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Nov 142015

Part Four ~ Mount Gundabad Rises out of the Shadows

In this part of my review we will focus on Mount Gundabad, the gateway fortress into the ancient realm of Angmar and a stronghold of the orcs along the northern fences of the Misty Mountains.

In Part One of Mordor’s Review of The Hobbit: BFA, 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 Four of this review we will travel north with Legolas and Tauriel as they track Bolg to Mount Gundabad.

Please go HERE to our Hobbit: BFA Review for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!

Let’s begin Part Four of our review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies with a quest northward to discover the hidden secrets of Mount Gundabad.

Smaug is dead and the Lonely Mountain lay undefended. There are many in Middle-earth, who have heard of the Dragon’s death and realize the strategic importance of the mountain, not to mention it’s vast wealth. We know the Necromancer, now unveiled as Sauron would have taken the mountain and claimed the Dragon for his own.

We’ll never know if Smaug would have bowed before the will of Mordor, but if the Dark Lord had been able to coax the dragon into his service with the promise of great wealth and treasure, Smaug would have become a deadly threat to Middle-earth. However, now that Smaug is dead, the Mountain still holds great strategic positioning, and it’s vast wealth of gold could be used to finance the coming war upon the West. The Arkenstone could also be used to sway the dwarves into the service of Mordor. There is no doubt that Sauron would want to take the Lonely Mountain!

As so the Journey to Mount Gundabad begins…

This journey begins on the shores of the Long Lake, where the ruins of Lake Town lay smouldering in the morning sun. It is here that Legolas and Tauriel meet up once more and make the decision to ride after Bolg. Legolas defies his father, who has banished Tauriel from the Woodland Realm in Mirkwood.

Oh… not more Alfrid!

Before we travel north, I want to make note of Ryan Gage and the character Alfrid Lickspittle. Gage is a fine actor and I don’t really take issue with his performance, I do object with how is character was used in this film. I would like to say right off the bat, that I wish he’d remained in the boat with the Master of Laketown!  I understand why Peter Jackson expanded his character into the third film, he was trying to bring an element of levity into an otherwise dark narrative, where many of the main characters die at the end. The concluding chapters of The Hobbit are dark and filled with sorrow… my feeling is that Jackson should have just let it play out this way.

To be honest, I don’t think Alfred is very funny or a necessary part of this film, even considering how much screen time he takes up. His character is hammy, overplayed and at times ridiculous (ie.. his floundering in the water by the lake). The filmmakers could have been excised him from this film entirely, with no major change in the story. There is a long tradition of slapstick comedy, that features men dressed as women for comical effect, which can be funny if done well. However, in today’s world, if done incorrectly it can border on misogyny and harbor a distasteful connotation to a vaudeville tradition called the minstrel show. This film could certainly have done without his character and that is all I’m going to say about it in this review. What I can’t understand, is why Peter Jackson didn’t see this flaw in the film?

The northern stronghold of the Orcs… Mount Gundabad!

Now… let’s travel north to the dark reaches of the Misty Mountains and the fortress of Gundabad! I was very excited when I realized that Mount Gundabad would be featured as a location in The Hobbit Trilogy. My vision of Gundabad was much different from the one portrayed in the film. I imagined Mount Gundabad much the same way I envisioned Carn Dûm, as a bitterly cold mountainous stronghold in the freezing north. In my mind, I saw it as a frozen wasteland, as a sort of counterpoint to Mordor’s dry dusty barren landscape. Here is how I saw Mount Gundabad!

That said, I am a fan of how the filmmakers visually interpreted the mountain. I expect John Howe had a hand in designing it’s final look. What I like most about the design of the stricture, is that it doesn’t look like anything we have seen before in Middle-earth. Yet it holds many of the same structural elements found in the other dark fortresses we have seen in these films.

It is through the story of Legolas and Tauriel that we come to Mount Gundabad. You might note, that in the films, the characters never say ‘Mount Gundabad’, but rather just the term ‘Gundabad’. I expect this is because the filmmakers envisioned it as a fortress, rather then as a mountain. Which makes sense since there’s already a notable mountain featured heavily in this story, why confuse it with another mountain?

