Part Three ~ Dragon Sickness in the Ruins of Erebor
In this part of my review we will look at the dynamic tension between Bilbo and Thorin as they wrestle with friendship & duty in the aftermath of a dragon’s reign.
In Part One of Mordor’s Review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, I gave a brief overview of the film. I touched on many areas of the film where I feel it succeeded and other areas was where I feel it failed. In Part Three of this review we are going to take a more detailed look in the relationship between Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield as they wrestle with an ever widening view of coming events in the ruinous darkness of Erebor!
Please go HERE to our Hobbit: BFA Review for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!
Let’s begin Part Three of our review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies with a look at what remains in Erebor in the wake of the dragon’s death.
Smaug is dead, but the power of his essence lives on in something called ‘dragon sickness’ that infects the gold. The events I will discuss here, don’t happen in sequential order, but for the sake of this review we will consider them as a whole. In Professor Tolkien’s written account there is only a vague mention of the aftereffects of gold upon which a dragon has long slept. Its effect upon dwarves, who already have an unhealthy desire for gold and treasure and especially that which has been stolen for them, was handled with ab it more subtly in the book.
As with all of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films, just a few words from Tolkien can be turned into a much large plot element or action sequence that fuels a more intense story narrative. And so we have ‘dragon sickness’ which has a direct affect upon Thorin and is used to explain his actions as leader and King under the Mountain.. There are moments in the film when this story device works well, and others when it seems a bit overplayed.
This narrative between Bilbo and Thorin begins in the first few minutes of the film, as Bilbo and the Dwarves watch the burning of Laketown. Bilbo looks to Thorin and discovers he has turned his back on the people of Esgaroth after Smaug’s plunges to his death and we see him march down to the Gate of Erebor! We don’t really know what happens directly after the death of Smaug, because we don’t return to Erebor until Fili, Kili, Bofur and Oin return to the mountain. We pick up this story thread once again as they enter the broken Gate and enter the mountain.
We are shown, just how massive this dwarven realm really is with several awe inspiring establishing shots as they descend into it’s depths. Suddenly, Bilbo comes running up to the dwarves frantically telling them they must all leave the mountain before it’s too late. He tells them Thorin has changed and they are all in danger. This comes off as an odd moment in the film and seems overly dramatic to me. I would rather have let the dwarves discover the changes in Thorin, rather then have Bilbo deliver this news in the form of exposition. The following scene makes up for this as the dwarves and Bilbo look down upon Thorin, who seems to be whispering to himself and then looks up to see his brethren. He appears to come to himself again and with arms spread, welcomes them to the treasure hoard of Erebor!
The next scene shows the dwarves coming together in joyous reunion. Then we cut directly to the search for the Arkenstone, which happens in the film much the same way as it does in the book, the stone becomes the focus of Thorin’s thought and desire. The scene shows the dwarves wading in the unimaginable wealth of Erebor, as Thorin shouts down at them to find the Stone at all costs!
We then cut to Bilbo, who has walked out to the front Gate. He sits dejectedly upon the ruined stone rampart. He is remembering his last conversation with the dragon, who taunts him and tells Bilbo, that he should let him have the Arkenstone, which lay at the hobbits feet, just so he can watch it destroy Thorin. This is an important flashback, because it reminds the audience why Bilbo keeps the stone hidden. He is afraid it will destroy his friend. This scene perfectly sets up the narrative of Bilbo, Thorin and the Arkenstone.
This moment also plays to Jackson’s Middle-earth Saga as a whole, in that Bilbo is confronted with the idea that certain objects in the world might contain great power that cannot be understood and may cause evil in those who posses them. A nod to the relationship Bilbo has with the One Ring, though he doesn’t as yet know it. We then watch as Bilbo pulls the Arkenstone from his jacket and it confirms what we’ve already suspected, that he’s in possession of the Stone. It’s interesting to consider, that in this moment little Bilbo Baggins from the Shire, has in his possession two of the most powerful heirlooms in Middle-earth, the Arkenstone of the Dwarven Kings and the One Ring of power! Amazing! Ultimately they bring him nothing but doubt, confusion and pain.
