Phew! The last couple of days have been pretty hectic. Apart from the daily, real-life chores, I’ve been writing away on the reviews, adding images, and writing a bit more. This was naturally accompanied by copious amounts of viewings of the three films to complement the writing and stimulate the mind! 🙂
So I’ve decided to split each film’s review into three sections; partly due to time constraints and mainly not to bore you readers.
Still, be warned! Each of these sections is pretty long, so be prepared … Then again, I did say it was going to be a “massive review” in my earlier post, so I guess I kept my promise 🙂
In the meantime, I’ll continue working on section two of the first instalment of the Trilogy … God that seems like a long way to go yet!
I’ve used the Chapter List as titles for the different scenes. A * denotes a new scene whilst, ** refers to an extended scene.
[Note: No ‘The Hobbit’ spoilers are to be found; but naturally, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ spoilers will be present … just so you know ;)]
1. Prologue: One Ring to Rule Them All… **
Crafting a seven-minute prologue, detailing thousands of years of history in Middle-earth, is no easy feat. And yet, Peter Jackson has managed to provide us with a beautifully shot and edited segment, looking into the past of this fantasy world.
Narrated by the yet-unknown character of Galadriel, Cate Blanchett provides a chilling, yet resolute rendition of things that have occurred and what the story of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ will be dealing with.
The first shot of the trilogy naturally begins with an image of fire and the making of the Rings of Power. As we are introduced to each of the races and the Rings given to them, the scene quickly changes to the dark scenes of the creation of the One Ring and some of the first (and only) few glimpses of Sauron in the entire Trilogy.
The Battle of Dagorlad (during the War of the Last Alliance) is an impressive sight to behold and whilst some CGI effects may seem outdated, the overall feel and atmosphere of the massive armies confronting each other, is still very much real. With sweeping wide shots and our first introduction to Elrond – leading an army of Elves – immediately draws us into the gritty world of Middle-earth and how the One Ring has turned this place into a dangerous habitation.
It is immediately apparent how the light and dark colours play in this scene – contrasting the good and evil forces. Overall, the battle is extremely brutal and wonderfully shot and edited – brilliantly capturing the realism and sheer grittiness that would have certainly been present that day. The sound effects and production design (including costumes and locations) contribute massively to the final outcome of the sequence.
Once again, we get another glimpse of Sauron wearing the One Ring – at that point, an almost unstoppable force – for a moment, his armour gleaming in some corrupt light slipping into the dark recesses of Mordor. The high angle with which we see Sauron’s head looking down onto the cowering forces of good, is a wonderful way to show his power and malice – resulting in several tense shots as he sweeps aside both Elves and Men with ease.
As Elendil, King of Gondor and leader of the Númenorian army, charges towards the Dark Lord, he is immediately struck down. His son Isildur races to his aid and in a last, desperate stand (which cunningly distracts us from the rest of the battle), cuts off the Ring from Sauron’s finger – ending the War.
Yet, as is clearly emphasized in the narration, the Ring was not destroyed and we slowly begin to see its effects on other beings; corrupting them and giving it a life and character of its own – passing from bearer to bearer, trying to get closer to its own Master.
From Isildur to Gollum, we witness the survival of the Ring throughout the Ages, inter-cut with beautiful landscape shots of Middle-earth – shrouded in fog and moonlight, sunsets and rippling water over lake surfaces.
Our first glimpse of Gollum (who will prove to be a pivotal character in the entire Trilogy), portrays him as crouching on a rock in his cave – covered in shadow, just barely making out his outline – leaving only his gleaning eyes as they peer out into the gloom. The shot of the cave is very atmospheric, with overall blue colours and the occasional shaft of light that pierces through from above.
We are then introduced to Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit from the Shire who picks up the Ring – claiming it for his own. As he backs away from a shrieking voice of an angry Gollum, we are made to understand how the story of the Ring and this creature might develop as the story progresses.
The scene ends with the camera hovering away from the Misty Mountains, shrouded in fog – as we leave the wild lands of Middle-earth and continue our journey among the safe and comfortable country of the Shire.
2. Concerning Hobbits *
This new scene gives us an informative “aerial sweep” of the map of Middle-earth, placing the Misty Mountains in relation to the Shire, with an accompanying voice-over of Bilbo Baggins as he begins writing his book – recounting his adventures.
The cozy atmosphere of Bag-End immediately places us within a hobbit’s lifestyle – as a gorgeous cinematography simply makes the hobbit hole interior scenes stand out from other magical places in Middle-earth. The clutter in the hallways, the sunlight piercing through the windows, the fireplace – all these elements help to create a very believable hobbit-home.