Bolg spawn of Azog…

Legolas and Tauriel ride straight to Gundabad from the shores of the Long Lake, I don’t believe they were actually tracking Bolg, because Legolas had seen him traveling northward with orcs from Gundabad. This is further shown after Legolas talks with Bard about his fears that others will be watching the mountain!

We then cut to a scene of Azog marching directly for the Lonely Mountain with a massive army of Orcs from Dol Guldur. He is met by Bolg, who tells him that he was followed by two elves, the son of the King and a she-elf from the Woodland realm to lake Town. When he admits that he did not kill them, I wondered for a moment if Azog was going to relive his shoulder of his sorry head! However, he does not kill Bolg, either because Bolg is a product of his own loins or because Azog is about to march into a battle and wants every available orc at his disposal! He then orders Bolg him to go at once to Gundabad and let loose the legions! Azog now knows that when he reaches the Mountain, he will be facing an armed force of elves.

The Map of Middle-earth as envisioned by Professor Tolkien

Now according to Tolkien’s maps, Gundabad would have been at least 400 to 500 miles from Lake Town, depending on the terrain. A good rider can travel about 50 miles a day, so it would have taken them at the least 8 to 10 days to get there and another 10 days to get back. It is also important to note, that they are riding only one horse together, which would have further slowed down their journey.

Going from Lake Town to Mount Gundabad based on Tolkien’s map of Middle-earth would have been about half the journey in miles from Bag End to the Lonely Mountain, just to give you a sense of the distance. Of course this doesn’t fit into the time frame of the films, which moves the story along much faster than it does in the book. This is neither here nor there in terms of the films, but the geography of Middle-earth is much more condensed compared to Tolkien’s vision.

The Tolkien Canon vs a new narrative…

When Legolas and Tauriel reach Mount Gundabad, we are given some Middle-earth history this is interesting, but also troubling. Legolas tells the story about the death of his mother, which gives us a deeper look in their family dynamic and the relationship of Thranduil and Legolas. Peter Jackson and the scriptwriters on The Hobbit did play fast and loose with this of bit of Middle-earth history. The Tolkien Canon states that Thranduil fought in the War of the Last Alliance at the feet of Mount Doom, alongside Gil-galad and Elrond. However, there is no mention of Thranduil or his people ever fighting the Witch King of Angmar during the fall of Arnor. Thranduil’s wife is never mentioned by name in any of the histories of Middle-earth, and there is no account of her death at the hands of orcs in Mount Gundabad. So, Legolas’s conversation with Tauriel, at the feet of Mount Gundabad is a total fabrication on the part of the filmmakers.

That being said, this addition to the film narrative adds a a nice layer of character development between Legolas and his father Thranduil, in the movie version of events. This knowledge will have bearing at the close of the film upon Raven Hill when the stories of Legolas, Thranduil and Tauriel reach their conclusion. The death of Thranduil’s wife weighs heavily an all three of their relationships and how they resolve in the film.

The Kingdom of Angmar and the fall of Arnor!

One of my favorite shots comes out of this conversion between Legolas and Tauriel, as they look beyond the tower to the dark vale behind Gundabad. Legolas tells us that the Tower of Gundabad was once a great fortress and armory for the ancient realm of Angmar. The camera zoom past the fortress and we see a dark vale in the distant which eventually leads to Carn Dûm. This imagery is very reminiscent of the sharp peaks and craggy rocks of Mordor!

There is something down there…

This scene seems to hold the promise of another Middle-earth trilogy down the road. I think the story of the Witch-king’s war on Arnor would make a wonderful trilogy of films and technically everything necessary to film it exists within the text of The Lord of the Rings in the Appendices. So legally, I think that Middle-earth Enterprises and Warner Bros. could make a case for another set of films. However, it would be very difficult without the consent of the Tolkien Estate, which at this point seem highly unlikely. But as we know, sometime the most unlikely of events can indeed transpire. (Thinking of the new Star Wars trilogy!) I’m planning a new posting coming soon, Where I will discuss this in much greater detail.

There are some brilliant shots of the fortress where the camera angles bend and weave through the sharp jagged peaks of Gundabad. Tauriel then says the she sees something moving.. The camera zoom in on a single window,  lit with firelight and we see a shape moving in the shadows. The light is suddenly extinguish, leaving us with the feeling that our heros are being watched. This is a nice touch that leaves the audience with an ominous and spooky vision of Gundabad

Bred for WAR! I’ve heard that before!