When we return to the dwarves, we find Thorin upon his throne looking up at a fisher in the rock were the Arkenstone was once placed. We see Thorin, Balin, Dwalin and Bilbo at the Throne of Thror, as Thorin complains that the stone cannot be found. Balin confronts him and asks if he doubts the loyalty of anyone here? They have a sharp exchange, that ends with Thorin telling them that if any of this company withholds the Stone, he will be avenged! Bilbo looks frightened, the dwarves look troubled. In this moment, we begin to see that Thorin is succumbing to the greed of dragon sickness and begins to have paranoid thoughts, even about the company of dwarves with whom he’s been through so much. We begin to see the effect of dragon sickness in his desire for the Arkenstone.
In the next scene, we find Balin alone in a dwarven library. He is in a state of abject grief over Thorin’s behavior. Bilbo comes upon him and Balin says it’s the curse of dragon sickness and that he has seen it before in King Thror, who was driven mad by it’s power. Bilbo then ask Balin if Thorin had the stone, would it make things better? Balin tells him that the Arkenstone is the summit of all of the wealth of Erebor and it bestows great power on the one who possesses it. He concludes that t would simply make matters worse. This is a subtle and secret conversation, about withholding the Arkenstone from Thorin. Neither Bilbo, nor Balin openly admit to knowing that Bilbo has the Stone. I have watched this scene several times and I can’t say for sure if Balin knows Bilbo has it. This is a wonderfully played scene, that subtly leaves the door open for Bilbo to use the Stone for his own purposes.
We then cut to a scene of Bilbo sitting alone and reaching into his coat for something that is hidden from view. We are of course meant to think, he has the Arkenstone in his hand. Thorin comes from behind and confronts Bilbo about what he’s hiding. We think Bilbo has been caught, but when he opens his hand, he’s holding an acorn he found in the gardens around Beorn’s house. This is a completely new plot point invented by the filmmakers, but I think it’s a particularly effective scene that helps the story in several ways. When Bilbo explains that he found the acorn in the garden of Beorn and that he wants to plant it in his own garden at Bag End, you see a notable change in Thorin’s demnor. Bilbo says that when it grows tall, he can look at it and remember… all that happened and how lucky he is to have made it home. The mood softens and we see the old Thorin smiling and remembering that Bilbo is indeed his friend. This quiet moment between them, explains why Thorin continues to trust Bilbo, even though he was hired as a burglar! Thorin sees that Bilbo cares not for gold or treasure, and that what he values most is hearth and home. From this point on, Thorin never suspects Bilbo of stealing the Arkenstone and begins to confide in him about his mistrust of the others.
At the conclusion of this tender scene, it seems as though Bilbo is about to tell Thorin that he has the stone, but Dwalin comes forward saying that refugees from Lake Town are streaming into Dale. Bilbo’s moment to come clean with Thorin passes.
I don’t know this for certain, but there is another element of this scene I find fascinating. Might this acorn, planted by Bilbo near to Bag End, be the source of the Party Tree? Bilbo’s 111th Birthday occurs nearly 60 years later and considering the fact that this acorn came from the garden of Beorn, where everything grows larger than life, it’s convertible that this acorn planted by Bilbo might become the huge oak party tree! Which would have a nice sort of synergy, since Sam will one day plant the Mallorn seed found in the box of dirt given to him by Galadriel, on the very same spot where the Party Tree was cut down. (this is in the book, not the films) There is a nice poetic element to this in the narrative of the films. I don’t know if this was intended by the scriptwriters, but it adds a nice dimension in the continuity of the six film saga.
Thorin then gathers everyone to begin fortifying the gate with piles of stone, telling them they have fought too hard to lose their treasure now. Kili confronts Thorin, telling him that the people of Lake Town have lost everything! They should help them if they can. We then see just how cold hearted Thorin has become, when he tells them, that the people of Lake Town should be grateful for what they do have. Bilbo looks on with a sense of desperation.
