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"More Dangerous and Less Wise" - The Wood-Eyes
While out patrolling Mirkwood, the Elves of the Woodland Realm come upon a disturbance and swiftly dispatch the Spiders, but not for any love of Dwarves. Described by Tolkien as "more dangerous and less wise" than other Elves of Middle-earth, the Wood-elves under the rule of King Thranduil attack with ferocity, skill and rapid-fire bows. Leading this band of warriors are Legolas, once again embodied by Orlando Bloom, and Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly.

Though neither character appears in The Hobbit, the filmmakers felt that including them was a natural fit for the expanded narrative being brought to life in the film. Legolas Greenleaf is a Mirkwood Elf, the son of the Elvenking Thranduil, overseer of the Woodland Realm in the novel. "When Legolas shows up in The Lord of the Rings, we learn that he's Thranduil's son," Jackson explains. "So when we visit the Woodland Realm in this film, it seemed like a great opportunity to bring back Legolas, as we now have a full picture of Thranduil's family tree. Elves are immortal, so the 60 years between the two stories doesn't matter at all, and fortunately, Orlando doesn't look as if he has aged a day in the last ten years," the director adds with a smile.

Bloom was delighted to once again take up Legolas's bow more than a decade after his work in "The Lord of the Rings" Trilogy. "It's amazing to be back," the actor states. "'The Lord of the Rings' films were such a treasured experience for me, and I'm so happy to have the opportunity to return to this world and this character. And, better yet, I got into my old costume when I came back, and it still fit!"

When Bloom appeared on set styled in the hair, makeup and redesigned costume for Legolas, "It was like meeting a favorite character," Walsh recalls. "It really is a most wonderful thing to have Orlando come back all these years later and be Legolas again. Seeing this character that we all loved back in Middle-earth gave us the strangest sense of deja vu."

Though initially concerned about Legolas' place in the tale, the character's relationship to the Woodland Realm, along with the presence of the 13 Dwarves--one of whom, Gloin, is the father of his future Fellowship mate Gimli--set Bloom's mind at ease. "We're all conscious and respectful of fans of the book, and so I knew that Peter, Fran and Philippa wouldn't stray too far," he says. "What's great about the story they've devised is that you see how he will go on to become the Legolas in 'The Lord of the Rings.' We also get an idea of where Legolas's antipathy for Dwarves originates in this film. It creates a dynamic sense of history for the character."

Jackson and his collaborators wanted to infuse the action with the kinds of iconic Legolas moments that became an audience favorite in the earlier Trilogy, which translated into intense training and stunt work for the actor. "He's got some pretty cool moments," Bloom says. "And I think that's part of who 'Leggy' is. He comes in and doesn't say much, pulls some moves and takes care of business. It's a simple but effective plan."

Comments stunt coordinator Glenn Boswell, "Orlando picks up on fight choreography really quickly, which was great since we often had only a short time to bring him up to speed before cameras rolled. He and Evangeline as partners were fantastic in terms of fighting. Each character has a different style, which is brilliant visually."

Evangeline Lilly's Elf warrior Tauriel is the Captain of Thranduil's Guard and an entirely new addition to the story. "We have always felt that you have to try to be true to the book but also be true to the film that you would like to see," Walsh notes. "They are always going to have their differences because films have other dramatic requirements. One thing we wanted to address was the lack of female characters, and Tauriel accomplished that in a beautiful way. And Evangeline has been fantastic. She understood Middle-earth, and wanted to ensure that though Tauriel is an original character, she would be created in the spirit of the book."

Though new to the films, Lilly has been a fan of The Hobbit since childhood and was overwhelmed to be approached to play a role in the Trilogy. But the offer came just two months after she had given birth to her first child. "I thought I was going to ease into an obscure life of being a mother and a writer, but this was an opportunity I just couldn't say no to," Lilly says. "The Hobbit was my favorite book as a kid, and all I ever wanted to be was an Elf, and then to be offered the role of a Mirkwood (Greenwood) Elf specifically was a dream come true. It was the most challenging thing I've ever done as an actress, but it was a challenge I loved."

Tauriel, Lilly says, grew up defending the borders of the Woodland Realm and is therefore a very different kind of Elf than we've seen in previous films. "The Wood-elves are more deadly, and Tauriel is a warrior and an expert with daggers and a bow and arrow," she describes. "She's the head of the Silvan Guard, so she's a pretty badass Elf, and is perhaps less wise than a lot of the older Elves. Even though she has a warmth and depth that comes from being so connected to the earth, she also happens to be very skilled at her craft. And her craft is killing."

