The Hobbit Review Part Five ~ Azog and his Warg-riders!
In Part Five of Mordor’s Review of The Hobbit, we will continue our look at of the Dark Creatures in the film. There will be Spoilers… so if you have not seen the film yet beware!
In Part One of Mordor’s Review of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” I discussed the over all look and pacing of the film, focusing on the story line which I believe should receive a very high score! I touched on many of the areas that critics and reviewers have mentioned and hopefully addressed most of them. In Part Five of this review, we will discuss Azog and how his character dramatically changes the story structure of The Hobbit films. Azog was kept under wraps until the film opened… no pictures… no toys… almost nothing to tell us the part he would play in the first film if any… much will be revealed here if you have not yet seen the film, so…
For those who have not seen the film… there are spoilers in these latter six reviews.
Let’s saddle up and go hunting with the Warg-riders! Major Spoilers with all new images of Azog!
Please go HERE to our Hobbit Review Page for all seven parts of the Mordor review!
The Wargs of Middle-earth… Northern and Southern
Well… I suppose we must begin with the Wargs… I’m over joyed that Peter Jackson and his creative team took this opportunity to re-envision the Wargs of Middle-earth. I suppose you could argue that the Wargs in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Middle-earth, may have a Northern and Southern species. The Wargs of Mordor to the south might well be the great beasts seen in The Two Towers and The Return of the King, while the Wargs seen in The Hobbit films are of the Northern Gundabad variety. Either way, it makes me very happy to see Tolkien’s vision of the Wargs come to life on the big screen. I was never a fan of the Wargs in the LOTR Trilogy… but you can’t have it all, right?
The Wargs in The Hobbit capture the spirit of these great beasts as written by Tolkien. They are not ordinary wolves exactly, but they definitely have wolf-shape. These large wolf creatures are bigger… meaner… faster… smarter… and more vicious than real wolves. Like the Orcs, they are always drawn to evil.
The Wargs in Peter Jackson’s vision of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey are completely digital creations, just as the Wargs in the Lord of the Rings films are. They may be digital creations, but they still bring a menacing thrill when seen on screen… with glowing eyes… razor sharp fangs… and spiky black fur on their dorsal backs, jutting up between massive shoulder blades! To me the Wargs are perfect dark steeds for the foul goblins and orcs seen in the film… the Warg-riders! In most shots they are quick and deadly… just a blur of eyes, teeth and fur… but Peter Jackson takes several opportunities to give us detailed close-up shots, so we can see how dark and menacing these creatures really are!
However, none of the black/gray Wargs are as evil and menacing as the great White Warg… but more on him later!
A closer look at the Warg-riders
We see the first of these Hounds of Sauron with their Foul Orc Riders following the night scene where the company of dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf are camped for the evening. After Balin tells his tale of Thorin during the War between the Dwarves and Orcs, the camera does a slow pull back… we see the dwarves campfire in the distance, as the head of a hideous Warg slowly comes into view and then we see an Orc upon his back. This to me is very reminiscent of the scene in the Fellowship of the Ring, where one of the Black Riders is seen against the backdrop of the Shire. We see a pastoral view at night and as the camera pulls back, the head of a black horse appears and eventually the hands and cloak of a Ringwraith dressed as a rider in black.
How the Warg-riders are incorporated into the film…
As a plot device, the Warg-riders are used in much the same way as the Black Riders were used in the Fellowship of the Ring. When the company realizes they are being hunted, it heightens the sense of dread and danger, as they continue on their journey in the wild. This mounting tension culminates in a final attack which forces the company to flee into the safety of the secret valley of Rivendell, something Thorin has been against doing since the beginning of the quest. I will discuss how the story arc of The Hobbit has been changed by the introduction of the Warg-riders west of the Misty Mountains further down in this posting.
The Look of the Warg-riders
Before continuing, I would like to touch on the look of these creatures. The Warg-riders are definitely large evil orcs. At this point in the film we don’t know for sure what their specific origin is. Each species of Orc in Middle-earth are defined both by region and by whom they serve. The Orcs of Moria are under the dominion of the Balrog, the Orcs and Uruk-hai of Isengard are controlled by the White Hand of Saurman and the great Soldier Orcs & Black Uruks of Mordor are under the watchful Eye of the Dark Lord. At this point, we do not know very much about the Warg-riders… are they from Moria? Dol Guldur? Mount Gundabad? At the end of The Hobbit: AUJ, we still don’t know much about these creatures. My gut tells me, that they come form Mount Gundabad and it will be these forces, combined with the Orcs of Mirkwood and the Goblins of Goblin Town that will form the forces in the Battle of Five Armies.
