Conclusion - “What do you mean, Balin is dead?”

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


Well, here we are at Balin’s tomb. A rather unobservant Gimli is about to get a big, and sad, surprise. Our Journey in the Dark is over – if only because the lighting effects for the rest of the trip through Moria are about to get rather spectacularly motivated. Hint: watch the change in color temperature between this chapter, and the next.

stanne: BTW I don't recall Gimli as unobservant.

weaver: take a well deserved bow, squire...This was a grand scene discussion -- thanks for all you put into it!

Here are some final thoughts on my end, for what it's worth: Unobservant Gimli -- I think he was sort of in denial, really, up until he saw the tomb. You know, like someone who keeps thinking that they don't have a terminal illness, even though they've got all the signs of it -- until the doctor comes in the room and breaks the news, there's always a chance you're not that sick.

squire: I’d like to conclude this week’s discussion with a few general questions.

Moria was shot early in the production. There was plenty of prep and thinking time. Sets were built that were never even used, designs were prepared just to justify and explain the layouts, and the creation of the score for this section helped the composer find his approach to the rest of the film. The footage was cut together and shown at Cannes to prepare the world for rest of the movie, and the critics responded warmly. In other words, Moria (both this week’s chapter and the balrog sequence too) became a “set piece”, an encapsulated story-within-a-story that stands on its own as a kind of short film.

squire: A. Does all this actually show in the footage we’ve discussed this week, or not?

Darkstone: Well Oh, yes. The quality of the Cannes “sneak preview” is much lower. The lighting is uninteresting and murky. Nice how it was cleaned up for the release. I always found it funny how the anti-LOTR NL suits almost came to physical blows with the pro-LOTR NL suits at Cannes.

How, or where? What parts of the film by contrast might not seem so well-thought-out?

Darkstone: The Flight to the Ford. Which Jackson neither filmed nor edited, and for which ironically hours and hours of footage was shot.

Which parts of the film look as if they were done at the last second, or still look incomplete?

Aerin: Anyway, I think all the work on Moria does show, even when it is "buried" -- it contributes to the overwhelming sense that much exists beneath the surface of the film (just as Tolkien's grafting of the Ring story onto his existing Middle-Earth mythology creates a sense of depth underlying the story). (Other examples for me are Elrond's study in Rivendell and the library at Minas Tirith -- they give us the sense that we are getting only brief glimpses of a much more extensive reality.)

 weaver: Well done and half-baked sets in the films -- Moria, as you rightly point out, benefited from tremendous attention in crafting it. The Shire gets that same treatment, I think. Rivendell, Rohan and Helm's Deep are also pretty well thought out and presented. Ones that seem less lovingly crafted to me are the Dead Marshes and Lothlorien. You could probably have this same discussion about special effects -- Gollum wins in this category, the wargs don't even seem to be liked by Jackson. But overall, the sets they lavished attention on, were, to me, the appropriate ones to do that with.

Darkstone: A lot of the added scenes in the EEs. But that’s understandable.

squire: When cinematography is done well it is beautifully and artistically composed, with balanced composition, movement, and lighting. The sheer beauty of an artistic piece like these highly professional film sequences tends to work against the creation of unease, fear, or uncertainty in an audience.

squire: B. How well do the filmmakers balance their desire to show off Moria, and their interest in building a degree of suspense or fear? Which is more important on screen: the idea of Moria as an impressive Wonder of the Ancient World, or the idea of Moria as an underground city of the Dead in which the company is in constant danger?

Darkstone: Brilliant defiance of filmmaking 101 here. Jackson gets the audience so involved in the wonders of Moria that they gradually forget about the danger, then *wham*, he hits them upside the head. A very good idea! I always find if suspense is held overlong it gets tedious and boring, but maybe that’s just me.

squire: Why did the filmmakers “bury” so much of their artistic concept, like the inaudible choral lyrics, the unidentifiable cemetery, or the claustrophobic darkness of a tomb, all of which they claim to have wanted to include in the film to convey the theme of Moria as a fearsome place of Death?

weaver: On your comments on cinematography -- I think I get your point, that all the fine craftsmanship of Moria competes with the doom-doom-doom aspect of this scene, plotwise? Hmm...maybe this is why the extended cave troll fight, and the breaking bridge don't overwhelm this sequence -- do these extended, ramped up fights actually balance out the sightseeing aspects of it? Now you have me wondering...

