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 King
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 Towers
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 King
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 Ring
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 Journey
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 Ring
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 King
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 Towers
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 King
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 Towers
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 Armies
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