The Hobbit Trilogy Is Almost Over

hobbitI’ve written tens of thousands of words on the Hobbit trilogy. It truly appears that there is nothing left for me to say about it. But it’s not over. Not yet.

As all True Hobbit Fans know, the movies aren’t official over until the extended edition comes out and we are nearing the release date of Peter Jackson’s last Middle Earth extended edition. (The digital edition arrive October 20 while the Blu Ray arrives November 17).

What does this mean?

I don’t know. A lot of the narrative weight of the trilogy rests on the last film. The first two films in the series raised a ton of questions about the questionable nature of Thorin’s quest, the significance of the Arkenstone, possible necromancy in Dol Guldur, and Smaug’s political alliance with Sauron. Many of those questions got left behind as the tension between the different armies kicked into high gear. Characters were slain, including dwarves we had known for three movies, but their deaths didn’t quite resonate with the emotional impact many were expecting. It ended almost too soon.

The theatrical version did give us one final spectacular battle but curiously removed the main heroes from the heat of battle and had them split up to get killed off one by one.

The Dol Guldur subplot that has been years in the making resulted a cameo-filled battle that was both visually stunning battle and painfully short.

Even the signature Peter Jackson length was trimmed down to neat 2 hours and 24 minutes, instead of his trademark 3 hours.

The biggest issue however is that the third film was juggling way too many balls. It didn’t quite figure out how to integrate Tauriel, Legolas, Radagast, and Alfrid into the story naturally. It didn’t solve the mystery of the dwarven rings of power. It didn’t explain Thorin’s dragon sickness or even give him a heroic death. And it didn’t quite set up a satisfying link to the next trilogy.

I’m not saying the trilogy is a failure. I wouldn’t have spent literally days of my life watching, rewatching, and analyzing the films if I didn’t have an inordinate love toward them. But I have to wonder if there’s any way the extended edition could rehabilitate the parts of the installment that didn’t work out. Could the extended edition redeem the film? Will it sufficiently answer all our questions?

Probably not. What’s done is done. An extended edition will most likely be just a longer version of what we already have, not an actual reworking of material. We’ll get a little more here and there, an extra action set piece involving the dwarves, and hopefully a little more resolution for Thorin’s death in the form of an actual funeral, but it is what it is.

The Hobbit is an ambitious trilogy that had a lot of potential and actually turned out pretty great considering the conditions under which it was made (a stalled production that was suddenly rushed into existence with a reluctant substitute director with only three months to prepare), but those limitations really show up most in this third film. Although it’s a minor miracle that it got made at all, that doesn’t make the loose ends easier to swallow.

Even though the creative decision to split the films into a trilogy at the last minute didn’t result with a powerful conclusion to the story, it did give us more time with a stellar cast of memorable characters in a stunning fantasy world, three beautifully haunting scores, and 27 hours of behind-the-scenes features that are a masterclass in blockbuster filmmaking all by themselves.

I eagerly await the final extended edition and will be watching as soon as it hits digital shelves. The Hobbit Trilogy for all its flaws is still leaps and bound above most fantasy films and an enthralling ride back to Middle Earth. Even if the plot is shaky from time to time, the characters and the world they inhabit will continue to hold up for years to come. What will our final 20 minutes with The Hobbit be like? I can’t wait.

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Rampant Speculation on the Prologue for The Battle of the Five Armies

smaug
 
**Possible Spoilers for The Battle of the Five Armies**
 

Every single Peter Jackson Middle Earth film so far has has opened with an extensive prologue. When The Fellowship of the Ring entered theaters way back in 2001, an unfathomable amount of pressure rested on those precious opening minutes. If the audience could digest thousands of years of backstory and comprehend it, then the risky $300+ million adaptation just might work. If that opening prologue didn’t make sense, literally billions of dollars in potential revenue were at stake. Unsurprisingly the prologue concerning Sauron and the history of the ring was one of the very last sections of the film to be completed before the premiere. It worked and it’s success guaranteed a future for the two finished Middle Earth trilogies we have come this December.

