defeated. He is described as having blond hair ... just like his son Legolas.
We Say: If Orlando Bloom doesn't come back for at least a background cameo, we give up. Naturally distrustful of dwarves, Thranduil can be spiteful and terse — but he still possesses the wisdom of his kin. Ideally, the actor cast would be somewhat regal, someone we believe capable of great power but also great benevolence. Ideally, that actor would be somewhat similar in speech and appearance to Orlando Bloom. Ideally, that actor would be David Bowie.
Alternates: Orlando Bloom's old man? Yeah, Stellan Skarsgård has done that pretty well before.
Book Says: Of immense size and strength, Beorn is a shapeshifter, able to take on the form of a large bear. He has a thick black beard, large shoulders and brown hair. A skilled and dedicated woodsman, he is most highly regarded for his animal husbandry. He keeps many intelligent creatures, of which he is fiercely protective. Fearsome and fearless.
We Say: If he wasn't already known for similar work as Hagrid in the "Harry Potter" series, Robbie Coltrane would be a boffo choice. And yet, Beorn is so much more explosive, so much more kinetic than Hagrid, that he demands someone much more menacing. He demands someone possibly a little unhinged, who can go from gentle to ferocious at the drop of a hat. He demands Alfred Molina.
Alternates: The predominant rumor is that "Spider-Man" director Sam Raimi will helm "The Hobbit" franchise. If he directs — and right now it looks like he might — well, you know what that means. Given the circumstances, he has to appear somewhere on our list. Let's stick Bruce Campbell here.
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