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Nov 172015

Part Five ~ The Battle of Light and Dark in Dol Guldur

In this part of my review we will focus on the Battle of Dol Guldur, the fate of Gandalf, the coming of the White Council and the battle of light and dark upon the Hill of Sorcery under the shadow of Mirkwood

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 Five we return the the ruins of Dol Guldur, for a battle like no other we’ve seen in Middle-earth!

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

Let’s begin Part Five of our review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies by returning to the Hill of Sorcery and the ruins of Dol Guldur in the southern reaches of Mirkwood!

Before we begin, I want to say a few words about Peter Jackson’s decision to make The Hobbit into three films and include parts of the Appendices in the expanded version of this story. It was the ABSOLUTELY RIGHT decision to make three films rather than one or just two, including the stories from the Appendices and making The Hobbit trilogy part of the darker story of the War of the Ring. To have made these film in any other way would have been disastrous. Trying to create The Hobbit in the childlike and whimsical style written by Professor Tolkien would never has worked on film, especially considering fan expectations based upon seeing the LOTR trilogy. Without including what happens in the Appendices, how would you account for Gandalf’s disappearance halfway through the story and then showing up at the end? It wouldn’t have made any sense.

Now… that said, I was not pleased with many of the choices made in the making of the films. (I’m planning a Hobbit Trilogy recap and review for later this year) I think the problem with The Hobbit trilogy was a lack of pre-production, from script-writing right up to and including storyboards and pre-vis.

They began the film without a clear narrative. The Lord of the Rings trilogy on the other hand had more than four years of pre-production. When the decision was finally made create three films and Peter Jackson reluctantly took the reigns as director, the filmmakers should have stopped production and taken the time to rewrite the script from beginning to end. I’m sure there was a great deal of pressure to begin production from all sides, because there had been so much delay, but the films ended up marred, by the lack a of time devoted to creating a cohesive story.

Considering the legal & financial quagmire that preceded  filming and the lack of planning that occurred leading ups to it start, it’s amazing how well the films actually turned out. It attests to how good a director Jackson really is!

Now,,, all that said, I was ecstatic when we realized early on, that the Battle of Dol Guldur would be a featured in the film trilogy! Dol Guldur and it’s part in Middle-earth history has always been shrouded in mystery!

So… lets look at what the filmmakers had to go on to create the Battle of Dol Guldur. This is a direct quote from the LOTR Appendices.

2939:  Saruman discovers that Sauron’s servants are searching Anduin near the Gladden Fields, and that Sauron therefore has learned of Isildur’s end. He is alarmed, but says nothing to Council.

2941:  The White Council meets; Saruman agrees to an attack on Dol Guldur, since he now wishes to prevent Sauron from searching the River. Sauron having made his plans abandons Dol Guldur.

2942:  Sauron returns in secret to Mordor.

In many ways, Peter Jackson and his creative team had a blank canvas on which to paint their version of the Battle of Dol Guldur. I think the way they interpreted the battle and how it unfolds into the story is probably very close to how Tolkien might have imagined it. Rather than large armies of elves attacking the Hill of Sorcery, it seems more fitting that it would be just the White  Council in a battle of Light against Darkness!

A Return to Dol Guldur

In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies we once more enter the crumbling ruins of Dol Guldur after the death of Smaug. This is a place of deception and deceit, a great darkness is harbored there and the secret origins of the Necromancer has now been discovered by Gandalf. The ancient enemy of old has returned and will try and maintain this secret at all costs.

In the third film in The Hobbit trilogy, Dol Guldur is shown as a much darker place, that is drenched in shadow. The veil has been lifted and Sauron revealed. The Shadow that emanates from his being cloaks the ancient ruins in a semi- darkness, in much the same way that the veiling Shadow kept the Dark Lord hidden in the land of Mordor.

