Part Seven ~ Gandalf vs the Necromancer in Dol Guldur
In this portion of the Mordor Review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, we will look at Dol Guldur and the scenes with Gandalf, Azog and the Necromancer
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 Seven of this review, we are going deep into the bewilding pathways of Sauron’s fortress in Mirkwood
Please go HERE to our Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review Page for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!
Let’s begin Part Seven of our review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug by taking a quick detour to the High Fells of Rhudaur
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.
Gandalf after seeing the Eye of the Enemy painted on the Elven gate at the western entrance into Mirkwood, realizes that he must search for answers in the High Fells of Rhudaur! He has what appears to be a sort of mind-meld with Galadriel, possibly because they both hold Elven Rings of power. I believe it’s this fact, that sows the seeds of jealousy in Saruman that will in part lead to his fall from grace during the war of the Ring.
Gandalf finds his way to the Dark Tombs of the Witch- king in the lonely High Fells!
In this part of my review, we follow the journey of Gandalf to Rhudaur, before making out way back over the mountains and south to Dol Guldur! I sort of wonder if perhaps Gandalf elicited the help of the eagles to take him back over the Misty Mountains and drop him off near the High Fells? Considering how far he must go and how quickly the Dwarves move through Mirkwood… he must have found a faster way to get there!
Other than a few very cool establishing shots of Gandalf climbing up to the High Fells, we don’t get a lot more information about either the location or why the Nine Nazgûl were interred/imprisoned there. We watch as Gandalf climbs up the precarious cliff face nearly falling at he nears the entrance, which also has bars that have been been pushed outward from the inside. Gandalf takes a bit of a slide down the inside entrance of the tunnel and nearly falls once more into the depths of the tomb.
I have to say, that this scene in the film, was one of may favorites, despite the fact the we don’t learn a lot about why the Nine are buried here. The mood is spooky and the visuals dark and foreboding. The High Fells is on of my favorite locations in the film.
We watch as Gandalf descends down a precarious walkway and into the first tomb, there is a real sense of dread as he discovers the tomb is empty. A bird flies out giving the audience a fright-scare as Radagast appears in silhouette behind Gandalf. Their conversation in the tomb only tells us that those imprisoned here were servants of evil and that their number is nine. We can deduce, that these are the Nine Nazgûl, especially since Radagast discovered the Witch-king and his sword on his first trip to Dol Guldur. We aren’t given any more information, nor any reason for the imprisonment or burial of the Nazgûl. Despending on how you interpret this scene, we are left to make the assumption that all Nine of the Ringwraiths were imprisoned here and have now awakened and busted out of the barred tombs. Who built the tombs/prisons and why is still a mystery. Perhaps we will be told more in the final film.
I have another question here also… was Radagast secretly following behind Gandalf and came in after him? Or was the brown Wizard already in one of the empty tombs below Gandalf? Hmmm… we wonders, yesss Precioussss we do!
We see more shots of the outside of the High Fells as Gandalf and Radagast discuss their next move. Gandalf wants to go immediately after Bilbo and the dwarves, seeing that they are now in grave danger from that which hunts them, but Radagast reminds Gandalf that he has a responsibility to all of Middle-earth. Radagast tells Gandalf that they must go to Dol Guldur immediately and try to discover its secrets. At this point, I suspect Gandalf hitches a ride upon Radagast’s bunny sled! ‘Over the mountains and through the woods, to Sauron’s House we go!’
Our first look at Dol Guldur in The Desolation of Smaug!
The digital artists at Weta have given Dol Guldur a much more detailed and refined look in The Desolation of Smaug. For the first time we are able to see just how vast the fortress is on the inside! Dol Guldur is now definitely, on my by Top Ten list of Dark and Evil Places in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth!
Our first view of Dol Guldur in The Hobbit: DoS is one of my favorite moments in the film. We are treated to a wonderful transition from Bilbo holding the One Ring in the House of Beorn into a camera pan throw the bowels of Dol Guldur. The camera zooms under the great bridge that leads across a valley and into the fortress. The camera continues to zoom through the depths of the ruined tower. As Bilbo holds up the Ring to the light, we begin to hear the strains of the Ring Inscription chanted by the Nazgûl as the scene shifts to Azog and his warg riders entering through the base of Dol Guldur. As the chanting continues, the camera glides up through the twisted and ruined structure… rising upward to it’s summit. There we see Azog strutting out onto a bridge or dais. He stops and waits for his Master to come.
This is an absolutely delicious scene and I definitely want to see more!
