The Thorin vs Azog Duels: An Analysis

Thorin vs Azog (analysis)

Why AUJ’s scene works better than BOTFA’s

The comparisons are obvious and the decision to include an initial confrontation between Azog and Thorin at the end of An Unexpected Journey, cleverly foreshadows the eventual meeting at the end of film 3.

It is my intention to analyse the two scenes and work out why one works better than the other.

For the purposes of this analysis, I will be referring to the Thorin/Azog scene at the end of An Unexpected Journey as the “Pine Forest Confrontation”; whilst the scene in The Battle of the Five Armies will be referred to as the “Ravenhill Conflict”.

Time and time again, I have found that the Pine Forest Confrontation has been a constant tear-jerker since my very first viewing of the film. With the Ravenhill Conflict, the emotional resonance lies only AFTER the conflict has ended.

I do not want to go into much detail on the Ravenhill Conflict, as I’ve already said much in a previous post (The Problematic Climax of ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’).

What follows is a personal opinion and is not meant to generalise the overall feeling of any fans or viewers of the film.

Why the scene in AUJ works

  • The Build-up

The primary function of this scene is to raise the stakes for one of the main characters (Thorin) and introduce the feud with Azog. This confrontation is meant as a “teaser” to the proper, defining, duel at the end of both characters’ story arcs in the third film. A precursor of sorts.

With simple (but elegant) camera moves, tight editing and neatly choreographed timing, Thorin’s first eye contact with his long-supposed dead nemesis, raises the tension of the scene. Cutting back and forth between Thorin and Azog, and back at Thorin – each time the camera tracking closer to the character’s face – we get that sense of a brooding storm of violence between the two.

Azog vs Thorin (closeup faces)

Thorin has shied away from his traumatic past at the very real possibility that his feared enemy was still alive. Throughout the first film he’s heard rumours of this, but refuses to believe it until he sees Azog for the first time in this scene. The fear in the Dwarf King is understandable, but he will not allow himself to back down anymore; not least, seeing his companions in dire need of rescue from the collapsing tree. He decides to do the one thing he was meant to do: face Azog and push back the threat.

All this is presented to us as a series of close up images of the characters’ faces and the use of slow-motion. Thorin standing up, walking down the tree and charging towards Azog is all presented as a fluid series of movements where time has slow down. This emphasizes the dwarf’s majesty, his attempt to master his own fears and produce a “glory moment” on the screen.

Charging Thorin (AUJ)

In fact, the entire sequence, from Thorin’s charge until he is thrown away from the jaws of the white warg, take place in slow-motion: contrasted with the “normal speed” reactions of the other characters (more on that later).

The fluidity of slow motion helps to give each shot the gravitas and “epicness” it deserves to convey this high-stakes moment. Some may find it clichéd, but if done correctly – as in this case – it’s something that instills the right emotions appropriate for this specific stage of the story.

  • Witnesses

Gandalf, Bilbo and the other Dwarves are in a spot of bother as the pine tree they’re clinging to is about to tip over a cliff; the more urgent due to Ori and Dori struggling not to slip and fall a nasty drop.

These are characters that have come to know Thorin – some, more than others – loving and respecting him for the character he is. The little montage that intercuts between Thorin’s predicament at the hands of Azog and the reactions of his friends and companions works wonders. Thorin is not alone in this moment; but due to the situation the others are in, they are unable to intervene and help out. In essence, Thorin couldn’t be more alone facing one of his worst fears.

Dwalin, ever eager to run by his future King’s side, risks his own life as the branch he’s on suddenly gives way. We, as an Distressed Balin Bilbo Dwalinaudience, instantly fear for his life too. The world and characters we’ve begun to care for by now are breaking apart. Evil is having its own way.

Balin shouts helplessly at Thorin’s distress and Bilbo looks on with a bewildered and apprehensive expression. Each Closeup of a face is like a beat. A beat within the rhythm of the sequence. Each shot adds to the overall emotional ride.

  • Concentrated Focus

Unlike its successor, this scene benefits from the first film’s linear story line. We get to see this scene play out from beginning to end without interruptions. The conflict between Azog and Thorin is not diluted via other distracting scenes. Its impact lies in this very moment of decision between life and death. Will the dwarf survive? What will happen to the other characters?

  • The Music

There’s been some criticism to the opening musical motif as Thorin charges down from the tree towards Azog. Reminiscent of the so-called “Nazgûl theme” it was said to distract viewers from the scene and take them to images of the hooded wraiths in The Lord of the Rings.

I confess I felt exactly the same way upon my first couple of viewings; but as I gradually worked my way to re-viewing this scene, the piece become more and more in tune with the visuals. One could see this Ringwraith connection with Azog, as is revealed in the second film, where the orc is also a servant of Sauron himself.

