A Walk through the Caverns of Katroo

squire:  Here is a shot-by-shot breakdown of this scene for your reference.

With the third shot, the Fellowship enters the Caverns proper. We see them coming through a portal, and then the camera pulls back and back and back, revealing the winding path that they must follow amidst a wild confusion of rock formations in a giant open space. Gandalf stops talking, eerie choral chanting begins, and we follow the company through several scenes of walking and climbing, balancing the wide and long shots with facial reaction shots of the actors.

The actors: not much for them to do here. No dialogue, no action.

squire: A. Should there have been more emphasis on the characters’ emotions at this point?

Darkstone: Well... There’s not?? Well, more than one young lady has told me I'm not exactly Mr. Sensitive.

squire: Put more strongly: should the film have spent even this much time showing off its scenery, or should it have bagged the miniatures and come up with action or acting moments for the characters that would tell us what Moria meant to them?

Elostirion74: Let me say first that I was impressed by the production work done for Moria and the attempt to give us a sense of the space and history of the place. I remember thinking that this is what Moria could have looked like. Still, sometimes I'm puzzled that Jackson, who is so aware of and able to use a number of different sounds, doesn't exploit it to focus more on the traveller's sense of hearing (he uses it to great effect in Balin's tomb and when the Balrog appears for the first time). Why for example, don't we hear the sound of the different members of the company walking, or at least the sound of Gollum following them - that would have been really scary and also allowed us to focus more on how Frodo felt about being in Moria. The film also could have focused on a character looking into one of the many half-guessed openings, or a chasm, and how he felt at that moment to convey more of the personal experience of being underground.

Old_Took: By the way, I find this portion of the movie absolutely brilliant and very close to the book in mood and tone. I love all the long, wide shots of the caverns. The lighting seems dark and ominous enough to me as it is. I also love Shore's music here, especially when Gandalf starts talking about mithril and the Fellowship look down the huge mine shaft. That was a great addition to the EE.

weaver: I think they had to do a fair amount of technical stuff to help make Moria "feel" real, and I don't begrudge the time spent on that compared to character moments. I think we get plenty of emotion from Gimli in the film version, which is appropriate to the dwarf in the crowd. What matters I think is not how they reacted to Moria, but how fighting together, and saving each other from certain doom at the hands of the cave troll, or falling off the edge of the steps, or catching each other as they each take a leap of faith off the collapsing bridge, bonded the members of the fellowship to each other.

Elostirion74: just a little thought Very interesting comment. I think you've hit the nail on the head as to what Jackson wanted to convey to the audience about Moria. Moria is one of the settings I'm most immersed in all of the films and they've done a great work on it (including the lyrics). Still, thinking on this sequence as well as Jackson's films in general, I think they would benefit from highlighting more of the actors' interaction with the landscape, not just looking at it or being in it. But that's just my way of thinking. I know also that some friends of mine (movie firsters) who liked the two first films said that they had to come up with something new for the third one: it's not enough to go on showing off beautiful landscape and setting.

Darkstone: You mean something like Gosford Park? Don’t think so. As it is, we get Gandalf striding confidently onward, even though earlier we saw his unease about this whole mess. The old fakir!! He’d look like that even if he didn’t know which way to go. (Which come to think of it, he don’t.) Then Legolas is following obviously thinking “I would give gold to have been be excused and double to be let out now I’ve strayed in!'” Though there’s a nice moment where he gazes down in the mithril shaft that he seems to be thinking “You move me, Gandalf. Almost you make me not regret that I have seen these caves.” As for Gimli, he’s pausing and peering down every passage they pass, looking for evidence of his lost brethren. Very sad. As for Boromir, well, we’re shown that he definitely has a big white horn. That’s an important plot point. And he’s doing a great Han Solo impression: “I'd prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around!!” The hobbits, especially M&P seem almost giddy. Understandable, since this is the first time they’ve been underground in a long time. Still, you can almost hear Sam going “This ain’t a proper hobbit hole, and that’s a fact!” Frodo has that infamous "deer in the headlight" look, probably thinking something like: "But now his thoughts had been carried away from the dark Mines, to Rivendell, to Bilbo, and to Bag End in the days while Bilbo was still there. He wished with all his heart that he was back there, and in those days, mowing the lawn, or pottering among the flowers, and that he had never heard of Moria, or mithril—or the Ring." Also in an ominous foreshadowing, Frodo gives a look over his shoulder that indicates that he just might feel a disturbance in the ring. Could somebody, or some THING, be following them?