Later as darkness begins the fall, Legolas and Tauriel decide it’s time to enter the dark tower and discover it’s secrets. But just as they begin to move in, a vast swarm of evil vampire bats descend out of the sky and circle about Gundabad. Then Legolas delivers a line that could have come directly from The Lord of the Rings: The two Towers. He says… “These bats a bred for one purpose… War!” This bit of dialogue is obviously derivative of the first trilogy, when Aragorn speaking to Theoden says… “It is an army bred for a single purpose: to destroy the world of men.” The wording is different, but anyone hearing this line of dialogue can’t help but feel it’s a rip form The Lord of the Rings, which just feels like rehashed dialogue. Plus, how does he know this?

I just feel like the screenwriter could have said so may other things at this juncture to help tie the story together. Like… “These are bats from Dol Guldur!” which would have increased their sense of urgency to return to their friends at the Lonely Mountain and warn them of war coming from two fronts. Just a suggestion!

Unleashing the legions of Gundabad!

Next we see Bolg upon his warg climbing up onto a cliff overlooking the tower, as the bats swirl overhead. This is a wonderful scene visually, but there is an odd moment here as he turns and looks in what we think is the direction of the two elves, hidden on another rock outcropping. The way the scene is edited together showing a closeup shot of Bolg and then Legolas, it gives the impression that they are looking directly at each other. If this indeed was happening wouldn’t Bolg sent a few of his Orc Berkers over to attack them? Hmmm…

Bolg raises his mace into the air shouting a command in the Black Speech! We hear the sound of brazen horns, drums beating and the clamor of marching orcs with iron-shod feet! We’re then treated to a cool looking scene where thousands of Uruks issue forth from the gate of Gundabad and march out from the tower, heading south to the Lonely Mountain! There are two large gates and the Orcs march out in long lines carrying pikes and flaming torches. 

I have to admit I’m a sucker for marching armies of orcs and this one dos not disappoint. However the one thing it is missing are close-up shots of the orcs faces in practical prosthetics that we saw so often in The Lord of the Rings films. The technique of using Digital imagery combined with protocol makeups always helps sell the idea that what we’re seeing on screen is real. Check out this scene from The Return of the King HERE to see how well it works when you combine CGI with traditional effects. 

Over all, the Mount Gundabad scene met all my expectations. The only thing I regretted was not getting to see more… maybe a sneak peek inside or additional close up shots of the Gundabad Orcs! Other then that, it served it’s purpose in telling Jackson’s vision of the story.

So ends our journey into the hinterlands of the north and the dark wastelands of Mount Gundabad!

In Part Five of Mordor’s Hobbit BFA Review ~ The Battle of Light and Dark in Dol Guldur, we will return to the dark Hill of Sorcery and look deeply into the shadows to find the fate of Gandalf, Sauron, the Nine Nazgûl and the Battle with the White Council!

Please go HERE to our Hobbit: BFA Review for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!

 November 14, 2015  Posted by at 5:44 pm
  • CT

    Another fine review. I like the Gundabad emphasis, you’re simply not going to get that anywhere else! And I would love to see a tie-in movie or series of movies exploring the land of Angmar and the rise of the Witch King….what a great idea! As for Alfrid, I couldn’t agree more…..having Smuag crush him would have been more than fine with me. He added NOTHING to the final movie, and even his death was more fitting a slapstick scene in a vaudeville act. I too have to wonder….what on earth was PJ thinking?

  • TroyTroodon

    Did you know that voice actor, Dee Bradley Baker provided sounds for the bats?! Also, seeing Bolg riding out observing his surroundings reminds me of the Witch-King on his Fell Beast upon Minas Morgul.

    That said I’d like to see more of the appendices explored in film. Like the Kingdom of Angmar, and the 2nd battle of Erebor with the Easterlings.

  • Jmwilliams

    “This scene seems to hold the promise of another Middle-earth trilogy down the road. I think the story of the Witch-king’s war on Arnor would make a wonderful trilogy of films…”
    Why would it have to be a trilogy? Can’t a story be told in one film any more?

  • Random Musings

    I think that PJ’s reasoning for including Alfrid in this film is so that Bard actually has someone to react/talk to from his own race.