Part Four ~ The Kingdom of Thranduil
In this portion of the Mordor Review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, we’ll explore the Elven Halls of Mirkwood
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 Four of this review, we are going to explore what is revealed about the Elves of Mirkwood, who are not as wise and are more dangerous.
Please go HERE to our Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review Page for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!
Let’s begin Part Four of our review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug with a look at the magical kingdom of the elves.
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 thought this was visually one of the most stunning parts of the film. The underground Kingdom of Thranduil was beautifully realized. It hit all the right cues for me, incorporating enough elements from the books and The Lord of the Rings films to form a very satisfying mix. There were moments when the CGI was a bit too obvious, but the locations were so beautify conceptualized and designed that it made no difference to me. There are many moments in the Lord of the Rings films when you know that what you are seeing is not real, but it’s so beautiful or so frightening, or it carries the story forward so well that it simply doesn’t matter. There are so many films, where the special effects are obvious, but we accept it, because they help tell such a good story.
The centerpiece of this sequence is the performance of Lee Pace and the throne upon which he sits. In my mind he was the perfect Thranduil. An ancient and languid isolationist King. His moments with Legolas, Tauriel and the rogue orc, as well as his face-off with Thorin raised all their performances to a higher level. I enjoyed most of this sequence in both viewings.
But I am getting ahead of myself… lets begin with the Dwarves capture in Mirkwood.
The Elves capture the Dwarves and we see an old friend and a new warrior!
I will begin with my first major complaint of this part of my Review…. LEGOLAS! For me the introduction of Legolas into Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy should have been a slam dunk. The character of Legolas, son to King Thranduil is not mentioned in The Hobbit book, but he was was surely present when the Dwarves were imprisoned in the Kings Elven Halls. Legolas played by Orlando Boom, has a large fanbase from the Lord of the Rings films and his being included in these films brings in that elusive female audience to a sword and sorcery driven film. The other good news is that Orlando Bloom appears to have aged very little in the ensuing years. Photos, film and video of the actor led me to think he could return to the role with little or now loss of believability. In The Hobbit films, his role takes place nearly 60 years before the Lord of the Rings films. Elves age very slowly and the same can also be said of Orlando Bloom apparently.
So what the hell happened?
Once Orlando Bloom doned the wig and ears suddenly he seemed age 10 to 15 years. At least that how it appeared to me when I watched the film. I can’t understand this? It also seems like a digital painter did something to his face and also to his eyes, especially as he appears in the first part of the film in Mirkwood. It almost seems like they tried to make him younger and in the process did just the opposite. The odd look of Legolas has amplified the worries about the over use of CGI in The Hobbit films, even on live characters. I will add the Legolas does look much more like his old (younger) self in the latter parts of the film, when he dons the green and brown costume that looks very much like what he wore in the LOTR films. There are times though, when his eyes still look very strange. Did he put on contacts or did they overwork his eyes in the color grading process? Whatever the cause, the time I spent looking at Legolas and trying to figure out what was different, added to the moments when I was taken out of the story.
Over the long term, I think audience will care very little about how different he looks between these two films, but in my first two viewings, it was a distraction in a film that already has one two many visual distractions.
Finally, on the role of Legolas in the film, he gets some great actions bits, but you can’t help getting the feeling that Peter Jackson was trying hard to top the ‘Legolas Action Moments’ seen in the Lord of the Rings films. Such as jumping on the horse behind Gimli, (my personal favorite) the sled ride down the steps at Helms Deep on his shield and of course his Trunk Surfing scene on the snout of the Oliphant at the Battle of the Pelennor! “It only counts as one!” – Gimli
However, swinging down spider webs, spinning like a crazy ninja as he kills orcs and his ‘walk’ on the heads of the dwarves and orcs in the Barrel Chase seemed to be one too many incredible feats of Elven dexterity to be believable. Sometimes, one has to edit when working with CGI… just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
other than the fun swordplay and jumping about, it seems like Legolas got very little in the way of character development. Most of what we learn comes from other characters. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that audiences were already familiar with Legolas and so they didn’t need to spend much screen time in developing his character in these films. As much as I liked the scenes of Legolas and Tauriel together, I wanted to see something a bit deeper developing between them.
Along came Tauriel, the Elven warrior
Tauriel I love… I think she is a wonderful addition to a story dominated by male characters. Also, there is nothing in the LOTR Appendices or in The Hobbit book itself, that precludes her character from existing and being a part of this version of The Hobbit. She fits very well into Tolkien’s Middle-earth as interpreted by Peter Jackson. I like her character and want to see more.