Elostirion74: criticism also needs to be balanced For me the music contributed more to building a feeling of suspense than the way they chose to present Moria visually, although I wouldn't agree that there aren't anything to create suspense and fear. The physical dangers of Moria (falling into a chasm, falling off or down narrow stairs or bridges, openings just at hinted at where horrible creatures might lurk or where you might get utterly lost) come out very well on screen.

 Darkstone: It all functions subliminally. For instance consider the following memos from David O. Selznick as he was filming Gone With the Wind:

   The costumes of the picture, and the sets also, should have dramatized much more than we have done to date, and much less than I hope they will do in future, the changing fortunes of the people with whom we are dealing. The first part of the picture - especially the sequences at Twelve Oaks - have been so neutralized that there will be no dramatic point made by the drabness of the costumes through the whole second half of the picture. We should have seen beautiful reds and blues and yellows and greens in costumes so designed that the audience would have gasped at their beauty and would have felt a really tragic loss when it saw the same people in the made-over and tacky clothes of the war period. The third part of the picture should, by its colors alone, dramatize the difference between Scarlett and the rest of the people - Scarlett extravagantly and colorfully costumed against the drabness of the other principals and of the extras.


    In deciding the proportion of men to women in ordering our extras for the sequences in Atlanta, care should be taken that we clearly have many more women than men and a decreasing number of men as the picture progresses and as we get deeper and deeper into the war in our Atlanta sequences.
   Thus, for instance, the scene of the news of Gettysburg being received should have infinitely more women than men. Also, such males as there are, should for the most part be old men and adolescents. There should, of course, also be the usual proportion of children.
   Probably, too, such men as there are, particularly any men of fighting age, would be in uniform as being either soldiers on leave or Home Guard. Probably, also, there would be wounded or convalescent soldiers.
   Similarly, there should be an increasing percentage of mourning costumes as the picture progresses, with a great deal more black being worn by the women and such mourning as would be worn by the men.

Yes, “buried” details probably aren't consciously unnoticed. But they may be even more powerful for being buried.

squire: We see at least three examples in this chapter where Peter Jackson overrode his production staff and imposed his own vision of the film:

1. When the designers had prepared an elaborate walkthrough set for the dwarf-cemetery, Jackson rushed in one day and said it had to be an incredibly steep and dangerous staircase instead.

2. When the original CG Gollum had progressed to the point of being shootable for the Moria sequence, after months of work on the eyes alone, Jackson brought in Andy Serkis and changed Gollum so much that the creature in The Two Towers has almost nothing to do with the creature in The Fellowship of the Ring.

3. When Alan Lee conceptualized the Dwarrowdelf chamber in Moria, he repeatedly drew a limited, more realistic space, with walls and doors at the perimeter of a columned room. Jackson insisted that the space be infinite in all directions, forcing the effects crew to reconceive its execution and build the entire thing in CG, where all the other Moria sets had been miniatures.

squire: C. What does this say about Peter Jackson?

Darkstone: He was continually thinking and rethinking the story as he read and reread the book, as he saw the actors’ capabilities (and limitations) in the rushes and received their inpur, as he watched WETA’s expertise (and confidence) grow. Very nice to see how he was adaptable.

Elf_Maven: A couple responses to yours Both PJ and his staff improved on - or even changed - their ideas as they saw the originals on screen. There's nothing like seeing (or hearing) your own work in performance to awaken further creative, or corrective, impulses. Sometimes, those changes can be made midstream.

squire: Are his ideas always better?

Darkstone: No. Neither are mine. And from the amount of writing, re-writing, and re-re-rewriting being done on LOTR right up until the day it was sent off to the galleys, neither were the Professor's.

squire: Why did his very talented staff not come up with these ideas in the first place?