squire: Let’s move on to the essence of this sequence: the production. Moria presents a huge problem to a movie: a major sequence involving the entire cast in prolonged pitch darkness.

Ever been in a cave? It’s dark, very dark.

Darkstone: That’s an understatement. I’d say it’s like trying to see something out the back of your head.

Ever taken a flash picture of the scenery outdoors at night? The flash doesn’t light much because the light dissipates before it can reflect on anything.

The production and design staff talk about the problems involved. On the one hand, as Alex Funke explains, the only way they felt they could convey to the audience the grandiose size and scale of the complex was to have large open cavern spaces; i.e., walking through lots of intertwined snaking tunnels was out. On the other hand, as Dan Hennah and Funke discuss, how do you 1) light the actors and 2) light the scenery to get the sense of those large open spaces? The bigger the space, the more light you need, which becomes more and more unrealistic.

squire: B. Do these issues bore you?

Darkstone: Nah. I’m a very amateurish photographer. (Actually, a “point and shooter”) Still, I find it fascinating. When I was younger I did some lightning photography. Stupid, I know. For more than one reason it's a wonder I wasn’t struck dead in the thunder storms. Fun as heck, though. Very exhilarating.

squire: Do you “see” the lighting when watching a movie?

Elostirion74: Not bored at all. I suppose my response would be (directed to PJ) that you do not always need to see everything very clearly to have a sense of vastness (if not of history). To give us a guess of something, through the use of small glimpses can be just as effective.

Darkstone: Yep. Again, fascinating.

Elf_Maven: I do and I did.  I always notice lighting, and discussing it does not bore me.

squire: C. What’s the best “cave” movie you’ve ever seen, as far as a realistic darkness is concerned?

Darkstone: The Mummy. The scene where Bennie’s torch slowly goes out….

squire: What’s the worst?

Darkstone: Flesh Gordon. You don't want to know. I’ll note the best “cave” movie ever is Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, based the 1925 event that triggered the very first media frenzy. The musical stage version, 'Floyd Collins', isn't that bad either.


squire: Art Director Dan Hennah has fun explaining how the production staff gave Aragorn a torch first, and tried to explain to themselves where he got it afterwards. (something about leftover Dwarf torches lying about the entryway, and him having a handy flint in his pocket, etc.)

D. Did you ever notice Aragorn’s torch before?

Darkstone: Isn’t that his sword? Oh, later on. Yeah.

Does it bother you that Hennah says it was meant to provide a second point light source for the actors, but it has absolutely no effect in the wide shots compared to the massive washes of blue light?

See how Aragorn’s torch provides a logical light source?

Elostirion74: I think the torch could have been used to a better effect, see also my answer to B.

weaver: Well, I figured he just improvised along the way somewhere by rigging up that torch -- not out of the question for a ranger, really. I guess I just assumed it was something that happened "off screen." And reading all the reasons for it that you cited makes me appreciate how that torch contributed to this scene even more. So thank you!

Darkstone: Not really.  If you look neither does Gandalf’s staff.

Elf_Maven: Aragorn's torch was one of my original objections when I saw FOTR for the first time, as in "What! Where did he get a torch? There was no torch! They all just walked by the light of Gandalf's staff!" But gradually, I became reconciled to it for exactly the reason mentioned: theatrical lighting is always supposed to have a logical source, and the torch provided that, however unrealistic it may be that one small torch could light those vast expanses of cavern.

squire: The more I think about it the more I'm convinced that they gave Aragorn the torch for closeups of the Fellowship in the 'darkness' - closeups that were not used.

