The Gaffer’s Elite! Battles

Gaffer Gamgee

Ranking All Things Middle-earth

In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the story is everything. But what adds to the beauty of experiencing it, is witnessing the breathtaking conflict that takes place throughout the narratives. In this second installment of “The Gaffer’s Elite” series, I’ll be attempting the daunting task of classifying my most favourite confrontations from the Middle-earth films.

For last week’s post, see ‘Soundtracks’.  

1. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the KingEomer Pelennor Fields Battle

Why? This might get a few heads shaking. The eternal battle between fans, on whether Pelennor or Helm’s Deep are the top, seems never-ending. I would place both battles in first place, but for sheer awe, scale, emotion and the high stakes of the story, I’m placing this first – though not without hesitation. Highlight: Éomer’s spear throw, neutralising two Mûmakil. Touch of class.

2. The Battle of the Hornburg – The Lord of the Rings: The Two TowersHornburg Battle Helms Deep

Why? What the Pelennor Fields offers in spectacle, Helm’s Deep will always remain the archetype fantasy battle. It has elements of an open battlefield and a siege. The storytelling and the “compactness” that contrasts itself from its Pelennor counterpart is what enhances the beauty of this pitch-perfect sequence. I find it difficult to explain why this is so. It just is. And I’ll venture to say that its cinematography and editing top even the number one on this list. There, I said it. Highlight: The explosion of the Deeping Wall.

3. The Siege of Minas Tirith – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the KingTrebuchet Minas Tirith Siege

Why? Imagine the Helm’s Deep sequence multipled by a couple more times. This is what I call a proper fantasy siege. Not just the scale, but the execution of the scenes are all laid out in a grand way; and there’s no question how significant this moment is during the conflict of the War of the Ring. Why third place? Mostly due to the fact that the sequence is intercut with other scenes that are equally powerful storytelling moments. Highlight: The Gondorian trebuchet vs Mordor catapult engagement. “Send these foul beasts into the abyss!”

4. The Battle of Dagorlad – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the RingElrond Dagorlad Battle

Why? It barely lasts more than a few minutes, and is utilised as a flashback; and yet, it packs a solid punch. The prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring was already on extraordinary form in introducing us to Middle-earth, and this sequence just topped it all off. The scale is immense and Sauron’s only physical presence in any of the Middle-earth films is a memorable one. Highlight: The Elves unleashing a barrage of arrows at the charging orcs (millimetres away from Elrond’s head!).

5. The Battle of Azanlubizar – The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyAzanulbizar Battle

Why? Another flashback here. The music in this short sequence is so intense; and Azog’s presence creates an instant atmosphere of horror. The chaos and slaughter ensuing around the Pale Orc and Thorin increases that sense of dread. In hindsight, knowing it takes place on the rocky plains outside the East Gate of Moria – eerily quiet and desolate after the fall of Gandalf – transforms this flashback into an extensive revelation of Middle-earth’s rich history. Ken Stott’s voice over as Balin gives it that much more gravitas. Highlight: Thorin leading the final charge, with Dwalin and Balin at his side.

6. The Battle of the Mines of Moria – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the RingGimli Mines of Moria

Why? As I did a quick search to make sure I list all the battles occurring on screen, the conflict in the Mines of Moria is classified as a “battle”. I’ve always considered it more of a skirmish, but use of this word from my end never diminished its power and emotion for me. Seeing the Fellowship battle it all-out against relentless orcs and a cave troll is rather breathtaking. The dark and murky colour palette of the visuals – contrasted by the piercingly-bright blue light from the chamber’s shaft – is simply brilliant. Highlight: The hobbits’ charge towards the orcs as they enter the Chamber / Gimli dodging the troll’s attacks.

7. The Battle of Osgiliath – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the KingFaramir Osgiliath Battle

Why? Differing from the large-scale, open battlefield approach, there is something rather intriguing to see the contingent of Ithilien Rangers and Gondorian infantry battling their way through hordes of orcs amid the ruined streets and fortifications of a decaying city. Highlight: Faramir’s pause before charging out from his hide-out at the oncoming orcs.

8. The Battle of the Peak – The Lord of the Rings: The Two TowersBalrog Gandalf Battle of the Peak

Why? You guessed it. Another short, flashback sequence. This “battle” has nothing to do with the typical army vs army conflict. But when you have two Maiar engaged in a fight to the death, you can expect the repercussions to be huge. Peter Jackson did an excellent job in recreating the violent environment the two characters find themselves in. The sound effects are particularly astounding. Listen to the lightning-charged Glamdring as it is thrust deep into the heart of the Balrog. Gold. Highlight: The opening shot of the two characters in the snow storm – a dark cloud of shadow swooping over a lonely figure.

9. The Battle of the Morannon – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the KingMorannon Battle

Why? Just because this is in 9th place doesn’t mean I do not think highly of it. I personally believe this sequence, intercut with the Frodo/Sam/Gollum moments on Mount Doom are the finest examples of cinematic editing and storytelling. The way those two storylines weave together is just perfect: balancing the small with the big, the feeble with the powerful. It’s not only a clash of might and armies, but also of courage and friendship against temptation and despair. Highlight: Aragorn’s “For Frodo” and the host charging towards the awaiting orc army.