Darkstone: They’re busy with their individual parts. Jackson seems constantly mulling over the whole. It's the narrow focus versus wide peripheral thing. Plus he's getting more a sense of what his people are capable of, so he can push them to do things they don't know they can. I can see why he appears to inspire so much affection and loyalty.

squire: Is The Fellowship of the Ring (or The Lord of the Rings trilogy) an “auteur” film (i.e., is the film truly the creation of one all-controlling artiste, Monsieur Pierre Jackson)?

Aerin: As for Jackson's instincts -- some brilliant, others not so much. My hunch is that after FOTR was released, others were less able to temper the director's gut feelings and enthusiasms, and that the other two films suffered for it.

Elf_Maven: That would explain a lot! Your final comment sort of settled some things into place for me. There are many "excesses" (IMO) in TTT and ROTK that may be there only for the reason you have suggested. Thank you for offering a logical inference .

well he's back: agreed but with the success of FOTR giving Jackson free rein to indulge some of his worst tendencies, it also gave the cast & crew money for reshoots, additional footage, and additional effects. So there were probably good and bad effects.

Old_Took: Surprising While I agree that the success of FOTR gave Jackson more freedom, I think this freedom eventually allowed him to reach new groundbreaking creative heights he otherwise may not have achieved. Which is appropriate...FOTR is an introduction to the world of Middle-earth while TTT and ROTK build a more impressive and expansive world. I find that Jackson's "excesses" are often what makes LOTR so brilliant...he takes so many risks and nearly all of them succeed wonderfully. Just personal opinion, though.

Elf_Maven: Some of them maybe I have to agree that some of Jackson's risks were - and are, and may even always be recognized as - brilliant.

However, many of the excesses just wasted time that might have been better devoted to other story elements. Didn't Jackson himself (or at least Philippa and Fran?) comment that they had to try to cram too much into ROTK? And it shows.

weaver: Jackson reigning over all -- Publicly, at least, the crew and cast seemed pretty content with Jackson's vision, and pretty forgiving of last minute changes and challenges. Maybe it's because he didn't just dump things on them and go home -- people seem to give him credit for taking on his own fair share of work in these cases. The only thing I can compare his style to is my own experience in writing grants -- where sometimes people working with me work very hard on a chart or data, and then I have to cut it at the last minute in favor something else, or when it gets down to the wire I come up with a great layout idea that changes everything, but usually results in the project getting funding. I know that can be frustrating to those who aren't used to working with me. So I guess I have sympathy for both Jackson and his crew when it comes to his style. But it works for him.

Elostirion74: Yes, I've got the feeling that Jackson controlled these films very tightly, although he encouraged other people's responses and ideas. Unfortunately, as Aerin says, no-one was able to rein him after FoTR was finished, which meant that the two subsequent movies had too much of Jackson's excesses, some of which he wasn't even particularly pleased with himself (the wargs for instance).

Darkstone: Nah. It was a cooperative effort between all three screenwriters. And the actors noted Jackson encouraged input about their characters, and even followed their suggestions on many occasions.

squire: This week I’ve quite deliberately avoided as much as possible any comparison of this chapter of the film to the source, the book by J. R. R. Tolkien. I wanted to explore the idea that the film’s relationship to the book is essentially unimportant. The filmmakers had an infinite number of choices to make when adapting the book, and whether the choices they made work on film, as cinema, as a story, seemed like it might be more interesting than whether the choices are faithful to the text and Tolkien’s often indeterminate “intent”.

For those who would like to take the more traditional approach, here is a portion of an article by Tolkien scholar Janet Croft which discusses the film from the point of view of a serious book-reader. I have excerpted only the section in which she discusses the Moria sequence, although the entire essay, and the book that it appears in, are well worth reading.

Croft’s criticism of Jackson is well-informed, harsh, and entirely book-oriented.

squire: D. Do you agree with her, more or less or not at all?

weaver:  The Critics and the Films -- From the research I've done, it's Tolkien scholars that have the hardest time with the films, though many give Jackson credit for the attention paid to detail, the sets, the use of Elvish, and for getting some of the key themes right.