Thorin vs Azog (AUJ)

At the same time, the music is perfect in strengthening the beating rhythm of the shots, Thorin’s footsteps and the eventual clash with Azog.

The next piece of music, reminiscent of the score during Haldir’s demise at Helm’s Deep (in The Two Towers), highlights Howard Shore’s skill at augmenting emotional visuals via sound. Thorin’s pain, Balin and Dwalin’s cries and Azog’s roar are all highlighted against a sweeping piece of melancholic orchestra.

It also proves once again how The Lord of the Rings is indebted to Shore’s contribution, without which it wouldn’t have become the classic it is.

  • Brevity

The elements of this climax within the narrative necessitated a clean-cut, brief scene. As explained above, this is meant as a foreshadowing of a supposedly more powerful, more conclusive scene to follow in the third film. Resolution is delayed and it is excepted that these two characters will meet once again for a final, decisive confrontation later on.

We get a scene that is just right. It does what it’s supposed to do without too much prolonging. It reignites the deadly feud between Thorin and Azog and establishes a major subplot to the narrative.

Why the scene in BOTFA doesn’t work (so well)

  • The Buildup

Besides those who had read the books, general viewers would have anticipated one final confrontation between the two characters. Ever since the ending of the first film, Azog and Thorin have been distanced from each other and their feud could only have ended one way: a direct confrontation.

Unlike the Pine Forest Confrontation, this scene splits up into separate elements. After Fili’s death, Thorin charges forward and engages in a deadly battle with Azog. The story then shifts to Kili’s death, back to Thorin fighting Orcs, to Legolas’ archery skills.

Azog vs Thorin (closeup faces - BOTFA)

The erroneous decision to isolate Thorin and Azog from the main battlefield, nonetheless, paved the way to the possibility of a powerful one-on-one confrontation that has been built up over three films.

Finally, the real decisive engagement comes as Thorin regains Orcrist and Azog stands on the frozen river; a solitary figure shrouded in the cold mist.

Azog_solitary (BOTFA)

I’ve discussed this before in my other post but Azog’s choice of weapon from his original mace points to only one thing: broken ice gags will follow. This clumsy piece of weaponry takes away all the intelligence and tactfulness we’ve come to comprehend in the character of Azog. The scene itself suffers from this perplexing choice and ends up being shot after shot of a piece of stone at the end of a chain breaking through the ice, trying to crush Thorin.

In addition, the concept of a villain sliding beneath the ice and pretending to be dead is too much of an over-used concept to be believable. The whole breaking-through-the-ice and self-sacrificing-death-blow strips away any fragments of a monumental pivotal scene.

  • Witnesses

None. There’s is no engagement of other characters. We do not see their reactions to the duel (as a matter of fact, we’re completely oblivious to their own predicaments during the battle).

Unlike the Pine Forest Confrontation, there is no one to cry out for Thorin or any emphasis of the helplessness he is in.

What saved this confrontation was the beautiful moment between Bilbo and Thorin’s farewell. Had the conflict with Azog been on the same emotional level as the Pine Forest Confrontation, this nonetheless wonderful scene between hobbit and dwarf would have been even more powerful.

  • Non-concentrated Focus

As an audience, barely aware of the unnecessary feud that has been introduced between Legolas and Bolg at the end of film 2, our attention is primarily on the two characters fighting it out to the death since film 1, without the need for distractions. To add further insult to injury, the presence of Legolas in The Lord of the Rings (and in The Hobbit presented as almost a god-like elf), we’re not really concerned with the safety of Thranduil’s son. He can certainly take care of himself. And although Bolg was tactfully exposed as not the average orc, we still think Thorin and Azog is the defining moment at this stage.

Bolg vs Legolas

This scene would have worked much better had the confrontation between dwarf and orc taken place on the battlefield, without these Legolas/Bolg intrusions. If there had to be a Legolas and Bolg duel too, it would also have been better if it had occurred amid the chaos of fighting, together with the other supporting characters.

Think of the Battle of the Morannon from The Return of the King. Think of Aragorn facing the mighty troll in the middle of the battle. Although, as viewers, we’re aware of the thin thread on which hangs the outcome of the conflict, we’re also invested in the outcome of Aragorn as a single character. Will he be struck down? Will he survive? How will this affect the overall Battle?

Aragorn vs Troll

The Ravenhill Confrontation would have been successful had it been left in its right place in the valley of Erebor. Involving the other supporting characters within a single climactic scene that pivoted on the duel between Azog and Thorin, with the outcomes of each character’s personal battles, would have elevated the final third film considerably.

  • The Music

Again, Howard Shore does an excellent job with the music. It is a real pity, therefore, that the visuals do not live up that level of quality. Fast-paced, frenetic, and chilling, Shore brilliantly encapsulates the tone and atmosphere of the scene. The themes highlight the stakes for our characters. There’s so much the music can do with this existing confrontation as it is.