Evangeline Lilly has said in interviews the she was concerned about her role as an invented character in these films, because she is such a Tolkien Fan herself… she needn’t have worried The character of Tauriel and her portrayal if this warrior elf was perfect. I felt like she came across as very Tolkienesque (as interpreted by Peter Jackson) and injected some much needed female power into these films. She is believable as both an elf maiden and also as a practiced warrior in a forest kingdom infested with evil creatures from which they must defend their people. Much like Legolas, some of her action sequences were way over the top, as are many of the characters in The Hobbit films. However, this didn’t take away from her presence on screen.
Along with Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and Balin, she carries a good portion of the emotion impact in this film. Her anger and frustration with Thranduil and the deep feelings she has about helping the people of Middle-earth, helps anker some of the over the top action and brings a bit of Tolkien back into these films.
Thranduil the Isolationist Elven King
We are introduced to Thranduil and the underground realm of the silvan elves after the dwarves are brought back and are locked up in the dungeons. Thorin is brought before the throne of Thranduil and we are treated to one of the most beautifully conceptualized sets in the film. The throne is an exquisitely designed and visually speaks volumes about the character of the King, whose people are described as less wise and more dangerous than the other elves of Middle-earth. In this scene the writers of the film give new context to the Arkenstone and the important role it plays in this trilogy of films. Thranduil accuses Thorin of seeking the Arkenstone, that which would bestow upon him the right to rule. He tells Thorin that the stone holds great power over him and his family. This also subtly suggests that Sauron might also seek this gem, in order to gain control over the dwarves. This is hinted at in the book, but is fleshed out more fully in these films.
We are privy to a wonderful faceoff between Thorin and Thranduil as each accuses the other of wrongs they feel were perpetrated on the other. In this one scene we are given the full weight of the animosity between the Elves and the Dwarves that is seen in what will eventually be all six films of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth saga. This scene is well played and though you want to slap Thorin for being such a fool and not taking this offer of friendship, you can fully understand his rejection and anger at Thranduil.
Tauriel, Legolas and Kili… oh my!
OK… lets talk Tauriel, Legolas and Kili. Sigh… I’m willing to go with this plot line as long as we are given a real emotional pay-off in the third film. I’m not as much worried about the feelings between an Elf and a dwarf, as much as I’m concerned about how their connection creates a big change in the story of The Hobbit… such as the Elves and Orcs appearing in Lake Town and the Company of Dwarves breaking their fellowship! SAY WHAT?
I will give m0re attention to this in Part Six ~ What Happens in Lake Town
I would have been perfectly happy with a developing love story between Legolas and Tauriel with the conflict of Thranduil standing against it. Creating angst between father and son, while making use of this love story narrative to deepen the characters of Legolas, Tauriel and Thranduil, as I believe it was originally intended. I also believe (highlight this possible major spoiler here) that Tauriel will most likely be killed in the Battle of Five Armies, adding additional emotional impact at the end of the trilogy.
I can’t fathom at this point in the story, why the filmmakers decided to create an infatuation and possible love interest between Kili and Tauriel, dwarf and elf. At this point the relationship feels more like a plot device than it does a genuine love interest. This feels to me, more like meddling by the studio, who wanted make use of the handsome Aidan Turner by creating a romance with the beautiful Evangeline Lilly, crossed with the good-looking Orlando Bloom. I wonder if this was a point of negotiation when Peter Jackson went to the studio asking for three films, rather than two. I can hear it now… “We will let you make three films Peter, as long as you give us a romantic threesome in the trilogy!” LOL
All kidding aside, I have decided to wait and see where this story-line goes, before condoning or condemning it… let’s just wait and see.
I do want to discuss the poignant moment in Desolation of Smaug when Tauriel and Kili share an intimate moment outside his cell. The scene is beautifully shot and the setting perfect for this conversation. Some have said they dislike this scene intensely, because it stands as an example of what should never have been in this film in the first place, when instead the filmmakers should have given more screen time to other characters such as Bilbo or Beorn. That may be so, but I feel like this scene is one of the few moments that really touches at the heart of Tolkien. If you can put aside your opinions about weather or not these two characters should even be taking together and simply listen to the dialogue instead, I think you will agree.
