Part Six ~ The Great Battle of the Five Armies
In this part of my review, we will focus on the how each of the five armies of Middle-earth, have come together for a final explosive confrontation at the very door of Erebor.
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 Six we come to the great battle of the five armies of Middle-earth, that crash into one another like crossing of tidal waves beneath the shadow of the Lonely Mountain!
Please go HERE to our Hobbit: BFA Review for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!
Let’s begin Part Six of our review of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies by examining the complex art of war in the battlefield before the Gate of Erebor!
I suppose before we begin we should define the Five Armies… in The Hobbit book they are clearly defined in this way, the forces of good are the Dwarves, Elves and Men against the forces of evil…Goblins and Wild Wargs. For some reason Tolkien did not count Beorn or the Eagles … hmmm! In Jackson’s version of events we certainly have a much larger pool of adversaries to choose from. On the side of good, we still have Dwarves, Elves and Men, as well as the Eagles and Beorn! You could also add Dwarven War Pigs and War Rams into the mix. On the side of evil however, it really gets interesting. We have Uruks from Dol Guldur, Orcs from Gundabad, Orcs from Moria, Goblins from the Misty Mountains, and multiple varieties of Trolls and Ogres. We also have the Wild Wargs, Vampire Bats and the mysterious giant Were-worms! So now were are up to sixteen possible candidates for the Five Armies! If you asked me to name the five in the film… this is what I would say. Dwarves, Elves, Men, Orcs and Eagles. There! If you have another notion, post it in the comment section below.
Where the Battle takes place…
Next… lets talk about the battle itself. In the film version, Peter Jackson made the decision to break the battle up into three parts, the main battle on the plain before the Gate of Erebor, the battle inside the ruins of Dale and finally the battle on Ravenhill. From a film-making point of view, this is a smart way to break the battle up into multiple scenes and characters, so the director can cut back and forth between action taking place in different areas. If the entire battle had taken place before the Gates of Erebor, it would like have become very repetitive and boring. Being able to go back and forth between these different groups and locations creates a much more interesting narrative thread.
In Part Six of this review, I’ll be discussing the Battle of Erebor and the Battle of Dale. Part Seven of the review will focus exclusivity on the Battle of Ravenhill.
The stage is set for battle outside the Gate of Erebor. We begin with a wonderful shot of the massive dwarf carved into the mountainside side, as the camera pans down to the newly fortified gate. We see the elven army spread out below the gate in the Lonely Mountain. The armies of Thranduil and the remaining contingent of the men of Lake Town wait. Thorin has been issued an ultimatum about giving up a portion of the Treasure Hoard of Smaug, as rightful compensation and for the return of the Arkenstone.
As Thranduil and Bard wait before the gate, Thorin lets loose an arrow at their feet… he threatens Thranduil with another one to the head, if he comes any closer. The look of utter contempt on the face of the Elven King is priceless. He raises a hand and every elf in his army fits and arrow into their bows. The dwarves duck… all but Thorin that is!
The board is set, the pieces are moving
I suppose the official beginning of the battle takes place when Dain Ironfoot appears on the horizon to the East. Now we have Men, Elves and Dwarves upon the field of battle and Thorin having seen the Raven’s return to the walls, turns on Thranduil and Bard and tells them he chooses WAR! His brethren from the Iron Hills have come to his rescue! “The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at last…the great battle of our time.”
In the theatrical version, Dain Ironfoot rides with his army of Dwarves down to the foot of the hill and upon his War Boar and addressees the Elves and Men from an outcropping of rock. The elves turn to face this new threat. Bilbo asks Gandalf who Dain is and Gandalf replies that he’s the cousin of Thorin Oakenshield and that Thorin is the more reasonable of the two… we know we’re in big trouble now!
Dain Ironfoot on his War Pig
I must say I was disappointed for the most part in how Dain was used in the theatrical version. There was a great deal of fan anticipation for this character and he was hardly used in the film. There were moments when he appeared overly rendered in CGI, though I did think the close up shots of his face worked well and his vocal performance was appropriate to the character. Later in the battle however, he simply disappears, but more on that later. I also would have liked his steed to have been more Boar than Pig… just sayin!
I want to take a moment here, to talk about how the armies looked in long shots. They are clearly a digital effect, we knew that going in to these films, but to me it looked like some shortcuts were taken in creating these effects, because in many shots the armies looked too uniform, this was especially true for the Elven Army, which looked unnatural in some scenes, because they appeared to be moving in unison to such an extent that it looked fake. The same could also be said of the Dwarves and the Orc armies… but not to the same extend.
The Great Battle begins!