As Bilbo begins to narrate and write his book, we are thrown into the midst of the Shire, discovering the beautiful and rustic life of hobbits with a montage of various every-day moments in this special place. Mixing humour with passion, Peter Jackson manages to create a wonderful sequence that seems to be the result of a documentary about a real people, rather than part of a fantasy film.
3. The Shire **
Finally, we are introduced to two main protagonists of the Trilogy: Frodo and Gandalf. In a scene which places both characters’ meeting amidst the green pastures of the Shire, a light-hearted conversation between the two follows – with the immortal line: “A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to”.
Another montage follows with more shots of the Shire as Gandalf’s cart passes through the roads leading to Hobbiton. After such a heart-warming scene, the film reminds us of the presence of the Ring and the effects on its bearer. Frodo expresses doubt to Gandalf about Bilbo’s attitude.
We also get a shot of the old hobbit suddenly finding himself frantically searching his study, the music rising to a crescendo as he slams things on the floor in frustration, until he reaches out to his right hand pocket and extracts something in his hand. Hidden from the audience, we can only (correctly) speculate what he is holding. Himself partially covered in darkness, to give us a more sinister perspective on the shot …
The scene shifts back to the conversation between Frodo and Gandalf, considerably lightening up the scene and making us forget (temporarily) about the Ring.
4. Very Old Friends **
Finally, we get a proper glimpse of the exterior of Bag-End, in a wonderful wide shot as Gandalf rides up to the main entrance.
What follows is a hearty meeting between the Wizard and Bilbo, having met again after the events in ‘The Hobbit’. The careful execution of the different height scales is remarkable and pitch-perfect, even after 11 years since the film’s release.
Suffice to say, both Holm’s and Mckellen’s performance as the two iconic characters, is astonishing. It’s lovely to see both of them interacting in the Bag-End environment, starting off on a humorous and well-received meeting, and escalating to another troubled and concerned Bilbo as he clutches his right pocket once more – something that doesn’t go unnoticed by the wizard.
5. A Long-expected Party **
As the hobbits celebrate Bilbo’s 111th birthday, the scene bursts into a colourful sequence of colours, dance and song which continues to reinforce the believability of this secretive people, expanding characters and introducing new ones, such as Sam, Merry and Pippin.
It is remarkable to think that the party scene was filmed entirely inside a studio during the day – a test to the excellence of the filmmakers in achieving such a wonderful result – escalating with a firework rendition of the dragon Smaug.
Bilbo’s speech towards the end of the scene underlines Holm’s acting skills as he delivers a delightful play of words to the contended hobbits. But amidst the delights of the festivities, we are reintroduced to the presence of the Ring, with another confused Bilbo as he reaches for his pocket.
The hobbit’s “Goodbye” to Frodo is momentarily heart-wrenching since we have begun to sympathize with these two characters and realize the happy life they seem to be living. So when he announces his departure, we are left in doubt at whether these two individuals will ever see each other again. A few intense heartbeats later, Bilbo disappears – leaving a terrified group of hobbits, along with an astonished Frodo and bewildered Gandalf (made all the more effective by Jackson’s frequent use of track-in shots onto the characters’ faces – a technique I call “Moments of Realization”).
6. Farewell Dear Bilbo
As Bilbo prepares to leave the Shire, packing his things in Bag-End, he is met by a concerned Gandalf who presses him for information about his ring.
The scene quickly turns dark and sinister, with the clever use of lighting and top angles to further reinforce Bilbo’s sudden flustered state. By having the hobbit’s back towards the camera, as he hunches over the Ring in his hand, we are made to feel even more tense at what may be happening.
The sudden and violent turns of the hobbit towards the camera, as he directs his anger towards the wizard, are startling – escalating in vain threats and thoughts that are clearly guided by the malice of the Ring.
For a while, the evil has been suppressed as Bilbo leaves the Ring on the floor of Bag-End. We can feel the pressure the hobbit is under as his hand violently trembles at whilst the Ring slowly slips away, though not smoothly – it’s almost as if the object is reluctant of letting go, by a willing owner.
Finally, it falls to the ground, landing hard on the floor – reinforcing the idea that the Ring is a heavy burden.
Bidding the hobbit farewell, in a lovely moment between him and the wizard, the story shifts now to the concerns of the Ring and its new bearer, Frodo.
7. Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe
With Bilbo gone, Gandalf heads back inside Bag-End, thrusting the front door aside – revealing the solitary Ring on the ground. The light coming from outside creates a sinister shadow emerging from the evil artifact, as a low-angle shot reveals the wizard’s intent inspection – slowly kneeling down to touch the Ring.
As his skin makes contact with the gold, an image of a flaming eye flashes across the screen – cleverly startling any unsuspecting viewer – and reinforcing the wizard’s doubts on his face.