As with other actors playing Elves in "The Hobbit" Trilogy, Lilly worked with movement choreographer Terry Notary to perfect their graceful, agile gait. She also trained extensively in martial arts and worked with the stunt team on her complex fight sequences. "Evangeline had a very good aptitude for stunts," praises Boswell. "She had a very strong vision for how Tauriel would fight, partly influenced by old Chinese fighting she had seen with double daggers."

From the tip of her arrow to the color of the feathers, Tauriel's bow has an organic quality that reflects the forest, with thorn shapes defining her slender, damascene-patterned dagger. Her personalized weapons were made from a collaboration of artists including conceptual designer John Howe and Weta Workshop. Weta's Richard Taylor comments, "As an Elven ninja, everything is at one with the world in which she lives so that she can disappear into the foliage."

Her costume too reflects the Woodland Realm and bears a more masculine look than the flowing silks that drape from other Female Elves seen in Jackson's Middle-earth. The costume department created a wardrobe of forest-toned leather, suede and silk, and custom-made leather boots. Her fierce aesthetic also infused her hair and makeup design, with King creating large ears and a wig of copious red locks.

These Elves are not friendly to the Dwarves. Jackson says, "The Elves of the Woodland Realm, Legolas included, are nothing less than a very mysterious and slightly threatening force for them; they're not there to help with their Quest."

Being brought to the Elvenking's throne room is a difficult and demeaning moment for Thorin, given his history with Thranduil, as seen in the prologue of the first film. "When Erebor fell, Thorin couldn't understand why the Elves wouldn't act," Armitage explains. "Thranduil stood by and did nothing, and that, for Thorin, is an unforgivable act. They let the Dwarves burn, which Thorin will never forget."

Lee Pace, who joins the cast as the regal Elvenking Thranduil, feels that his character's lack of sympathy for the Dwarves' plight has its roots in this long ago encounter. "My theory is that when Thranduil saw the halls of gold in Erebor, that was the turning point for him," Pace offers. "He saw all that gold these Dwarves had amassed and thought, 'You Dwarves are going to burn. This greed is not going to go unpunished.' And when the Dragon came, the Elves had the power to make a difference and chose not to."

Jackson and his collaborators had seen Pace in the 2006 film "The Fall," and made a special trip to New York solely to read him for this critical role. "Elves are difficult to cast because they possess a quality that's almost impossible to define," Jackson reveals. "It's an elegance, a beauty and an agelessness. You have to do a bit of a mental leap with an actor. You need to have a sense that he could be immortal, but also that he had been through a lot in his long life, and Lee really brought all of those qualities and more."

In the film, Pace, as well as Lilly and Bloom, converse in the ancient language of Elvish. Tolkien created two Elvish languages for Middle-earth: the common, conversational Sindarin, and the formal Quenyan. As with Jackson's other films set in Middle-earth, the filmmakers enlisted Tolkien scholar David Salo, who has dedicated his life to expanding the grammar and vocabulary of these languages, to translate those portions of the script, with dialect coach McPherson helping the actors to become fluent in Elvish. "They all took to the language beautifully," McPherson comments. "Evangeline speaks French, and has a great facility for languages and a very good ear. Orlando has had experience with Elvish, and his passion for the work, insatiable curiosity and infectious good humor made him a joy to work with. And Lee was able to beautifully embody Thranduil's command of the language and deep, powerful vocal presence."

Designing armor for a whole new race of Elves was a joy for Taylor and his team. "The Wood-elves possess an incredible presence, power and vitality," he describes. "But while they're very beautiful and artistic, it's important to remember that, at the end of the day, they are trained killers. You don't ever want them to fall into appearing apathetic or weak as a race by making their armor too floral or delicate."

For the Elvenking, Weta Workshop and the costume designers collaborated on a series of long, sweeping gowns and cloaks that reflect his status as King of the Woodland Realm. One of the crowns Thranduil wears was modeled by Weta Workshop's Daniel Falconer directly from references in the book to a crown of leaves, thorns and berries. His strong, elegant metal sword was milled down from a solid block of metal. "There was something puritanical about having this unsympathetic metal blade that suited Thranduil's intractability and arrogance," Falconer supplies.

For Pace, the key to understanding Thranduil is the idea that Elves are not human. "Tolkien wrote, 'He was the King of the Elves on the other side of the Wild,'" the actor says. "He's dangerous, not because he's evil. He's exquisite, but hard and cold at heart, like a diamond. He is also sensitive, but I don't mean emotionally sensitive. I believe that not a leaf moves in that forest that he doesn't feel. And he's looking at these Dwarves, thinking, 'You don't wake up a Dragon unless you know you can kill it. And you can't kill it. So I'm just going to keep you in my dungeons until you get that idea out of your head.'"

