Friday, June 21, 2013

Into the Fire

The Movie: The moment between Bilbo and the dwarves is interrupted by the sudden presence of Azog and his warg-mounted orc pack. The wargs without riders are quickest, and manage to catch up with Thorin's fleeing Company. Bilbo draws his sword and manages to kill one (almost entirely by accident). The Company continues to run until they hit a cliff; at Gandalf's command, they all climb the nearby trees. As the wargs circle and surround the trees, Gandalf whispers something to a nearby moth and sends it away. Azog himself approaches, to Thorin's horror. Azog mocks the Dwarvish Prince, as well as his father Thrain, and gives the order to attack. The wargs attack the trees with such ferocity that they begin to uproot and fall on one another. The dwarves leap from falling tree to falling tree until all 13 of them, as well as Bilbo and Gandalf, are perched on a single tree at the edge of the cliff. Gandalf grabs a pinecone, magically sets it on fire, and throws it at the wargs. He lights more pinecones on fire, passing them to Bilbo and the dwarves. Soon, so many flaming pinecones have been thrown that the entire surrounding area is on fire. Just then, damaged by the flames, their tree uproots; Thorin's Company is now hanging precariously over the edge of the cliff.

Am I supposed to feel suspense right now? I thought it was established that they can't be hurt by falling great distances?

The Book: After quite a bit of marching through the woods, Thorin's Company comes upon a glade with no trees. They hear wolves howling nearby, and Bilbo starts to freak out a little. Gandalf orders them all up into the trees. Bilbo has a little trouble climbing, and Dori has to climb down, and let Bilbo climb up his shoulders; he barely makes it back up before the wargs attack. There are hundreds of wargs, but since they can't climb trees, the Company is safe for the moment. More and more wargs keep coming in, and they leave guards at the foots of the trees that had anyone in it. A great grey wolf, the leader of the wargs, speaks to Gandalf in his "dreadful language." He says that the wargs and the goblins were meeting here for an attack on nearby woodsmen, and the goblins were running somewhat late. The warg leader thought the dwarves were friends of the woodsmen, so they would wait until the goblins came to chop the trees down. Gandalf lights a pinecone on fire, a bright blue flame, and chucks it at the wargs. He throws another pinecone, and another; one is in blue flames, one in red, another in green. Soon enough the entire glade was afire.

You seriously didn't see a fucking problem with this, dude?

The goblins arrived all at once, screaming and yelling; they paused when they realized that there was no great battle, but the dwarves were all stuck in the trees. The goblins, not fearing the fire, laughed and sang a song as they piled more wood on the fire nearest the trees where the dwarves were. Gandalf climbed to the top of the tree; lightning flashed from his wand, as he prepared to suicide bomb the goblins to save the rest of the Company.

What difference does it make? The entire climax is changed. Instead of the goblins attempting to avenge the death of their King, Azog's orc pack makes a reappearance. The wargs are once again treated as little more than mounts, and not an intelligent species unto themselves. The scene is somewhat less exciting in the book; there's less combat, no leaping from tree to tree, etc. The book has this scene take place in a glade, while the movie takes place over the edge of a cliff.

My Opinion: As far as "necessary changes" are concerned, I think this scene is mostly fine. I understand the desire to have a strong, central antagonist to the first film, and having this be the scene of the climatic final battle makes good sense. Thus, if you absolutely must have Azog, this is a good scene for him to return and do battle with Thorin's Company. That means all the little changes - the wargs being in league with his orcs, the extra bits of action, etc. - all work rather well. I was pretty happy that there wasn't any singing here, too. It'd be hard to take this shit seriously if the bad guys were singing a jaunty tune.

Why were the wargs treated like dogs, though? They're as intelligent as dwarves or elves. The book has them using tactics and speaking to each other. They're a species. But in the movie, they're nothing more than large, trained, attack wolves. I guess there's nothing stopping Peter Jackson from establishing their intelligence later on, but he seems to be ignoring a detail that made Tolkein's world just a little richer.

That shit with Gandalf and the moth needs some discussing, too, but I'll save that for a later post.

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