Hennah's point about the torch was that two sources of light, at the front (Gandalf) and near the rear (Aragorn) gave the maximum interest to the figures walking in file in the darkness.

But in the final cut, all the shots are of the caverns with the company walking through in the middle-distance (all those expensive miniatures can't go to waste - and Richard Taylor grimly reminds us that there were lots more miniature sets of Moria that Jackson didn't even use!). Alex Funke tries to explain that to light the inherently dark spaces they used far off sources and avoided frontlighting anyone, trying to maximize the silhouette and shadow -- but the result is very inconsistent with what he's saying. I think the DP over-rode everyone and simply lit the sets and the actors so the audience could see them, and realism (torches, far-off sources, etc.) be damned.

In any case, no one could think that Aragorn's torch and Gandalf's staff are lighting the caverns, because the color temperatures are radically different. The torch is yellow flame, and the staff is quite bright white light. The cavern sets are conventionally lit with blue washes, signifying "moon light" or "dim light". That's why the torch looks so ridiculous in the wide shots.

I'll have a little more to say on this in my conclusion on Sunday, by the way.

Elf_Maven: Conventional blue. Again, the first time I saw the movie I was aghast the we could see anything but the Fellowship. I had never, ever visualized all those vast open spaces, and one of my thoughts was "Where is all that light coming from?"

btw, I was surprised (during a planning session for lighting of a theatrical event) to be told - and then to see the evidence - that a purple spot captured the conventional essence of "outdoors at night" better than the actual blue.

I'll be looking forward to your conclusion.


squire: Tolkien just loves caves and underground journeys. Here are four different cave scenes from the movies:

Gollum’s Cave: FotR Prologue                                       Moria: FotR

Paths of the Dead: RotK                                               Shelob’s Lair: RotK

squire: D. Do you see any differences in the filmmakers’ approach to designing, lighting, and shooting in these sets?

Darkstone: Lessee...  Gollum's cave, skeletons of dead fish.   Shelob's cave, skeletons of dead birds.  Cave of the Dead, mountains of skulls.  Moria cave, home to a fiery demon.

Hmmmm.  There's a pattern here.  Water, air, earth, and fire.

squire: Is one more successful than another?

Darkstone: Oh, without a doubt Gollum's Cave would have been taken the cake if only they'd had a wet loin-cloth clad Eowyn instead of Gollum.

squire: We’ve seen that Alex Funke said it was important to make Moria big and open, in order to impress the audience with the age of the settlement and the thousands of years spent by the dwarves carving out their spacious caverns. Alan Lee sketched some ideas for Moria like the one seen here:

These led to miniature set-pieces for Moria that look like this:

Looking at all these flying bridges and weird stairs and precipitous paths, I can’t help but think of this:

Piranesi                                                Seuss

squire: E. Do the caverns in this scene look like natural formations, man-made (dwarf-made) formations, or neither? And are we all right with that?

weaver: Well, I've not spent a lot of times in caves -- they looked fine and believable to me.

Darkstone: I love the fact that they could be either.  Just like real ancient ruins.  Some places on earth they still aren’t sure if they’re heavily eroded natural formations or incredibly ancient man-made ruins.  Wonderful!!


squire: Miniatures Photographer Alex Funke beams with pride at the opening pull-away shot of the sequence we are looking at today.

F. Does the camera rapidly pulling back amongst the rocks in the cave, draw too much attention to itself?

Darkstone: Not with Moria as a background!!

squire: Does it make you question the point of view: where could the “camera” actually be in such a shot, implying that this setting is fantastic, not real?

weaver: You know, I never think about the "camera" when I watch this sequence -- I just think the shot works well to show how vast Moria is and how small and vulnerable the Fellowship are within it.

Darkstone: Actually, just the opposite.  For example, in Godspell the frequent pullaway shots make me all too aware of the fact the camera is on nearby skyscrapers.  The lack of a rational point to stand in FOTR actually lets me suspend belief a lot easier.

squire: Or is fantasy the point?