There is a bit of humorous back and forth between Dain and Thranduil after Gandalf tries to make peace with a warning about the coming of an Uruk Army. However, Dain is having none of it! Thorin and company cheer Dain on, from up on the wall and it looks like a battle between elves and dwarves is inevitable… but then we hear and see the hills behind them begin to shake and shudder.
Gandalf looks on with a knowing eyes and says aloud… “Were-worms!”
We then see the hillside explode as five large tunnels are opened up into the hillside and massive worms with giant rock eating teeth issue out of the holes in the hill! Earlier there was a scene of Azog and an orc lieutenant telling him they will be in postilion by morning. We see several giant tunnels cut into the earth as Azog says.“They have forgotten what lives beneath these lands, the great earth eaters.”
OK… hmmmm… for me this is another example of PJ and company sitting in a a room and saying to themselves…”Wouldn’t it be cool if….” without really considering if these creatures are appropriate to Middle-earth. Now, if you’re coming from a Middle-earth film-centric point of view, you might find this acceptable, but if you’re coming from a point of view of Tolkien’s writings and mythology, you must agree that these were-worms just don’t fit into the lexicon of Middle-earth.
To me they look more like the gigantic Sandworms found on Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s Sci-fi Classic Dune, than any type of creature found in Middle-earth. They also seem to be genetically related to the Carnictis, the creatures from the dark pit in King Kong, who famously ate Andy Serkis! Either way, they simply don’t belong in Middle-earth.
I expect they were used to solve the problem of how an army of orcs, who can’t move in daylight could get to the Lonely Mountain without being seen. Tolkien never really addresses this issue either… so from that perspective, it does make some sense… and to be honest, the were-worms do look cool!
My major concern with the were-worms is that if you had such creatures at your command, wouldn’t you use them in battle? Imagine them coming up under the Elven or Dwarven armies? In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron could have used then to dig under Minas Tirith and enter the city that way, if these creatures had been under his command.
To me there is just something about these giant worms the feels otherworldly or alien, rather then like the Wyms from which Smaug is a breathern. So in general, I think these creatures create more problems, then they solve. I personally would not have included them in The Hobbit films, because they seem to come from another world, rather then the Middle-earth we know and love.
Come forth my armies!
A vast army of Orcs issues forth from the caves in the hillside and suddenly we see Azog on Ravenhill, all set up with a giant flag system he uses to command his troops. On one hand I think the flag system is a cool idea… on the other hand, I have to ask myself when did Azog and his minions get set up on the hill with this complex flagpole and huge horn for ordering his troops? I suppose he might have done it under the cover of darkness… but didn’t Gandalf tell everyone that a huge orc army was on it’s way to the mountain? I would have thought that positioning a few lookouts around the mountain in high locations (like Ravenhill) would have been a prudent move. Hmmm… Oh well.
All logic aside, the War Flags are a cool addition to the film and it sets up the dramatic structure of having Azog removed from the battlefield, which will ultimately lead Thorin and a few of his trusty dwarves to make for the broken tower and cut the head from the snake! But I’m getting ‘ahead’ of myself! Pun intended.
Standing atop the hill, Azog bellows in the Black Speech ordering his henchmen to deliver the messages to the armies to attack! There is a gigantic horn and a spiky levered flag controlled with ropes. In reality, there are three separate flags used to convey commands to the troops, along with the massive War Horn, which has a huge maul with jagged teeth! I have to say I love the design of the entire look upon Ravenhill!
As Azog commands his armies to war, we get a great shot from the heights of Ravenhill, showing the valley below as the armies of Uruks flood out of the holes in the mountainside. There are four main tunnels were the armies of orcs issue forth and a fifth tunnel to the right, where another army prepares to march on the ruins of Dale.
We then get a series of reaction shots from Gandalf, Bilbo, Dain, Thranduil and the Dwarves upon the ramparts of Erebor. We hear Fili saying that he wants to climb down the wall and engage in battle, but Thorin tells the dwarves to stand down… Balin looks on with dismay! Then Thorin goes into Erebor and goes just a wee bit crazy… as we discussed in Part Three ~ Dragon Sickness in the Ruins of Erebor.
It is Dain Ironfoot who moves into action first, sending a column of his soldiers to engage the on coming army of Orcs. They march into position and create a wall between the oncoming hoard and the gate of Erebor. They form a defensive line thrusting their shields to the ground. This is a great scene visual scene and demonstrates the battle style of the dwarves.
Will the Elves enter the fray?
We then cut to a shot of the elves who remain standing in place, offering no help in the coming battle. Bilbo looks uncertain, “The Elves? Will they not fight?” Gandalf calls out…“Thranduil! This is madness!” We are led to believe that the elves will not fight, letting the dwarves be crushed by the oncoming storm of orcs! This has been Thranduil’s battle strategy from the moment Smaug descended on Erebor… will he not come to their aid?