The scene cuts to a beautifully (if eerily) lit scene with the wizard, pondering over the tormenting monologue of the hobbit a few moments prior. As the puffs of smoke fill the air, Gandalf grumbles on matters involving “Riddles in the Dark”, reflecting back to Bilbo’s adventure.
Meanwhile, Frodo bursts inside and finding the Ring on the floor, questions the thoughtful Gandalf on the whereabouts of Bilbo, upon which the wizard looks darkly on the Ring; but a melancholic expression forms over his face when he looks at the hobbit.
There is a sense of urgency in the wizard’s handling of the Ring as he slides it down the envelope, hastily sealing it and further confirming our suspicions that something is not quite right with this object.
Indeed, these actions force Gandalf to leave quickly in search of answers.
A cut-scene takes us to the dark land of Mordor as, in one sweeping motion, we find ourselves gliding over the vast battlements of Barad-dûr – the dark lord’s fortress, followed by a chilling cry with the words “Shire … Baggins”. At that point, the Ringwraiths pour out of Minas Morgul in search for the Ring – accompanied by Howard Shore’s monumental score., leaving a bewildered Frodo glancing at the envelope – wondering on its true contents …
8. The Account of Isildur
The scene inter-cuts with Gandalf’s quest to discover more about the ring and after witnessing the apparent “resurrection” of Mount Doom in the distance, he plunges himself into the gloomy (and dusty) library of Minas Tirith, poring over the several manuscripts in search of any information about the Ring. Mckellen’s deep voice-over provides the right amount of gravitas for such a scene – once again presenting us with a flashback of Isildur’s acquisition of the One Ring.
As the camera tracks in on Gandalf’s expression , ending with his words “… a secret now that only fire can tell”, cleverly cuts to a close-up of wood being chopped up.
This is where we get our first real hint of the powerful fear emanating from the Ringwraiths. This is immediately evident when the hobbit’s fierce dog, turns round and cowers inside, as the shadows of several horsemen dash across the hobbit’s (Farmer Maggot?) house. The scene is visibly dark, with strong blue tones, cunningly masking the hooded figures whilst highlighting the hobbit’s terrified expression.
As a chilling voice enquires about the whereabouts of “Baggins”, we only get a
glimpse of a dark hood, slowly turning it’s “head” towards the hobbit. A close-up view of their entire appearance (including the horses) is left up to the audience’s imagination as the shadows on the house spur their steeds forward to continue on their quest – backed by the hideous sounds of the horses themselves.
9. At the Green Dragon *
After such a sinister meeting, we are redirected to the cozy comforts of hobbits – greeted by a merry song inside the Green Dragon pub. Once again, typical of Andrew Lesnie’s gorgeous lighting setups, the scene inside is beautifully shot, capturing the feel of the warm, candle-light atmosphere as the hobbits sit down to discuss “strange news” from afar.
It is also a nice reintroduction to our four main characters within their natural environment, and further hints of Sam’s affection towards Rosie Cotton. And at the same time, highlights the annoyaning character of (presumably) Ted Sandyman’s – a hobbit who, in the book, finds himself always disagreeing with Sam’s correct conclusions about the bizarre sightings abroad.
The conversation currently occurring between Sam, Frodo, Hamfast Gamgee (Sam’s Father) and Ted Sandyman, ends with the latter stating: “Keep your nose out of trouble, and no trouble’ll come to you”, at which point the camera slowly tracks-in on Frodo’s approving face.
It is ironic, knowing that actually he is already heading towards greater trouble than he could have possibly imagined.
[On a side note, in this shot, the position of the table seems to indicate that it is the exact same place where the four hobbits sit at, at the end of ‘The Return of the King’, and Sam’s looks towards the bar are the same; but we’ll come back to that soon …]
10. The Shadow of the Past
Considering the approaching turn of events in the story and how things will shape up, when Frodo heads back to Bag-End, the scene is dark (not only because it is evening), but to further reinforce the threat which is slowly making its way home.
As the hobbit walks inside, a hand lunges towards him out of the darkness, startling Frodo (and a first-time audience with him). Having, so far, started to root for both the hobbit and the wizard (who assumes a strong position as mentor both to Frodo and us viewers), we begin to feel the shadow of fear and dark occurrences beginning to grow as we witness Gandalf’s urgency and clear signs of terror – jumping at ever sound or tweak whilst Frodo searches for his ring.
After a tense moment that sees the object being thrown into fire, the Ring shows signs of being the One, with the Elvish handwriting visible around it. The scene inter-cuts between Frodo’s confused look and Gandalf’s own facial expression as it transforms from a sigh of relief, to the famous eye-brow twitch typical of Tolkien’s wizard at the first hint of the writing. Frodo’s “Wait …” and Mckellen’s perfect timing to conform with the sudden twist of things, is simply spot-on and one that provides the necessary momentum for such a scene to work as it should.
