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Mar 062014

Part Five ~ The Mysteries of Azog and Bolg

In this portion of the Mordor Review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I’m going to look at the crazy monkey switching of CGI Orcs!

In Part One of  Mordor’s Review of The Hobbit: DoS, I gave a brief overview of the film. I touched on many areas of The Hobbit: DoS where I feel it shined and other areas was where I feel it failed. In Part Five of this review, we are going to explore what happened to the Orcs in this film trilogy!

Please go HERE to our Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review Page for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!

Let’s begin Part Five of our review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug with a look back at Peter Jackson’s choice to direct these films and how last second decisions have created a wonderful but flawed trilogy.

Before I start, I will remind the reader that I stated in Part One of this review that I’m of two minds about this film… as such I will often be giving a positive review on a particular scene or plot point and then may turn and follow up with a negative thought about it… or vise-versa. Please bear with me.

I will also say at this point in my film critique Part Five ~ The Mysteries of Azog and Bolg and Part Six 6 ~ What Happens in Lake Town are going to be the most critical parts of this review, because they deal with the two main problems I have with The Hobbit trilogy so far. The overuse of CGI in these films, rather than the more balanced amount of digital and practical effects we saw in the Lord do the Rings Trilogy. Secondly, the sense I get that the script is being written as they go, rather then having been truly fleshed out into a three act narrative, before filming began.

Where oh where have all the great Orcs gone?

I get this nagging feeling when watching the first two Hobbit films, that there was never a clear plot narrative nailed down before beginning theses films? This is evidenced most clearly for me, by the ever changing story and characterization of Azog and Bolg. In the first film, I thought this problem was directly related to the last minute decision to make The Hobbit into three films rather then two. However, with a full year between the first and second film, I would have thought that three part structure and character issues would have been resolved by the premiere of the second film, The Desolation of Smaug. To my dismay the problems with Azog and Bolg seem compounded in this second installment of the trilogy, rather than resolved.

Now, to the average movie goer, the characterizations and development of the ‘bad guys’ in a fantasy film might be of little concern, since they will most likely be overcome and destroyed by the end of the story. However, here at Mordor, we take great pride in the dark and evil characterizations and places in Tolkien’s world, with gives them depth and detail. From the perspective of good storytelling, the evil characters in any narrative need to be believable in order to pose a truthful threat to the protagonist, otherwise they simply become sword fodder.

To discover why the evil ‘orc’ characters in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy have fallen short, I think we need to take a deeper look into how these films were conceived and how much it differs from the making of the Lord of the Rings films.

An Unexpected and Arduous Journey

I think the answer to this, is in part stems from the tortuous path these films endured making it to the big screen. For years there was a toxic mix of lawsuits and studio fights over the rights to the franchise, not to mention Peter Jackson’s reluctance to make The Hobbit into a film. With all these elements combined, it seemed certain that The Hobbit would never be made into a film on the big screen.

However, the lure of big bucks finally convinced the studios to settle their differences and make these films. In time the ice began to melt between the MGM and New Line Cinema, and a deal regarding rights and profits for The Hobbit was hammered out. The lawsuits between Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema and the Tolkien Estate were each finally resolved and the added merger of New Line Cinema with Warner Bros. ultimately helped financially. In 2010, a two picture deal with Peter Jackson co-producing was announced. Suddenly, the future of a Hobbit film looked bright! However, behind the scenes the scheduling, financial and legal woes were far from over.

MGM, who was the first to initiate the making of The Hobbit films was now in big financial trouble. Untimely they were able to raise enough investment to stay afloat through the making of these films, however, the uncertainty and further delays in The Hobbit schedule, pushed back it’s start and releases dates, forcing Guillermo del Toro, who had been slated to direct the films to leave the production in May of 2010.

Adding more flames to the fire in October of 2010,  there was a union dispute in New Zealand in September of the same year. The union tried to hold the film hostage in order to have it’s demands met. The International Federation of Actors issued a ‘Do Not Work’ order, bringing The Hobbit production to a standstill and nearly forced MGM and Warner Bros. to move the production out of New Zealand all together. It was an ugly battle, but in the end a settlement was achieved and The Hobbit was back on track. I myself believe in the power of unions to help workers and creatives who are often the victims of greed on the part of large corporations. Unfortunately, The Hobbit movies became the football in a New Zealand political battle.

