The Hobbit Review Part Six ~ Dol Guldur, The Witchking and the Necromancer!
In Part Six of Mordor’s Review of The Hobbit, we will continue our look at 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 Six of this review, we will discuss the introduction of Dol Guldur, the Witch-king and the Necromancer. We will of course be taking a closer look at the Greenwood, which is transforming into Mirkwood and the part that Radagast the Brown plays in the plot of The Hobbit: AUJ!
For those who have not seen the film… there are spoilers in these latter six reviews.
So… grab your staff and jump on your Bunny Sled, because we are heading deep into Mirkwood and the fortress of Dol Guldur!
Please go HERE to our Hobbit Review Page for all seven parts of the Mordor review!
Lets begin with a deeper look into Radagast and his home in the Greenwood… Rhosgobel!
As I stated in the Part One of this review, the introduction of Radagast at Rhosgobel is the first major departure from The Hobbit proper. At this point in the film we begin to see how Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens plan to make use of the appendices in The Return of the King to flesh out the story of The Hobbit. Some of the new material and how it is used does feel unsettling and odd at times… but I remember feeling the same way about the Fellowship of the Ring when it first premiered. At this point I have only seen the film twice… however, I plan to go to another showing this week if I can. I have made the decision to hold off making any snap judgments about the new materiel and how it redefines the story of The Hobbit until I have seen all three films and can fully appreciate the arc of this new story… because that is what this adaption is… a new story that includes the writing of Tolkien from The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings and their Appendices together to form a six film adventure.
Stylistically The Hobbit is written very differently from the Lord of the Rings, not to mention that the latter books have higher stakes and a darker tone. I think with these three Hobbit films, what Peter Jackson is doing is not slavishly recreating The Hobbit book on film, but instead is creating his vision of a six film Middle-earth Saga. I have a feeling that in the end, most fans will be happy with results. We can always go back and read the books and enjoy Tolkien’s writing as we always have… the films will be a joy all to themselves!
The Greenwood is turning into Mirkwood!
Radagast’s first scenes in the film shows him distraught at the effects of some form of dark magic that is wreaking havoc in his home of Rhosgobel. The wood is dying… the animals are sick… he discovers a small woodland friend, a hedgehog who he tries to cure with woodland remedies… but nothing works.
Radagast soon discovers that a Darker Sorcery is at work here… he pulls the blue stone from his staff and uses it to save the small creature… this is interwoven with an attack by the Spiders of Mirkwood. As Radagast uses his power to save the life of the hedgehog, the spiders are also driven away and return whence they came. Radagast decides to follow them and is led to the ruins called Dol Guldur.
The Lonely Ruins of Dol Guldur.
Now… I must say this isn’t exactly what I was expecting from Dol Guldur. I had envisioned a mighty fortress… a strong-hold in the densest and darkest part of Southern Mirkwood, guarded by orcs and goblins. I suppose the Mirkwood equivalent of Barad-dûr
The Dol Guldur we see in the film appears to be an unguarded lonely fortress in ruins. Now it may be, that the filmmakers plan to show the resurrection of Sauron and the rise of Dol-Guldur… much like we saw the beautifully wooded and green Isengard turned into a flattened burning wasteland as Saruman raised his dark army of Uruk-hai. Perhaps what we are seeing is the very beginnings of the rise of Sauron.
Peter Jackson, in the making of these films tends to condense and speed up events that in Tolkien’s written world often takes millennium to occur. Perhaps the same will happen here… from the ruins of Dol Guldur the Necromancer will rise up and begin to call all evil unto Mirkwood. Over the course of the next two films, it’s possible that Dol Guldur will become a vast fortress bent on the destruction of Middle-earth.
As it stands now, the ruins of Dol Guldur appear to be the lonely abode of disembodied spirits… the Witck-king of Angmar and the Necromancer. We watch at Radagast tracks the Spiders of Mirkwood to the ruins of Dol Guldur. We see his small figure crossing a bridge to enter the ruins… which looks like it may have been a fortress created by the men of Númenor long ago.
