“Behold the ancient silver paint of the dwarves!”
squire: Here is a shot-by-shot breakdown of this scene for your reference. We’ve been following the company as they wend their way through Moria.
Let’s pick up the discussion at shot 7: We last saw Gandalf begin to lead them up a staircase; now we cut to a new part of the Mines.
The company enters from the left along a cliff face.
Old_Took: Mistake Did anyone notice the big mistake in this scene? When Gandalf is walking along the ledge holding his staff aloft (this is the first picture in the above post) we see him kick what looks like a wire attached to his staff. This was in fact the wire used to power the practical light bulb (later replaced digitally with a crystal).
I like to think that Gandalf perhaps grabbed a piece of rope that was lying down in front of him and used it to guide him along the somewhat precipitous ledge.
squire: A. Do you find this cut jarring? I do. The general lighting and the relative brightness of Gandalf’s staff is noticeably different and much harsher than it is in most of the previous shots.
Darkstone: I always figured that was one of the properties of mithril: Shine a little light on it and it’ll knock your eyes out. No wonder Dwarves are so greedy for it.
Elostirion74: No. I find that transitions can be more jarring due to pace than lighting.
squire: Isn’t this the beginning of the new Mithril scene introduced in the Extended Edition? Does that explain this shot’s discontinuities?
Old_Took: I like the variation in lighting...somehow it makes the environment more believable when the lighting is less controlled.
FarFromHome: Now you mention it, this is a harsh cut. The scene really does seem to have just been interpolated into the existing TE. I imagine that if it had been selected for the TE, more care would have been expended on digital grading etc. Many of the EE scenes look a little rough around the edges to me.
Darkstone: Yep. Of course, I find just about all the additions in the EE’s jarring to the pacing and continuity of the films. Hey! Maybe that’s why Jackson cut them out of the TE!! Seriously, many of the cuts that make the TE flow so well were done in pickups. And you don’t go back and do pickups for an EE.
Gandalf stops and points out the Mithril in the rock face.
squire: B. Why does Gandalf suddenly stop and give a speech worthy of a tour guide?
Darkstone: To distract Pippin from dropping rocks? Because it’s a boring, scary four day journey? Because MP3s haven’t been invented yet ? Because it’s in the book? (So much for the mantra “Stuff from book good, stuff not from book bad”.)
Anyway, everyone else does it, so why shouldn't Gandalf? I mean, even Sam did it before in the Trollshaws. (“Look, Frodo, it’s Mr. Bilbo’s trolls.”) Aragorn is especially chatty as a tour guide: “This was the great watchtower of Amon Sul” and “Frodo! The Argonath. Long have I desired to look upon the kings of old, my kin." Actually, I rather like travelogs. Indeed, the travelog aspect of the book is a big attraction to me.
squire: Wouldn’t an interchange between him and Gimli have been more in keeping with the spirit of the place?
FarFromHome: I guess an exchange with Gimli would have left the viewers in the dark, since Gandalf wouldn't have had to explain anything to him. And Gandalf is a tour guide, after all, for the hobbits. Why not point out a few of the interesting features along the way, to make the time pass a little more quickly? Gandalf and Gimli do have their little exchange about the "kingly gift", at least.
Darkstone: Actually, Gimili singing a Dwarven song would have been more in keeping with the spirit of the place.
squire: C. Do the ‘veins’ of mithril look real?
Old_Took: The veins look fine to me.
Darkstone: They look exactly like all the other veins of mithril I’ve ever seen.
Elostirion74: They looked real enough to me, judging from what I can remember from geology tours (I'm not a geologist by any means!). But I haven't given it much thought really.
squire: They don’t to me. They look like silver paint.
FarFromHome: And maybe they could have touched up the veins of metal digitally to make them look less fake - although I had never noticed them looking any more fake than veins of precious ore ever look in movies.
Darkstone: Actually they look exactly like typical sub-veins you find coming off a motherlode silver vein.
squire: Why did the filmmakers feel they had to convey the presence of mithril in so obvious, and so fake, a way?
Darkstone: Because no one's ever seen a vein of mithril? Because they're morons? Because they hate Tolkien and all his readers? Because it only looks fake to people who've never seen a real vein of precious metal?
squire: Is this why the scene got cut?
Darkstone: Nah. This is fine. I think it got cut because it went over information that was already presented to the audience. And besides, talking about the mithril shirt again dilutes its later surprise.
squire: Gandalf turns and illuminates a huge endlessly deep mineshaft to illustrate his final words “…but mithril”.
We see into the vast mithril mine works.
squire: Director Jackson comments on this shot: “I love the idea that there’s this huge mithril mine right in the middle of the Mountains: the actual mine shaft where the mithril has been dug out of the Mountain. It’s, sort of, a seemingly endless hole, which I found pretty creepy.” Designer Grant Major agrees: “But mithril is the precious metal that the dwarves carved out of the inside of the Misty Mountains and, um, the Mine itself is this vast chasm that we don’t see the bottom or top of, or even the other side of, it’s so huge.”
squire: D. Is this dwarf-delved shaft as impressive as Jackson and Major want it to be, given that the company has just passed through numerous voids and caverns seemingly as large?