  • Longevity

The decision to split up the characters into different areas away from the main battlefield, caused the entire 20-minute or so sequence to feel longer than it should have been. Yes, we’ve been waiting for such a confrontation over three films, but when a scene isn’t holding up, all the gags and the action shots become tiresome. Instead of engaging emotionally with the characters’ journeys via the action, we’re constantly having to witness fight after fight after fight.

Azog chained stone weapon

Merging all characters into one scene and a single set piece would have eliminated many issues of inter-cutting between different emotional moments. The whole sequence would have been significantly briefer, true; but it would undoubtedly have been much more satisfying to watch and experience.

In Essence …

Having said that, there is an interesting parallel with the use of fire and ice respectively, in which to portray these two characters. Both are masters of the two elements.

I hope that with the Extended Edition for The Battle of the Five Armies some major revisions are done to the Ravenhill Confrontation sequence. It is certainly a good piece of entertainment, but not one worthy of Tolkien’s story nor Peter Jackson’s capable cinematic adaptation.

The scene at the end of An Unexpected Journey is a testament to Jackson’s incredible ability to create something complex and stirring at the last minute. The scene in The Battle of the Five Armies was done in similar last-minute circumstances; and whilst it is still impressive, that sense of real-life urgency and deadlines shows through.

Copyright of all screenshots belongs to Warner Bros, MGM Studios and New Line Cinema

28 thoughts on “The Thorin vs Azog Duels: An Analysis

  1. Wonderful analysis of these two scenes and you’ve definitely made a good point here, I found myself disappointed with the final battle between Thorin and Azog but couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason.

    This post certainly clears that up, I suppose it don’t help that I’ve only watched BOTFA once as I’ve been waiting for the extended version.

    Also as you said, that scene is not truly worthy of either Tolkien or Jackson’s abilities to make a narrative work to it’s best effect.

    1. Thanks Josh! I’ll admit that upon multiple BOTFA viewings, the scene DOES improve slightly. Though it pale in comparison to what it should have been.

  2. The scene in AUJ was not don in the last minute it was part of the two film structure it was Bilbos part that was aded in when it became three films.

  3. I do think Thorin and Azog’s Ravenhill Conflict is the most epic one-on-one fight in all six films, and it’s pretty awesome that a Dwarf gets to be the best fighter in Middle Earth.

    However, from the first viewing, I’ve had some of the same problems with this fight scene that you did, namely, that no one views the battle and that the editing cuts away to other scenes instead of letting this one play straight through. The cutting ruins the tension, build-up, and emotional focus.

    Furthermore, I actually think Jackson should have deviated from the book and had Bilbo wake up earlier, in time to witness the battle. I even would have liked it if Bilbo had tried to take part in the fight in some way: maybe use the Ring to surreptitiously stab Azog in the leg the way Merry stabbed the Witch-King to help Eowyn.

    The comparison of AUJ to BOTFA only highlights how perfect AUJ is as a film, imo. It is meticulously constructed, visually beautiful, and powerfully emotional. The focus on Bilbo and Thorin’s emotional development was a smart decision. BOTFA’s flaws are due to the decision to focus on lesser developments like the Legolas-Bolg conflict and Kili-Tauriel relationship.

    I also want to point out that the Thorin-Azog conflict got the wind taken out of its sails by having Azog abandon his quest to destroy Thorin and giving the job to Bolg instead at the beginning of DOS. It lessened the tension and danger considerably during the second film.

    1. Hey Sarah, I’m glad you enjoyed the Ravenhill Conflict and shared your thoughts with us.

      Considering the other substantial changes Jackson made, I like your idea of reviving Bilbo earlier to witness/participate more in the battle. And I certainly agree about the Azog/Bolg switch to hunt Thorin – that was most probably a result of the tweaks and changes to the film structure. Unfortunately, too many of these issues seem to have made it into the finished films.

      Nonetheless, I never get tired of watching them! 🙂

  4. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember being all that engaged in the confrontation at Ravenhill. The entire time I was just thinking, “When? When will he die already? I can’t wait this long!” and I think in my first viewing the knowledge and anticipation of the death may have been part of that. I was just struggling to fight back tears. I agree that Legolas’s combat with Bolg should have been placed somewhere else; as a true Lego fangirl it was distracting me and taking away from what was supposed to be the most climatic, powerful moment.

    On the other end…the Pine Forest Confrontation…that was the hardest for me to watch. I may or may not have been hyperventilating throughout the scene.

    1. Thanks Carylnn, for your honest thoughts on Legolas, as a fangirl! 🙂

      I’m certain that reading/knowing the book before seeing the film does take away some of that anticipation.