Jackson makes use of color grading to great effect here in hues of grey, blue and green to give an ashen pall over the entire ruined structure.
I think the idea of raising creatures from the dead is a very interesting twist to Tolkien s writing. He never mentions this precisely, but Tolkien did use the term “The Necromancer” for the unveiled Sauron which implies a spirit with the power of raising the dead. Here is a definition I found for the term’ Necromancy’. [ a method of divination through alleged communication with the dead; black art…magic in general, especially that practiced by a witch or sorcerer; sorcery; witchcraft; conjuration.] I think it’s brilliant that Peter Jackson has made us of this idea and gives an interesting explanation for why everything dies around Sauron… he is basically sucking all the life out of every living thing around him in order to draw power to raise himself and others from the dead… so to speak. I think this works in very well with the ideas about what Sauron is and how he uses his dark magic.
The fight between Radagast and the Witch King
As Radagast searches among the ruins, he looks up at an ancient carved statue that is very reminiscent of the stone figures seen on Amon Sûl. This appears to be a visual clue that tells us that Dol Guldur was once a Gondorian structure. There is a very creepy moment when the statue moves… it feel very Ray Harryhausen and I suspect it’s a subtle homage to the great animator. A nice moment! It signals the audience that something bad is about to happen! As Radagast stares at the statue his back is turned and we see the ghostly shape of the wraith Witch-king rise up out of the very ruins behind him. I don’t know about you, but this version of the Witch-king seems much more menacing and spooky than the version we see on Weathertop when Frodo puts on the Ring in the LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring. The way he rises up behind Radagast is a very chilling scene! Loved it!
Now… either the Witch-king has not yet regained his full power, or we have highly underestimated the power of Radagast! Maybe a little of both perhaps… the character of Radagast was dismissed by many critics of the film as goofy and foolish, but he has a very steely undertone when roused out of his sort of daffy demeanor. We see this twice in the film… his look when he fights the Witch-king in this scene and also when he tells Gandalf “These are Rhosgobel Rabbits… I would like to see them try!” You can see the rock beneath the moss! Like Saruman, many have underestimated the power of this character in the film!
I must say however, that the entire bunny-sled and warg-rider chase scene that occurs before the company goes into the valley of Rivendell, goes far outside the borders of Tolkien’s written world! I don’t want to harp on this, but it felt very un-Tolkien to me.
The battle between Wizard’s Staff and Morgul Blade definitely has it’s moments and it’s indeed a wonderful bit of action in the film. It was very cool to see the Witch-kings blade become solid as it was pulled from the wraith-world into the real world of Middle-earth. Radagast of course takes the blade to Gandalf (How he crosses the Misty Mountains is one of the great plot flaws in this film however) and eventually into the hands of the White Council in Rivendell. It’s here that we begin to see the first signs of treachery from Saruman as he tries to convince the Council that there is nothing to be feared from Gandalf’s words. I don’t believe he is yet under the sway of Sauron, but he’s definitely considering the possibility of finding the Ring himself at this point… at least from Tolkien’s version of events.
The Witch-king’s Tomb
I am concerned about the invention of the plot point concerning the Witch-king of Angmar and the idea that he was imprisoned in some sort of tomb and has now been freed. This definitely goes against the Tolkien Canon. I suppose Jackson felt the need to introduce a more dramatic plot element to show the return of the Nazgûl and the rise of Sauron, but this is definitely a departure from Tolkien’s writing, which many fans who cherish the lore of Middle-earth will feel is unnecessary. I have decided to wait until all three films are out before making any judgments on this myself. There were several egregious deviations from the Tolkien Canon in all three Lord of the Rings films and though they still make me uneasy at times when watching the films, for the most part I can see why Jackson as a film director made these choices to create a better film. Do I like it? Hell NO! But… I do understand it and I do love the films just as they are.