It seems only natural that the sixth entry, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, would uphold this hallowed tradition. Fellowship had the Battle of Dagorlad. The Two Towers featured Gandalf’s freefall battle with the Balrog. Return of the King showed us Smeagol’s transformation into Gollum. An Unexpected Journey showcased Smaug’s destruction of Dale and Erebor. And The Desolation of Smaug took us back to Gandalf’s initial meeting with Thorin in Bree.

So what lies in store for the sixth and final visit to Middle Earth? Will there be one last prologue to continue the pattern? If so, what would it concern?
 
The following is pure speculation. These ideas are probably wrong. One or two of these I may have read somewhere else on some dark corner of the internet, but hopefully I have added my own spin on it. These possible prologues may only exist in my head, but let’s not let that fact get in the way of having a little fun anyway. Soon all shall be revealed, but for now we may imagine what is in store on December 17.
 

The Witch-King Recruits Smaug

Back in the first Hobbit film, Radagast encounters the Witch-King of Angmar in Dol Guldur at some unspecified point in the past. In the second film, Radagast and Gandalf investigate the High Fells and discover that all nine Nazgul have mysteriously disappeared from their tombs. During the conversation between Bilbo and Smaug, new details come to light that cause us to question whether Bilbo is really the dragon’s first visitor since he took Erebor. Not only does Smaug seem perfectly knowledgeable about Thorin Oakenshield and his quest, but he also clearly knows something about the One Ring and Sauron’s army in Dol Guldur.

Smaug: “A darkness is coming. It will spread to every corner of the land.”
 
Cut to Gandalf imprisoned in Dol Guldur.
 
Clearly there is some kind of collaboration between Sauron and Smaug going on. At the very least Smaug can sense the power of the ring, but more likely is that Sauron is actively recruiting the dragon to wreak havoc on the free people of the North. In An Unexpected Journey, the White Council covers this possibility:
 

Galadriel: The dragon has long been on your mind.

 

Gandalf: This is true, my lady. Smaug owes allegiance to no one, but if he should side with the enemy, a dragon could be used to terrible effect.

 
Understanding the high likelihood of such a dark alliance, it would be faintly possible that the prologue for The Battle of the Five Armies could feature Sauron’s initial attempt to sway Smaug over to his side. We already know that the Witch-King is out there somewhere doing Sauron’s bidding. Especially with his seeming ability to dematerialize and pass through solid objects, the Witch-King would be the perfect agent to penetrate the sealed walls of Erebor.
 
After showing their sinister dealings in the dark, the prologue could cut right back to the dragon as he razes Lake-town into ash and embers. This would get us right back into the action of the non-stop thriller that will be The Battle of the Five Armies.
 

Gandalf Finds Thrain

 
We were teased in trailers for both AUJ and DOS a scene in Dol Guldur where a wandering Gandalf encounters a raving mad Thrain jumping down upon him from above. This is clearly the moment where Gandalf aquires the map and key he presents to Thorin at Bag End. Now that Thorin has unleashed the dragon, might not the next prologue be a natural place to explore the origins of this quest with Thorin’s long lost father?
 
This heir of Durin, despite some lunatic ramblings, could perhaps shed some more light on why he was being held in Dol Guldur and how the massive gold treasury of Erebor factors into Sauron’s plans. If Thrain was thwarted in his attempts and tortured by the Dark Lord himself, maybe he holds some crucial piece of knowledge that motivates Gandalf to undertake this endeavor in the first place. The Bree prologue in DOS did the same thing showing the initial meeting between Gandalf and Thorin establishing a precedent for such Hobbit prologues.
 
But on second thought, this might be a little too similar to what we have already seen and it is unlikely that Peter Jackson will give us another Gandalf-getting-ready-for-the-quest prologue. More likely this scene will show up in the DOS Extended Edition come November.
 