Often, there is no greater threat then the power of your own success. The Lord of the Ring films were such a cultural and financial powerhouse for New Zealand that by the time The Hobbit films were being made, there were a whole lot of people, who wanted a piece of this big financial pie. There was a lot of wheeling and dealing going on behind the scenes, just so these films could be made.  In addition,  The Hobbit project still had no director, but after what must have been a long inner debate, Peter Jackson made the decision on the spur of the moment and stepped in to direct the two films himself in order to keep the project on schedule. After negotiations with the Studio were complete, an announcement was made officially on October 15th of 2010. Casting, pre-production and scheduling could now be finalized. This takes us up to the end of 2010.

Now that the Project finally had a green light… they had no choice but to make it, ready or not!

Unfortunately this left less then six months of pre-production on The Hobbit films, compared to the nearly two years of pre-production on The Lord of the Rings films. Now, it is true that the folks in New Zealand had been working on the pre-production of The Hobbit for nearly a year and a half under the helm of Guillermo del Toro, however Peter Jackson has said several times in interviews, that as much as he would have liked to have seen Del Toro’s version of The Hobbit, he as a director could not make another directors movie. So in reality, they were basically starting from scratch with less then six months to pull it all together. Unlike the Lord of the Rings films, which were based upon an already established narrative that had to be edited down and reworked as a film, the scriptwriters on The Hobbit project had to rework the narrative from the ground up. Even though the writing team of Walsh, Boyen, Jackson and Del Toro had hammered out a two film script, I get the feeling that for the most part it was scrapped when Peter Jackson took over the film.

Then came another blow to making these films, about a month before principal photography was to begin, Peter Jackson was struck down with a stomach ulcer that put him in the hospital for almost a month. Even though he soldiered through as Kiwi’s do and worked from his hospital bed, you can’t help but wonder what state of mind the director was in before this shoot even began. He certainly wasn’t the same hungry young director, who stood confidently before us and declared.

“The technology has finally caught up with the incredible imagination that Tolkien injected into this story of his… and so this is the time!”

I want to be clear here, I’m NOT saying that Peter Jackson isn’t ‘all in’ on these films, I’m just saying that the road to Middle-earth this time around was been very different from the start of the Lord of the Rings films. I believe these differences must have affected Peter Jackson and his team, before beginning these films. But even if it did, they would never admit it! They are hard-core Kiwi’s! It’s obvious in interviews, when Peter Jackson talks about The Hobbit he is excited and committed to the project!

Let’s make three films instead of two!

I was so excited when it was announced that The Hobbit would be turned into a trilogy. I always felt it had the potential to be made into a set of three films, that would nicely mirror the Lord of the Rings Trilogy!

The original idea for the two film project, would tell the story of The Hobbit in the first film and the second film would act as a bridge film between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings films, making use of content from the Appendices of the Lord of the Rings. At what point this idea was scrapped is unclear, however even when Del Toro was still helming the films, he stated that there was too much story in The Hobbit to place into single film.

In mid 2012, as they began to create a rough edit of the films, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyen came to the conclusion that this needed to be a trilogy of films. Otherwise, they would have to cut out whole sections out of the film in order to make it into two movies. However, they had to convince the studios first. Warner Bros. and MGM had sent a group of executives down to New Zealand  to see a rough cut of the two films. Peter Jackson had to convince them to spend more money to shoot additional footage to flesh out the story and make it into a trilogy. After thinking it over, Warner Bros. and MGM agreed and Peter Jackson announced the idea of a trilogy publicly in Late July or August of 2012, less than 4 months before the release of the first film. In the world of big budget blockbuster filmmaking, with all of it’s technical demands and fx wizardry a four month schedule to meet the deadline of the first film, which was now a three picture deal, left everyone scrambling to catch up. The flood of tie-in merchandize which often takes four to six months to produce, was especially hard hit. Books, toys and action figures based upon The Hobbit being two films were already produced and ready for sale. many of them hit the marketplace and created a great deal of confusion about the characters and the story of The Hobbit films.