Fimbul the Hunter… A Warg-rider
The Warg-riders have a very specific look… using what seems to be the teeth, claws, bones and skins of the Wild Wargs upon which they ride as their raiment. The most visual warg-rider is Fimbul the Hunter. I believe he is given command of the Warg-riders after his superior is killed at the hands of Azog on Weathertop. I will have to watch the film again to be sure of this.
UPDATE: I did some research on this and indeed Fimbul lives… it is Yazneg (though there is a question about who Yazneg really is in the film!) is killed on Weathertop. Fimbul also survives the Battle of the Pines… you can see him clearly standing by Azog as the Eagles fly off.
I thought it was a nice touch to set this scene on Weathertop… this helps give the audience a sense of location based on their knowledge of The Lord of the Rings films and it’s also sets up a sense of foreboding about the events to come. Amon Sûl is a great location and it’s nice that Peter Jackson was able to work it into a scene in The Hobbit.
Fimbul has a distinctive look. He wears a huge collar made from the spine and cracked ribcage of a warg. A very innovative look developed by the creative team working with Jackson!
These guys must really stink though!!! LOL!
Fimbul is without doubt under the command Azog, the Orc-chieftain who commanded the armies in Moria, that fought Thorin at the East Gate of Khazad-dûm during the final Battle of Azanûlbizar. Now… I want point out that this is the mythology of the the film, not necessarily the works of the Tolkien Canon which differs slightly. You can go HERE to The Tolkien Gateway for more on Tolkien’s version of these these events.
Now that we have covered the Wargs and Warg-riders, it’s time to turn to Azog, who it turns out is a major figure in the Hobbit Films.
Azog the Defiler… the Pale Orc of Gundabad!
It’s now time to address Azog… one of the best kept secrets of the first Hobbit film. Azog is a huge Orc whose origins are to be found in Mount Gundabad, the orc strong-hold in the north of the Misty Mountains. These orcs are the remnants of the orcs who fought and destroyed the North Kingdom of Arnor under the rule of the Witch-king of Angmar… the Lord of the Nazgûl!
In the film version of these events, Thrór tries to retake the halls of Khazad-dûm after the fall of Erebor from the fire of the dragon Smaug. When the exiled King Under the Mountain marches upon the East Gate of Moria they find that the Dark Pit has already been taken by a great army of orcs led by Azog the Defiler… a huge, pale orc of Gundabad.
Outside the East-gate of Moria in sight of the Dimrill Dale, the final Battle of Azanûlbizar, which ended the War with the Orcs was fought.
We are told by Balin that Azog swore an oath to destroy the line of Durin. He begins by beheading King Thrór! His son Thráin, over come by grief and despair, fell into shadow and was never seen again. Thorin, now King rises up to defend the honor of his people and fights alone with Azog. When his shield is broken by Azog’s mace, he picks up a log of oak and makes of it a shield. Attacking Azog, he cuts off his arm and sends him fleeing back into the Shadows of Moria. The battle is won, but at a great cost. The orc armies were decimated, but soare the folk of Thorn. They have no choice, but to flee the Gates of Moria. This sets the stage for another encounter with Azog.
Azog’s role in the Plot of The Hobbit
Now we come to the part Azog plays in the first of the three Hobbit films. Unknown until the film premiered, Azog is the primary antagonist of the film. Most speculated that Azog would appear in a sort of historical context, because in the Tolkien Canon, his is killed by Thráin in the final Battle of Azanûlbizar. In the films mythology, Azog survives. When Thorin and company leave the Blue Mountains on the Northern Coast of Middle-earth and head east to the Shire to meet with Gandalf and hire a burglar, they are hunted by Warg-riders commanded by Azog.
At this point we don’t know why Azog is waiting for Thorin in the North West corner of Middle-earth with a company of Warg-riders. There is mention by the Dwarves in Bag End, that the “Signs” say that the time has come to seek out their lost treasure. Thorin states that others will have also read the signs… and so they must act now to take back Erebor! I suppose the darker forces in Middle-earth have also seen these signs… I have a feeling we will be told more about this in the next film.
This inclusion of Azog is a big departure from the plot of The Hobbit and I know that for many Tolkien purists this will be a cause to take issue with the films. However, it is my belief that the films will never be the same as the books. This is an adaptation from book to film.
In Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, there are so many changes to the story… removing characters, speeding up time frames, switching the sequence of events and yes even adding new plot-twists into the story. But still… at the very core of these films, Peter Jackson always kept the spirit of Tolkien’s words in place. A lot of the changes Peter Jackson made were difficult to absorb at first, now they are seen by most as part of what is takes to make a successful and much loved book into a successful and much loved film. Not all agree with this consensus, but each to his own.
