Dragons are taking over the world.
Well, that’s how it seems to me. With Game of Thrones dominating the TV schedules, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug just out on Blu-ray, it’s a wonder we haven’t all been burned to a crisp.
All these dragons set me off asking a whole bunch of questions. For example, both GoT and The Hobbit are adapted from best-selling novels, so just how close have the visual effects artists come to accurately portraying the dragons as they were originally written?
Another thing I’m dying to know is this: if you pitted the various dragons against each other, which one would win?
To help me find the answers, I’ve drafted in the following experts:
- Joe Bauer (visual effects supervisor on HBO’s Game of Thrones)
- Jane Johnson (George RR Martin’s UK publisher and former Tolkien publisher. Writing as Jude Fisher, Jane is also author of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Visual Companions)
- Elio M. García (one half of the team behind the George RR Martin fansite Westeros.org)
- Kirsten Cairns (from the Tolkien fansite TheOneRing.net)
- Jody Duncan (Cinefex editor in chief and author of the Songs of Ice and Fire article on the VFX of Game of Thrones)
- Joe Fordham (Cinefex associate editor and author of the Pete’s Dragon article on the VFX of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)
Before we hear from our panel, let’s quickly remind ourselves about the dragons they’ll be talking about.
Smaug is the chief villain in JRR Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit. Known for hoarding gold, he’s described as a “greedy, strong and wicked worm”. His armoured coat of jewel-encrusted scales appears impenetrable, although rumour has it even the mighty Smaug has an Achilles heel …
Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion
In George RR Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire (better known to TV viewers as Game of Thrones), dragons were long thought to be extinct. Then Daenerys Targaryen hatched three dragons which look set to grow … and grow …
Dragon Smackdown – The Hobbit vs Game of Thrones
So, let’s get down to it. It’s smackdown time!
How do the dragons in the film and TV adaptations match up to your own personal vision? Is Smaug the dragon you always imagined? How about Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion?
I’m sure everyone has their own mind’s eye view of the word “dragon”. Mine probably comes as much from Beowulf and Robin Hobb as it does from JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin. And it’s rare that any interpretation of characters on the screen, whether big or small, match your own imagination. But I think in each case the dragons are mightily impressive, which is not surprising given the immense talent of the creative teams behind each enterprise. Having said that, Daenerys’s dragons in the HBO series more closely match my personal vision than Peter Jackson’s Smaug, which is bulkier and more immense than the way Tolkien draws him. But a “wyrm” would have been far less awe-inspiring inside Jackson’s massive treasure hall: Peter’s film version of The Hobbit is deliberately more gargantuan than the original story, everything taken to the max.
Elio M García Jr
I think the dragons in Game of Thrones are very close in appearance to those in the books. They’ve grown perhaps a bit less serpentine than Martin suggested, as they’ve remodeled them through the seasons. But they’re still quite close. Viserion and Rhaegal could perhaps be a bit more vivid in color, and of course Viserion is more of a bronze color than the cream which is supposed to dominate, but those are quibbles.
I absolutely LOVE PJ’s Smaug. I was worried about how they would manage to bring the Magnificent One to the screen, but they totally nailed it. I didn’t really have a personal vision of Smaug, although I was a big fan of the Rankin Bass Hobbit film when I was little, so I’ve always that Smaug in my head. Plus I love Tolkien’s own illustrations, so there were several images of Smaug that were with me whenever I read the book.
Were you surprised when Peter Jackson turned Smaug from a four-legged dragon into a two-legged one for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug? Do you think it was the right decision?
I think in the context of the movie, which has to amaze and thrill in 3D and on an IMAX screen, a slithery, wormlike dragon like ones in the Anglo-Saxon literature that inspired Tolkien would have looked inadequate. And to have only back legs would have made him, I think, less menacing. Peter Jackson’s Smaug can move fast on four limbs, and can grasp things – and people! Much scarier if you’re Bilbo or Thorin.
I didn’t really notice it. Smaug’s front arms/wings have such a leg-like function. I mean, he still kind of seems like a four-legged creature to me; his wings just happen to be attached to those front legs. Works for me. (Also, I don’t recall Tolkien ever specifically saying he is four-legged; he always drew Smaug that way, of course, but whilst he refers to “all his limbs” and to his wings, he doesn’t state in the book that the wings are separate from the limbs. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong on that!) So I think it’s fine for everyone – including Jackson and his team – to reimagine their own version of the Greatest of all Calamities!
