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NF-Lee's Gildor and Frodo

Minas Morgul Pt. 1: The Dead City….

Posted on 2007.06.23 at 14:47
Tags: , ,
~*~



This is a film scene I think truly good.

I am not crazy about the emergence of the Orc army from Minas Morgul, which reminds me too much of "The Wizard of Oz" (in which Dorothy and her friends watch from behind the rocks as the Wicked Witch of the West's guards march out of the castle singing, "Oh-ee-oh"). Viewers unfamiliar with the old film won't be bothered by this. But everything with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum is excellent. Much of the sequence is very book-like, especially the part in which Frodo feels called at the bridge.

What I love best in the film scene is Frodo. Not so much on the bridge but after they have climbed up behind the rock, parallel to the gate. His face as the Witch-king swoops by, contorted with present and remembered pain and horror overwhelms me with "pity and terror", the emotions the Greek tragedian Aeschylus said were the marks of great drama. Suffering is something which film Frodo always does well, his personal attractions often heightened in proportion to his degree of travail. This certainly is the case here. However, so deeply does the sight of him suffering in this scene move me, even my feelings of desire are overwhelmed. Whether his tears are his own or produced by a tear stick (EW confessed that he had a great deal of difficulty producing actual tears), the sight of his filthy face covered with the sweat of fear and exertion, his nose running, his eyes spilling with tears, work together to kill me. But only nearly: I am always ready to be killed again by his next ordeal.


Because there are quite a few caps for this scene, I am dividing them up between two posts. The caps showing Frodo feeling the summons at the bridge is included in this post. The caps showing him suffering as the Witch-king cries out are divided between this and the next post. A brilliant poem that jan-u-wine wrote for this scene will be included in the second part.




~*~



Film scene: “The Dead City.”


Gollum: The Dead City. Very nasty place. Full of enemies. Quick! Quick! They will see! They will see! Come away! Come away! Look! We have found it, the way into Mordor. The Secret Stairs!
Frodo starts to totter across the bridge to Minas Morgul.

Sam: No! Mr. Frodo!

Gollum: Not that way! What's it doing?

Sam: No!

Frodo: They're calling me….

Sam and Gollum pull Frodo to the stairs, but suddenly from the middle of the city a brilliant light shoots into the sky. The ground shakes. The Witch-king emerges to lead his host in battle. On his winged steed, he perches on the walls. The beast bellows and the Witch-king utters his piercing cry.

Frodo: (Wincing) I can feel his blade!



~*~




Book scene: from The Stairs of Cirith Ungol.


As soon as the great Cross-roads had been passed, the weight of it, almost forgotten in Ithilien, had begun to grow once more. Now, feeling the way become steep before his feet, he looked wearily up; and then he saw it, even as Gollum had said that he would: the city of the Ringwraiths. He cowered against the stony bank.

A long-tilted valley, a deep gulf of shadow, ran back far into the mountains. Upon the further side, some way within the valley’s arms, high on a rocky seat upon the black knees of the Ephel Dúath, stood the walls and tower of Minas Morgul. All was dark about it, earth and sky, but it was lit with light. Not the imprisoned moonlight welling through the marble walls of Minas Ithil long ago, Tower of the Moon, fair and radiant in the hollow of the hills. Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse-light, a light that illuminated nothing.

(..)

For a moment the three companions stood there, shrinking, staring up with unwilling eyes. Gollum was the first to recover. Again he pulled at their cloaks urgently, but he spoke no word. Almost he dragged them forward. Every step was reluctant, and time seemed to slow its pace, so that between the raising of a foot and the setting of it down minutes of loathing passed.

So they came slowly to the white bridge. Here the road, gleaming faintly, passed over the stream in the midst of the valley, and went on, winding deviously up towards the city’s gate: a black mouth opening in the outer circle of the northward walls. Wide flats lay on either bank, shadowy meads filled with pale white flowers. Luminous these were too, beautiful and yet horrible of shape, like the demented forms of an uneasy dream; and they gave forth a faint sickening charnel-smell; an odour of rottenness filled the air. From mead to mead the bridge sprang. Figures stood there at its head, carven with cunning in forms human and bestial, but all corrupt and loathsome. The water flowing beneath was silent, and it steamed, but the vapour that rose from it, curling and twisting about the bridge, was deadly cold. Frodo felt his senses reeling and his mind darkening. Then suddenly, as if some force were at work other than his own will, he began to hurry, tottering forward, his groping hands held out, his head lolling from side to side. Both Sam and Gollum ran after him. Sam caught his master in his arms, as he stumbled and almost fell, right on the threshold of the bridge.