Making The Hobbit into a trilogy was absolutely the right move on the part of Peter Jackson. The notion that The Hobbit films as conceived by Jackson don’t have enough material to make three films is an absolutely ridiculous assertion, that I still hear being repeated to this day. If anything, the filmmakers had trouble pairing down the story to fit into three films! What I do take issue with, was the decision to turn The Hobbit into a trilogy only four and a half months before the premiere of the first film. This decision should have been made a year out from the opening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Looking back on it now, I can see how this last minute transition into three movies has impacted the coherent narrative of these films. The script for the first Hobbit film should have been give more time to develop in order to truly hammer out a three act narrative that would be as powerful as The Lord of the Rings films and flow together as a single story. Unfortunately, they had to cut together a film as quickly as possible in order to make the deadline, without the benefit of additional photography or time to really nail down a three film script.


You may be asking yourself what all of this has to do with two very pale Orcs? Well in my way of thinking everything!

The repercussions of this last minute decision, affected the filmmakers ability to create a cohesive narrative for this trilogy that carries the powerful impact we see in the Lord of the Rings films. I believe the rushed narrative development and editing of the first film, has rippled out in the the second and possible the third films.  In addition, I believe it’s been the story of Azog and Bolg the has suffered the most. The narratives of Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves, has of course occupied most of the directors attention, while the story and characterizations of the orcs has been left to the last minute in production schedule.

The long and winding story of Azog, Bolg and Yazneg!

We knew early on that there was going to be a villain in the form of a big bad-ass Orc. We knew that two orcs, Azog and Bolg would feature prominently in these films, even though this went against canon, because Azog was long dead before the time of The Hobbit. In my mind, this was never a big deal. As with the Lord of the Rings films, there needed to be a visible villain in these films. What we didn’t know, was that behind the scenes the search for the visual look of this villain in the form of Azog, became like some crazy game of orc Whac-a-Mole. Here at Mordor, we did a good bit of reporting on the Yazneg/Azog connection, trying to figure out what was going on. You can watch our MordorCast about it HERE about The Mystery of Yazneg Revealed.

It all began with seven foot tall Conan Stevens, who was cast as the first incarnation of Azog. Richard Taylor and his team worked on countless sketches and marquettes for Azog, before getting final approval. Then Conan Stevens spent time at the Weta Workshop with Richard Taylor and his team getting a full body prosthetic make-up and shooting test shots for the Battle of Azanulbizar. Peter Jackson was not happy with the final results and came up with the idea of making Azog into a withethered Orc Shaman. Exit Conan Stevens as Azog.

Enter John Rawls, who has acted the part of evil characters before, in such films as 30 Days of Night. He too was sent to the Weta Workshop, where new maquettes had been created that were translated into a full body prosthetic makeup and applied to his smaller, thinner version of Azog. He was suited up in full wardrobe, which had a great silhouette formed by the razor sharp armor across his back. Like Conan Stevens, he was also sent to the stage set for the Battle of Azanulbizar and shot combat scenes with Thorin (and his smaller double). However, once again after viewing dailies, Peter Jackson decided this was not the right look for the character. Exit John Rawls as Azog.

The folks at Weta went back to the drawing board yet again, but time was running out. I have to give Peter Jackson credit, for not compromising his vision as a director. If he feels something is not working, he’s not afraid to scrap it altogether and start over. This is the difference between a good director and a great one! Unfortunately with such a short time to edit the first film, his animation team in an impossible situation.

Then something interesting occurred during principal photography that would change the course of these films forever. While shooting one of the first scenes with the dwarves and goblins in Goblin Town, they realized that trying to create complex movement with the large prosthetic head gear the goblins were wearing, was nearly impossible. The solution they developed, was for the goblin actors to wear green screen masks and later, digital faces could be placed on the actors. This allowed for easier and more complex action from the goblin characters. This would soon become the de facto approach for all the orcs in The Hobbit trilogy.