To coincide with the gravity of the situation of what has just happened (and what it means for the entire progression of the story), Peter Jackson opts for a slightly low-angle, tracking-in towards Gandalf, as the wizard turns round – proclaiming (in a very deep and sullen voice), the famous verses of the One Ring: a clear example of Jackson’s “Moments of Realization” …
After such a psychologically terrifying ordeal, just like our character, we also need to sit down for a cup of tea, and “engage” in a conversation with Gandalf, who relates a brief history of the Ring to the hobbit – amidst a plume of smoke and a brilliant optical illusion that sees the statures of both races together within the frame.
But things soon turn dark … very dark indeed.
Frodo loudly states the name “Sauron” and a weak, but shrill voice emerges from the Ring – uttering the name “Isildur” (a reference to its temporary owner after the fall of its Master)- a definite spine-chilling moment in itself.
Frodo panics and soon realizes he is in danger. Timing in editing is everything and this scene is a perfect example of that. After a quick flashback that portrays Gollum’s torture in Barad-dûr, Frodo realizes that the names “Shire” and “Baggins” will bring the enemy right to his door.
Quickly offering the Ring to Gandalf, who in turn immediately recoils in fear, the scene quickly cuts to a dark road, made ominous by the lighting, as Nazgûl (in all their glory, if I may use so bold a word), emerge from the mist; one swinging its sword to an inquisitive hobbit and cutting the shot right before it, presumably, knocks the poor creature’s head off.
Howard Shore’s music builds to a hair-raising crescendo as Frodo lunges towards Gandalf trying to get rid of the Ring. The scene is incredibly intense and highlights the ever growing darkness and the “pickle” the hobbit has unknowingly landed himself into.
However, both due to his Took-ish side, and his desire to follow in Bilbo’s adventurous trails, he defiantly accepts the role of Ring-bearer and decides to head for Bree on the wizard’s orders.
After the preparations are made, and Gandalf’s remark about hobbits and their amazing qualities, a threat presents itself in the shape of a rustling sound and the shaking of a few flowers on the edge of one of the windows. Our first reaction as an audience would make us think of the Ringwraiths, who have finally found their way to Bag-End.
Nevertheless, the scene’s brooding menace turns light-hearted again, when Gandalf pulls inside none other than Samwise Gamgee – trusted gardener and friend of Frodo. The use of top and low camera angles plays really well between an angry wizard and a terrified hobbit who is trust into the adventure alongside his companion.
What follows is probably one of the most beautifully looking shots in the entire Trilogy – outlining the wizard’s form (including his famous hat), his horse and the two hobbits behind – all in silhouette, in front of a gorgeous orange/blue sky.
Once again, Mckellen’s voice over as he begins warning the hobbits that “The enemy has many spies …” and the familiar musical motif of the Ring (which will play at almost every Ring-moment in order to emphasize its own life and actions), accompany the scene.
The wizard asks Frodo “Is it safe?”, to which the hobbit simply places his hand on his breast. A low “boom” effect is heard as this motion is executed, as if a Doom is being proclaimed upon both character and Ring.
What follows is a montage of walking shots (synonymous with ‘The Lord of the Rings’), of the two hobbits – left alone to make their way to Bree whilst Gandalf seeks the aid of Saruman (the head of his Order).
11. The Passing of the Elves *
Considering that we will be meeting many Elf characters and understand their being within the physical world, it is important to witness this scene unfolding before our eyes as both Sam and Frodo come across a company of Elves – making their way West towards the Grey Havens.
The glimmer and radiance emanating from these “angelic” figures contrasts greatly with the dark, wooded forest around them – almost lighting up Frodo and Sam’s inquisitive (but shy) facial expressions at such a rare sighting.
The shot lands on an eerie land covered in Fog (perhaps the Barrow-Downs?), whilst a dark horse into shot – surveying the area.
12. Saruman the White
Perhaps, the two most notable things about Christopher Lee are: his height and his voice. These are used to full effect in bringing to life the character of Saruman the White – the cunning, proud, arrogant and greedy-for-power wizard.
Upon arriving at the footsteps of the tower, Gandalf is greeted by Saruman who soon learns about the finding of the One Ring. There are slight hints of particular expressions on Lee’s face, which seem to indicate different thoughts to what he may be saying – even his short temper and accusations towards his companion seem to reveal something hidden.
As the scene unfolds on the inside of Orthanc itself, Saruman’s “oddness” increases with every piece of dialogue, making even Gandalf flinch suspiciously at the words “His gaze pierces cloud, shadow, earth and flesh” …
The way the words are pronounced give rise to the idea that this is not the companion and advisor Gandalf appears to be talking to, but rather someone who is slowly converting to the dark side – using vocabulary that perhaps, only the Enemy would actually use.