‘Not that way! No, not that way!’ whispered Gollum, but the breath between his teeth seemed to tear the heavy stillness like a whistle, and he cowered to the ground in terror.

‘Hold up, Mr. Frodo!’ muttered Sam in Frodo’s ear. ‘Come back! Not that way. Gollum says not, and for once I agree with him.’

Frodo passed his hand over his brow and wrenched his eyes away from the city on the fill. The luminous tower fascinated him, and he fought the desire that was on him to run up the gleaming road towards its gate. At last with an effort he turned back, and as he did so, he felt the Ring resisting him, dragging at the chain about his neck, and his eyes too, as he looked away, seemed for the moment to have been blinded. The darkness before him was impenetrable.


~*~



The Dead City itself is not as much like the place described in the book as I would like, but it’s still very good in the film’s geographically concentrated style. But the thing that most strikes me in the book description is perhaps not possible to depict on film. I am thinking of the way the beauty of the former Tower of the Moon is still evident, but in a mutated way. It’s still the building the Men of old Gondor built, but viewed closer the ugly additions can be seen (the mouth-gate studded with teeth, etc.). It still glows palely white (rather than green), but now it’s the white of a sepulchre, the white of ghosts and phantoms and death. Unlike the utter waste outside the Morannon where nothing, not a weed or lichen grows, its meads are filled with flowers, but they are flowers from a nightmare: “beautiful yet horrible”, blooms with fantastical, demented shapes, smelling faintly of rotting flesh.

When I read this scene, the images that come to mind are ones that might have been painted by Heironymous Bosch, the Dutch Renaissance artist who painted surreal, highly detailed, highly fascinating, and utterly horrible paintings of what people might suffer in hell, or of the temptations that would bring them there. His pictures look attractive from a distance, the compostition and colours excellent. One approaches eagerly. Is it a painting of souls entering Paradise? Peasants at a village festival? Instead one draws near to see fantastical, repulsive demons torturing sinners, or tempting victims still alive into folly and torment. That's what Tolkien's images remind me of here—the City's beauty is still there, but twisted and mutilated, so that its beauty is simultaneously horrible.

The theme of mutilated beauty runs through LotR. Nothing was created bad by Eru and the Ainur. What now is repulsive and evil was not so once. Descriptions like this one of Minas Morgul reinforce that impression. That a sense of the Moon Tower's original beauty and goodness is still perceptible only adds to the horror—and anguish—of its present degradation. The notion that the Orcs came from Elves, mutilated and mutated, adds to the horror of their present state. Sauron (and Melkor before him, the Vala who first fell from grace) once was beautiful but now is ugly, no longer able to appear in a beautiful form except in so far as he has poured his life force into the Ring, beautiful to the eye and a pleasure to touch.

I imagine Frodo’s first view of the City of the Dead to be filled with these impressions, even if he doesn't perceive them at a conscious level. The closer he gets, the more dreadful it looks—all the more dreadful because he knows it once was truly beautiful. As he gazes fascinated and appalled at the former Tower of the Moon, I imagine the dark thought threading its way inside his mind that the Tower is a sign of what he will become if he finally yields to the Ring and its maker. Perhaps it will be Sam—brave, faithful, good Sam—who will be first to know. Sam has such a keen sense of things, always on guard. Sam's sensitive nose will catch a whiff of some growing stench. It will not be the stench of Frodo's filthy clothes and body (a condition Sam shares), but the stench of decay, the decay Frodo fears is growing inside him. Like Minas Ithil/Minas Morgul, it may become true of him, too: "beautiful and yet horrible".


~*~


As usual, all the caps have been cropped and adjusted for greater brightness and sharpness.











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~*~





The book scene continues, from The Stairs of Cirith Ungol:


At last they could go no further without a halt…. Frodo stopped and sat down on a stone. They had now climbed up to the top of a great hump of bare rock. Ahead of them there was a bay in the valley-side, and round the head of this the path went on, no more than a wide ledge with a chasm on the right; across the sheer southward face of the mountain it crawled upwards, until it disappeared into the blackness above.