Darkstone: Yep. The others were chambers built huge in order to dissipate the natural heat of being deep underground. This is most obviously a mine shaft. A big and deep one!
Elostirion74: I think it's fairly impressive, but for me this is as much due to the music as to the actual shot (although the shot is pretty good). The quick shot into the hole where Pippin dislodged the old armour was much more creepy than this in my opinion.
squire: Did you get that this one was dug out by hand?
Darkstone: Definitely. You got the big hole where they found and followed the motherlode. Motherlode veins are huge, and can go for dozens and dozens of miles. Obviously this one goes *down* dozens and dozens of miles! Simply breathtaking!
squire: By way of contrast, do you think that the rest of the Moria complex that we’ve seen was natural formations, or was it also excavated by the dwarves -- despite its lack of mithril?
Old_Took: I think there was probably a combination of natural formations and hand carving.
Darkstone: Of course it was excavated by dwarves! Imagine how glorious it all looked in the First Age!! Now of course it’s hard to tell whether it’s natural formations or deliberately carved. Just like a lot of very very old ruins in today’s world! And remember, it’s hot underground. A specially constructed network of interconnected high ceilinged chambers is a natural solution. As well as a thing of beauty. Form and function. How Dwarvish!!
squire: E. Why does Pippin save Merry from falling in, instead of the other way around?
FarFromHome: Nice touch that Pippin is concerned for Merry - I don't think Merry is in any danger of falling in, but it seems that even the foolhardy Pippin is daunted by the depth of this cavern, and doesn't want to take any chances.
Darkstone: Zut alors! I 'ave missed one!!! Three levels here. First, the tit for tat thing. Pippin saves Merry from falling into the pit in this scene, Merry saves Pippin from falling down the stairs in the next.
Then there's Merry as the truly irresponsible one. Merry is the one who gets them into trouble. He's the one who plans the fireworks theft, decides to light off with Frodo to Buckleberry Ferry, informs the Council "We're coming too", and initiates the diversion with the Uruks. Pippin really only follows the leads of others. He's the level-headed one of the pair (true, that's not saying much), and so he's the one who'll pull Merry back from the folly of his own impulsiveness at the Pelennor, with the Uruks, and with Treebeard.
Finally, it's very important here that Pippin *not* be dazzled by the shiny bright lights. Otherwise, when he gloms onto the palantir in ROTK we're going to say "Well, there's Pippin being dazzled by shiny bright lights again!" Instead, we've been show Pippin can resist the bright and shiny, so his obsession with the palantir is much more ominous. There's an external malevolent force at work here, not just a stupid greedy hobbit.
squire: Here the company gets to act amazed – or something.
F. What did you think of their takes on the mithril mine? I think Viggo Mortensen does a great job, conveying wonder and fear; and the rest of them look asleep on their feet. (given that they were probably looking at the studio floor and lights about four feet below them, it’s understandable. Still, they are actors…)
Old_Took: I think most of the Fellowship is weary from their long trek and a bit sullen from being trapped in the dark, damp caverns of Moria for several days.
weaver: I have never really liked this scene, -- it looks and feels "out of place" to me, and the "tour guide" information seems odd at this stage of the journey. I was glad to hear your reasons as to what it contributed to the EE, which make me think of it a little differently. Thanks.
FarFromHome: I just rewatched the scene to see, but I didn't see anything wrong with the characters' takes on the mine - if anything, it's Aragorn who seems to me a little too overawed. I think both Boromir's and Frodo's reactions are a believably subtle indication of what's really on their minds at this point.
Darkstone: Nice individual reactions. Wonderful little character moments!
Elostirion74: I often feel for the actors when I watch the various reaction shots in the movie where you know they're looking at the studio floor or something similar. It must have been horribly difficult.
Several of these actors are not good at acting amazed at all, especially Dominic Monaghan is almost always stupidly wide-eyed. (When they are acting afraid, that's another story!) Viggo is pretty good, though. These facial shots are the most important reason for me to cut the entire scene.
Avna: Aragorn shouldn't be amazed Aragorn is the only one of the Company besides Gandalf who has been there before. From the Journey in the Dark chapter: Gandalf: "... I passed though, and I came out again alive!" "I too once passed the Dimrill Gate," said Aragorn quietly; "but though I also came out again, the memory is very evil. I do not wish to enter Moria a second time." So what is he amazed for?
squire: It's a whole new Aragorn There's enough differences between book-Aragorn and movie-Aragorn to accept that in the movie, he may not have seen this sight before. That's how I understood what I was seeing on screen, with no knowledge of the book.