After discussing the Rune Stone given to Kili by his mother, Tauriel talks about Mereth Nuin Giliath, the Feast of Starlight. Which is a nice nod to Tolkien and the scenes cut from the book, where the starving dwarves chase the elves through Mirkwood, everytime disappearing in a whoosh of flame and darkness. She tells Kili that wood elves like best the light of the stars. She says…
“I have walked there sometimes, beyond the forest and up into the night. I have seen the world fall away from the white light of forever fill the air.”
Evangeline Lilly delivers this line beautifully and you really believe in what she is saying! This is really one of my favorite moments in the entire film, and it reminds me of the wonderful feelings I get when reading the words of Tolkien!
For me, it’s quiet moments like this one that feel the most like the writings of Tolkien. This scene ends with a pan upward and we see Legolas watching them from above. I think we have to remember that for all this talk of a love triangle, the reality is that we see just the barest hint of infatuation between Tauriel and Kili. To be honest, the feelings expressed seem to be more on the part of Kili then Tauriel. This might simply be a plot device to force action on the part of Legolas, who tends to be a little on the cool side. The guys needs to show some passion! Maybe a bit of jealousy will force him to take action in the final film and make his move toward Tauriel… only to find that he has perhaps waited too long. Despite our individual feelings and opinions about the relationships between these three characters, it will definitely be interesting to see how this resolves in There and Back Again.
Bilbo’s escape and the wild and over-the-top Barrel Chase!
As we know Bilbo has eluded capture and followed the dwarves into the underground Elven Hall with the aid of the Ring. After Thorin tells Balin of his rejection of Thranduil’s offer of friendship and help, Balin shakes his head and proclaims in a despairing tone, that this was indeed their last chance at freedom. Thorin says the he doesn’t think so.
The film then cuts to Bilbo with the Ring on, near the throne of Thranduil. There is a funny bit when Bilbo thinks he has been discovered by the King that I thought was a nice touch. His listens in as Tauriel and Thranduil spar back for about his isolationist policies and the scene ends with Thandril telling her that she must give his son no hope of love. This sets the stage for the trifecta of Kili, Tauriel and Legolas.
This is a telling scene and I expect we will see a show down of sort in the next film between the isolationist King and his captain of the guard, who believes the elves need to step-up and do their part in staving off the evil in the world.
In the next scene, we see Bilbo discovering the keys with which he will free the dwarves. A great moment where Bilbo proves his worth! He takes the dwarves down to the wine cellars and they make a great deal of dwarvish racket. Bilbo tells them he knows what he’s doing and to get in the barrels. I thought Martin Freeman played the comedy of this scene perfectly. There is so much to like in how he saves the day for the Dwarves. The only thing that was bothersome about this scene is the need for the dwarves to get permission from Thorin, before getting in the barrels. As mentioned before, I feel like Bilbo’s new position as unexpected leader and hero of the company is repeatedly downplayed by the need to maintain Thorin’s authority over the group. In the book, Bilbo simply told the dwarves to either get in the barrels or he would take them back to their cells until they came up with a better plan. Of course they did as they were told. Other than this one sticking point, the comedic exit from the Elven Wine Cellars was perfectly timed and edited.
As we know from the Lord of the Rings films, Peter Jackson can take the most simple of scenes and turn them into fantastic action sequences that become the highlight of his films.
The Barrel Chase sequence is a wild and exciting ride through the water-gate and down the river to Lake Town. There are moments when it suffers from the over use of CGI, but for the most part it was indeed a thrilling and satisfying romp that incorporates a real river, an on set practical river and a digital river. When Peter Jackson incorporates practical and digital effects equally, the outcome is always better. There were moments during this scene, when I heard people gasping, screaming, giggling, laughing and exclaiming… much the same kinds of sounds ones hears on a roller coaster or a thrill ride. This occurred especially during Bombur’s flying barrel sequence and when Legolas jumps over the heads of the dwarves. The entire Barrel Chase sequence with Dwarves, Orcs and Elves is WAY over the top and is indeed a popcorn blockbuster thrill ride that satisfies the need for action in a big tent-pole film. It doesn’t feel very Tolkien, but for the most part it’s loads of fun to watch!
Barrels out of Bounds would have indeed been a missed opportunity if Peter Jackson had simply filmed the sequence the way it was written in the book. Peter Jackson took what could have been a throwaway scene from the book and turned it into one of the most intense action sequences we have seen in any of his films.