The Necromancer appears as a vast black Shadow that circles around Azog speaking to him in the Black Speech. This is the perfect way to show Sauron… as simply a dark spirit of Shadow. This special effect looks a bit more realistic in the scenes with Gandalf, but over all I’m so happy that the visual and digital designers at Weta went this route rather than trying to create a man-like or human form. This visual coincides with the idea of Sauron as a disembodied spirit.
“We grow in Number. We grow in strength. You will lead my armies!”
It’s revealed in this scene, that the reason Azog was summoned to Dol Guldur is because the Necromancer has decided to make Azog the commander of his armies. The narrative of Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit, seems to suggest that Sauron wants to capture the mountain of Erebor, as the first stroke in his domination of Middle-earth. The mountain holds three things he desires. The first is the Arkenstone, which in Peter Jackson’s adaptation has a deeper more profound meaning than in the book. The Arkenstone has been cast, as not only the heart of the mountain, but also as a symbol of sovereignty. He who posses the Arkenstone has the right to rule Erebor. This is explained clearly in the prologue of The Desolation of Smaug. It’s stated that the seven armies of the dwarves swore allegiance to the one who holds the Arkenstone. The last thing Sauron wants is a united dwarf kingdom, that might rise up stand against him in the final War of the Ring.
The second reason Sauron wants to take Erebor is for it’s vast treasuries, which he can use to bribe the barzen Kings of the East and South to enter into the service of Mordor. Sauron also covets Mithril or Moria Silver of which there must have been a great supply in the treasure hoard of Erebor.
Finally… there is the matter of the dragon… if Sauron is able to lure the dragon into his service, as Morgoth did with Glaurung and Ancalagon The Black, ‘Smaug could be used to terrible effect’ and would be a most potent weapon in Sauron’s war against the West. Just imagine the outcome of the Battle of the Pelennor, if Smaug had descended on Minas Tirith during the assault. The outcome would have been very different indeed.
In Tolkien’s version of The Hobbit, it’s the Goblins and Wargs of the Misty mountains, who come down to avenge the death of the Great Goblin and form the evil forces in the Battle of Five Armies. In Peter Jackson’s version of the tale, it’s Sauron as the Necromancer, who wants to take the Lonely Mountain as the first stroke in a long planned assault on Middle-earth. Sauron will launch an assault on Erebor, to try and crush the strength of the dwarves in this version of the epic battle. This narrative, helps tie together the entire six films into one great Middle-earth saga.
As Azog stands before the Necromancer, he is told that he’s been selected to lead Sauron’s armies in war. Azog at first protests, thinking only of his desire to wreak vengeance upon Oakenshield, but he soon bows before the will of the Necromancer and calls upon Bolg to go after Thorin and the Dwarves in his stead. I have discussted this in more detail in The Hobbit: DOS Review 5 ~ The Mysteries of Azog and Bolg
The next scene of Dol Guldur has Gandalf and Radagast riding the bunny sled through the forest to the bridge that leads across the vale before the fortress gate. Gandalf proclaims the ruined fortress Dol Guldur, The Hill of Sorcery! He tells Radagast that spells of concealment lie over it.
I personally think the idea of the spell of concealment is brilliant stroke of storytelling. This sets up a way for the mystery of this place to remain intact until the coming of Gandalf. He and Radagast stand looking at the ruined structure and Gandalf concludes that the enemy has not yet regained his full strength, otherwise he would not remain hidden. Gandalf tells Radagast that they must force the hand of the enemy and that Radagast must go immediately to warn Galadriel of the danger. Gandalf goes in alone! This is when Radagast ask him “What if it’s a trap!” and Gandalf replies with certainty,“It is undoubtedly a trap!”
We are then treated to one of the coolest camera shots in the entire film. The shot begins with a close up of Gandalf striding with purpose across the bridge and then it begins to zoom backward through the ruins and then up through a window with bars and then into the darkness of the fortress. A very cool camera zoom that makes you feel like Gandalf is being watched.
We watch as Gandalf moves through the vast structure and for the first time we see how immense the Hill of Sorcery truly is. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey we only see it from afar, in this film we begin to see how a huge army of Orcs and Wargs could easily be hidden there.
Gandalf and the use of magic in Middle-earth
Elvish words of power are spoken by Gandalf as he strikes his staff upon the stone and tries to break the spell of concealment. This is done visually on film with bursts of light depicted as a ball of white energy emanating outward from his staff. In Tolkien’s writing in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, magic is rarely by any of the characters unless they are in extreme danger. There are not lighting bolts flickering out from fingers or shooting blasts from out of the wizards staffs. Magic is used rarely and often comes at a great cost to the one who wields it. The use of magic in Tolkien’s world is subtle and rare.
In Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films, he has had to strike a balance between how Tolkien used of magic in his writing with what works visually on film. I for one think he had down this very deftly and has maintained the spirit of how Tolkien used magic in his storytelling. The visuals of magic used in The Hobbit Trilogy are grounded in the visual reality created for The Lord of the Ring films. As Gandalf strikes the ground in Dol Guldur, the white circle of light is reminiscent of the scene with Gandalf and the Balrog in FOTR and also takes certain cues from the visuals of the death of the Witch-king and the destruction of Barad-dûr. I feel like the magic used in The Hobbit films works very effectively and fit well into visual legacy of the The Lord of the Rings films.
As Gandalf moves through the massive structure casting his spells and seeking to uncover the truth. We see Azog looking up through the broken towers of stone from deep within and he says. “The Wizard has come!” We also see the orcs around him cowering, because they fear that Gandalf will reveal them. Azog looks up and says “Yes he will!” with a tone of menace and threat in his voice.
Gandalf continues to look about and cast his spells to uncover the secrets of the Hill of Sorcery. Suddenly right in front of him, we see Azog and the Uruks of Dol Guldur. As he is revealed, Azog leaps out at Gandalf swinging his battle mace and knocking Gandalf to the ground before he can react. Azog then laughs. I pointed out in my Part Five ~ The Mysteries of Azog and Bolg, that Azog’s laugh comes off very fake as he looks down at the fallen wizard. I don’t even think the laugh comes from the mouth of Manu Bennett, perhaps it was the original laugh of Conan Stevens as Bolg or maybe even Lawrence Makoare… either way it’s an obvious flaw in the soundtrack! Let’s hope they fix this in the Blu-ray/DVD release!
The one other thing that bothers me in this sequence relates to the sense of reality in these films. If someone were hit that hard with a sharp five-sided stone mace with this much force, it would surly take your head off. This also occurs in The Hobbit: AUJ when Azog and Thorin do battle at the burning pines. In both of these fights Thorin and Gandalf get whacked pretty hard with Azog’s mace. In real life such a blow would surely kill you. Though, I will say in Gandalfs defence, the mace makes contact only with Gandalf’s staff, which would have helped repel the evil force of the blow. Thorin on the other hand, got a whack right to the head! In the real world he would be dead with a cracked skull.
However… other than these two discrepancies, I really enjoyed this entire sequence. The visuals of the interior of Dol Guldur are absolute perfection. You can really see the hand of John Howe in the design. There is one moment when Gandalf looks down one of the tunnels and and I swear you can hear the prickly vines growing and stretching over the stone. Very creepy!
As Gandalf lay there looking dazed and confused… Azog says something, that has left me me wondering what he meant. He stands over Gandalf with a grin of triumph and looking down at the wizard says…
What does Azog mean exactly? Is he talking about the fact that Sauron has already raised a vast army? Is he saying the Gandalf life is now over? To be honest I have no idea what he means.
If you have thoughts on this, post them in the comments below.
As Azog prepares to finish Gandalf off with a second blow of his mace, Gandalf deftly repels him. He jumps to his feet and points the end of his staff at Azog and the other orcs, which blows them back. This reminds me of how the ‘wizards due’l in the Fellowship of the Ring played out between Gandalf and Saruman. Gandalf repeatedly pushes Azog back and demands to know where his Master is… only to have Azog reply ominously… “He is everywhere!”
Gandalf pauses, looking at Azog and I think at this point he has begun to believe that the Necromancer may indeed be Sauron! Gandalf looks down over his shoulder into the pits below and sees the armies of Dol Guldur gathering. Azog goes in for the kill and is outsmarted once again by a blinding flash of light, as Gandalf escapes.
When Azog realizes he has been fooled by the wizard, he bellows in rage for the Uruks of Dol Guldur to… “Run him down!”
Finally Gandalf vs the Necromancer!
We see Gandalf running for his life with a pack of warg riders on his heels! There is a great scene where Gandalf brings down a huge wall of stone and takes out a pack of wargs that are just inches from attacking him on one of the many bridges in Dol Guldur. Gandalf hears Azog roaring in the distance and turns to run, he is impossibly outmatched by the army of orcs. He runs though another archway and is confronted… at last… by the vast shadow of Sauron.
“There is no light that can defeat darkness!”
Gandalf sends out a blast of white light only to have the shadow engulf it. This begins a duel between light and Shadow that goes back and forth until finally Gandalf is overwhelmed. I thought the way the Shadow was animated was brilliant! For the first time in all of these Middle-earth movies, I feel like Peter Jackson has captured the idea of ‘Shadow’ as written by Tolkien. It is neither smoke nor darkness exactly, but a combination of both. It is evil incarnate, pure and simple.