Old_Took: On The Scholars I have also noticed that Tolkien scholars typically take a harsher stance towards the films than others, though there are noticeable exceptions...Tom Shippey being the foremost...he has shown great support for the movies over the last several years. I think the scholars' attitude toward the films stems from the fact that they have been academically involved with Tolkien's world for a great part of their lives. To them, Tolkien's written words have become facts, in a sense, unalterable and unquestionable. To see Tolkien's realized world be changed by foreign hands is likely very upsetting to a Tolkien academician. It is easier for those of us who are not quite as immersed in Tolkien's lore from a scholarly standpoint to understand why the changes were made and even to accept them happily. For the scholars, it's a bit harder. I expect the coming generations of Tolkien experts will likely have a more open view towards the films than those that grew up with the books alone.

Elostirion74: I think she's a bit harsh in not admitting the strengths of Jackson's mode of presentation. That would have balanced her harsh and often quite just criticisms of Jackson's weaknesses.

I agree with her that the dialogue not taken from the book is often poor or inappropriate. I enjoy watching Jackson's trek through Moria, but I believe she's right in assessing that Hitchcock would have been more fit to create a Moria of unease and suspense.

As for the balrog, Jackson shows that he's able to present a monster which is only vaguely outlined in the first shot, but later he isn't able to contain himself. I don't know why really - except that this seems to be Jackson's preference - since anyone knows that what's scary is not so much what you see as what you don't see.

 Darkstone: Seems like a typical rant. As she says at the beginning of the original piece, "The point is that we have been there; we can say 'Yes, that’s just how it was,' or 'No, no, no, that’s all wrong'" and "'The original as it has become familiar to its audience stands in judgment of the imitation'". A year later in "Three Rings for Hollywood" she was less the outraged purist in and more the thoughtful critic:

What is the solution to the problem of writing the perfect adaptation of Tolkien? Would a twenty-hour miniseries be long enough to cover all the nuances of his work, or would readers still be disappointed? Readers may dream about the day when a filmmaker will be daring enough to stick to Tolkien’s unusual structure, dialogue, and original story, yet creative enough to add the touches that make a great movie more than just a literal transcription from page to screen. But it may be impossible, and perhaps even undesirable. Tolkien may have been right in saying that a film can never capture all the nuances of a work of fiction. The film playing in the reader’s mind, after all, is the one that reader really wants to see.

By George, I think she's got it!!

squire: E. Are there any critics that you can recommend to us, from newspaper or magazine reviewers to published authors, who approach Jackson’s films from a non-reader’s point of view? Or who make the case that Jackson’s films are appropriate and admirable as adaptations? Or as original films?

weaver:  Film critics seem to think the LOTR movies are successful as movies, based on the 95%+ ratings that all three of them have from the wide range of critics cited on the Rotten Tomato film review site, the box office receipts, or the number of Oscars, or other articles I've read. "Translating Tolkien" is a book that has a good mix of pro and con scholarly reviews, and Brian Rosebury's discussion of what he thinks are the essential ingredients in a film adaptation of LOTR is worth a read -- that's in "Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon", I think.

Darkstone: I like this from "Cultural Values and Cultural Death in The Lord of the Rings" by Martin Ball (See link for entire article):

Any comparative analysis of novel and film will at some stage engage with the issue of fidelity: how faithful is the film to the text? That this question is inevitable does not necessarily mean that it is useful of course, and quibbles over fidelity can act to disguise the fact that critic and film maker simply disagree about the meaning of the original text. As Robert Stam says, "Authors are sometimes not even sure themselves of their own deepest intentions. How then can film-makers be faithful to them?" Acknowledging this interpretative cul-de-sac, Brian McFarlane concludes that "the fidelity approach seems a doomed enterprise, and fidelity criticism unilluminating". For example, in the case of The Fellowship of the Ring, it is all too easy to identify various story elements which have been changed around, or simply left out -- but stating the bleeding obvious is no substitute for questioning why changes have been made, nor analysing the consequences of those changes.