After Bilbo’s comically timed drop into the underground river below, the chase begins! The dwarves and Bilbo hanging on for dear life, go down a series of falls and toward a wall and iron watergate. Legolas calls for closure of the gate, which is shut down just as Thorin reaches it. It would have been a short rider if not for the sudden attack of the orcs! The orcs quickly dispatch the Elven guards and move in to kill the dwarves. Kili jumps out of his barrel to release the gate and is shot by an arrow. Down jump Tauriel to save his sorry butt, as she easily dispatches the Orcs at the gate.
Bolg then tells his Uruks to kill the she-elf… a term referenced by the Nazgûl at the Ford of Bruinen in FOTR. The orcs go for the kill and things would have gone badly for Tauriel, if Legolas hadn’t jumped out of the brush and come to the rescue with the rest of the elves to save her sorry butt! There ensues a nicely executed fight scene and one of the orcs cloven head flies right at the camera in a definite 3D moment.
A couple of points before moving on. Kili exits his barrel to open the gate and he is shot by Bolg, who is commanding the Orcs to kill them all! We discover later, that Kili is struck with a ‘Morgul Shaft’ I think the filmmakers could have avoided a great deal of push back, if they had merely said the arrow or shaft was poisoned. It was common practice for orcs to use poisoned blades and arrows. Tolkien makes reference to this several times in the Lord of the Rings. However, by calling it a ‘Morgul Shaft’, the scriptwriters create an immediate comparison to the deadly Morgul Blade used by the Lord of the Nazgûl on Frodo at Weathertop. This presents a whole host of unnecessary problems and issues for those familiar with Tolkien’s writing.
For me this is another example where the filmmakers simply took an easier path to explain events. I believe they did this, because the average filmgoer who has seen the Lord of the Rings films, understand the word ‘Morgul’ as shorthand for a deadly weapon. However, to Tolkien fans this introduces a lot of additional issues the break from the canon. Granted the deadly wound inflicted by this Morgul Shaft is different from the wound of a Morgul Blade. I take it to mean, that the arrow was poisoned with a Morgul Spell, where as a Morgul Blade breaks at the tip and then work it’s way toward the heart and turns it’s victim into a wraith. I didn’t get the feeling that Kili was transforming into a wraith, as much as dying from a Morgul poison. Still it adds a great deal of unnecessary complication for Tolkien fans. I’ll discuss this further in Part Six ~ What Happens in Lake Town
Oh… and I have to say this… when I say ‘Tolkien Fan’ I’m talking about people who read the books and the writings of Tolkien, not those who just watch the films or animated features. You can be a Hobbit or a Lord of the Rings fan, if you watch the movies, but you can’t be a fan of Tolkien unless you have read his writing and loved them.
Now… back to the Barrel Chase. After escaping the Water-gate, that’s when the fun really begins! Now, as I said before, in almost all aspects of these films, I am of two minds. The Movie Fan loves this wild ride down a cascading fall of water, while at the same time the Tolkien Fan in me feels like Peter Jackson has simply gone too far afield of Tolkien’s writing. With this scene, I must say the Movie Fan wins the day! There is just so much to like in this incredibly choreographed and thrilling roller coaster ride.
I suppose there is no need to record every barrel jumping twist, elven ninja flip or orcish dismemberment. It’s more fun to watch, than to talk about anyway. There are so many visual gags, that it must have kept the production team on this action sequence busy all of last year!
Just a couple of final notes about the Barrel Chase. The idea of ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ definitely applies to this scene. Each side of the raging river is crawling with Orc Archers and if it were not for the Elves, most of the company of dwarves would have ended up at the bottom of the Long Lake! There must be well over a hundred orcs in this attack. I also want to make mention of the eye level camera in the water. This really added a sense of being down in the raging foam with the rest of dwarves and heightened the sense of excitement and danger. A strategic use of camera angle that was thrilling and very effective.
Finally, by the end of this sequence, nearly every character in the film owes his life to another character. Tauriel saves Kili, Legolas save Tauriel, Thorin saves Legolas, Legolas saves Thorin and Tauriel saves Legolas… to name just a few! By the end of the Barrel Chase, it should be clear to all, that they cannot defeat evil on their own. They need each other. In the final film, this idea will come to full fruition in the Battle of Five Armies.
There is no denying that this action sequences is jam packed with everything but the kitchen sink… and yet, it is missing one thing!
