Part Six ~ What Happens in Laketown?
In this portion of the Mordor Review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, I’m going to look at how the Hobbit Films have veered off into unknown Tolkien territory!
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 Six of this review, we are going to take look at who got the Morgul Shaft, Orcs in Laketown and the Breaking of the Fellowship of Dwarves!
Please go HERE to our Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review Page for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!
Let’s begin Part Six of our review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug with a look at the dwarves first meeting with Bard at the edge of the Long Lake.
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 also want to say that this part of the Mordor Review of DoS will be shorter then some of the others… or I’ll never get this review completed! LOL!
I also will say that Part 6 of this review, won’t be nearly as lengthy as some of the others… otherwise I’ll never finish the damn thing!
As Bilbo and the Dwarves crawl out of their barrels sopping wet and glad to be alive, they see a dark figure in silhouette against the blue skies over Esgaroth upon the Long Lake!
Some of you may know that the figure of Bard in silhouette against the sky was going to be the closing shot of the first film when The Hobbit was still a two picture project. It’s definitely a dramatic moment in the film and a character as important as Bard deserves such an entrance! His part is played flawlessly by Luke Evans!
After a few hot shots of his bow, Bard and the Dwarves strike a deal for help in getting to Laketown. Which in the film version, is much harder than in the book. In The Hobbit, the dwarves simply get out of the barrels and walk into Laketown across the land bridge.
I do feel like this meeting at the end of the rapids works well in the narrative. The fact the Bard is an outsider trying to make ends meet by picking up barrels along the lake is a great way to flesh out his character. He is portrayed as the disgraced ancestor, who was responsible for defending the city of Dale from dragons and failed in their task! I think this is a great bit of writing!
After the dwarves get on his boat and make their way to the lake, we cut to the pursuing orcs on the rocks above the river and get to hear Bolg say ‘man-flesh’ in the Black Speech! Cool!
I just want to make mention here, that I love the use of the Black Speech in these films. I wish there had been more used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy!
We watch as the dwarves are taken to Laketown, through what I believe are the ruins of either the original Esgaroth, which burned (in the bool) when Smaug descended on the Mountain or it could be part of the ruins of Dale. There’s a nice scene here, were the dwarves view the Lonely Mountain for the first time, sort of… it’s shrouded in clouds. I was hoping the mist would part and we would see the mountain in all it’s glory, but I think Peter Jackson wanted to save the full reveal of the Mountain for a later scene!
The City of Esgaroth
I want to say that the large scale visuals for the city are absolutely gorgeous, some of the most beautiful scenes in the film, next to the shots of Thranduil’s Elven realm and the inside of Erebor. The scenes of the ice laden lake with the city built upon it are simply stunning! It really sets the mood for the second act of the film. Also, the practical sets are richly detailed, really helping to bring Laketown to life. Weta was able seamlessly combine the sets into the digital shots of the city. These visual effects alone, should have earned Weta and Peter Jackson an Oscar for set design and Visual FX in MHO!
I also want to note here, that we see a DOG! Yes, for the first time we have evidence the dogs do exist in Middle-earth! I believe the only time dogs are mentioned in Tolkien writing is at Farmer Maggots, in the Fellowship of the Ring. Since that scene was cut in the film trilogy, it’s nice to see a wee dog running about Laketown! After all… cats get a cameo in both trilogies!
Bard delivers the dwarves into the city of Laketown hidden inside barrels full of fish! We meet the Master of Lakestown’s’ henchmen’s and the creepy little Alfrid, who almost discovers the hidden dwarves. This scene sets up the state of affairs in the city and tells the audience that Bard is considered the protector of the people, much to the dislike of Alfrid.
Bard’s son meets him on the way to their home and tells him that the house is being watched, we see them enter the house alone.
We are introduced to Bards family, who I think will play an important role as events unfold in Laketown when the dragon comes. The destruction of the city will have have a much deeper meaning, when seen through the eyes of the children. If we were to see just saw a bunch of nameless people running about screaming and getting burned up, it wouldn’t have the same emotional impact as seeing it through the eyes of characters we know.