Galadriel Rescues Gandalf

We’ve seen in the initial teaser trailer for The Battle of the Five Armies a glimpse of Galadriel walking barefoot through some rocky place and kissing a fallen Galdalf on the head. In AUJ, Galadriel promised to show up if Gandalf ever needed her. And in DOS Gandalf sends Radagast to go bring her back to Dol Guldur with reinforcements.
 
Is this scene from the trailer showing the rescue of Gandalf from Sauron’s prison where he ended up at the end of the last movie? And if so, could that not make a suitable prologue for the third film?
 
I’m not sure how long it is going to take for the titular battle of five different armies to get started but it might make sense for the timeline to be sped up a little to get things moving after the burning of Lake-town. Gandalf needs to get rescued and get over to the battle pretty quickly. While this prologue is unlikely, this scene is not in the book and thus there’s no real way to tell when it will take place. The opening few minutes might be as good a place as any.
 

Goblins and Orcs

After Gandalf was defeated by Sauron toward the ends of the second film, we see him hanging in a cage watching as an army of orcs march out to war. Presumably led by Azog himself, they are already on their way to Erebor even before Smaug faces off against Bard.
 
However in the book it was not the orcs of Dol Guldur that marched out to battle but the angry goblins of the Misty Mountains coming to avenge their fallen king. Since the third film is all about the build up to war and then the climatic battle itself, it makes good sense to stick with that theme in the prologue. One possible prologue could involve Azog’s army encountering the vengeful goblins and joining together as one even bigger force. Showing such a massive double-flanked army would heighten the tension for the rest of the film even as the main characters are busy dealing with other seemingly more pertinent issues surrounding the aftermath of Smaug.
 

Sauron Resurrects Azog

The Hobbit films give us the perplexing predicament of giving us a Necromancer who can summon the spirits of the dead, but who is actually revealed to be the disembodied formerly defeated Sauron himself. This kind of does away with the whole Necromancer idea altogether if it weren’t for the newly emancipated Ringwraiths running around somewhere. One way this could be ameliorated is by giving more weight to the whole necromancy concept in the third prologue.
 
According to Tolkien, Azog the Defiler died of his wounds long ago at the Battle of Azanulbizar. However in the movie version, lo and behold there is he walking around waving his metal claw hand around like he never died.
 
This discrepancy could easily be mended by a short prologue opening on the aftermath of the battle outside the gates of Moria. Imagine as the camera zooms past the seas of bodies and bloodstained rocks penetrating into the black night of the mountain. There in the eerie darkness lies the lifeless corpse of Azog.
 
Suddenly a howling wind, a piercing shriek, fills the cavern walls. A flickering shadow spreads across the floor to the feet of the fallen orc chieftain. A whispering voice begins to chant in Black Speech. Azog’s toes begin to wiggle one by one. A shiver goes down his body. His heart begins to thump loudly. With a bloodcurdling scream, the Defiler sits up.
 
Azog blinks and recoils in fear. He scrambles to his feet, his back to the wall. He does not know who is with him in the dim underground tombs of Moria. A soulless voice speaks to him in the gravelly language of Mordor, “Bow to me.” Azog bends his knees and feebly spits out a reply, “Yes, master.”
 

The Rewind

Desolation of Smaug ended with many characters’ fates hanging in the balance. It is very possible that the third film may take some time to rewind a few minutes and show what is happening with the rest of the cast before leaping back into all the fire and death stuff. A multi-character prologue could show the result of this chase right before the dragon arrives.
 
When we last saw them, Legolas was chasing Bolg on horseback as the ugly white orc fled town. Perhaps he catches up before Smaug even arrives, who knows?
 
The dwarves back in Lake-town presumably all survive for the upcoming battle so we could see how they get away from the impending doom ahead of time along with Bard’s children. Tauriel can perform some more heroics to save more non-elves. Perhaps we can see Bain breaking his dad out of prison and handing him the black arrow, but this is seeming less and less likely even as I write this.
 
Back in Erebor, Bilbo and Thorin can watch in horror for a few moments more as they prepare to see wanton destruction befall an innocent populace as a direct result of their actions. The Master of Lake-town and Alfrid can scream in horror as they realize what they’ve done by helping the dwarves.
 