Tell me one thing you think is really cool about the dragons in each of the shows.
Elio M García Jr
The fact that they’re getting across personalities among the three dragons in Game of Thrones is quite an impressive feat.
In the book of The Hobbit, I love how cunning Smaug is – how awesome is it for a monster to TALK to the creature they want to kill? He’s like some kind of evil genius, playing games which his victims; the Hannibal Lecter of the dragonworld! In Jackson’s movie, I love that Smaug is genuinely terrifying. I couldn’t get enough of seeing that dragon on the big screen – his leering, cruel face was so frightening.
Smaug’s voice is great. Benedict Cumberbatch had given the monster such personality. With Dany’s dragons the best is yet to come: they’re not full-grown yet and we haven’t seen them at their scariest. It will be quite a challenge for the HBO team to create dragons who represent the most terrifying weapons in what is otherwise largely a realistic medieval world. But they seem to me so very realistic, which is an amazing achievement for CGI on a TV budget, even given the size of the production budget. And, as far as I’m aware, George RR Martin is very happy with them.
How do you think JRR Tolkien would have reacted to Peter Jackson’s version of Smaug?
I wouldn’t presume to know! It’s actually an impossible question to ask: it’s all about context and believability on the big screen, seeing the achievement of creating the dragon within the spectrum of modern cinema effects. And since Professor Tolkien passed away in 1973 he wouldn’t have had that context unless he was still with us.
Smackdown time! It’s Smaug against a tag team of Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion. Who wins and why?
Great question! Smaug would have no problem smashing our season 1-3 dragons. Season 4 trio could heat individual parts of Smaug up pretty well, though I fear they wouldn’t survive a full-on mighty blast from the Tolkien dragon. Season 5-size GoTs would narrow the playing field considerably and, by season 7, I fear Smaug would be out-gunned. His long serpentine neck could be thought of as a boxer’s reach and he’s way smarter than our guys, but in sheer brute force the tag team would eventually wear him down. A Season 7 Drogon vs Smaug smackdown would be thrilling to watch!
That’s hardly fair is it, three against one? Smaug is a massive flying flame-thrower, a terrifying fire-drake. But Dany’s dragons are fast and manoeuvrable. If a single arrow can bring down Tolkien’s dragon, what chance would he stand against three of his own kind? I know who my money’s on …
Elio M García Jr
I’m afraid that battles among dragons in the world of Ice and Fire are generally decided by whichever is biggest and strongest. Unfortunately for Daenerys’s three dragons, they have a LOT of growing left to do. Smaug would consider them snacks at this point.
I’d put my bet on Smaug to win that fight, for three reasons: (1) He’s bigger than all three of the Game of Thrones dragons put together (at least for now); (2) The Game of Thrones dragons have been spoiled by an over-indulgent mother (I mean, really, hand-feeding them pieces of braised meat?); (3) Smaug has a bigger budget behind him!
Oh, Smaug would win, easily. Dragons have got smaller with each successive age; Smaug, a Third Age dragon, is nothing in comparison to Ancalagon the Black, from the First Age. (In George RR Martin’s world, too, the dragons we meet seem to be smaller than the more ancient ones whose skulls are seen in the Red Keep.) I think Smaug is closer in size to those mighty dragons of forgotten times, so the three little ones in Game of Thrones would be no match for him. They might annoy him, snapping round his ankles, but he’d soon shut them up. It would be like a Great Dane dealing with three chihuahuas!
I’m not an expert on Game of Thrones. But I will say, for sheer feistiness, Vermithrax Pejorative (created by Phil Tippett for Dragonslayer), or Harry Potter’s Ukrainian Ironbelly (created by Double Negative for Harry Potter 8) may have given Smaug – or the Game of Thrones dragons – a run for their money.
So there it is. Smaug is the winner, largely by virtue of his overwhelming size. Once they reach maturity, however, I reckon his Game of Thrones competitors might just have the edge. Thanks to all the panelists for taking part!
But wait! What do you think? Can there ever be a fair fight between these four fabulous fire-breathers? Who really is the greatest dragon of them all?
In the great dragon smackdown, which wyrm wins?
- Read the definitive stories behind the visual effects of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Game of Thrones in Cinefex #137
Visual effects for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug by:
Visual effects for Game of Thrones by:
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug photographs copyright © 2013 by Warner Bros Enteratinment. All rights reserved. Game of Thrones photographs copyright © 2011-14 by Home Box Office. All rights reserved.