We find Gandalf in dire straights, hanging in a iron cage with a look of despair upon his face. He knows that the fate of the Lonely Mountain hangs in the balance and he is trapped like a fly in the spiders web. Then we hear a whispering messages of hope from Galadriel. She tells him he is not alone! Is this simply Gandalf remembering a past conversation with the Lady Galadriel? Or is this a message sent to him through the power of the Elven Rings? As this point in the film, we do not know…

Gandalf is freed from the clutches of the evil Uruk of Dol Guldur

Gandalf is trapped in ab iron giblet, hanging over the edge of the ruined fortress. He begins sending a message to Radagast. His whispering incantations are overheard by an evil uruk that has been left in the ruins of Dol Guldur to guard the prisoners. A dark figure steps out of the shadows and into frame. We see only his deadly scimitar, with it’s curved and deadly blade. Things look very bleak for Gandalf!

One of my great joys in watching this part of The Battle of the Five Armies was the unexpected appearance of Conan Stevens in full-on prosthetic makeup. We have come to know this uruk as the Gundabad Orc! He was originally cast to play Azog. His orc prosthetic and costume was eventually passed over in favor of another look for the Pale Orc. The photo to the left made it’s way to the internet and it was rumored that this amazing orc design  would now be the character of Bolg, There was even a Hobbit Action Figure released with this character being named as Bolg! However, when they decided to make Azog a completely digital character, it was decided to do the same for Bolg. I personally loved the look of Conan’s Orc, but was under the impression that this Uruk design would never see the light of the big screen.

Go HERE to find out everything about the creation of Azog, Yazneg, Bolg and the Gundabad Orc!

Then in the beginning moments of the Battle of Dol Guldur, who should appear? None other than Conan Stevens as the Gundabad Orc! Granted he only gets a few seconds of screen time in the theatrical version, (a little longer in the extended edition) but he does get one of the most memorable Orc deaths of the entire trilogy!

When Galadriel comes to the rescue of Gandalf, she walks barefoot and seemingly helpless into ruins of Dol Guldur. A creature of shimmering light in a place of deadly darkness! As she comes to his aid, the evil Uruk throws down Gandalf’s cage, removes him roughly and then casts him upon the hard ground. Without his staff or sword, Gandalf is defenseless against this raging beast. The Gundabad Orc means to kill Gandalf!

But as he raises his blade, he senses a great power coming from behind. He turns and sees the Lady Galadriel moving up the stairs toward them. The Gundabad Orc is unaware of his peril. I love this scene! Galadriel is one bad-ass Elven Witch! We have been shown, that she is wearing Nenya, the Ring of Adamant, one of the three Elven Rings of Power, unsullied by the hand of the Dark Lord. The great black Uruk, turns and looks upon Galadriel, thinking this elven waif is easy prey and easily dispatched!

What he doesn’t know, is that she is an Eleven Queen of incredible power. The disdainful look upon Galadriel’s face is priceless! The great beast of an Orc lunges at her, but with a flick of her hand she casts the massive uruk into the east upon a mighty wind, as if swatting at an irritating and offensive fly. So ends the story of the Gundabad Orc!

The lady then lifts Gandalf, as if you were a rag doll and carries him through the ruins of Dol Guldur. There is a rather comical bit in the Appendices, showing the ‘Dummy Gandalf’ alongside the real one, that you must check out. It’s quite surprising how much the dummy looks exactly like a sleeping Ian McKellen as Gandalf.

Still, in the theatrical version of the film, it seems odd to me that Galadriel can lift up Gandalf so easily and carry him like he was a baby. It just doesn’t read as real on film, at least to me.

As Galadriel makes her way down through the central part of the ruins, she begins to hear fouls voices on the wind. They are reciting the Ring Verse in the Black Speech…

“Shre nazg golugranu kilmi-nudu
Ombi kuzddurbagu gundum-ishi bagu”

“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone.”

Then she recites the part of the verse about the Nine Nazgûl and they appear one by one time all around her.

“Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die”

During this exchange she appears to become weaker and more frail, finally placing the body of Gandalf upon the triangular dais that is the base for the headless stone figure holding the Palantir. She rests under it’s shadow as the Nine Nazgûl move into a circle, surrounding her. They sense her weakness in the face of their power, and think she is alone in the darkness.

However, they are wrong… very wrong, for she is not alone!

The Nine Nazgûl in Dol Guldur

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the look and the actions of the Nazgûl in the Battle of Dol Guldur.