Ok in all honesty, there probably won’t be time for all this. Smaug really seems to mean business at the end of the second film and I doubt he will waste any time so that people can work out their issues. Since the other five prologues take place a significant time before the opening title, I sincerely doubt that there would be time for such a needless delay.
 

No Prologue

This is probably the opening that most people expect for The Battle of the Five Armies: no prologue and getting straight back into the action. The second Hobbit film was the first in the entire Middle Earth film series to end on a straight up cliffhanger. Such an ending may seem to rule out the possibility of seeing an extended prologue like we’ve seen before.
 
However I feel this is unlikely for three reasons.
 
First, such a committed tradition spanning five movies is not so easily discarded. You can’t just Gimli it with an axe because Smaug happens to be coming over for second breakfast. Although it might make sense on one level to skip it this time around, there are too many hypothetical scenarios (like the ones I’ve listed above) to pass up this opportunity to showcase more tender moments from the long established annals of Middle Earth.
 
The second reason is that this trilogy, for better or worse, has to deal with the issue of padding. We are dealing with two films that were split into three at the eleventh hour. Since that three movie decision was made back in summer 2012, there has been plenty of man-hours devoted to writing and filming additional scenes that weren’t originally planned back under the the two film treatment. Adding, not removing, a prologue would be a simple and relatively easy way to extend the running time and provide additional thematic clarity to a significantly elongated narrative.
 
The third reason is that the first two films have left us with so many dangling threads that it feels far too implausible that a prologue wouldn’t be used to answer at least a question or two. Really, there are questions that need answering. I don’t think we can make it another movie without answering every single question on this list:
  • Why is Azog still alive when Bolg could have been perfectly serviceable? What is so special about the Defiler that he was needed to brought back to life to replace his son at the final battle?
  • What is the deal with Dol Guldur? We’ve been teased it for two films but we still haven’t seen why it was so necessary to this particular adaptation of The Hobbit? And if Sauron wanted to keep it a secret, why did he breed giant easy-to-notice spiders there?
  • What is the White Council up to? When are Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman going to get involved in this whole spider infestation issue and the endless intrigue surrounding Dol Guldur?
  • Where are the Ringwraiths? If we saw their empty tombs in the High Fells that means they are out doing something. What is the thing they are doing? Do they do anything besides conspicuously fumble their swords and leave them behind at the slightest provocation? Why does Sauron rely on the one-handed Azog instead of his chiefest lieutenants all of whom have two useable hands? Are the nine servants of evil not yet strong enough to take physical form like Sauron is? And do they ever get tired of being invincible unkillable ghosts whose only weakness is getting stabbed in the face by women?
  • What is so special about Thrain that he needed to be teased in two movie trailers yet also cruelly withheld from us twice in a row for some sinister purpose that lies veiled in the shadows? Why was the White Council talking about Thrain’s ring of power in the extended edition and is that how Sauron is regaining his former strength? Does Sauron collect rings like how some people collect Magic cards?
  • Speaking of rings of power, the elves were not corrupted by their rings like men and dwarves. Are we finally going to see Galadriel, Elrond, and Gandalf each wield their rings in a battle against Sauron? That would be the coolest thing ever.
  • What is going on between Legolas and Tauriel? Did they used to date? Did they break up when Thranduil found out? Is there a good reason Legolas is still single in Lord of the Rings?
  • Speaking of wood-elves, where is Thranduil’s moose? Can we please see him ride it into battle? Can somehow get some more details about the traditional use of war moose?
  • Does Smaug have a good singing voice? I feel like he would. That baritone is just perfect for some kind of Hobbity song.
  • What is Bilbo planning to do with the Arkenstone? He has it, right? Did anyone see him pick it up? He has to have it. There’s no way he doesn’t have it. I couldn’t quite see but he must have it, right?
  • Is Legolas going to give Thorin his sword back? It’s so not cool for him to be killing orcs with the funnest sword that he lifted just so he could have it. Is anyone going to mention to Legolas that the handle of Orcrist is made from a dragon tooth and obviously belongs to Thorin for personal dragon reasons?
  • Are the new characters like Tauriel, Alfrid, and Bard’s daughters who were invented for the movie, going to meet an untimely end? I feel like their chances are not good.
  • Since Bilbo blacks out in the book during the final battle, will we not actually see the battle on screen and instead just hear people talking about the battle when Bilbo finally wakes up? Just thinking from a purist perspective, that would be logical, right?
  • Are black arrows really that hard to make? They look kind of just like regular arrows but maybe bigger. There will be a perfectly good explanation for why people didn’t feel like making more after an actual dragon showed up, no?
  • Also, why is Thorin such a jerk? I really liked him in the first movie. It seemed like he reconciled with Bilbo after the whole eagle rescue but now he’s back to trying to kill Bilbo. Is dragon sickness contagious? Should I be concerned here?
  • Why did the Misty Mountain song disappear from the second movie? I know it was a bit overplayed in the first movie but can we have it back now? We’re sorry for complaining, Peter. One more time, for old times?
  • Why are there no guardrails in Middle Earth? Don’t people ever fall off these walkways? Is there really no governmental agencies around to inspect bridges to make sure that children and drunks don’t accidentally plummet to their death? I know this is a faux history of a fantastical medieval European civilization and things were often brutally grimdark, but surely they still had guardrails. Are these magic guardrails that we can’t see because of a spell of concealment? I just find it hard to believe that elven architectural aesthetics trumps safety every time. We’re talking about saving lives here.