OK… So far so good!
Out of fish barrels and into the toilet
The dwarves must now sneak into the house and are forced to enter through the toilet. For me this was when things began to take a decidedly strange turn, much less Tolkien and much more Jackson. This scene definitely got a good laugh in the theater, however, when Dori spits toilet water out of his mouth my stomach did a bit of a flip! LOL
As the dwarves get settled, we see Thorin looking out the window at the Wind Lance. We are told the story of Bards ancestor, Girion of Dale (played by Luke Evens, by the way) who missed the mark when the dragon came, but supposedly loosened a scale on his underbelly. However, Bard doesn’t reveal to the dwarves that he is the ancestor of Girion of Dale. This sets up an interesting dichotomy as both the dwarves and Bard are hiding the facts of who they are from the other. This creates a great story for Bard, however, I fear it will ultimately take away from Bilbo, one of his big moments from the story, when he tells the thrush about the bare spot on Smaugs belly, that will ultimately lead to the destruction of the dragon. I’m not sure if I particularly like this change in such an important part of the narrative. We’ll have to see how this plays out in the final film.
This scene also leads to the dwarves dissatisfaction with the weapons Bard gives them as part of the deal they made by the river. The dwarves then plan a sneak attack on the armory of Laketown to steal weapons. This entire line of narrative, feels forced to me. It is though this plot device, that the dwarves are captured and we discover that Kili’s wound with the arrow is more deadly than we thought.
We are introduced to the Master of Laketown, played splendidly by Stephen Fry and the weasley little Alfrid by Ryan Gage is also perfectly played. It is Alfrid, who puts Bard in the mind of the Master, whose selfishness and greed has made his position as Master quite precarious. He will do anything to maintain it and though promptings of Alfrid, soon sees that Bard will make the prefect scapegoat.
The set… the costumes… even the painting of the Master of Laketown, all tell a story about the corruption within his position as leader. It will be interesting to see what happens when Smaug attacks, something tells me that Alfrid will get torched like a kabob!
The truth comes out
We see Bard take note when Balin address Thorin by name, and it must jog his memory. He then leaves to follow a hunch and discovers who Thorin really is by looking at a prophetic tapestry. This scene is intermingled with stories being told by the townspeople of Esgaroth, as they spread rumors about the coming of dwarfs to the city and the prophecy about rivers of gold pouring down from the Mountain. The return of the Lord of Silver Fountains. This is a classic Jackson moment, a wonderful scene that captures the feel of Tolkien and tells the story of The Hobbit in a vibrant and exciting way. This scene reminds me just how good a director Peter Jackson can be and how deftly he can craft a scene on film.
We then cut to the dwarves being captured at the armory after Killy falls crashing down the steps. They are then brought before the Master of Laketown and accused of thievery! This is a great moment for Richard Armitage to bring out the heroic elements in Thorin. He declares himself King under the Mountain and then promises the people of Esgaroth a share in the gold of Erebor for their help, much to the satisfaction of Balin. However, Thorin’s claims are challenged by Bard, who fears what will happen if the dragon awakens and come down the River Running to Esgaroth. These two heros squares off, both giving impassioned speeches, that make this one of the most dramatic character scenes in the film. Thorin is revealed as the heir of Kings and it’s also at this point that the dwarves learn that Bard is the ancestor of Grideon, the one who failed to kill the dragon with the Wind Lance when Smaug descended from the skies. Both narratives are now revealed and the line between the two characters is drawn. The visual look of this night scene with lamps and torches and snow falling is beautifully lit and sets a perfect mood for the unfolding drama.
I also want to make mention at this point, that it was nice to see some faces of color in the crowd. This makes sense from the point of view of the geography of Middle-earth and the fact that Laketown borders on the east.
As Thorin and Bard argue, the Master of Laketown sees the mood of the people, decides to help Thorin and the dwarves. I felt like the entire series of scenes worked perfectly in establishing the characters and the plot to this point. A drunken party ensues, which hopefully we will see in the extended edition of the film! We only know this happens, because Bofur awakens late and misses the boat leaving the city along with the other dwarves who are left behind.
