Overall, the vast majority of fans hugely approved of the casting decisions made by Peter Jackson and the creative team when choosing the stars who would being The Hobbit to life. Alongside the obvious return of some familiar faces like Ian McKellen, Kate Blanchet and Christopher Lee, there were some new but very well-known faces like Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch. However, not all of the casting decisions were taken quite so receptively, and one, in particular, caused quite a storm among fans of Tolkien’s writing. And that is the choice to cast Dain Ironfoot, the mighty dwarf who becomes the King under the Mountain after the death of Thorin, Fili, and Kili, as none other than Billy Connolly.
Whilst Billy Connolly is a fabulous actor, and has played many very versatile and well-loved children’s film roles, such as Fergus in Disney’s Brave and Uncle Monty in A Series Of Unfortunate Events, so many fans really didn’t feel like his thick accent and his comical take on things fit the regal character he was expected to portray. And these elements, added to the already problematic CGI saga of the Battle of the Five Armies, as well as the overdramatized design of both his beard and armor, added up to make a rendition that many people felt was more ridicule than representation.
It is important to note that this problem arose through a combination of the acting itself, the directorial and script decisions made for the character, and the absurdity of so many of the scenes in which the character was placed. For a start, Billy Connolly is known for his fantastic sense of humor, and his comical approach to acting, which is completely the opposite of what Tolkien intended for Dain. In fact, Dain is actually one of the most serious, heroic, and regal of all the characters in the original book, in some ways even more so than Thorin himself, and Dain takes the call to arms very seriously, commanding his dwarves with a firm and noble hand.
Fans feel that this was somewhat belittled by the CGI representation of the wild pig he rode on, and by the short and stubby appearance he was given (even more so than is normal for a dwarf). Many of his lines that are meant to sound strong and bold and intimidating towards the enemy, are delivered in a way that makes him sound more like a petulant child, and even his battle prowess, which is why he is called in for reinforcement, is severely lacking.
When asked about his portrayal of the role in the director’s cut in the Making Of, Billy Connolly described trying to channel the old Scottish stories that he grew up on, ones of valor and brave fights against the most terrible of oppositions, ones for justice and a cause worth dying for. He mentioned things like the intense fight scenes in Braveheart and the war that takes place at the start of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Sadly, the armor that he was encumbered with, as well as the large prosthetics on his face, and the large green-screened rodeo bull he had to ride to simulate his boar steed, took away from the majesty of the performance he intended to give. Dane is known for being a hero in both The Hobbit book, where he charged in and helped defeat the attackers surrounding Erebor, with the help of the ravens as his allies, and his relations beside him, and also in the Lord of the Rings books, because he was actually one of the key players who defended the rebuilt kingdom of Dale during the War of the Ring, alongside Brand, Bain’s son and the grandson of Bard the bowman. This is news that Gandalf gives to Gimli and to Frodo, and the grey wizard is devastated by the loss, which clearly shows that Dain’s loyalty and friendship extended across the years and the kingdoms to all those in need of aid.
The crux of this can be summed up in the scene in which Dain first shows up at the Battle of the Five Armies and bandies words with Thranduil of the woodland realm. In the movie version, this moment destroys the entire character’s credibility, and he goes from being a noble and gracious warrior to being a petty and ignorant child, all within one line: “Tell this rabble to leave or I’ll water the ground with their blood. I will not stand down before any elf! Not least this faithless woodland sprite. He wishes nothing but ill on my people!” in trying to belittle Thranduil to a ‘faithless woodland sprite’ the character only succeeds in making himself look small and unworthy, and this is, unfortunately, something that doesn’t improve after this initial introduction of him. Many fans of the books argue that this character is the strongest being on Middle Earth at the time of the war of the ring, but this is certainly not the character seen on screen.
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