Darkstone: Fantasy’s always the point.


squire: G. How well does the production design team balance the real with the fantastic, generally?

Darkstone: Great job.  They make the fantastic real and the real fantastic.

squire: What is your preference?

Darkstone: I love a good fantasy.  Especially one involving Miranda Otto.  On the other hand real life gets pretty boring when seen through the eyes of an angst –ridden screenwriter with something "important" to say.  No one's more boring than a young man who's just discovered an old truth.  And I should know.  I used to be one.

squire: Is it the same for you in movies as it is in reading fantasy literature?

weaver: Well -- I know a lot of the things I'm seeing are "fantastic", but they feel real to me within the context of the film. In general, I have less difficulty with the way the films present "fantastic" elements and settings, than I do with exagerated or unrealistic presentations of the "non" fantastic -- things like fight scenes where people get beat up but never show any signs of bruises or broken bones, for example. But I have that problem in lots of action films with fighting and stunts that are really impossible, not just LOTR.

Darkstone: Fantasy literature tends to be a lot cleaner.  But the angst-ridden angle keeps sneaking into modern fantasy.  Give me a good old fashioned Tolkien fantasy where men were men, women stayed home, and you knew exactly who to kill.


squire: Both Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens comment on the use of a male choir for the Moria score. Shore expands on the role of Moria in creating the score, in the link given here. The breakthrough they had came from Tolkien’s (very obscure) note that female dwarves are outnumbered two to one by males, and resemble the males in any case, right down to the beards! This led to the concept of an all-male choir, and in the event a Polynesian/Samoan choir was booked to record the track.

H. Have you ever given much thought to the male choir in this section?

Darkstone: Er, in what way?  I'm sure they're nice guys and all, but....

squire: (I think they really come into their own during the Bridge sequence in the next chapter). I obtained the lyrics, composed by the lovely Phil, and even with them in front of me I couldn’t be sure where they occurred in the film – my transcript on the script site is but the merest guess.

The original poem by Philippa Boyens is:

'Durin who is Deathless
Eldest of all Fathers
Who awoke
To darkness
Beneath the mountain
Who walked alone
Through halls of stone
Durin who is Deathless
Lord of Khazad-dum
Who cleaved
The Dark
And broke
The silence
This is your light!
This is your word!
This is your glory!
The Dwarrowdelf of Khazad-dum!'

The choir score reads:

Durin Ku Binamrad
Durin Ku Binamrad
Ug-mal Sul-lu Ad-dad Ku Ba
Ab-ad Ku Gan-ag-a
Tur Gan-ad
A-ban-ul Durin
Ku Bin Am-rad
Ku Ba Ka-na A Na Az-nan
Un Du Ab-ad
Un Du Ab-ad
Ku Gan Ah-ga Az-na-n

Featured in A Journey in the Dark. Lyrics by Philippa Boyens, translated into Neo-Khuzdűl by David Salo. 

Elostirion74: Well, I found their deep voices very appropriate for a dwarven dwelling and they definitely set the mood for the scenes. I've never reflected on the fact that this language is meant to be Dwarven, but it seems to me that the movie crew wants to portray the culture of the different peoples and characters also through the use of language and poetry, which is very much in keeping with Tolkien's spirit. For me it adds a lot to atmosphere of the different settings and I don't think it would have been as efficient without the use of Tolkien's languages.

weaver: Moria is a very "male" world -- the male chorus suits it well. Just like the way they use very feminine vocals for Arwen. I've got a great article on how the use of Tolkien's languages in the vocals throughout the films contributes a sense of "poetry" to the films -- to me, as I've often said here, they are the movie equivalent of Tolkien's use of verse throughout the books. They also add to the "operatic" feel of the films and the score -- they communicate deep feelings, history, culture, even if you don't know the language or what the words mean.


squire: I. No one in the movie audience got any of this – I say this without fear of contradiction.

Darkstone: Yeah, ironically just like first time readers of LOTR concerning Tolkien’s little sprinkled gems of Sindarin.  Why did Tolkien even bother?

squire: Why did the movie crew bother?