Now… while this worked very effectively with hordes of goblins, I believe it’s taken the soul out of the Orc characters in these films. In The Hobbit: AUJ, there was a still a good bit of facial prosthetics used on the actors and it definitely helps with the characterizations of Yazneg and Fimbul, who we see on weathertop. However, by the second film, nearly all of the orc faces are digital. Making all of the faces with CGI has allowed Peter Jackson to created some truly amazing and evil looking Orc faces, but going completely digital, has also made them seem less real and as a result, less frightening than the orcs we saw in the Lord of the Rings films. However, this was to become the main approach with even the Hero Orcs in the Trilogy.

So at this point, with only a few months left before the film needed to be locked down, there was still no villain in the first film in the form of Azog. Luckily, with a few changes, John Rawl’s Azog, became the character of Yazneg so that his cool make-up and design was not wasted. In addition, Conan Stevens was now set to play Bolg, who’s make-up and design looked absolutely incredible! At this point, with time running out, I think the filmmakers decided to go with a completely digital character using performance capture with Azog, so that last minute changes would still be possible while still making the deadline.

Enter Manu Bennett as Azog. A final marquette for Azog was created, and in many ways it closely resembled the very first marquette created at the Weta Shop. This time around, they skipped the time consuming process of creating facial and full body prosthetics and went directly to performance capture as the sole source of visuals for Azog.

They had no choice but to place the motion capture performance by Manu Bennett directly over the live performance of John Rawls in the  Battle of Azanulbizar. Unfortunately, time was short and the digital animators working with Manu Bennett’s performance capture did the very best they could to try and maintain the same level of realism attained with Gollum. Even though the technologies have advanced by leaps and bounds in Mo-cap and digital animation, there were still moments when you could clearly see that Azog was a totally digital character. The folks at Weta still created a remarkable and memorable villan in the form of Azog. I for one, like Azog very much and I still feel that he rivals the best of the Orcs in the Lord of the Rings films. His performance in the film worked, however there are many who believe he fell short as a character and he has unfortunately been compared (unfairly in my opinion) to Lucas’s Jar Jar Binks. Ridiculous!

Of course all of this was happening behind the scenes, finally after months of speculation,we got this official video from Weta showing the creation of Azog! Check out the video below to see how difficult the birthing of this Orc really was.

Even though the character of Azog may have had his flaws visually, I stand resolutely by Manu Bennett’s performance, which was outstanding. Especially considering that all of his performance capture was created without the benefit of working with the other actors. I spent the better part of last year defending his character and hoping that in The Desolation of Smaug, they would be able to improve his digital performance and give him the level of realism that was achieved with Gollum in An Unexpected Journey, which was leaps and bounds over what was achieved in the Lord of the Rings films.

But of course, there was one more bait and switch to come! Conan Stevens, after exiting the role of Azog, took on the role of  Bolg. Even though we only see him for a split second in the Battle of Azanulbizar sequence, we were excited by several photos of Conan as Bolg, which were released prematurely and in addition, an action figure of his character was released by The Bridge Direct. This was all part of the bumpy transition from two films to three.  Bolg became one of the most hotly anticipated characters in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and it was the prosthetic makeup and costume design worn by Conan Stevens the made it so! He looked absolutely fantastic… scary… and evil! And very, very REAL! For me, the visual look of this Bolg, harkened back to Lurtz from the Lord of the Rings films. Then…. BOOM… the rug was pulled out from under Conan one more time! Exit Conan Stevens… again!

In walks Lawrence Makoare! Now, I love this guy! He was the vital force behind the characters of Lurtz, the Witch-king of Angmar, and Gothmog in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The man has all the credentials needed to play a bad-ass orc! So what the hell  happened? Over use of CGI and the last minute switch over Azogs character, left his performance looking weak and very much like a video game at times. Just compare Bolg’s performance to Lurtz in the Lord of the Rings and you can see that this is not about the performance of the actor, but rather about how his performance capture was rendered.

The Azog/Bolg switch up that boggles the mind

WHY? WHY? WHY? Why was Azog not given his due? Why was Bolg turned into just another version of the pale orc? It was like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey all over again, with last second character switches, which resulted in CGI that at times did not look real and underdeveloped characters.