In the next scene in Erebor, Thorin and company mount the rampart to find an army of Elves lining the walls of Dale across the valley. This of course confirms all of Thorin’s fears of outsiders coming to steal their gold. We then see Bard riding up to the gate to bargain with the Dwarves. Just as Bard rides up to the gate we see a large raven flying off and over the hills. We know this the messenger being sent to Dain to come and help the dwarves in Erebor! After a few haughty words between Thorin and Bard,Thorin comes down to the base of the gate and they talk through a diamond shape space in the walls.
As there debate between them unfolds, we see that Thorin will not budge despite the fact that Bard challenges him to stand by his word. As they argue back and forth you can see the both have legitimate points of view. It seems now that WAR is inevitable!
This is an intimate scene that is visually and aurally arresting and shows how Peter Jackson can take a few lines of dialogue written by Tolkien, and craft them into a wonderfully intriguing scene. Peter Jackson, when he’s firing on all cylinders has a way of interpreting Tolkien that elevate the story. Unfortunately, there are much fewer examples of this over the course of The Hobbit trilogy, then there are in The Lord of the Rings films.
Thorin turns away from the wall and all of the dwarves and Bilbo are looking at him. This is another scene I have watched several times and I can’t tell if the dwarves agree with him or if they are let down by his stubbornness. I think this should have been made more clear, and in fact this occurs right up until the time when they march out of the Gate to help in the battle. The dwarves have each been given a lot more personality and presence than Tolkien gave them in the book, and yet when the time comes for them to speak up, they remain strangely silent and passive. Dwalin and Kili confront him later, but it’s really only Bilbo who consistently stands up to him and telsl him he is wrong.
They return to the stone rampart as Bard rides back to Dale. Bilbo can’t contain his frustration any longer and confronts Thorin, stating that they’re outnumbered and cannot win a fight against such a force. Thorin simply smiles and tells him never to underestimate Dwarves. He turns, looks out over the valley and says… “We have reclaimed Erebor, and now we defend it!”
Then comes the classic arming scene, where the hero’s prepare themselves for battle. This worked particularly well in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli don armor for battle at Helm’s Deep. I like this scene in The Hobbit as well, Howard Shore delivers a rousing battle melody punctuated with drum beats of war. We watch as the folk of Dale and the Dwarves of Erebor arm themselves in preparation for battle.
We’re then treated to a scene we’ve waited long to see. The moment when Thorin gifts Bilbo with the Mithril Coat. The same coat that will one day save Frodo from the steel spear of the Cave Troll in Moria. A coat so prized, that it’s value is greater than The Shire itself and everything in it! This scene plays well and the Mithril Coat looks exactly like the one Bilbo gave Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring. I wonder if it’s the same prop used in the first LOTR film?
At this point, things go a bit squirrely, when Throin drags Bilbo to the side and tells him that he has been betrayed! Once again Bilbo thinks he is caught, but Thorin tells him that one among them is false and that Bilbo is the only one he can trust. This scene plays very oddly in my opinion. I expect PJ wanted to show just how far over the edge Thorin has gone in his madness over the gold of Erebor and the Arkenstone, but it comes off like bad melodrama.
Thorin switches back and forth between the good Thorin and the crazy Thorin, so fast it makes your head spin. It doesn’t help that in several shots Thorin goes into slo-mo with his voice getting deeper and deeper. I think PJ was trying to have Thorin channel Smaug in this scene, to connect the dragon sickness to Thorin’s behavior. To me it’s a step too far, that doesn’t help the story. I think it would have been more appropriate if the Mithril Coat had been given to Bilbo earlier in the story, rather than trying to meld the Thorin who likes Bilbo with the crazy paranoid Thorin together in one scene. Just my opinion!
We then see Bilbo stand on one side, with Thorin on the other, as the dwarves march to the front gate in full armor. This is a image that says so much more about the wide gap between them, than all of the dialogue we have just heard.