The tension increases at the revelation of the palantír (the Seeing Stones) and Saruman’s knowledge of many things – including the ride of the Ringwraiths in search of the Ring. Clever use of close-ups on the characters’ faces, bring out both fears and lust in each of the two – escalating to what will turn out to be a memorable showdown in the Trilogy (albeit completely non-canon to Tolkien).
Shore’s music, once again, increases the drama and tension as a fast montage of doors slamming shut reveal a cornered Gandalf at the mercy of his former ally. A highly sarcastic exchange between the two ensues – Saruman trying to compel Gandalf to join forces with Sauron, stating: “… it would be wise, my friend” and in reply, McKellen’s character utters defiantly (with a slight hint of disgust): “tell me, friend, when the Saruman the Wise abandon his reason for madness.”
Then, all hell breaks loose.
Well choreographed and filmed, the battle between the two wizards reveals their strengths and motivations, but ultimately the White (an ironic title for such a character), wins over the Grey – leaving us wondering about Gandalf’s fate and the impact on the narrative itself.
13. A Short Cut to Mushrooms
With Gandalf’s cries still echoing from the previous scene to this one, Frodo and Sam meet up with Merry and Pippin in unexpected circumstances – having to run away from an angry Farmer Maggot.
As the four hobbits run away through dense crops, the camera zooms out to reveal a high cliff, which ultimately sends them toppling down on a wooded road – in sight of delicious-looking mushrooms.
Whilst Merry, Pippin and Sam each grab their share of the tasteful fungus, Frodo looks towards the distant bend of the road, hidden from view amidst several shadowy trees. An “alien-like” presence takes hold of the shot as the image warps into an ominous camera movement that seems to draw Frodo (and the audience) within. Known as a “dolly zoom”, this shot is accompanied by the bone-chilling cry of the Nazgûl.
It is at this moment, along with Frodo’s sudden urge to hide, that we feel that the threat has finally arrived. As the hobbits find shelter underneath a log, the camera slowly tracks-in on the characters, slightly tilting up to reveal a Black Rider emerging from behind the tree trunk (even though we don’t see it coming in the space between the tree and the edge of the frame – giving it a very supernatural feel).
Disagree with me or not, but this shot has got to be one of the greatest and most powerful in cinematic history. There is so much energy in the frame, a mixture of emotions all playing together in one single perfect shot.
What follows is a series of cleverly placed close-up shots, to highlight the essential elements currently unfolding in this scene: the heavy boot on the floor, the blood-soaked horse hooves (perhaps of a recently trampled victim), the sniffing hooded figure, Frodo’s suppressed urges, the fleeing insects, the extraction of the Ring from the pocket, the red eyes of the horse … you get the picture.
Even the Ringwraith’s fast movements, as it dashes away towards the direction of the sound (made by the bag filled with mushrooms thrown by Merry), gives the entire scene a frightening edge to it – it’s almost as if we are seeing the behaviour of a creature that is half-man and half-insect …
14. Bucklebury Ferry
As the hobbits manage to escape the ghastly presence, they make their way out of the Shire, but under cover of night are once again pestered by the presence of a Nazgûl riding along the horizon – beautifully lit against the moonlight.
A chase soon follows as the hobbits run towards Bucklebury Ferry, with a Ringwraith hot on their heels. The music and shrieking of the rider continue to intensify the moment, as the stakes are raised even higher and we are left wondering what would happen if the Enemy managed to acquire the Ring.
Thankfully, the companions manage to board the boat and the Black Rider is left shrieking, riding away with a couple of more riders in its trail.
15. At the Sign of The Prancing Pony
Skipping the unnecessary (though admittedly much missed scenes of Tom Bombadil and the Barrow-downs), Frodo finds himself knocking on the doors of the village of Bree, under heavy rain.
Meeting the ugly-faced door-warden at night, under the light of his lantern, continues to reinforce the idea of danger and distrust around the people the hobbits meet along their way – though one can’t help but feel slightly relieved once the heavy wooden doors close behind them and they find themselves within the relative safety of the village.
The hobbits are introduced to the roughness and blundering behaviours of men as they make their way to the Prancing Pony, hoping to meet Gandalf.
The filmmakers have stated that the lighting used in the sequences of the Prancing Pony, was made to look sickly and foreboding. I still find that the atmosphere in those stuffy rooms emits a certain sense of coziness – quite different from the Shire scenes, but nonetheless, welcoming. Especially, once the hobbits find shelter from the perils outside and the heavy rain.