What the Fuck? Oh yes, I said it!

I just don’t get it… for me this choice to switch out Azog with Bolg made absolutely no sense, from either a narrative or a technical point of view. This one issue pretty much ruined the film for me, during my first viewing. WHY? I have thought about this a great deal and switching out Azog for Bolg can only be about one thing…  Peter Jackson is holding back Azog to be the leader of the Orc Army in Battle at the conclusion of There and Back Again. The switch would have made more sense to me, if Bolg had been killed during the final fight with Legolas in Lake Town. This would have given Azog a personal motivation to bring slaughter upon the enemies of Sauron at the Battle of Five Armies.

I wish these decisions could have been made earlier, so that the proper amount of time time could have been spent on Bolg, for a more realistic rendering of his character. Something that looked more like the Bolg we see in the photo above. It would have been nice to have a real actor on site during location shooting in full make-up during key scenes, to add practical realism to his character, along with the digital performances. The lack of practical effects inherent in this new breed of digital Orc, has been a difficult pill to swallow for Lord of the Rings fans.

I wanted more AZOG!

The little bit of Azog that we do see in DoS looks pretty cool in my opionion!  Just as in the first film, there were moments in some of the close ups and long shots, when you can clearly see he’s a CGI Character, but for most of his scenes he looks damn good! He was dark and spooky in the woods near Beorn’s House and very frightening as Gandalf’s nemesis in Dol Guldur.

I was so excited after watching the films prologue and seeing the transition from Bree to Biblo cowering behind a rock as Azog turns and growls. I thought… now Azog is going to get his due!

We then see Azog and his crew leaping over the  ridge as the films tile appears on screen to the dark strains of ‘Smaugs Theme’ written by the talented Howard Shore. Wonderful!

Then as the dwarves run for their lives with the Orcs and Beorn the Bear in hot pursuit, the action is ramped up and Azog looks poised to be the major visible villain in this film as I had expected him to be!

Then BOOM… out of the dark woods comes a ferocious warg who nearly eats Azog’s head for lunch and on his back sits one ugly brute of an Orc. This orc tells Azog that…

“They are gathering in Dol Guldur. The Master summons you!”

I have to say that on my first viewing of the film, I had no idea this was Bolg. I just assumed he was another digital orc sent to call Azog back to Dol Guldur. It wasn’t until he is called by Azog in Dol Guldur, that I realized this was indeed Bolg. In my first viewing of the film, I was so disappointed in the look of Bolg, that I was unable to concentrate on his performance. Azog sends Bolg back out after the Dwarves to finish what he started. I liked all of Azogs scenes in Dol Guldur, but I kept thinking to myself… wasn’t it supposed to be Bolg in Dol Guldur?

Azog becomes Bolg and Bolg becomes Azog… sort of…

We know for certain that Azog was originally intended to continue after the dwarves at least as far as the Battle of the Water-gate in Mirkwood. We clearly see him in the two trailers for The Desolation of Smaug. There is the shot of him climbing up and over the battlement in the final trailer for The Hobbit: DoS that premiered on October 1st of 2013. So, unless there was a mistake on the part of the folks making the trailers, it looks like Azog was meant to purse the dwarves as late as two and a half month before the films premiere. This leads me to believe that it was a last second decision to switch out Azog with Bolg. I have even begun to wonder if the reason that Bolg and Azog look so close in visual appearance, is because it was easier to place Bolg in the same locations and physical space as Azog.

It’s like Peter Jackson was once again forced into making last second decisions about the Orcs, just he did in An Unexpected Journey! Even though the filmmakers had an entire year to flesh out the story and the characters.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this… probably way to much! LOL! And I can’t really put my finger on a coherent argument as to why this was done. I can only suggest that there is some meaning that will become clear in the last film. I certainly hope so, because it will be the final nail in the coffin, if there isn’t a big emotional payoff in the story of Thorin and Azog at the end of this trilogy!

Bolg is indeed a cool looking orc… but my appreciation of his character was ruined by his seeming random insertion into the story (over the character of Azog) and our anticipation of the visual look of the character created by Weta Workshop for Conan Stevens.