Since we have only seen the first of the three films, I believe it’s premature to judge the films adherence to the spirit of Tolkien, until we can see how the entire story unfolds.
That said… the changes to the plot of The Hobbit go far beyond just incorporating elements from the Return of the King Appendices. The introduction of Azog and the Warg-riders West of the Misty Mountains fundamentally changes the story of The Hobbit. This is no longer about just incorporating elements of the History of Middle-earth that were happening during the time of The Hobbit, it changes the very shape of the story. At this point in the three films, I can’t tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I only know, that in order to make The Hobbit into trilogy of films that are a prequel to the Lord of the Rings films, something like this would have to be done.
Bringing Azog and the Warg-riders into the western part of the Company’s journey from Hobbiton to Rivendell, before the crossing of the Misty Mountains is a shocking change to the story. If Bilbo and the dwarves had encountered Azog and the Warg-riders in the Goblin Tunnels, it would not have been such a dramatic change from the book.
I wonder if that was the original idea, before the decision was made to switch from two to three films. I can see where the film-makers felt they had to do something, to give the film some dramatic tension in it’s first half. Since the first film now ends with the rescue by the eagles, it now needs something more in the beginning, otherwise the only dangerous thing that happens between Hobbiton and Rivendell is the encounter with the trolls. So… Azog acts as the major antagonist much as the Black Riders did in the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring. We will have to see how this new addition to The Hobbit fully unfolds.
The Great White Warg
I also wanted to mention the Great White Warg… the huge beast upon whose back Azog rides. He is almost entirety white with a set of dark stripes that run along his back. He is truly a fearsome creature and I look forward to seeing more of him in the next film. He get a nice cameo on Weathertop with a close-up of his snarling face. Talk about teeth! I hope we get to hear more about his origins in Mount Gundabad!
The Final Confrontation on the cliff among the burning pines.
This is one of the most exciting set pieces in The Hobbit. Not only does Peter Jackson give up a tremendous action sequence, but we also get an emotional wallop with the confrontation between Azog, Thorin and Bilbo… a truly amazing moment in film. Peter Jackson took one of the most iconic sequences in The Hobbit book and elevated the level of excitement by placing the pines on a sheer cliff. This scene was wonderfully crafted and gives us some real thrills along with some emotional meat to chew on. I absolutely love this scene.
I only wish the screen writers had included the Orcs from Goblin Town into this sequence to keep it more in-line with the book. Seeing hoards of angry Goblins streaming out of the Misty Mountain tunnels and being held back by the warg-riders as Azog and Thorin face-off, would have been a nice addition to this climatic scene.
I won’t give away too many details about this final confrontation… but I will say this… when Thorin Oakenshield marches down the burning tree trunk to the awe inspiring music of Howard Shore… I felt chills! This final scene in the film, shows a master film-maker at the top of his craft. I think this may be one of my favorite scenes out of all four films (the first Hobbit and the three LOTRs films), it packs such an emotional punch, as well as a visual and auditory thrill… and when tiny little Bilbo stands up against a foe ten times his strength to defend his friend, I felt tears in my eyes at his bravery. I could watch that scene a hundred times! (I probably shouldn’t do this… but if you go HERE you can watch this scene on YouTube… until it’s pulled that is!)
Though I don’t want to give away too much, I will say the we now know Azog will continue on as an antagonist in at least the next film. And Bolg… (his son?) will also play a part. Many of you might have missed this, but if you watch closely during the Battle of Azanûlbizar, you can see Bolg fighting Dwalin ( I think he’s the dwarve with the mo-hawk)! It will be exciting to see how his character will be introduced into the next films.
In closing I want to touch on one final thought.
Some reviewers have mentioned that Azog looked too much like a CG character. In some of the long shots, I can see what they are saying, especially in the Battle of Azanûlbizar. However, in the ending sequence on the cliff, he looks as real as any of the Lord of the Rings orcs in prosthetic makeup… he is, in my opinion, one of the coolest orcs in the entire series of films. In watching this scene a second time, the use of CG was less bothersome to me. Azog is a very powerful villain and I think after watching it a few more times I will fail to notice the CG at all, as the story unfolds and pulls me in. Like almost of the the creature characters in this film, he is a motion capture creation with digital CG over-laid on top of the actor’s performance. I think John Rawls who plays Azog, brings a solidly evil presence the Pale Orc. I think he will go down as one of our favorite movie villains!
Well… now we must discuss the Necromancer, Dol Guldur, the Spiders of Mirkwood and the Witch-king! Check out the final installment of the Mordor review to get all the details!
Please go HERE to our Hobbit Review Page for all seven parts of the Mordor review!
We have one of the most comprehensive sets of images of Azog to be found on the web. Enjoy!