True, there is still a sense of watchfulness (with men looking at the hobbits and whispering to each other) and the presence of evil is certainly felt within the Inn, but the light-hearted character of Barliman Butterbur (the Inn-keeper) and the overall look of the shots, are a well-balanced compensation.
At this stage, we also meet Strider, a well-experienced ranger whose first glimpse of him is in a dark corner of the Inn, hidden from view. Indeed, when Frodo first sets eyes on him, uttering the name “Strider”, the flash of pipe that briefly illuminates the upper part of his hooded face, reminds us of the ever-present threat of the Ringwraiths – lurking outside of Bree…
Frodo falls into a sort of trance, fiddling with the Ring – followed by several slow-motion shots of the occupants at the Pony – many of whom bearing unfortunate ugly faces!
This is a very effective technique that is supposed to make the audience feel uncomfortable at all those unfriendly eyes surrounding the hobbits, whilst at the same time, increasing the tension once again and focus on the Ring and its effects on Frodo. A voice begins to whisper “Baggins”(presumably the Dark Lord himself), slowly rising to an aggressive and lustful shout.
Things turn to worse when that “voice” blends with the reality of the situation and it is actually Pippin who, enjoying his pints of beer, loudly proclaims Frodo’s name to the interested party. In a panic, he grabs Pippin’s arm to stop him from his discourse but in turn ends up falling to the ground and slipping on the Ring.
Once again, editing is everything in a film. As soon as the (almost) point-of-view camera shot moves down in-synch with the sliding of the Ring on Frodo’s finger, the scene immediately cuts to a Ringwraith, twisting its head as if being called – followed by the infamous shriek and a wide shot of some of the Riders galloping towards the inn (the strong blue-ish lighting outside, strongly contrasts with the warm tones inside).
For the first time in the film, we finally get a glimpse of what it’s like to witness the world whilst wearing the Ring. The filmmakers have done a very good job in portraying this vision, by using a fiery effect to give the image a very dynamic feel – enshrouding all the people around Frodo in shadow and leaving him exposed to a giant flaming eye, with a cold voice ringing in his head.
As the Ring is taken off, and Strider steps in to warn Frodo of his “accident”, he is taken to one of the Inn’s rooms, whereby we finally are able to see the face of this character for the first time, as he cautions the hobbits of the imminent danger at hand.
16. The Nazgûl
Remember Harry? The gatekeeper at the entrance to Bree? He receives an unwelcome set of visitors as he goes to look through the door, which ends up bursting open, falling on top of him – as the Ringwraiths trample on top.
There is something humorous about this shot and yet, it is also very violent in the way it is portrayed. No blood, no screams. Nothing – just a “poor” man who suddenly gets squashed by these creatures.
Perhaps, it may be so impacting due to reasons found in the book.
Tolkien implied that Harry, along with Bill Ferny and the Southerner at the Inn, were all in league together and acting out as spies for the Enemy. So that knowledge of Harry being on “their side” might be why this scene strikes me as particularly viscious – then again, these are the Nazgûl, beings who have no sense of empathy or reason – except to hunt and claim the One Ring for their Master.
Once again, Howard Shore’s score is the cherry on the cake that makes this scene work so well and effectively. With a full orchestral choir, the voices almost being a reflection of the Ringwraiths’ cries for the Ring, the Black Riders force their way into the Inn.
The blue tones in the lighting come even stronger here, with seemingly no other colour present except that cold and clammy atmosphere of death. As the Nazgûl walk inside with inhuman sophistication, swords in hand and covered in fog (a perfect reference to the concept of an undead presence), Peter Jackson opts to then cut to a close-up of Barliman’s terrified expression, hiding behind the bar, whilst (in the background and out of focus), the shadowy shapes pass by.
Having seen the hearty character of Butterbur a few minutes before, leaves a profound impact on the audience as we witness him in this new state of mind – strongly conveying the sense of sheer dread and terror that the Ringwraiths are capable of weaving around them – a feeling Tolkien termed as the Black Breath.
Yet, again, editing proves the ultimate tool in any effective narrative. Inter-cut with scenes of the Nazgûl entering the hobbits’ room, are several close-up shots of the main characters – sleeping without any trouble. This immediately gives us the impression that the hobbits are actually there, in those beds – just as they are about to be dealt a death blow.
It is as if the Ringwraiths are blending with the shadows of the physical world – a concept which is delved much more deeper in the book – and after all, these beings are exactly that, twisted shadows. We can barely perceive them in the room, fleeting glimpses of a darkness, the horror of the unknown – made only visible by the glint of their drawn swords.
Meanwhile, the inter-cutting continues and just as the Nazgûl strike the beds, a few frames show Sam suddenly opening his eye, then cutting instantly back to the “massacre” unfolding in the room.
Eventually, we realize that Strider and the hobbits have been in another part of the Inn the whole time, and to the dismay of the Ringwraiths, soon find out empty beds.