A Note on the Controversial Score of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

howard shore

When An Unexpected Journey arrived in theaters back in 2012, we finally journeyed back into Peter Jackson’s cinematic take on Middle-earth. Featuring many familiar faces and places, this was a second chance to visit this strange world yet again. Clearly the filmmakers wanted to go to great effort to tie these prequels into the same tone as The Lord of the Rings.

No where was this felt more than in the many musical callbacks, ranging from the rustic fiddles of the Shire to the rising crescendoes of Rivendell. Back in the first trilogy, composer Howard Shore rigorously applied the concept of Wagnerian leitmotifs across the three films, developing expansive and evolving musical themes each tied to important themes, characters, relationships, and locations. Like the production of an entire trilogy all at once, this had never really been done. And now it looked like Shore might do it again for The Hobbit.

However at An Unexpected Journey‘s release many critics expressed disappointment that both the film and its accompanying score fell far short of the magisterial heights of the first three Middle-earth films. Blaming a lack of source material, slow pacing, overt use of CGI, and comical tone, concerned reviewers felt that the new film was not up to par. Concerning Howard Shore’s efforts in particular they leveled several accusations.

First, many felt that Shore’s music relied far too much on the pre-established themes of The Lord of the Rings rather than standing on its own. Critics questioned the score’s dependency on the familiar leitmotifs for the Shire, the One Ring, Rivendell, Gollum, A Hobbit’s Understanding, and the Eagles.

In addition,the score featured a liberal dose of the Misty Mountains song first sung by Thorin and Company. Not written by Shore himself, the melody was composed by the New Zealand group Plan 9. Feeling that this non-Shore theme was both the best new melody of the film and yet at the same time largely overused, critics seemed to agree that the 66-year old Shore had lost some of his mojo.

Conspicuously, there were also some major last minute changes made to the score. Many segments in the released soundtrack were completely absent from theatrical release. In addition, new themes in the movie were nowhere to be found on the original soundtrack.

Changes in the film include a much pared down Radagast theme, various repetitions of the Misty Mountains theme, a new sweeping choral piece for the Eagles, and the controversial repurposing of several key leitmotifs from The Lord the Rings, specifically the themes of the Ringwraiths, Lothlorien, Nature’s Reclamation, and Gondor Reborn.