Tolkien always wrapped the Dark Tower and other places in Mordor in the ‘Shadow’ that Sauron wove about himself. This is such a beautifully written metaphor for evil that I’ve always felt was missing from The Lord of the Rings films. The Dark Tower of Barad-dûr always seemed too sharply defined and visible to the eye (pun intended), but I can understand why this was done. Peter Jackson needed to make the image of Sauron, which was represented by the flaming lidless eye atop the Dark Tower as a clearly defined evil presence. However, I always felt that Tolkien’s vision of Sauron and the Land of Shadow was such a poetic way in which to imagine evil and hoped I would see on film. Now, it seems that…
“The technology has caught up with the incredible imagination that Tolkien injected into this story of his… and so, this is the time!” Peter Jackson
Sauron finally reveals himself in the form of Shadow and Flame. As the fire grows we see what looks like a great burning eye, out of which walks the form of Sauron that we saw in the Battle of the Last Alliance, in the prologue of the Fellowship of the Ring. I think this was a brilliant stroke of genius, because it conveys so much without words. This flame and shadow then engulfs Gandalf’s staff ,which is reduced to dust. Now defenseless, he is then picked up and thrown down on the stone bridge… then picked up again and pushed up against the wall above the archway. We watch as all of the stone around him falls away and then the camera zooms in for a close-up of Gandalf’s face, as he finally realizes without a doubt that this is indeed the enemy of old… Sauron!
Though it’s not as clearly stated in The Hobbit trilogy as it is in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings, we know that the White Council believed initially, that the Necromancer might have been the Witch-king of Angmar. It was not until Gandalf went to the Dungeons of Dol Guldur that he realized it was the enemy returned… the Dark Lord Sauron! It also in the Appendices, where it says that Gandalf discovers Thráin and is given the key and map to Erebor before he dies in Dol Guldur.
So, I believe it is in this moment that Gandalf fully comprehends the danger to Middle-earth. Sauron has indeed returned!
Without his staff for protection Gandalf is first thrown up agis one of the stone towers by the reaching hands of the Shadow. The walls around him come crashing down as the camera zooms up on his face and he speaks the name he has feared all along…
The Darkness is coming
The last scene of Dol Guldur comes as Smaug is ‘conversing’ with Bilbo in Erebor. The dragon seems to know a great deal about who desires the Arkenstone, he seems to hint at the fact that Bilbo carries the One Ring and talks about what I assume is the rise of the Dark Lord when he talks about the ‘darkness coming’ in the outside world. How Smaug knows all of these things is uncertain, I’m hoping this will be explained in the last film. The next scene cuts to Gandalf looking the worse for wear, trapped and hanging in one of the cages in Dol Guldur. He looks down through the bars and sees a massive army of orcs assembling on the Hill of Sorcery.
We get an extended version of what we saw in the Desolation of Smaug trailers. The orcs have a uniques look that is reminiscent of the orcs of Mordor, but new and different at the same time. Their helmets especially look cool! I can’t wait to see how the Battle of Five armies will unfold in the last film in the trilogy!
Thráin oh Thráin… Wherefore art thou Thráin?
Funny… but I haven’t hear a lot of discussion about the fact that Thráin is missing from The Desolation of Smaug. In the early trailers for The Hobbit trilogy, Thráin was seen jumping down from on high and attacking Gandalf in Dol Guldur. This sparked endless discussion about when this scene would occur in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, because as Tolkien fans know, the key and map of Erebor are given to Gandalf in the Dungeons of Dol Guldur. Since the key was given to Thorin in the first film, it was conjectured that this scene might take place as a flashback… or perhaps was eliminated altogether. Then in the first trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, we once again see Thráin jumping down on Gandalf and fighting him in Dol Guldur. Once more there was a flurry of excited discussion about how this scene would fit into the story.
Much to my surprise, this scene with Thráin appears nowhere in the second film. This bit of action was obviously part of Gandalfs battle and capture in Dol Guldur, I suspect that Bolg was also part of this original narrative, before he was switched out with Azog. So what happened? Is Thráin out altogether or will he make an appearance in the extended edition of the film? It’s hard to know for certain. If anyone has thoughts or observations about this, I would love to hear them in the comments section below.
So… over all I would have to give the scenes of Dol Guldur very high marks, for both the Visual FX and how this part of the story adds to the narrative of this film! I can’t wait for the Battle of Dol Guldur! Woo Hoo!
In Part Eight of my in depth review of this film, I’ll tackle the great and powerful Smaug and how these scenes in the movie played out! Keep checking in for our next installment of this review Part Eight ~ Smaug the Terrible Unleashed which is coming soon!