Amidst the screams, Strider tells the hobbits of who these creatures once were, yet again surrounded by a gorgeous lighting setup which displays a cold tonality coming from outside the dirty windows and the warm colours emitted by the fireplace in the room.
Viggo Mortensen’s face is covered in both colours, which further provides more gravitas to his back-story – especially when he ends with terrifying words: “… they will never stop hunting you.”
17. The Midgewater Marshes *
Apart from moving the story forward, this scene serves in establishing a relationship between Strider and the hobbits, building on their first meeting and serving as exposition to their behaviours and interactions with each other that will serve for the second and third films.
With wide shots of large vistas, and the small figures of the characters walking in and around them, Strider and the four hobbits slowly make their way towards Rivendell – trudging past the midge-infested marshes and the snow-covered plains. At the same time, we start recognizing Aragorn’s particular skills in hunting, tracking and pretty much everything else – including singing.
So far, I’ve had nothing but praise for ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, but somehow, this particular night scene feels like it was shot inside a studio. If it wasn’t, it still has that sense of being somewhat unrealistic, but thankfully, the performances help to sell the scene for what it is.
18. The Spoiling of Isengard
Having seen the transformation of Saruman into a villain, that same transformation is visually manifested through the violence brought about in Isengard.
The first few moments of exposition on the use of a palantír as a device of communication, are slowly starting to be planted – in what will serve as vital information for the next two installments.
Throughout the entire Trilogy, we barely see Sauron himself – except in the Prologue and a few flashbacks. Other than that, our view of the Dark Lord manifests itself through the flaming eye and his voice (then again, too few).
Some appear to become part of the voice of the Ring, whilst others, as in this case, are as a means of communication.
Having received orders to build an army, Saruman, proudly proclaiming to his orcs that “we have work to do”, despoils the area around Orthanc to feed his furnaces. The once wooded area, fast becomes a desolate land – a very modern concept today as we find ourselves faced with the same circumstances through deforestation.
In the meantime, we can imagine the freezing cold rain hitting hard on Gandalf as he lies alone and helpless, upon the topmost site of the tower.
19. A Knife in the Dark
As the five companions rest at the ruins of Weathertop, Aragorn provides each of the hobbits with a sword – clearly foreboding an approaching danger.
The wide shot of Amon Sûl covered by dark clouds, except for a few rays of sunlight piercing through, is a very powerful image – one of the many that can be found in the Trilogy, that makes Middle-earth seem like a completely real world.
As night falls and Aragorn is scouting the area, Frodo awakes to realize his friends’ grave mistake in lighting a fire to satisfy their hunger. Indeed, we are once again presented with a wide shot of the ruins and the tiny speck of bright light strongly contrasted by the suppressing night – at which point, a Nazgûl shriek is heard.
Old fears return, both for the hobbits and the audience, as their presence is made even more powerful. The halflings scramble up to the top of the ruins, helplessly looking for any sign of the Enemy.
A beautiful high-angled shot shows the Ringwraiths slowly approaching the hobbits as they, in turn, recoil back at the towering presence before them. A shot that clearly underlines the unstoppable force of the Nazgûl against defenceless beings.
Fighting is useless against their overwhelming presence, and despite his friends’ courageous acts of defence, Frodo succumbs to fear and temptation – putting on the Ring for the second time.
The vision we are greeted with may come as a surprise to first-time viewers – finally seeing the Ringwraiths as white spectral forms; a twisted shadow of reality in which the Nazgûl are revealed in their true kingly shapes.
But the hobbit, just like Bilbo, shows that he has a stronger character than what his race may be perceived as. He refuses the orders of the Ringwraiths, but is brutally wounded for it.
Aragorn comes to his aid, displaying some very effective fighting techniques. As an audience, we have the power to witness the same scene in both physical and wraith worlds. Sifting between the two, it emerges how ironic the vision through the Ring is a distorted representations of reality and false truths.
In the physical/real world, the Nazgûl blend in with the shadows and Aragorn, being thrown in amongst them, stems the tide of darkness (both physically and conceptually) by means of his flaming torch.
Philosophical arguments aside, it may be appropriate to stop here for a while and ponder further more on this scene, with relevance to the book.
Tolkien wrote from Frodo’s point-of-view, ending this particular section of the narrative as the hobbit faints from the pain of the wound. Regaining consciousness, the Ringwraiths have left and a fire is left to burn brightly in the camp. There is no reference to any confrontation between them and Aragorn, however, we are told of an earlier engagement on Weathertop a few days prior to the hobbits arriving there.
Gandalf, having managed to escape from Orthanc, overtakes the group and finds shelter on Amon Sûl – only to be attacked by some of the Nazgûl, and is therefore forced to defend himself.