Darkstone: Whoa, dude!  It's deja-vu all over again!!

squire: Why write incomprehensible and bogus dwarvish lyrics?

Darkstone: Well, I guess a deep bow to Tolkien writing incomprehensible and bogus elvish lyrics:  To showcase his *true* reason for writing the book.  His beloved languages.  As well as the Old Testament belief in the "power of the word".  (Tolkien was a translator of the Jerusalem Bible.)  Indeed, from Plato's Cratylus: “I should explain to you, Socrates, that our friend Cratylus has been arguing about names; he says that they are natural and not conventional; not a portion of the human voice which men agree to use; but that there is a truth or correctness in them, which is the same for Hellenes as for barbarians.”  Few would disagree that Tolkien is, as Plato describes the name-maker, someone who is "of all artisans the rarest among men".  A nice example of this in another film is the original concept of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which he initially intended to be entirely in the original languages and without subtitles.  He felt the power of “logos” would be enough for the audience to understand, and indeed, would even help transcend the limitations our imperfect definitions impose on a word once we “learn” it.

I think it’s enough that the audience senses that the language is “real”, and that the words have “meaning”  I mean, it’s like Shakespeare.  You might not understand a blamed thing he’s saying, but gosh ain’t it beautiful!  Kinda the same with Italian opera.  Or Wagner.  Or the Teletubbies.  Or not.

Aerin: So true about the use of languages! I totally agree! It would have been easy for Shore to introduce choral elements using humming and neutral syllables, but use of Tolkien's languages (or the facsimiles that Salo could create) adds immeasurably to the effectiveness of using voices and to the impression that there is a whole world behind the story.

When I gave my presentation this morning on Shore's use of themes in FOTR, one of the audience asked what the chorus was singing in one scene, and everyone just loved the idea that the choir was singing lyrics in elvish, even if no one could understand them, and they agreed that it added to the atmosphere. (These were mostly people who had neither read the book nor seen the movies.)

squire: Why not just have the Maoris and Samoans hum ominously, in tune with the orchestral score?

Old_Took: The language used for the lyrics here has been dubbed "Neo-Khuzdul"...it was put together by language scholar David Salo using the scant information given by Tolkien in the books. He tried to make a language that would be in keeping with Tolkien's own ideas about Khuzdul and theoretically could be "derived from it".

Avna: on languages I remember when I found out that the Ringwraiths Song (heard first when they gallop out of Minas Morgul) was in *Adunaic*!! I mean, this is a language that, not just the movie audience, but the vast majority of the population of Middle Earth, wouldn't understand. That's when I thought, okay, I'm going to trust.

weaver: The "hidden" messages in the vocals are something that they really, truly didn't need to do -- but did anyway. It's one of the aspects of the films that make me feel they really did honor Tolkien as best they could within the constraints of having to please a mass audience with the final product. Kind of like those guys who carved beautiful things at the top of Gothic cathedrals, where no one but God could see them. It strikes me as a kind of artistic contribution to Tolkien's legacy that was not done for any glory or recognition, but just out of respect for the author and his works.

HobbitLoveR*M-e: Bogus? Bite your unbeliever's tongue. If by bogus you might mean something is silly and too geeky, well, there is no such thing as too geeky. We all know that. IMhO, just knowing someone thought about what the words might have meant is the difference between Jackson and crew and all the rest; except Tolkien, of course.

In this I am unanimous. = )

We want the words. Philippa wanted the words. And, Howard Shore wanted the words. Moreover, we all of us believe the words. I think the professor would have been the first to find the right words and record them somewhere. The film works because it rings true. It offers a believable reality. Middle-earth is believable because of those details, both in Tolkien's written world and PJ's film world. Bogus. Harrumph!

Darkstone: Ever watch The Gallant Hours?  One of the worst movies ever, and the only James Cagney movie I’ve never been able to watch in its entirety.  Its un-watchability is in large part due to a male choir that hums ominously in tune with the orchestral score.  Absolutely awful!!!!



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