Big Bad Bolg is diminished as a character, because of lack of time and detail in his digital creation

The same could probably be said of Azog’s mo-cap in Dol Guldur. I don’t know if you noticed this, but there is a moment just after Azog knocks Gandalf to the ground with his mace, that is very awkward. He laughs, and if you look and listen closely, it’s obviously not a laugh by Manu Bennett and it sounds like it was cut and pasted into the scene. However, for the most part, Azog looked really cool in the scenes in Dol Guldur.

Bolg on the other hand has only one or two close-up shots that let us see how scary he does look. It’s just that in most of his long shots, he looks like an even more digital version of Azog, than Azog does. I kept wanting to see the cool looking orc lurking in the dungeons of Dol Guldur, that we had been expecting to see!

This brings me to the evil looking Uruk of Dol Guldur that might have been. As I mentioned before, we were teased with the huge hulking monster of an Orc with a red beard and hair matted with dried blood. An ugly scar across his head, repaired with metal strips and nails. Armor scavenged out of leather and chainmail with a wargs rib cage strapped across his back and wielding a triangular headed mace styled like a massive vertebrae of a hound of Sauron! What’s  not to like about this great soldier orc of Dol Guldur? UPDATE: See Bolg and Gandalf in Dol Guldur HERE

We were given tantalizing hints about Bolgs character in The Bridge Directs Hobbit Action Figure Multi-pack ‘Bolg and Battle Damaged Gandalf’ which further gives credence to the idea that the roles of Azog and Bolg were flipped in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  This was how Bolg was described in the Multi-pack.

The spawn of Azog the Defiler, Bolg, like his sire, is a giant, pale Orc.  Keeper of the dungeons of Dol Guldur, Bolg takes pleasure in torture—his armor is embellished with the bones and blood of his victims. Powerfully built, this Orc is afraid of nothing and no-one—that is, until he comes up against a surprising foe.

This bio and description of Bolg seems to confirm our thoughts that it was supposed to be Bolg and Gandalf fighting in Dol Guldur, rather than Azog and Gandalf. Why were they switched? We may never know for sure, unless something in the unfolding story is revealed in The Hobbit: There and Back Again.

What ever the reason, it seems plain from the quality and development of the character, that Bolg was simply ‘pasted’ into the shoes of Azog in his quest to track down and kill the dwarves. Now, I know from a technical and creative point of view, that it’s not a simple cut and paste job. A lot of hard work and late nights went into the decision to switch these two characters around at the last moment. Still, I feel like it lessens the impact and quality of the film. Azog had fewer scenes in Dol Guldur and so his character looked pretty well defined. However, Bolg on the other hand had many more scenes and some very complicated action sequences, and so the lack of time showed in the quality of his CG animation.

Something makes me think, that what happens in Lake Town changed the story to the extent that it forced the switch between Azog and Bolg. Perhaps they didn’t want Azog to look weak fleeing Lake Town the way Bolg did. I hope this becomes clearer in the last film, or perhaps in the extended version of DoS coming this fall.

A closer look at the version of Bolg we see on screen

Regardless of how we might feel about the version of Bolg that might have been, it’s simply best to put it aside and concentrate on the final Bolg we get in this film. If you simply take the character of Bolg at face value, he is indeed a very cool looking and most formidable warrior. Like Conan Stevens Bolg, the one on screen still has the hard metal skull bandage and they gave him the deadly triangular vertebrae mace the was one of the best aspects of the Bolg character. The scene at the water-gate where he literally crushed an elf in to the ground with his triangular mace is very bad-ass! In addition, he has one damaged white eye that gives him a creepy look, a damaged and torturous looking mouth and he has what looks like the carcass of a bear on his back, with the claws giving his shoulders a cool silhouette. Might this be one of Beorn’s kin in bear form? It would definitely fit into the things Beorn was saying about Azog killing his people.

This version of Bolg appears to also have metal armor that fits like a rib cage around his chest. It also appears to be embedded deep into his flesh. There are only a few seconds here and there, when you can clearly see him close up. When the Blu-ray/DVD come out in April, I will definitely be doing a lot of slo-mo in hi def to get a clear picture of what he looks like. As usual, I’ll be posting lots of hi-res screen captures here at Mordor that we can discuss ad infinitum.