Stripping the Dwarves of their armor and weapons, he locks them deep within his underground dungeons. But Thranduil's resolve is thwarted by the resourceful Bilbo, who slips unnoticed into the Realm with a plan to spring his friends--by hiding them inside empty barrels from the Elves' wine cellar, which he will release down a chute into the river.

Even risking the wrath of the Elves, the Hobbit's allegiance is to the Dwarves. "Amidst the potential positives of the other beings with whom he comes in contact, the Dwarves show up quite well, really," Freeman relates. "The Elves are ostensibly more civilized and cultured. But what he sees in the Dwarves, I think, ultimately means more than that, and the fact that Bilbo does decide to help them is perhaps even more interesting and brave, because he doesn't have to. It's not like all of Middle-earth is going to be encompassed in Hellfire if he doesn't, but he sees they've got a job to do that seems to be worth doing. And I think once you've decided to leave home, the people you've left home with become your home and your family, however different they are from you."

Thranduil's own view is the opposite. He senses that Thorin's Quest is a harbinger of a darker, more dangerous struggle--one in which he believes Elves have no role. "Thranduil made the decision many years ago to isolate his people from the rise and fall of the fortunes of other races outside his borders," Boyens remarks. "And his rule is law."

In defiance of her King, Tauriel tracks the Company's escape down the river, and Legolas follows, torn between his father's edict and Tauriel's belief in what's right. "There's a sort of madness around the Dwarves' idea of trying to reach the Lonely Mountain," Bloom reflects. "They're definitely striving for greatness, but it can lead to a chaotic state, which is Thranduil's perspective. Legolas knows Tauriel is reckless and is concerned for her. He wants to protect her, though he knows it puts him at odds with his father. There's a lot of complexity in that dynamic. Legolas is the son growing into the man who will go off to be a part of The Fellowship of the Ring."

Tauriel has not experienced Thranduil's history with the Dwarves, and feels more compassion towards them and their plight. "But I think even more so, she wants to stop the Orc invaders, who have come into their Realm to kill and destroy," Lilly comments. "She can't stand by and let that happen; she has to go and do something about it."

The two Elven warriors come face-to-face with Orcs that appear on the shores of the Forest River, where the Dwarves become easy targets. Bloom calls what ensues "a fantastic amount of Orc slaying."

Thought to have been destroyed in the great battle between Orcs and Dwarves that was fought many years ago, the Pale Orc Azog the Defiler has dispatched his vicious spawn and a lethal pack of killer-Orcs to hunt down and destroy every last member of the Company of Thorin Oakenshield.

"Azog has his own reasons for wanting to stop Thorin from ever reaching the Lonely Mountain," Boyens suggests. "Gandalf fears that his pursuit of Thorin has to do with an alliance he has made and the power he now serves. He also has a psychopathic hatred of all living things, Dwarves in particular, and especially Thorin and his Company."

For Azog and Bolg to exude the sheer menace that Jackson envisioned, he decided to create them using the same performance capture techniques that brought Gollum to life. "Azog was tricky because he is a principal villain, as we've adapted the story, and we wanted him to be mobile, expressive, and as terrifying as possible," Jackson explains. "The idea of doing a digital Orc was exciting, and this freed us up in terms of his size and shape because we were no longer locked into basic human proportions."

Playing the Orc chieftain, Azog the Defiler, is actor Manu Bennett, with Lawrence Makoare, a veteran who played the Uruk Hai character Lurtz from "The Lord of the Rings" films, taking on the role of his son, Bolg. The actors performed their roles on the performance capture stage, where Bennett quickly learned how to move like a massive Orc. "If I moved at my own pace, Azog looked too small and human," Bennett describes. "I had to bring out the lung capacity and the body mass of this foul creature. You can't move like an ant; you have to move like a dinosaur."

Though Azog was established in the first film, his spawn Bolg comes to the fore in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," and Letteri and his team at Weta Digital relished the opportunity to hatch a new Orc villain. "Peter wanted him to be a kind of freakish warrior," Letteri relates. "He is so battle-scarred that we decided to take that concept even further, and have his body armor essentially embedded into his skin. He needed to look like he can take a blow, but still have freedom of movement because he's fighting all the time. It was an interesting series of characteristics for us to blend in his character design."

Azog's army of killer-Orcs is comprised of a nearly indistinguishable combination of actors in prosthetics and digital creations. Taylor concludes, "The Orc Scouts, as we call them, are fleet-footed, lightly armored and archery-based, so they are pretty mean buggers."

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