The Coming of the Necromancer
Radagast turns towards a dark passage and a black shape begins to form itself… the shape of a man. The Shadow grows… a look of horror comes over the face of Radagast as the Shadow fills the entire screen. There is the the slightest indication of horns upon the head, which I thought was a nice touch. As the camera zooms in and the face of the Necromancer fills the entire screen, you can just make out the features of a ghoulish visage. Then the screen fills completely with blackness. The Wizard flees for his life, perhaps sensing that this is a foe beyond his power.
I was a bit underwhelmed by this visage when I saw it for the first time. I want to make a note, that the images found here, were captured from a low-res video I found on YouTube. I looked at this video very closely over and over again and I’m absolutely certain that this is not the final version of this scene that I saw in theaters… there was much more definition in the image of the Necromancer in the final close up of his face that was much more menacing. I remember seeing a great deal more definition in his facial features. I think this version of the scene was not the final edit that was sent out to theaters… it is definitely missing something.
The issue of the Necromancer’s facial features aside, I was still sort of confused by this version of the Dark Lord… to me he looked a bit more science fiction than a character from the fantasy world of Middle-earth. I will say that on my second viewing of the film, this did not bother me nearly as much now that I knew what to expect, however it is sort of an underwhelming vision of this great threat to Middle-earth. It just seems to me there might have been a better way to give shape to the shapeless spirit of Sauron. I have a feeling, that this is another fall-out from the nearly last minute decision to change from two to three films and the added strain of pulling it all together, especially the digital CG imagery.
We are shown just a quick hint of the Necromancer and then Radagast turns heal and runs for his life. He flees over a rocky hill with dark and twisted trees framing the scene with Dol Guldur in the background… a nicely rendered visual.
We then see the rabbits and sled under the dark trees of Mirkwood. One rabbits stands and thumps and the rest take off. Radagast barley has time to grab hold of the sled and jump on board before the rabbits tear away into the woods. Behind Radagast we see great black bats swoop down and attack. It is almost impossible to see clearly what they look like, but I grabbed a couple of screen caps of this scene and these bats look very much like Vampire Bats! I hope we get to see more of these in the next two films. Maybe at the battle of Five Armies?
Now… this leads us to one of the most egregious errors in the film from my point of view.
I don’t know if this is a result of re-editing the film after the choice was made to make three films, or whether this was intentional from the very beginning, but the next time we see Radagast he has traveled nearly six hundred miles from Dol Guldur in Southern Mirkwood, over the Orc infested Misty Mountains, and then north across Eriador to find Gandalf, Bilbo and the Dwarves in the Trollshaws west of Rivendell. I suppose he could have traveled over Caradhras at the Redhorn Pass above the Black Pit of Moria and then traveled further northward, but it still would have been a journey of many weeks, if not months. I would like to see some kind of explanation about this in the next film. Peter Jackson and company always made a point of sticking closely to the realities of the geography of Middle-earth in the Lord of the Rings films and perhaps as Radagast returns to his home in Mirkwood this will be more clearly explained.
This issue also brings to mind how Azog and the Warg-riders themselves got to the other side of the Misty Mountains ahead of the dwarves, where they beset Thorin and company at the eastern entrance to the Orc Tunnels. I personally believe that they passed through Goblin Town ahead of the dwarves and waited for them on the other side. This would explain the remark by the Goblin King about their being some who would pay a high price for news of Thorin Oakenshield!
For the most part I’m very pleased with Dol Guldur and the images of Mirkwood, the Witch-king and even the Necromancer. I’m so glad that we are getting to see more of the Dark Creatures of Middle earth, that we would likely not be seeing if the filmmakers had only used The Hobbit book as source material in making the film. I feel there is a lot more story to be told here and I can’t wait to see what Peter Jackson has up his sleeve for us in the next two films! Now this leads us to Part Seven of the Mordor Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey… the Coming of Smaug. I hope to have this final part of the review completed this week!