These missing themes from the soundtrack and late additions to the theatrical cut caused some consternation. Diehard fans familiar with these theme’s associations in The Lord of the Rings were perplexed at their reuse in An Unexpected Journey. Why were the originally intended themes from the soundtrack replaced with the repurposed ones from the original trilogy?

At the end of the day, the exact reasons are unknown. But we can be fairly confident that these late decisions were made directly by Peter Jackson and Howard Shore upon viewing a close-to-final cut of the film. The recorded music they had wasn’t working well as it should have. And Shore, known for his consistent detail to the meaning of leitmotifs in The Lord of the Rings, now incorporated these preestablished leitmotifs into An Unexpected Journey. While we can’t know why, we can reflect upon what old themes were used and what Wagnerian connections Shore might be making.

Let’s look individually at four most controversial leitmotifs and examine just why they may have been employed.

LOTHLORIEN

Listen the theme here.

This theme is used when the Company slides down to the hidden path to Rivendell and a hunting party of elves take out Azog’s warg-riders. This theme is first heard in The Fellowship of a Ring as a mystical choral piece when the Fellowship enters Lothlorien. This beg the question, what do Elrond and the warriors of Rivendell have to do with Lothlorien?

Rivendell elves have their own music completely separate from Lothlorien elves (as do the Wood-elves.) It could be easily argued that swapping themes between elves cheapens their use.

But as it turns out, Howard Shore has only used this particular battle version of the theme once before. It occurs in The Two Towers when elves from Lothlorien arrive at Helm’s Deep. However there is a Rivendell connection after all. Here’s the context. Previously Galadriel asks Elrond in Rivendell telepathically if the elves should leave Middle-earth to its fate or if they should in fact step in and aid men. Fast-forward to Helm’s Deep, the Lothlorien battle music plays as Haldir leads 200 Galadhrim archers inside the gates.

When he arrives, Haldir’s exact words are as follows:

I bring word from Elrond of Rivendell. An alliance once existed between Elves and Men. Long ago we fought and died together. We come to honor that allegiance. We are proud to fight alongside men once more.

Even though these elves are from Lothlorien, for whatever reason the impetus for their arrival seems to rest on the decision of Elrond. It is by the authority of Rivendell that these elves have come. And as we know, Elrond fought alongside men in the War of the Last Alliance and was gravely disappointed when Isildur refused to destroy the One Ring. Although technically the Lothlorien theme belongs to Lothlorien, as it is established in The Two Towers this leitmotif also has connections to Elrond and the former alliance that once existed between elves and men.

And when this theme resurfaces in An Unexpected Journey, who of course is leading elven archers to the last minute rescue of non-elves? It is Elrond again. Could Shore have created or extrapolated a brand new theme for this brief appearance? He could have, but instead he picked a theme that already had close ties to battling elves, an alliance between elves and non-elves, Rivendell, and Elrond himself.

As we will see in the next few leitmotifs, Shore’s reuse and repurposing of familiar themes never arrive completely out of the blue. They always build some kind of thematic connection between something we have seen before and what is now happening in an unfamiliar but similar variation.

Where the problem arises is when we take a theme like “Lothorien,” give it a static name as such, and then refuse to see any other circumstance which is not as literally similar. Even though some of these definitive leitmotif names do come from official sources, just because they have been given a name shouldn’t negate the fact that Shore’s music is always evolving and growing. Why should Shore be limited by a name picked out 10 years ago when there were only three Middle-earth films? Given Shore and Jackson’s history of meticulous attention to detail and unprecedented level of leitmotif development across multiple films, I believe that the use of these themes,  though at times difficult to fully understand, are always intentional.

RINGWRAITHS

Watch an example here

In An Unexpected Journey a pounding version of this chanting chorus plays when Thorin sees Azog for the first time and runs through the burning branches to challenge him. For many diehard fans of the LOTR soundtrack, this music actually took them completely out of the moment. Why was the theme for the Ringwraiths playing when there were no Ringwraiths in sight?

As perhaps my favorite moment in The Hobbit films so far, it took me a while to understand why this was so disconcerting. Listening to the released soundtrack, Shore originally had a completely different idea in mind for this moment. Late in post-production Shore re-recorded a version of this old theme and inserted it into this sequence.