I personally like how they look during the battle, seeing then in the armament that denotes their place of origin In Middle-earth. Even their movement are interesting in terms of their being wraith warriors.

My main issue with this new look for the Nazgûl, is that in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when Radagast enters Dol Guldur and does battle with the Witch-king and his Morgul Blade, we see him as he looked on Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring. In the first film, the Witch-king looks and behaves as we would expect one of the Ringwraiths to be in this world.

There is something that just doesn’t feel right about seeing Ringwraiths in this new form. This seems to be another case of “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” rather then sticking to the physics for these creatures already established in The Lord of the Rings. The Black Riders in The Fellowship of the Ring look and move about like men garbed in black robes. Even in their wraith form, they move about in the same way that men would. So why have they changed here in Dol Guldur?

I must admit, that these new Ringwraiths are fun to watch, but I think making the Nazgûl look and act so radically different from what he have seen before in The Lord of the Rings films, does a disservice to the story, considering their place in the Six Film Middle-earth Saga. Just my opinion!

The Battle of Dol Guldur!

However, the ensuing battle makes up for these inconsistencies and is a highlight of the film! When Galadriel says… “I am not alone!” and out walks Elrond in full armor whipping out his sword; and Saruman with staff in hand genteelly asking… “Are you in need of assistance my Lady?” Well… you just want to cheer out loud!

The ensuing battle is electrifying and watching Elrond slice and dice his way through the attacking Ringwraiths was fun to watch, but it was Christopher Lee’s performance as Saruman, that stole the show. Seeing him swing that staff with mighty blows (granted, it was his stunt double, he was 93 after all!) for the side of good was absolutely worth the price of admission to this movie!

At the heart of all of this madness lay Gandalf and Galadriel, as she works to bring him back from the Shadow. When he awakens with a gasp, he tells her that “He is here!” and she replies “Yes, the darkness has returned.” Both actors deliver their lines with such emotion, that you can feel it in your bones. There impassioned dialogue is a wonderful counter balance, to the action taking place all around them. Then in comes Radagast on his bunny sled, to take the weakened Gandalf to safety. Galadriel and Gandalf share in a last intimate moment and then he is whisked away from the battle. For just a second, we see the power of Galadriel revealed!

The Enemy has returned!

Having for the moment vanquished the Nazgûl, Elrond and Saruman move in to Galadriel’s side, In that moment Sauron reveals himself in a fiery explosion, taking the form of the great eye, which is pieced in it’s center with a vision of the armored Sauron from the Battle of the Last Alliance. We then go into what is a sort of surreal visualization of the power and evil of Sauron, the we saw in just a glimpse of during the second film. We see his armored man-form as the pupil in the great EYE.

Elrond raises his sword over the fallen Galadriel in a gesture of protection. Saruman looks on in horror, when the full realization of what he is seeing hits him. He raises a claw-like hand, as if to ward off a blow. The horror and revulsion in their faces, speaks volumes about what it must be like to be in the presences of such evil.

Sauron in a deep booming voice, speaks in the guttural tones of the Black Speech saying… “So it has begun… the East will fall. So shall the Kingdom of Angmar rise. The time of the Elves is over, the age of the Orc has come!” We see the Ringwraiths rise up out of the fire and surround the great Eye. I have heard complaints about the way this looks… almost like the menu for a video game. I have to agree, that this is one moment that could have been done better, it looks a bit to heaving on the side of CGI!

Perilous and powerful…

However… then we get the stunning performance by Cate Blanchett as dark & deadly Galadriel! This too, is a heavily laden digital color color-grading, but her acting performance out-shines any of the messy visual FX. If you get a chance watch the Appendices and listen to John Howe’s description of her performance, which he happened to see live on the set.

Immediately the Nine vanish, when she holds up the Star Glass of Eärendil, a phial that holds the light of the elves most beloved star. It is a crystal phial, filled with water from her fountain in Lothlorian, which held the light of Eärendil’s star, the light of the Two Trees as preserved in a Silmaril. She would one day gift this to Frodo Baggins, who would keep it near his heart until a time came, when all other lights had gone out. It saved he and Sam from the horrors of Shelob’s Lair and is even mentioned in the ending chapters of the books, as Frodo sets sail for the West at the Grey Havens…

…and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost.”    (that passage from the books always brings tears to my eyes!)

