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Poster Lab: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Poster Lab: <em>The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug</em>

As Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) famously told Frodo (Elijah Wood) when he set out for Mount Doom, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” The greeting-card-ready, underdoggish sentiment is one to which Peter Jackson has hewn closely, and surely one that was paramount for J.R.R. Tolkien too. It was the philosophy that fueled The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it’s the one that now pilots The Hobbit saga, as freshly evidenced by the teaser poster for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Rarely do you see a protagonist appear so miniscule on a major movie poster, especially one that’s part of a mega-budget blockbuster franchise. The effect, however, is superbly achieved. Having set out from his homeland (or rather, finally left his home, as the last film’s poster illustrated), Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is now deep in the wilds of Middle-earth, surrounded by craggy danger and dwarfed (so to speak) by a mounting gloom. Like Frodo, he’s a mere speck when measured against the powers of this world, and this one-sheet elegantly succeeds in depicting lofty stakes, which many felt would never compare to those of the earlier films. Gone is the warm and welcoming sun that beckoned Bilbo out of his Hobbit hole, and in its place is the steam and ember-yellow glow of a dragon’s breath, which emanates from inside The Lonely Mountain.

Some have called this poster out for blatantly aping a certain ad for Star Trek Into Darkness, from the small figure positioned above the title to the familiar logo one could even trace around Bilbo and the Dwarf architecture carved in the mountainside. (Indeed, when dragging one poster over the other in Photoshop, and accidentally creating a superimposition effect, I found the match to be uncanny.) But whereas Star Trek used this layout for branding purposes, The Hobbit has more thematic plans in mind, and in fact, this isn’t the first time Jackson’s Middle-earth marketing has comparably shrunk down its characters. In one of the earlier posters for The Fellowship of the Ring, the nine titular companions were shown paddling down a river, small as insects when set against towering monuments of the great kings of old. If anything’s been proven by these epic incarnations of Tolkien’s works, it’s that the author’s universe is as grand, essential, and specific as its intricate characters—and that, not some fanboy conspiracy theory, is what resounds in this latest one-sheet.

Additionally, the poster is a showcase for the work of renowned Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe, whose conceptual designs for the realm of the Dwarves is depicted here in glorious detail. In addition to recalling the Doors of Moria scene in The Fellowship of the Ring, this backdrop also evokes the interior artwork of that same film’s extended-edition DVD set, which similarly sees Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and his friends made tiny by the staggeringly awesome (and very ironic) Dwarfish craftsmanship. Those (like me) who don’t recall all the details of Tolkien’s Hobbit book will find themselves asking why the wee hero is suddenly on his own, cut off from his wizard friend and newfound Dwarf allies. Odds are it’s because, like Frodo, he’s tasked to face danger alone, but then, we’ve only just reached chapter two.