As jarring as it is for some, especially those who own the Doug Adam’s book, it’s very possible that Shore simply decided to expand the use of this particular theme beyond the narrow confines of the Ringwraiths. There is already one instance where this has precedent: the first introduction of this theme in the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring. It is here at the Battle of Dagorlad during the War of the Last Alliance that we see this theme’s primary association is with Sauron and his army. Although perhaps we forget it later on in the trilogy, the Ringwraiths’ use of this theme is as primarily and thematically as an extension of Sauron himself. As direct agents of Sauron’s will, the Nine only do what their master commands them bound eternally by their rings of power. Fittingly their music belongs to Sauron as well.

So by claiming this leitmotif as the Ringwraith theme all along we have been forgetting that this is really the theme of Sauron, first used for his charging orc battalions at Dagorlad and then next used for his embodied armored form as he wields the ring. It is only afterward that this leitmotif is used for his nine servants of evil. By playing this theme over Azog (who clearly has his own distinct theme of dissonant notes in the lower register) Shore is making a strong association between the Defiler and the will of Sauron. You might not like the overt way this thematic connection is made, but it is there.

In The Desolation of Smaug, we see this relationship confirmed. Azog is no ordinary orc. We discover he is actually the commander of Sauron’s armies and that the elimination of Thorin’s claim to Erebor is indeed the Dark Lord’s number one military priority. He is building an army to claim the mountain for himself. Sauron would like nothing more than for Azog to cripple the Free People of the North for good, recruit a dragon to unleash upon his enemies as he has in the past, and use the gold of Erebor to buy the allegiance of easily corruptible men. At the moment Azog the Defiler is Sauron’s chief servant, very much like the Witch-king will be later on. By employing this obvious theme, a theme that establishes Sauron in the prologue and later defines his chief servants, Shore is making a statement. It may not be a subtle or veiled statement, but the meaning is pretty clear. If you want to know what Sauron is up to in The Hobbit, you need only look at Azog.

To speculate further, it’s possible there are more connections that we just haven’t unearthed yet. We don’t know exactly what will happen in The Battle of the Five Armies, especially concerning Azog, the Ringwraiths, and Sauron since none of them feature in the actual book of The Hobbit. However Jackson and crew have clearly decided to take Sauron’s Necromancer role literally, having him resurrect the Nazgul. As we know, Sauron is very good at overcoming things like death and disembodiment.

According to Tolkien, Azog was definitely killed at the battle of Azubiliazar outside the gates of Moria. Interestingly, Thorin offers the same explanation to Bilbo, claiming he died of his wounds long ago.

Is it possible that Sauron, a powerful necromancer, raised Azog from the dead just as he brought back the Nazgul?

That would explain the Pale Orc’s allegiance to Sauron which overrides his burning motivation to eliminate Thorin himself. If Azog has indeed been resurrected just like the Nine to be a servant of evil, this would make his relationship to the Ringwraiths and their musical cues even more appropriate. We will just have to wait for the next film and perhaps the extended editions to find out.

NATURE’S RECLAMATION

Listen to examples here.

There are several versions of this leitmotif used throughout the three LOTR films. It is used to signify the natural world or sometimes men taking back something that evil has stolen. Its first instance occurs as a soft boy solo used when the Lord of the Eagles reclaims Gandalf from the top of Orthanc. The most exemplary use of the Nature’s Reclamation theme occurs in The Two Towers when the Ents go to war and the Rohirrim ride down the hill to Helm’s Deep.

A few other uses are notable. In The Return of the King when Rohan arrives at the Battle of Pellenor Fields, a brass version of the theme plays over the men and horses as opposed to the usual chorus of boys used for the moths, eagles, and Ents. The theme last occurrence is when the eagles arrive outside the Black Gate.