  5. One thing I thought you were missing here was how lame the action was for the Ravenhill conflict. It all felt like a video game mission. Luckily though, the EE of the Hobbit will be rated R for “some violence” This seems like an indicator of seeing some actual blood. In any case hopefully PJ is tackling the EE more carefully and tactically than the TE

    1. I guess there is some “video game” element to it. My problem with it wasn’t the action per se, rather the fact that THAT kind of action was used for THAT particular sequence. Were it placed in an earlier part of the story, I wouldn’t have minded …

  6. In addition to the points of your wonderful review, I believe the Pine Hill Confrontation was all the more epic also because of Thorin’s need to redeem himself, since he failed to kill Azog previously. And thinking back, I suppose the Nazgûl music now makes sense 🙂

    In BOTFA, however, Azog stupidly uses that weird nonsense used by the Witch King in ROTK 😦 I was hoping to see some fluid sword action, and also the use of that sword- thing implant on his left arm. That was a rather nice ornament for that fight, since the only time he used it before that was when he impaled Fili.

    1. Great point Joshua about Thorin’s redemption. He certainly felt he failed badly at having discovered Azog was alive all along.

      And agreed, Azog’s attached sword was great, but that stone thing … ugh …

  7. I’m glad I’m not the only person who has had an emotional response to the final confrontation in “An Unexpected Journey.” There was something extremely profound as well as (nearly) tragically-fatal about Thorin’s “Okay, let’s do this” move. The music was some the best for the action it augmented and I agree in the choice of making it slow motion worked beautifully. Bilbo’s surprise move was a welcome change in the story and the realization by Thorin (after reawakening) of Bilbo’s place in the company was just perfect. Actually, I loved how that entire final portion of “An Unexpected Journey” was written and executed — starting with Bilbo’s slipping away from Gollum. Cinematic excellence and I’ll re-re-watch many more times.

    Now, on the “Battle of the Five Armies” final confrontation… I’m split 50/50. Part of me likes that isolation of two great warriors. Part of me originally envisioned the fight happening in the thick of battle, for all of the orcs and dwarves to see, and Thorin overcomes a terrible wound and beheads Azog. The reaction to this is absolute panic in the ranks of the orcs and their inevitable dissolution as a force. It would have meant a lot to me for a lot of soldiers on ALL sides of the conflict to see Thorin’s heroism and never forget his bravery that day. The isolation of Ravenhill took that away. Though I like many elements of what Jackson did it wasn’t quite triumphant enough for me and I really wanted to see Thorin “ace” Azog for many, many to see.

  8. Very interesting analysis. I see most of your points. The only thing I didn’t like was the music in the first duel because they just reused the Wraith’s theme. Seemed like there should have been a Thorin theme or an Azog theme or something.

  9. How much do you think the Dwalin scenes would have added/removed from the Ravenhill conflict?

    Team PJ decided that intercutting with Dwalin’s desperation to get to Thorin in time and failing wasn’t working, but I thought it was a pretty good intercut when I saw in in the Appendices, and would have given more of that 2nd Person perspective we’re missing in the Ravenhill conflict (until after Bilbo’s awakening, at least).

    The fear is that they’ve already intercut enough already, and they wanted to keep the focus on Thorin’s decision to end it (if he thought Dwalin might get to him, why would he end it?).

    1. Absolutely. Introducing Dwalin would have increased the tension of the sequence and I’m all in favour of the extra intercutting. If PJ thought it would remove too much focus from Thorin, then he should have figure out a way not to have Dwalin on Ravenhill – because his absence later on creates more questions! 😀

  10. Very good analysis. I agree that the AUJ scene was by far the better of the two. The BOFTA duel suffered from all the distractions mentioned previously, especially the totally unnecessary Legolas / Bolg dynamic. Legolas’s preeminence throughout the story was just too much, in my opinion. Jackson overdid it.

    The BOFTA duel had so many distractions that I can’t even remember many specifics about it, besides the breaking ice and Azog’s “resurrection.”

    I do have one problem with the AUJ scene. Thorin Oakenshield, hero of the battle at the gates of Moria, is suddenly inept. Upon realizing his old nemesis is alive, he charges Azog, who is mounted on the white warg…and promptly gets tossed aside like a rag-doll, without even striking a single blow.
    Of course he’s not going to defeat Azog yet, and he’s desperate to save his people and fight his foe, but such a battle hardened dwarf should have at least known not to rush into the warg’s open jaws.
    I ask you; would Gimli do that?

    1. Thanks Alan for your comments!

      I would guess that Thorin’s rash action to charge at Azog on his warg was more of a sudden decision and confusion than well-thought strategy. We’re given clues through AUJ that although Thorin stands by his idea that Azog is dead, he himself doubts this. Once that doubt is confirmed, he charges recklessly to end this thing which has been nagging him for years.

      But the question you pose is an interesting one. I believe Gimli WOULD act similarly if he had been in Thorin’s situation.

      It’s the nature of Dwarves I guess …

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