The next scene in this series of scenes, shows the final confrontation between Bilbo and Thorin on the wall of Erebor! Bilbo admits he has taken the Arkenstone and given it to the armies of Men and Elves. In this scene Martin Freeman portrays Bilbo with great courage, as he stands up to Thorin telling him that Bard holds the real Arkenstone, because he gave it to him! He explains that it’s his claim against the 14th share of the treasure. He challenges Thorin and tells him that ‘the Thorin’ he met in Bag End would never go back on his word, but Thorin will not listen and instead unleashes his rage upon Bilbo. This scene works well and the performances ring true. Just as in the book, Thorin threatens to cast the hobbit off the rampart to his death below. So they part in great acrimony, until their final meeting upon Raven Hill.
When Dain Ironfoot comes marching into battle, Thorin orders the dwarves not to leave Erebor. He then retreats to throne room. I have to say, this plot element seems a bit awkward on screen, even though timewise the same event occurs in the book. The difference is we do not know what transpires in Erebor as Tolkien wrote it. Thorin and the dwarves simply rush out of the gat for last surge against their enemy. In the film I got the feeling the a lot of time was passing, Thorin battle with his own demons inside the mountain. I like each of the individual the scenes themselves, but how they fit into the sequence of the battle seems to be too drawn out. (this problem will ultimately be corrected in the extended edition.)
We then cut to Thorin alone on his throne and Dwalin come to plead with him to let them enter the fight. This is one of the best exchanges in the trilogy. Dwalin confronts Thorin which leads to an emotional clash between these two dwarves who love each other like brothers. In the end Thorin threatens to kill Dwalin if he does not leave him. We see in this moment just how far Throin has fallen into dragon sickness. His plight seems hopeless.
Then we come to Thorin’s moment of redemption. In watching this scene several times for this review I began to appreciate just how wonderful a piece if cinema this is. Played out as a surreal imagining of Thorin’s, where he is being sucked into a whirlpool of gold at the very place were Smaug came face to face the giant dwarven idol made of gold. There is no such moment in the book, Thorin’s redemption in Tolkien’s writing comes upon his deathbed, when he see Bilbo for the last time. In the film, Thorin walks off alone down to the great room were the floor is covered in gold. The precious metal has now cooled and formed a solid golden floor upon which Thorin stands. Within his mind, he hears all of the many conversations and warnings he has had from those he trusts and loves.
We see a gorgeously realized image of a shadowy Smaug slithering just below the surface of the gold and it appears to liquefy beneath Thorin’s feet. He begins to sink into an ever widening whirlpool. At this point the scene is elevated to a sophisticated surreal vision, where Thorin in reality falls to his knee upon the golden floor, but in his mind he see himself falling helpless into a pit of gilded despair. The editing on this scene brilliantly achieves this dual vision that is easily understood by the audience. At it’s conclusion, Thorin is left kneeling upon the metal floor with a complete understanding of what he has become. In this final moment, he can either sink into despair or reject what the dragon sickness has done to him.
We get our answer as Thorin takes his crown and casts to the floor at his feet. Without his crown, Thorin seems to return to his original self. There are parallels here with Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom and the casting of the One Ring into the fires at the Cracks of Doom. The ideas of evil, possession, addiction and the lust for power are all played out here.
In the final scene that takes place in the ruined halls of Erebor, Thorin returns to the company of Dwarves waiting dejectedly by the broken gate of Erebor. Immediately Kili rushes forward and delivers an impassioned speech to his King about their duty to fight! This is a tender moment as the dwarves realize that Throne has been delivered from evil and has returned to them whole… if not unscathed.
This is the moment when Thorin speaks the famous phrase… “Will you follow me… one last time?” There is a humble quality in his voice that is a nice counterpoint to the haughty speech we have heard over and over again in the last three films. We understand it is born of the loss of home, kingdom and his people to the dragon and also the treatment they received from the rest of Middle-earth. However, it is time for him to release the past and become the King we know he can be.
It cheers the heart to see all of the dwarves rise up ready to fight beside their King!
This a great lead into the battle charge about to take place before the Gate of Erebor!
So concludes one of the largest narrative portions of The Hobbit : The Battle of the Five Armies… the story of Thorin and Bilbo in the caverns of Erebor where darkness rules.