We watch as the dwarves stand their ground in the face of Azog’s armies, which appear to out number them ten to one. Then comes a dramatic scene as the Orcs charge toward the line of dwarves. The camera lifts upward and we see three lines of Elven swordsmen jump over the wall of dwarves and descend upon the orcs… slicing and dicing their way through the first few rows of their enemies! This is definitely a moment for cheering! This scene feels very reminiscent of the Elves fighting the Orcs during the Battle of the last Alliance in prologue to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring!
We then see another line of orcs moving toward the dwarves, who lift their spears and charge into battle. We then get a several camera pans at ground lever showing the the elves, dwarves and orc in bloody conflict.
What we see of the battle is done well, but what I think this part of the battle is missing is a Hero Orc. In The Lord of the Rings films, PJ deftly balanced large scale battle scenes, with intimate close up shots of fighting that gives the large scale CGI scenes a sense of gritty reality. When you see two warriors fighting one on one, you feel you’re a part of the action. This is definitely missing from the theatrical version of The Battle of the Five Armies during this sequences.
We do get some nice shots of Dain thundering into battle upon his War Pig knocking heads with his mighty hammer, but then we come to the first major cut in the battle. Now I must admit, that on my first viewing I didn’t really notice these edits to the film, but after seeing the movie a few times, I began to wonder about what was missing.
Azog sends a command to bring on the War Beasts, but we never see them charge into battle. We do see the Elven archers shooting at something… but we never see what it is. We discover what’s missing in the Extended Cut of the film, which to me seems an import aspect of this battle. We then return to Gandalf, who is looking over the battle and up at Azog with a worried expression. Then Azog sends the command for part of his forces to enter the city City of Dale so that he can attack his enimies from two fronts. More flag waving and horn blowing, as several legions of Orcs begin to march for the city.
CGI Orcs are fun to watch… but you need Villains you care about!
This scene has strong visual & auditory impact. I remember watching this part of the film and thinking how much I was enjoying the spectacle of this battle. Seeing these massive legions of orcs marching and chanting is a thrilling bit of cinema. I want to say at this point in the review, how much I liked the armor of the Uruks from Dol Guldur! My only regret is not getting more close up shots of the individual orcs, with their spiked helms and savage looking pikes! This is where the narrative is missing a ground leader or general like Gothmog and his lieutenants for us to focus on in a close up. It would have helped personify the Orc Armies and made them more frightening. Cool shots of vast armies of orcs marching is great… but they need to be grounded with close up shots of real actors in either prosthetic makeup or performance capture to give the orcs personality and meaning.
I believe this is directly related to the fact, that the filmmakers and script writers had so little time to write the story before for diving in. The bulk of the narrative in this film follows the heroes, but in a battle of this size you also need a secondary set of villains in order for all of the good characters to have worthy fights of their own. During most of the battle Azog is removed from the action and Bolg is gone completely. There really needed to be at least one bad-ass boss on the battlefield for the remaining dwarves, Dain and Thranduil to confront in the vale before the Gate of Erebor. it would have given that part of the battle more weight.
In the theatrical version of the film especially, once the battle begins to break into two and three parts (Dale and Ravenhill), it felt as though the main battle before the Gate of Erebor was given little weight. Seeing our heroes like Thranduil and Dain cutting down countless orcs with no names or personality, just becomes a long series of computer game kills. The fighting is fun to watch, but after a while you just don’t care.
The One Battle now becomes Two…
Gandalf is the first to comprehend the plan of Azog, were hear him say aloud, that Azog means to cut them off from the city. Bard takes up the call and orders the men of Lake Town to march over the bridge and return to Dale. We see Thranduil on his mighty elk in the center of a thick hoard of Uruks as he hacks his way towards the city.
Out of the tunnels come great trolls with huge slingshots on their backs, maned by the goblins of the Misty Mountains. The goblins have some nicely designed ‘turtle armor’ that we get a few good closeups of, as they put giant boulders into the Troll Slings. This is classic Peter Jackson, who loves making monsters and the war machines they carry into battle! The trolls fit very well into the vision of Middle-earth created in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and are a great addition to The Battle of the Five Armies. They soon begin launching huge boulders into the side of the city, smashing towers and walls!
Next we are treated to some very well designed establishing shots, that help us see where the ruined city of of Dale fits into the landscape of Erebor. We clearly see Azog’s armies moving toward the city and also the armies of men heading for the bridge that leads them to the northern access to the city. The armies of Dol Guldur don’t bother with bridges and march down across the frozen riverbed and up to the walls of the city.