Whilst this is sorely missed in the film, Peter Jackson seems to have replaced that scene in the book with this one – placing the character of Aragorn as the heroic combatant and further reinforcing his abilities in combat, firm steadfastness and a strong will to dominate fear – essential qualities of a true King.
Questions begin to arise, however, on the capabilities of different races and beings.
Gandalf is a maia (in simple terms, an angelic being); the Ringwraiths are spirits of men who have fallen into evil and grown strong by Sauron; Aragorn, meanwhile, is a strong leader of Men – but then again, just a man.
Someone might ask: how can Aragorn hold off five Ringwraiths at once, when Gandalf barely managed to do so under the same circumstances?
I think a slight differentiation has to be made between book-verse and film. Both have their own motivations and elements to tell, in order for their respective story to work. In case of the film, this scene might just manage to hold on the basis that Aragorn was carrying a flaming torch (fire being a very good Nazgûl repellent) and his own sturdy character as sheer driving force.
I could certainly buy that, to a certain extent – plus, the scene is wonderful too! 🙂
20. The Caverns of Isengard
Isengard has now become a desert, filled with massive fissures leading down to the caverns where Saruman is building his army at an industrial speed. The beauty of this shot (even though considering the subject matter), apart from the accompanying music, is the single shot of the camera “flying” over the desolate area until a moth glides into frame, eventually landing in Gandalf’s hand.
That one sweeping motion gives the shot a certain sense of ironic liberty, where as an audience, we are free of the thralldom Gandalf is currently in – free as the moth that comes to his aid – until we finally are forced to plunge down into the depths of Isengard and witness the horrors of the orcs under Saruman’s orders.
The entire sequence is very visceral, dynamic and edgy, creating the perfect conditions for the atmospheric feeling currently emanating from the visuals on screen; the corruption and death of Nature at the hands of an evil force and the desperate clinging of life of all that is good – a concept on the death of life which is turned upside-down when we witness the brutal “birth” of a new breed of orcs.
Peter Jackson clearly demonstrates how he can deliver strong and emotional concepts in a very vivid, visual style – based on pitch-perfect editing and all the other elements that make up every piece of a film: the music, the sound effects, the acting …
21. Flight to the Ford **
Finding themselves in the Trollshaw forest (where some 70 years prior Bilbo had his first real adventure), Aragorn and the hobbits desperately seek a way to ease the pain from Frodo’s wound.
As Frodo lies helpless on the ground, his face is suddenly illuminated by a bright light as an elf ride’s into view, presenting herself as Arwen. Sporting a dash of Sindarin (the language of the Grey-elves), this Elven princess comes to Frodo’s aid.
It’s interesting to note how her clothing changes, from a white gown (during the bright vision beheld by Frodo), toa grey-like outfit when she is revealed to the others. Some have thought this to be some continuity error, but I strongly doubt it.
It seems to me that Frodo saw Arwen as an elf in her purest form – almost as an angelic being, rather than the physical world’s materialistic clothing. (I believe this issue was explained in a similar way, somewhere online … wherever that may be …)
True, in the book, it is actually Glorfindel (a mighty Elf Lord) who comes to their aid and whilst I would have preferred him in the scene, I understand the filmmakers’ need to replace him with Arwen; establishing her character and her love for Aragorn.
In what seems like a desperate attempt to get Frodo to safety, Arwen rides upon Asfaloth, in the hope of bringing him to Rivendell; but she is soon followed by the fury of the Ringwraiths – cleverly made to appear one by one amidst the rushing trees .
I’ve always thought of this sequence as being more like a car chase – but with horses … naturally. The white horse against the black horses. The music, the editing, the sound effects – all come together in this one scene which sees Arwen swerving past obstacles and Black Riders, as horses neighing with a bestial lust like their owners, whilst Asfaloth increases his already fast pace…
As Arwen crosses the Ford of Bruinen and confronts the Ringwraiths, they are met with the fury of Nature as a powerful wave of water (taking the shape of white horses), washes them away. Yet again, the visuals are striking and the adrenaline rush is always present.
The scene ends in an emotionally bitter tone, as Arwen begs a fading Frodo to come back to life. This is brought about by a montage of shots, where we witness brief glimpses of Rivendell, Elrond, and Frodo seemingly flying in mid-air.
Admittedly, not my favourite ‘transition shot’ – and it could certainly have been done better. This may have been intentional – reflecting the confused state of mind that Frodo was currently in … but still, not a shot I’m too keen on, unfortunately.
The scene ultimately fades to white … progressing to the next stage of the journey.
And that’s the end of the first part of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ review. It’s taken a long time to write and will hopefully be posting the second part of the first film soon … hope you enjoy! 🙂