I was basically admiring his expression, which manages to say something (amazement, fear?) in just a few seconds on screen. It doesn't hurt that he gets to hold a prop, and has the wind muss his hair.
For all my problems with the Aragorn issue, I'm a big fan of Viggo Mortensen's acting for most of the trilogy.
Darkstone: Well.....though my very first visit was 40 some odd years ago, I'm always amazed by Carlsbad Caverns.
squire: A little later in the film, when the orcs are roused from the depths, we will see more shots of the abandoned mine, its ladders, scaffolds, and equipment. I thought those were great, and gave a kind of creepy depth to this one rather sterile and overlit miniature shot from overhead.
G. Why weren’t those detailed images used here to help convey the scale and the horror of this huge abandoned work?
Old_Took: I thought this shot was awe-inspiring. Definitely glad they put it back in.
FarFromHome: The reason the creepy details of the mineshaft are not shown until later, when the danger is more acute, is perhaps related to the problem of "flattening by anticipation" that Darkstone brought up in his Open Discussion of the last chapter. This scene is just establishing the vastness of the mine works. The creepy, dangerous aspect of them is saved for later.
Darkstone: This is a mithril shaft. The “overlit” nature is meant to show the shining attraction of mithril. I thought it worked very well, but different strokes and all that.
squire: Gandalf moves on, commenting that Bilbo had a Mithril coat he got from Thorin. Gimli is impressed, and Frodo listens blankly as Gandalf adds that it was worth more than the “value of the Shire”.
Frodo seems truly staggered to think he is wearing the value of the Shire.
squire: Jackson comments as this entire Mithril Mines EE sequence begins: “We have a sequence coming up which was cut, revealing more information about the mithril vest which Bilbo gave Frodo, and we felt that the mithril vest had been established well enough back in the Rivendell bedroom scene, and we didn’t really need to dwell more on it, which is why this was trimmed out.”
In fact, the mithril coat sequence with Bilbo establishes that it gives hidden protection; and the payoff is later in this Moria adventure, when the coat saves Frodo’s life from the cave troll. This sequence here with Gandalf, which is about the value of mithril, has no payoff or purpose, unless the films are going to refer to its monetary value later on – which they aren’t.
squire: H. Is Jackson being obtuse, forgetful, or overly concise in his explanation of why the Mithril Mine and the coat revelation were cut from the Theatrical release?
FarFromHome: The payoff for establishing the value of the mithril coat comes much, much later - it explains why the orcs fall to quarrelling over it in the Tower of Cirith Ungol. This does seem very far away, and I think it's virtually impossible that anyone who is learning this stuff from the movie is going to recall it by the time they get to ROTK. So yes, Jackson is probably being overly concise in his explanation for the cut - one reason being that the commentaries seem to take care not to "spoil" anything that will be in the later movies.
Darkstone: Might be being truthful. Then again, cutting it does violate Uncle Miltie’s Rule of Comedy: You got to repeat plot points to the audience three times. So actually Jackson should have stuck in another line about mithril. Apparently, though, he went against the general Hollywood assumption that audiences are made up of stupid idiots and just stuck with the one.
squire: I. Is the Mithril Mine necessary (or at least desirable) for any other reasons, like explaining why Moria exists?
Darkstone: Or like conveying the sense that it’s a four day journey and that occasionally they might actually talk about their surroundings?
squire: Or why Moria was destroyed?
Darkstone: It does show how the balrog got up here.
squire: Should it have been cut from the TE?
Darkstone: Yep. For the reasons everyone gave in the commentaries.
squire: – it’s 65 seconds long, and one can imagine any number of compensating 65-second cuts that could have come out of this part of the movie.
FarFromHome: The full story of the tragedy of the dwarves is probably too much to get in. I love Gimli's poem in the book, and his exchanges with Sam about the Dwarves' history. But in the movie we have to be content with hints, such as Saruman's earlier words about the dwarves delving "too greedily and too deep", combined with the evidence of their delving here.
For just about every EE scene, someone suggests that 60 seconds or whatever could surely have been found for it, by cutting something else. And I suppose that's true. But without any experience as a movie editor, it's hard to say how much difference any given cut might make. As someone who has had to edit documents for conciseness, I do at least know how hard it can be to decide exactly what is needed to conserve flow and comprehension, until you cut too much out and find that the text no longer works. Multiplying that by whatever huge factor would make it equivalent to film editing leaves me in awe that it can be done at all!
Darkstone: Barry Goldwater’s law of government “A million here, a million there, and before you know it you’re talking real money.” Same with film: “65 seconds here, sixty five seconds there, and before you know it you’re talking a whole 'nother movie.”
Mortae: hehehe some nice comments
Elostirion74: I think the mithril scene could have been very interesting as a way of explaining the basis of the wealth of the dwarves as well as spelling out their deeper desires, but I'm glad they cut this scene when I saw the acting.
Home 2. The Caverns 4. Crossroads