10. The Battle of Isengard – The Lord of the Rings: The Two TowersMarch of the Ents

Why? What better way to represent modern-day Global Warming issues than by showing Nature repaying the harm done to it? The Ents’ attack on the fortifications of Orthanc is a pivtol moment in The Two Towers; it’s the moment we’ve been waiting for. Finally, the good guys are dicating the rules! Highlight: The last march of the Ents … the music is simply sublime.

11. The Battle of Five Armies – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesDwarven Shieldwall Five Armies Battle

Why? This could really have risen high up the ranks, but unfortunately the third act of the battle left me slightly disappointed. Suffice to say, it’s an impressive sequence with many praiseworthy moments. I was just overwhelmed by the amount of CGI and lack of structure – which I did not expect from the same director who created the above masterpieces. That said, I am confident that the Extended Edition will sufficiently polish things up – enabling this battle to earn a much higher score. Highlight: The Dwarven shieldwall repelling the initial orc attack / Thranduil taking on a number of orcs single-handedly.

***

Now it’s up to you to share with us your most favourite battle for the Middle-earth films. Think the Five Armies should be placed higher? Pelennor over Helm’s Deep a travesty? Tell us why! Next time we rank: Middle-earth Songs … O! Tra-la-la-lally!

Copyright of images belongs to Warner Bros. Studios, MGM Studios and New Line Cinema

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13 thoughts on “The Gaffer’s Elite! Battles

  1. 1) Pelennor Fields. I’d never seen anything like it before, and haven’t seen anything like it since. That shot when the Mumakil show up? Terrifying. The battle also contains Eowyn’s epic confrontation with the Witch-King, Legolas’s finest moment–taking down the Mumakil–and Gimli’s best line (“That still only counts as one!”).

    2) If we’re allowed to give a shout-out to one-on-one confrontations, Thorin vs. Azog has got to be the greatest in all six films.

    3) The Battle of Azanulbizar is another favorite. Ken Stott does a brilliant voiceover, and a moving performance in flashback, and we get to see how noble, heroic, and kingly Thorin is, which makes his fall in the third film that much more tragic. That triumphant shot of him after the battle, with the sun shining in the background, is one of my favorite moments in all six films. The battle also shows how heroic Dwarves are in general, forever leaving their characterization as mere comic relief in LOTR behind forever.

    • Hey Sarah! Yep, the horn in the distance and Theoden’s changing face from hope to despair is absolutely wonderful.

      Cheers for the Azog/Thorin shoutout. I agree that it was intense and well executed – if slightly too long.

      Re: Azanulbizar, agree 100% 😉

      • I only wish Thorin vs. Azog (as well as Thorin’s final conversation with Bilbo) had been shown straight through without cutting away to other characters.

      • Hmmm … to be honest, I expected MORe intercutting – at least to see what is happening with the other Dwarves and how the battle is progressing. Unfortunately, as soon as the Eagles arrive, we’re to assume that the day is already saved. I would have expected something of a challenge for the Eagles (hence, the introduction of the bats), instead of having them just swoop down and take out the orc army alone …

        One of my biggest grips of this 3rd film, I’m afraid :/

  2. Lots of interesting thoughts! What about the Battle of Dol Guldur? A rousing appearance as Elrond and Saruman turn up to kick some Nazgul but! And best of all, Sauron gets sent packing by Galadriel (even if she was in danger of revealing her ring!). Loved it and hope there is some more in the extended version!

  3. I love this series so much! I like your list for the most part, but I think I would have to narrow down more specific moments to have a shot at making a list. My number one moment is Theoden’s speech before the Rohirrim right trough their first charge. No matter how lazily I’m watching the film, that moment gets me in the gut every single time. You can feel the exhaustion, the fear, and the sheer resolve.

    My least favorite moment is the start of the final battle outside of Mordor in rotk. I love the cinematic moments of the battle itself, but the start of it is always ruined a little for me by the magical disappearing horses. I’ve sort of worked it out for myself by thinking that they let them go off camera somehow, but I can’t help the intrusive thoughts. They start on horses, and suddenly the horses are gone. Am I missing a scene? Does my old dvd have a scratch that makes it skip the explanation?

    • Thanks Michelle! Glad to know you’re enjoying the series 🙂

      Oh yes, I’m actually hoping to make a one-shot list too, Theoden’s speech as you rightly mention, is always a spine-tingling moment for me.

      The disappearing horses! Never since first seeing it 11 years ago did I ever think about their strange abscene! But yes, considering the scene intercuts with the Frodo/Sam storyline, you can conclude that there was enough time to set them free 😉

  4. Great list! I enjoyed reading it. For me, Helm’s Deep will always be #1. I was sorely disappointed in the end, or should I say lack of ending, of the Battle of the Five Armies. I wanted to see the battle between the eagles and the bats and to know that Radagast and Beorn survived. We never actually see the end of the battle — the defeat of the Orcs/Goblins/bats. I also needed much more aftermath to have time to process and deal with the brutality and the emotions evoked by the deaths of the sons of Durin. Some kind of funeral or memorial would have been nice, along with a wrap up of the Men going back to rebuild Dale and the Elves on their way home. I’m hoping the extended version of BOFA fills out some of this.

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