 Love it!!

squire: Finally, although I always lurk on the Movie Board and only occasionally participate in the discussions, let me say how much I admire the quality and depth of the discourse that takes place here, week after week. You regulars give us all, again and again, perceptions about the strengths and weaknesses of these films that leave me in awe – because I am constantly entangled by my overexposure to the text and underexposure to the films.

This week I’ve attempted to contribute to the board at your level of interest and commitment, although admittedly from my own somewhat cynical perspective as a former film and stage designer and art director. I hope everyone has enjoyed this discussion as much as I have.


Thank you, all, for your warm welcome and your participation.

stanne: thanks for all your hard work this week. The presentation has been as awesome as the Dwarrowdelf and I didn't pick up on any cynicism, but then I approach the movies with no knowledge of the craft at all.

Aerin: I wish I had time to do justice to your wonderful discussion questions! Fantastic job, and I hope you'll continue to bring your perspectives to Movie discussions. I especially enjoy discussions that take into account the craft and practical aspects of moviemaking. (I've never been involved in filmmaking, but I've always been fascinated by the design elements in opera and the ways in which the director creates the stage picture.)

 Mortae: Well Done!!!! I have had a very busy week. I am responding to your thread a week later. I am very grateful for your effort and a wonderful week of discussion. Thanks

squire: F. Open discussion! What do you want to talk about?

Old_Took: Question Just a quick book vs. movie question: why do you guys think the filmmakers changed the passage that Gandalf takes at the three-path crossroads to the one on the left going down from the one on the right going up (as in the book)?

weaver: Tolkien's comments on the Zimmerman film treatment are frequently used to provide a basis for what he deemed essential in an adaptation. I'm going to be doing a post on that in the Reading Room in the summer, so hopefully that will also be a forum to continue the discussion on the many good points you've raised in this concluding post and all week.

Thanks for joining us squire -- I didn't know about your experience in film, which as others have said would be of great interest on this board. Hope to hear from you over here more often!

Darkstone: I think Croft throwing out Hitchcock (my favorite director) as someone who might do LOTR better than Jackson is absolutely hilarious! The Master of the Macabre had a far more darker and twisted sense of humor than Jackson can ever hope to have. His stubborn insistence on never deviating from the original script or his previsualized mental storyboard would have driven the actors who like to give input, like McKellen and Mortensen, to absolute distraction if not rage. Indeed his disregard for the actors (or "cattle" as he called them) would have without doubt resulted in a far more different cast. Still, his legendary penchant for the cold icy blonde would have meant all his attention would have been on Eowyn. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Mmmmm... No, not at all. Indeed, a great idea!!!

Elf_Maven: Could you have misunderstood? I thought squire gave us just an excerpt of Croft's entire essay, in which she was suggesting Hitchcock for the Moria sequence only?

Darkstone: Ugh!! A round robin LOTR??? That's even more ridiculous!!! A story like LOTR needs a unified vision. To have Hitchcock do Moria, Spielberg do the Shire, Coppola do Isengard, Polanski do Rivendell, Scorcese do Rohan, Welles do Minas Tirith, Lynch do Mordor, and Goldwyn do the Grey Havens that's just......

That's just...

Hey, that sounds really neat!!

Elf_Maven: No, no, no . . .Not a round robin LOTR, not an all-Hitchcock LOTR, just an imaginary concept for what the trip through Moria would have looked like according to Hitchcock. Perhaps more appropriate - or maybe closer to what book purists would imagine?

Darkstone: Nah Like I said, I'm a big fan of Hitchcock, but I think purists would absolutely hate him. Hitch has a macabre sense of humor. As he told François Truffaut, "The fact is, I practice absurdity quite religiously." While a first viewing of a Hitchcock Moria might be suspenseful, later viewings would reveal more and more touches of his deadpan dark humor. (Not to mention his trademark cameo, probably as a dead dwarf.) Purists would hate it.


That's It!



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