The breaking of the fellowship… SAY WHAT?
This takes the narrative of the film to what I feel is the most egregious of choices made by Peter Jackson and his writing team in The Hobbit trilogy. So far that is!
There are only a few time when I have felt this much Tolkien Shock watching one of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films. I can take the elimination of scenes and characters (Tom Bombadil, Farmer Maggot, Glorfindel, the Old Forest and the Barrow Downs), I can take the reinterpretation and reworking of storylines and characters (Witch-king vs Gandalf, Denethor, Battle of the Pines, Tombs of the Witch-king and the High Fells) The creation of entirely new new characters (Tauriel and Lurtz) even the resurrection of long dead characters (Azog), I can take all of that, but to completely change the course of the story as written by Tolkien… that is another matter all together. For me it would be like having Frodo suddenly decide to go west to Minas Tirith first, fighting in the Battle of the Pelennor and then heading out to Mordor. To me the breaking of the company of dwarves at Laketown is on the same par as that level of change.
In an article just released on Empire Online Phillipa Boyens addresses this concern directly…
“We made that decision [so we would] experience the attack on Lake-town through the eyes of people we’ve come a long way with,” she said. “We wanted some of the dwarves to understand what happened in that firestorm, that holocaust that rains down upon Lake-town. Bofur (James Nesbitt) comes more into his own in the third film. A rift begins to open up. And I can’t say much more without going into spoilers for film three, but it’s primarily because we needed him to be there when the dragon attacks.”
Now… this makes a lot of sense from the stand point of narrative revelation and who the audience gets to see events through in the film. Leaving some of the dwarves behind in Laketown, while the rest go on to the Lonely Mountain so they can witness first hand the fiery attack by Smaug on Laketown, and then having them describe these terrible events to the dwars in Erebor will have a much stronger impact. Especially Bilbo, who we know will soon make a decision that will create a rift between himself and Thorin. (Read the book if you don’t know what I’m talking about!)
However, at this point, I’m still not sold on this adaption of the story. I think a lot of of the narrative issues that Tolkien fans are giving voice to come directly from this choice. The love interest between Kili and Tauriel was created to give further impetus for Tauriel to go to Laketown to save the day! Which she must do because Kili has been shot with a Morgul Shaft, that has poison only an elf can heal. Which, was added to the narrative, because in order to split up the dwarves at Laketown, only a deathly injury would be a strong enough reason for Thorin to order some of the dwarves to stay behind. I feel that all of these narrative threads are a result of the decision to split up the company at Laketown.
Is the payoff from such a major change in the book, worth the ire of fans? Maybe… we will have to wait and see. If we get some really gut wrenching drama, that helps define the characters as Tolkien wrote them, then I will lay down my arms and bow to the team of writers on this film. So for the time being, I will hold off passing judgement on this decision, until I see the entire story unfold as Peter Jackson and his team have envisioned it.
That Old Elvish Glow!
Now, lets talk about that healing elvish glow! I personally see no problem with the healing of Kili by Tauriel… at least on face value. As I stated above, I’m more concerned with the canon changes in the narrative, rather than this comparison to the Fellowship of the Ring and the saving of Frodo. However, the comparisons are there and so I feel like I need to address them.
There have been a number of complaints in reviews and postings by fans, about the scene of Tauriel healing Kili of the wound by a Morgul Shaft. They say it’s a rehash of healing that Frodo receives in The Fellowship of the Ring. I have a couple of problems with those who make this claim. First, the two wounds are completely different… Kili’s wound is made by a poisoned arrow or ‘Morgul Shaft’, while Frodo’s wound was made with a Morgul Blade inflicted by the Witch-king of Angmar, whose tip breaks off and worms it’s way toward the heart of the victim. In The Hobbit: DoS Kili would die of poison, while Frodo on the other hand would have been turned into a wraith. Two very different outcomes.