In An Unexpected Journey, this theme is played when Gandalf sends the moth for help and the eagles snatch up the Company from the trees. This is pretty straightforward. It connects the two eagle appearances from LOTR to the eagle rescue in The Hobbit and makes thematic sense. The only issue I can see is that we have heard this theme quite a lot before, used in the climaxes of both The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

However if the theme is familiar, Howard Shore extrapolates further and leads into a stirring choral piece as the eagles carry the Company through the skies and a beautiful sunrise. Not found on the soundtrack, this is Shore at his best. Here he takes a relatively bare moment in the story and turns it into a beautiful meditation on the harrowing danger that Bilbo and his friends have just barely escaped from. The fact that this is also a late addition to the score should alert us to the fact that these last minute changes were not laziness. Shore is both willing to recycle and devise something utterly new as needed.

GONDOR REBORN

Watch an example here.

In the closing sequence of An Unexpected Journey, a wounded Thorin confronts Bilbo and warmly embraces him as the other dwarves cheer them on. It’s a moment that signals Bilbo’s acceptance into the Company and a turning point for Thorin and Bilbo’s relationship. However the music was changed at the last minute, reusing a theme known as Gondor Reborn. This perplexed many fans since this moment in The Hobbit has nothing to do with Gondor and comes off as thematically incongruent.

This Gondor Reborn cue comes from The Return of the King originally intended to mark the crowning of Aragorn and the dawn of the Fourth Age of Middle-earth. There are two especially notable uses of this leitmotif in the third film and both occur toward the end. The first takes place at the defeat of Sauron right as Barad-dur comes crashing down. A second use occurs at the crowning of King Elessar, signaling the titular return of Gondor’s royal lineage. What’s interesting is that only one of these uses has direct ties to Gondor. While I suppose the destruction of Barad-dur does very much affect Gondor’s survival, it’s not the same thing as Gondor being physically reborn through its reinstated monarch.

In fact, I believe in retrospect this theme is now misnamed. As presented in The Return of the King, it is not narrowly limited to Gondor’s revival. The theme signals the climactic defeat of evil and it’s also about celebrating the unexpected victory of hobbits over the larger forces of evil in the world. When Sauron’s lidless eye explodes and his tower crumbles, it is because of two brave hobbits. When Aragon receives his crown, it is in large part because of the four hobbits standing before him who outran Nazgul, convinced Ents to overthrow Saruman, deceived Sauron, and delivered the One Ring to Mount Doom. This theme is about the strength of ordinary everyday folk over the looming shadow of darkness. Though intended for Gondor and Elessar, late changes to The Return of the King seem to have expanded this leitmotif to encompass a much broader meaning.

Bilbo singlehandedly saved Thorin from Sauron’s agent, Azog the Defiler, and preserved the Quest for Erebor from certain doom. The dwarves cannot reclaim the mountain without a king and clearly his nephews are not ready to carry that mantle. They need a capable leader and a rightful heir of Durin to defeat Smaug and restore the throne of the Lonely Mountain.

One might argue that the embrace of a hobbit and a dwarf pales in comparison to the climactic defeat of Sauron and the crowning of the long-awaited king of Gondor, but one might also argue precisely the opposite. Bilbo prevents the quest from failure inspiring a chain of events that will lead to the destruction of Smaug and the restoration of Erebor and Dale. His actions directly lead to the reestablishment of a prosperous and strong civilization of dwarves and men in the North. If Thorin dies by Azog’s hand, Sauron’s armies will explode unchecked beginning in the North and spreading down through the rest of Middle-earth. It is Erebor and Dale who will fend off Sauron’s advances in the coming War of the Ring and keep his attention divided between themselves and Minas Tirith.

Shore uses this small moment to illustrate the greater meaning of the actions of a single hobbit. Though he cannot know it, Bilbo’s courage affects the fortunes of many across the whole of Middle-earth. And as Gandalf reminds us, only deeds of ordinary folk like this can stop Sauron. This emotional orchestral theme is all at once victorious, celebratory, and illuminating. Just as it will happen gloriously in The Return of the King, in this short moment a hobbit quietly thwarts a great evil.