Galadriel raises up the star-glass and says in a mighty voice… “You have no power here!” Servant of Morgoth! You are nameless! Fleshless, formless! Go back to the Void from whence you came!”

She is one bad-ass Elven Queen! She casts Sauron outward flying outward in a wonderful visual image, where we see him dissolve into a sort a lighting blast that ricochets across the sky until it disappears in the shadows of the East. Bravo to Peter Jackson and the folks at Weta Digital for giving us such a fine ending… nicely done!

Then we come to my favorite lines in the entire film! Both Galadriel and Elrond say that Sauron has returned, and the he must must be tracked down and destroyed! Saruman looks on… his face showing great calm and command! He states that Sauron is no threat, because he can never again hold dominion over Middle-earth! Elrond insists that Gondor must be warned of the growing threat in the East. Saruman tells Elrond to take Galadriel back to Lothlorian, because her strength is spent. He the turns back and faces the threat of Mordor, sayings…

“Leave Sauron to me!”

Well…. we all know how that turns out! This is a wonderful moment of enduring celluloid, that will be remembered fondly!

So ends our journey into the the realm of the Necromancer in Dol Guldur, who we now know is Sauron unveiled! My only regret with this part of the film was that there in no mention of the Palantir seen so many times during this sequence. I was hoping we would see more of the Palantir in the Extended Edition… but alas it was not meant to be. Otherwise, this is my favorite part of the film!

In Part Six of Mordor’s Hobbit BFA Review ~ The Great Battle of the Five Armies, we will dissect the bloody battle before the Gate of Erebor and study the Art of War in Middle-earth!

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

 November 17, 2015  Posted by at 2:00 pm
  • Roberto Took

    This was my favorite scene in the movie and I’ll be seeing the extended version soon with more of the orc

  • CT

    I loved the battle of Dol Guldur. The Jailer of Dol Guldur was, IMO, the most impressive of all the orcs in the trilogy…..Azog and Bolg looked like pu$$ies compared to that bad boy. And watching him get turned into tiny chunks of orc flesh at the hands of Galadriel was something I will not soon forget. I always knew how powerful Galadriel was, but it didn’t fully hit home until that moment. As an encore she then proceeded to kick some Nazgul a$$ and follows that up with sending Sauron packing….I loved the looks of terror on Elrond and Saruman’s faces when she transformed into Dark Galadriel……I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty certain they both soiled themselves….lol The overall battle scene was very impressive and I loved the fact that both Saruman and Elrond were also given the chance to shine……and neither one disappointed.
    On a Weta-collecting note, there seems to be a real push by Weta collectors to get Weta to produce a Jailer of Dol Guldur statue and I for one would be all over that! It is a certainty we will eventually see a Galadriel statue, but I would also love to see a Dark Galadriel produced. Again, that is a statue I would be all over.

  • I cat wait to see a ‘Jailer of Dol Guldur’ statue… And I like that title for him! I’m also hoping for a Dol Guldur environment

  • Tell us how you liked it!

  • CT

    I didn’t come up with that title, but it seems to have stuck. And it seems to be pretty popular with the folks at Weta as well. As for a Dol Guldur environment……it’s definitely going to happen, it’s just a matter of time. Another ‘must have’ for me.

  • CT

    Oh, and speaking of environments RL, I just sent you an email concerning the Weta Barad Dur environment, as the last batch of 250 were just put up for pre-order…..once they’re gone, they’re gone….unless Weta suddenly finds some more….lol


  • Enrique

    Have you realized that in the pic where Sauron raises the nine, 2 couples are exactly the same? Copying and pasting Nazgûls…

  • CT

    Nazgul’s #4 and #7 look to be identical, other than their weapons. Unless the pic’s below are two concept designs of the same ringwraith????

  • CT

    Nazgul’s #2 and #9 also appear to be identical. The two are similar, but not identical in the conceptual designs, so it definitely looks like you are on to something with the “copy and paste” idea.

  • I was so busy trying to get the screen caps and finish writing this piece that I missed this obvious and glaring short cut on the part of the filmmakers…. good observation!