These are all wonderful visual details, however, the overall look of Bolg seems to be trimmed down. No bloody beard, no scraggly matted hair, no great sculpted and jagged silhouette of bones along his shoulder blades. No leather, no bones and no scavenged bits of chain mail, that are a hallmark of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth orcs. These kind of elements give detail and inform us about the character.

Now… you could say, that the new version of Bolg was created to make him appear more like his father, the Pale Orc of Gundabad. However, if you’re a bit more critical and cynical as I can be at times, you might also say that it’s a hell of a lot easier to animate a digital character, when he has almost no hair, garments or protruding bone and armor that add a higher level of complexity in movement. Hair and beards flying in the wind and protruding shapes and angles make it much more difficult to render a complex character. It can also be said, that since he now looks a a lot more more like Azog in silhouette, it must have been much easier to graft his character into the role of Azog hunting the dwarves. The truth of the matter is that it’s likely a combination of all of these things together.

Unfortunately, for me the final effect is sub par and doesn’t live up to expectation. The over reliance in these films on digital animation, over practical effects has diminished the believablity of the story, with leaves it missing one of the key elements that made the Lord of the Rings films so good. I remember Elijah Wood saying in the very first online preview showing the making of the Lord of the Rings films. (You can watch it HERE)

“The thing about these books and what we’re doing with these movies, is that they are so real, you believe they really existed.” ~ Elijah Wood May, 2000

That was the mantra on the Lord of the Rings films. It had to look real! Peter Jackson’s films came at a time when we had seen a growing number of films relaying too heavily on digital effects the just didn’t look real. Peter Jackson approach was like a breath of fresh air. The making of the Lord of the Rings films made use of the high-tech digital wizardry combined and low-tech practical effects that have been used throughout film history> This use of both digital and practical effects, brought Middle-earth to life as a real place. His use of bigature and practical effects was legendary and along with his appropriate use of digital effects made film history.

I can’t say why Peter Jackson moved away from his prefect blend of practical and digital effects in this second foray into Middle-earth, but it’s had a tremendous impact on peoples reaction to these films.

Well… I guess you can say it’s no secret how I feel about Azog and Bolg in this film.

Well… to say that I was disappointed in the characterizations and performances of these two characters in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is an understatement. From my point of view, looking out from the Dark Tower, in the very heart of Mordor, I was disappointed to see Azog and Bolg treated so shabbily.  To be honest, I have always felt that the Dark Servants of Shadow in Peter Jackson’s film were never given enough time on screen, however I also realize the my expectation for the performances of the evil characters in any film, is going to be much higher than the average film-goer… Tolkien fan or not. So it was with great hope and anticipation that I sat down for my first screening of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in December, yet saddened to see the fulfilment of my wishes for Azog and Bolg dashed!

For all the criticism I have leveled in this review, I still like these films very much and will watch then many, man more times… no doubt. However, as a fan of both the writings of Tolkien and of Peter Jackson’s the Lord of the Rings films, I walked into these first two movies with very high expectations and so far my feeling of disappointment have equaled my joy and excitement about these films.

I’m holding out for the possibility that the third film in The Hobbit Trilogy will help round up all of my concerns about plot and narrative and give them meaning. However, the overuse of CGI in these films cannot be mended, though my perception of it’s use will likely improve over the course of many viewings of the films. That is my hope!

In Part Six of my in depth review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I will tackle all the thorny issues that arose in Lake Town. Morgul Shafts, Orcs in Lake Town and the breaking of the Company! Keep checking in for our next installment of this review Part Six ~ What happens in Lake Town which is coming soon!

Please go HERE to our Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review Page for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!


 March 6, 2014  Posted by at 6:15 am
  • Random Musings

    The use of CGI over makeup was also probably effected by PJ’s choice to shoot in HFR. But lets leave that sleeping dog lie.

  • Pits_Of_Utumno

    Nice review. I have to disagree with you on Bolg though – to me, the Conan Stevens version did not look at all like something you would find in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. The Makaore version, looked much like what I pictured the Misty Mountains Orcs/Goblins to look like though. I thought he looked much better and fit the world better.