For my money, these large scale establishing shots are where the Digital Effect are working at their best. We can clearly make out the complex arrangement of the armies moving towards the city. This helps us see the full landscape pf the valley before the broken gate of Erebor.
One of the things I do want to point out, is the over use of the smoke effect. I have heard others complain of this too. There are times when I just want a good stiff breeze to come along and blow away the fuzzy misty fogs of war, just so I and see what’s happening more clearly!
The Battle of Dale
At this juncture, we come to the second major part of the The Battle of the Five Armies, which takes place in the ruins of Dale. Azog’s forces smash their way into the city, with the help of a troll who has a giant stone battering ram strapped to his head. He crashes into the walls of Dale and we watch as multitudes of Uruks stream into the city. We hear the screams of women and children and see the people of Dale running for their lives, as huge orcs and trolls begin to slaughter the innocent.
We see Bard riding into the city on his white horse in search if his children. He finds out they are in the city market, which is even now being overrun by orcs.He gathers some of the men to go with him to retrieve them. They soon encounter a street full of great black Uruks from Dol Guldur. The clash in battle n the narrow street of dale. We also cut to scenes of Gandalf and Bilbo in the heat of battle.
We see Bard’s children under threat of death as the orcs come flooding into the streets. Bain the son of Bard, kills two large uruks in defense of his sisters, nearly get killed himself in the process. It is only by the luck of a tree limb and the fall of a misplaced sword that saves his life. I’m so glad this was the case, because it shows both the bravery and frailty of this young man, who is fighting against the huge Uruks of Dol Guldur twice his size. You get a sense that their lives might really be in peril!
The cart before the horse?
Then comes one of the most improbable saves in the film. This is the scene when a giant Ogre, tries to kill Bard’s children and he come to their rescue. I love the way these Ogres look and can’t wait to add then to our Servant of Shadow section of Mordor, which is currently in the process of being ungraded! Bard’s children see him at the top of a hill and begin calling his name. Bard turns and sees them at the bottom of a long alleyway in the city. His smile of relief, quickly turns to a look of fear as one of the giant Ogres comes up behind them.
These creature are a wonderful invention the fits nicely into the world of Middle-earth! I just wish they had been used more effectively in the film. Any one of these creatures would have made a great general or dark captain, much like Gothmog on the field of battle! In this scene the Ogre prepares to make mincemeat out of Bard’s kids and so Bard jumps on a cart and goes hurtling down the hill to save them.
What make this action sequences so implausible is that he nearly kills his own children with the cart as he charges down the hill. This scene would have been much more realistic, if they had simply jumped out of the way of the cart, rather then being run over them, with just inches to spare. Bard could just as too easily, crushed his own children as save them. To me this came off as just a bit too much… a step too far!
Bard then tells his kids to gather the remaining women and children and retreat to the great hall and barricade themselves in. There are several scenes here, the include Alfrid, but I as I stated earlier in this review, I’m done with him and will mention him no more! I do want to mention that in this sequence of scenes, we see the women rising up to fight with their men in battle and I liked that scene very much, unfortunately it was also used as a way to expose Alfrid, who is dressed as an old woman and hamming it up badly.
The Battle of the Five Armies is nearly lost!
Now we come to the moment, which occurs in all the great battles on film. the moment when it appears, that all is lost. Here we get a series of shots over the ruined city and the battlefield. The music swells and we see multiple shots of our heroes fighting against forces that will surly overwhelm them. This is the time when all things hang in the balance.
We watch as vast legions of Orcs march toward the city. We see Thranduil racing across the bridge toward the city upon his elk steed and chopping heads with wild abandon. As he enters the city, his mighty steed is shot from under him and he rolls to ground to find he is surrounded by the Uruks of Dol Guldur. We then witness one of the finest sword fights in all of PJ’s Middle-earth films. Lee Pace should have won an award for his two fisted sword play!
The Elven army returns to the city, we see many fall to the swords of Dol Guldur. We see Gandalf and Bilbo fighting in slow motion… we see Bard yelling for his people to retreat… we see the men and women of Dale laying dead upon the streets… on the battlefield Dain’s wild boar is also killed and he fight alone… calling out for Thorin… King of Erebor to help them.
Azog stands upon Ravenhill… arms outstretched in victory! “They cannot hold the city. The Dwarves are almost spent. Let these lands run with blood. Slaughter them all!”
All seems lost… and so we end this part of the review…
In Part Seven of Mordor’s Hobbit: BFA Review ~ Life & Death on Ravenhill, we will follow Thorin to the icy summit were he confronts his nemesis, Azog the Defiler in a final confrontation between good and evil!
Please go HERE to our Hobbit: BFA Review for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!