Where oh where has Azog gone!
I just want to mention briefly, the fact the Azog was supposed to be in this battle at the Water-gate! In both of The Hobbit: DoS trailers preceding this film we see Azog jumping up on the wall over the gate during this Orc Attack! In the film, we see that Bolg has been switched out with Azog… why? I will be discussing this in greater detail along will all the Yazneg, Bolg and Azog switches over the last two films in our next installment Part Five ~ The Mysteries of Azog and Bolg
The evil Uruk captured by the elves, who is made to speak… a bit too much?
It seemed appropriate to close this part of my review with this powerful and very well conceived scene. It lays the groundwork for Thranduil moving out of his isolationist stance. This scene unfolds with Thranduil, Legolas and Tauriel interrogating one of the Orcs captured during the raid along the river.
As three elves interrogate the Mirkwood Orc, Legolas holds him while Thranduil stands to one side and Tauriel on the other. He comes across as a feral and cunning Uruk. He is definitely one of the coolest looking orcs in this film. (even with his slightly comical corn-rows) This scene goes to prove my point, that if given enough time and care a digitally created head and face can work effectively, just as it did with Gollum. His beady pin-prick eyes are especially evil looking. Other than Bolg and Azog, this Orc is one of the only ones we see for more then a few seconds. He is lucky not to have been cut down with a sword, shot in the face with an arrow or beheaded all together, at least for the length of this scene! Unfortunately, in The Hobbit films the average orc tends to have zero charisma and are used primarily as battle fodder.
Not so with this Uruk! I believe this orc is the one called Narzug, though his name is not mentioned in the film. We won’t know for sure until we see his action figure ( if one is ever released by The Bridge Direct!) In this scene he has great presence and is as engaging a character at the three elves. We also get to hear the familiar cockney accent we have come to love from the Lord of the Rings films! During this scene, he is given some juicy dialogue that is wonderful for Movie Fan to watch and troubling for the Tolkien Fan!
Two main things are accomplished with this scene. The first, is that Tauriel learns that Kili has been shot with a Morgul Shaft and that the poison will kill him. This of course leads Tauriel to go down to Lake Town to save him with Legolas joining her. More on this plot point coming later.
The second bit of narrative plot delivered, is when the Orc tells Thranduil that his ‘world will burn’ and that his Master (Azog… Bolg?) serves the One. Hmmm… the One? I believe that this will in time motivate Thranduil, along with the possible counsel of Gandalf to forsake his isolationist policies and mobilize his forces to engage in the Battle of Five Armies. After slaying the Orc, Thranduil tells Legolas that he believes what the orc meant by his words, was that the enemy will unleash a terrible weapon upon the world. This part of the dialogue was troubling to my inner Tolkien Fan! Here why…
OK… at first I thought that the Orc was referring to the ONE Ring, however that can’t be so. No one, not even Sauron at this point knows that the Ring has been found and that it hasn’t been lost forever. So, this Orc can’t be talking about the One Ring. I believe he is referencing The Necromance/Sauron when he says ‘my master servers the One’ I think the terrible weapon is in fact Smaug. The Orc says “your world will burn!” which I think can be interpreted to mean that Sauron is planning to use Smaug to ‘terrible effect.’
There has been a lot of discussion by Tolkien Fans, about the fact that Smaug knows way too much about Bilbo, the Ring and Thorin Oakenshield… the Dragon seems to know a great deal about the world outside of Erebor, even though he’s been inside sitting on his treasure for over 200 years. I think, we will be shown, in the final film There and Back Again, that Sauron has somehow been in communication with Smaug… or at the very least, that Sauron is actively working towards getting into the Lonely Mountain to gain Smaug’s support in the coming war. I may end up being wrong about this, but it would tie up quite a few loose ends. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how this unfolds.
I personally really liked this scene with the Mirkwood Orc, it’s one of the key sequences in connecting The Hobbit trilogy to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I will close this segment of my nine part review, by saying that the Elven Hall of Thranduil and the Barrel Chase are some of my favorite sequences in the film. Except for a few odd points here and there, I really enjoyed both of these scenes very much!
Next, I’ll be getting down and dirty with Azog and Bolg… and see if we can figure out why they made such a mess of these two very cool characters in the trilogy!
Please go HERE to our Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review Page for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!
Keep checking in for our next installment of this review Part Five ~ The Mysteries of Azog and Bolg which is coming soon!