    I do agree with you though on the switching of Azog and Bolg. I am totally baffled as to why the Necromancer decided to impersonate an NBA coach and sub Bolg in for Azog in film 2. It was very awkward IMO. IMO they should have just had Bolg be the antagonist of the first film as well then – keep one Orc chasing the Dwarves and the other in Dol Guldur. Bolg is more of a field commander while Azog is more of a general so Bolg should have been chasing the Dwarves the whole time, with Azog commanding Sauron’s army in Dol Guldur.

    I visually enjoyed both Orcs and thought they were acted pretty good as well. Hopefully There And Back Again will clear up the confusion that resulted from “Coach Sauron” in DOS.

  • I have only watched DoS twice in theaters… What I’ve noticed with these films, is that the more i watch them, the more I like them. I just watched The Hobbit AUJ Extended Edition yesterday and and joyed it more than I have in all the viewings. I suspect that I’ll feel the same about The Desolation of Smaug once I have viewed it a few more times. I tend to focus less on the flaws as time goes by, and more on the story.

  • Pits_Of_Utumno

    I only saw DOS twice in theaters as well. My complaint wasn’t really with the Orcs, but with the unnecessary Tauriel/Kili sub-plot that took time and emphasis away from canon characters.

  • I will be addressing that issue in Part Six ~ What happens in Lake Town!?

  • Very good and in-depth article. I can’t find any disagreements on my part from your reasoning. Like you, my hope is that there’s a big pay-off in the third film. There has to be since I’ll be costumed as Azog, and boy will my pale face be red if he just sucks in that movie.
    However, I’m willing to make a gamble Azog and Thorin will have their big moment in the third film. Narrative wise, though it seems like a big detour, it will be a big short-cut to their climactic battle. For one, if Azog had stayed on course like we expected, he would had his duel with Legolas and fled–away from the Lonely Mountain to wherever Bolg is going being pursued by Legolas. Not only is that embarrassing, seeing Azog flee, it’s taking him away from where he’s supposed to be going–towards Thorin.
    Now that Azog’s at Dol Goldor, he’ll be leading an army…to the Lonely Mountain? I hope. It’s not entirely clear to me, at least, where Sauron’s army is heading. I’m not familiar enough with the textual material itself to know what Sauron’s intentions are besides coming back; how he executed that and failed is not clear to me from Tolkien’s writings. Film-wise, I’m forced to conclude, without any explicit detail, that they’re heading to the lonely mountain. From The Hobbit book, wasn’t the Battle of Five Armies simply the Goblins from the Misty Mountains pursuing Thorin and company and nothing more? And then Thorin and company get some help from a whole lot of folks?
    The films seem to be crafting the Battle as a show-down between Sauron and everyone else. If that’s the case, it’s a major, major change story-wise.
    That being said, as a fan of Azog and all Orc-kind, I’m looking forward to seeing Azog be Azog. If that happens, then what happened to the Orcs in DoS will have become a worthy sacrifice.
    And who the &#^#* compared Azog to Jar-Jar?

  • There seem to be a contingent out there who wants to make the comparison of George Lucas Prequel trilogy to Peter Jackson Hobbit trilogy. For me this analogy just doesn’t cut mustard! Especial the JarJar Binks and Azog comparisons. Silly!

    You hit on the one point in PJ’s narrative plot where the change of Azog and Bolg makes sense and that is Bolg’s fleeing Lake Town. Azog would never do that, he would have fought to the death. I think it was when they decided to have orcs enter Lake town, that the filmmakers made the decision to switch the roles of Bolg and Azog.

  • LOL… good point! I agree!

  • Julien Monette

    Another amazing and intricate post. Although I do have to say that Bolg and Azog both could have been far, far better.

  • Random Musings

    My thoughts exactly. Ask me what I think about BOTFA in about 2 years 😉

  • Random Musings

    Great point that Azog would’ve ended up fighting Legolas if he didn’t go to Dol Guldur. As you say it would’ve diminished the importance of his final fight with Thorin in BOTFA