Secondly, there is the matter of the healing itself. We never actually see Frodo healed in the film (or the book for that matter). In the LOTR The Fellowship of the Ring, we see Arwen with an elvish glow when Frodo looks at her, but that is simply because he’s beginning to slip into the wraith world. Later, we see Elrond speaking Elvish, as if he his hovering over Frodo and healing him, but we never see the removal of the Morgul shard from Frodo’s shoulder.
In The Hobbit: DoS, Kili is healed by Tauriel as she works plant Kingsfoil in her hands, speaks elvish words of healing and then applies it to the wound. Kili looks up at her and she gets that old elvish glow, much the same way that Arwen did beneath the stone trolls in FOTR. Other then seeing Tauriel with a bit of a glow, there are no signs that Kili is turning into a wraith, only that he is dying of poison.
Some fans have asked how a lowly Silvan Elf can heal with the same kind of power with which Elrond heals Frodo. Well it’s clear, that this is not what happens. Kili is healed from a Morgul poison, while Frodo was healed of a much more deadly and terrible wound. In my mind, there’s simply no comparison. Now… I will say that I think Peter Jackson used a lot of similar visual imagery and story cues from The Lord of the Rings films in this scene. The use of the Athelas plant as well as the the glowing Elf trick… but other than that, there is no way you can compare these two wounds and their power of healing. At least, that’s how I see it.
A final Ninja Orc Battle with Legolas and Tauriel!
One question that comes to mind is where are all the guards of Laketown? When Bard enters the city, he must go through a thorough check by the guards of the gate. There are only two ways into the city… by boat or by the land bridge. The Orcs must have come by the bridge since they are upon their wargs (We see Bolg taking off on his warg back across the bridge) Have all the guards been killed? Also what about Tauriel and Legolas on horseback? This makes very little sense to me.
Now, I love a good sword fight, but this last scene in Laketown with fighting Ninja Orcs and the battle between Legolas and Bolg… well, it seemed to me to be the most egregious use of CGI in the film. After the fight between Legolas and Bolg, (which was damn good) the elf is handed off to two of Bolg’s orcs, you can clearly see the transition from real Legolas into CG Legolas. However, the worst bit of CGI in the entire film is when Legolas jumps on his horse and rides after Bolg across the bridge… I literally cringed and gasped! I have seen better renderings of a horse in bad video games. I think there were just too many digital shots and last second changes, for the folks at Weta to keep up with and they simply ran out of time. My hope is the this will be fixed in the release of the Blu-ray/DVD. As I recall there was some improvements of CGI scenes in the Blu-ray/DVD Extended Editions, which in reality is the truly final version of these films.
Two things I want to point out. One is the fact the Fimbul is given a very cool death worthy of his character. A very memorable beheading, the fits the status Fimbul!
The second thing that really stood out in this final sequence in Laketown, was the bloody nose that Legolas receives and how he reacts to it. This moment in the film gives a subtle insight into what it’s like to be an immortal of middle-earth.
On one hand, I think the visuals of Laketown are gorgeously rendered and realized, and laketown will go into my Top Twenty list of favorite places in Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth. However, the script choices and breaks from the canon also carry their own level of Tolkien Shock, that will only be assuaged if this bit of narrative rewriting has a big payoff in the last film. As with the Return of the King in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson will have the most amount of time to devote to editing and crafting of the final film over the first two. Except for a bit or additional shooting here and there to help frame some of the characters, the principle photography should all be complete. This allows Jackson almost a full year to edit and perfect this last fim. I anticipate, that this one will be the crown jewel of The Hobbit trilogy.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Peter Jackson will be able to bring The Hobbit to a close with a visual and emotional bang!
In Part Seven of my in depth review of this film I’ll take you deep into the dark heart of Dol Guldur, and explore how Peter Jackson has realised the vision of the Necromancer as Sauron! Keep checking in for our next installment of this review Part Seven ~ Gandalf vs the Necromancer in Dol Guldur which is coming soon!
Please go HERE to our Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review Page for all nine parts of the Mordor Review!