‘I must rest a while, Sam,’ whispered Frodo. ‘It’s heavy on me, Sam lad, very heavy. I wonder how far I can carry it? Anyway I must rest before we venture on to that.’ He pointed to the narrow way ahead.

(…)

At this Gollum’s fear and agitation became so great that he spoke again, hissing behind his hand, as if to keep the sound from unseen listeners in the air. ‘Not here, no. Not rest here. Fools! Eyes can see us. When they come to the bridge they will see us. Come away! Climb, climb, climb!’

‘Come, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam. ‘He’s right again. We can’t stay here.’

‘All right,’ said Frodo in a remote voice, as of one speaking half asleep. ‘I will try.’

But it was too late. At that moment the rock quivered and trembled beneath them. The great rumbling noise, louder than ever before, rolled in the ground and echoed in the mountains. Then with searing suddenness there came a great red flash. Far beyond the eastern mountains it leapt into the sky and splashed the lowering clouds with crimson. In that valley of shadow and cold deathly light it seemed unbearably violent and fierce. Peaks of stone and ridges like notched knives sprang out in the staring black against the uprushing flame in Gorgoroth. Then came a great crack of thunder.

And Minas Morgul answered. There was a flare of livid lightnings: forks of blue flame springing up from the tower and from the encircling hills into the sullen clouds. The earth groaned; and out of the city there came a cry. Mingled with the shrill neighing of horses wild with rage and fear, there came a rending screech, shivering, rising swiftly to a piercing pitch beyond the range of hearing. The hobbits wheeled round towards it, and cast themselves down, holding their hands upon their ears.

As the terrible cry ended, falling back through a long sickening wail to silence, Frodo slowly raised his head. Across the narrow valley, now almost on a level with his eyes, the walls of the evil city stood, and its cavernous gate, shaped like an open mouth with gleaming teeth, was gaping wide. And out of the gate an army came.

(…)

Before them went a great cavalry of horsemen moving like ordered shadows, and at their head was one greater than all the rest: a Rider, all black, save that on his hooded head he had a helm like a crown that flickered with a perilous light. Now he was drawing near the bridge below, and Frodo’s staring eyes followed him, unable to wink or to withdraw. Surely there was the Lord of the Nine Riders returned to earth to lead his ghastly host to battle? Here, yes here indeed was the haggard king whose cold hand had smitten down the Ring-bearer with his deadly knife. The old wound throbbed with pain and a great chill spread towards Frodo’s heart.

Even as these thoughts pierced him with dread and held him bound as with a spell, the Rider halted suddenly, right before the entrance of the bridge, and behind him all the host stood still. There was a pause, a dead silence. Maybe it was the Ring that called to the Wraith-lord, and for a moment he was troubled, sensing some other power within his valley. This way and that turned the dark head helmed and crowned with fear, sweeping the shadows with its unseen eyes. Frodo waited, like a bird at the approach of a snake, unable to move. And as he waited, he felt, more urgent than ever before, the command that he should put on the Ring. But great as the pressure was, he felt no inclination now to yield to it. He knew that the Ring would only betray him, and he had not, even if he put it on, the power to face the Morgul-king—not yet. There was no longer any answer to that command in his own will, dismayed by terror though it was, and he felt only the beating upon him of a great power from outside. It took his hand, and as Frodo watched with his mind, not willing it but in suspense (as if he looked on some old story far away), it moved the hand inch by inch towards the chain upon his neck. Then his own will stirred; slowly it forced the hand back and set it to find another thing, a thing lying hidden near his breast. Cold and hard it seemed as his grip closed on it: the phial of Galadriel, so long treasured, and almost forgotten till that hour. As he touched it, for a while all thought of the Ring was banished from his mind. He sighed and bent his head.

~*~


I repeat Frodo's crowning moment for good measure (bold emphases mine):


...as he waited, he felt, more urgent than ever before, the command that he should put on the Ring. But great as the pressure was, he felt no inclination now to yield to it. He knew that the Ring would only betray him. (...) Then his own will stirred; slowly it forced the hand back....

That's Frodo of the book. His will was honed and made stronger by his ordeal, not weakened. When I look at the screencaps of his face as he suffers under the cry of the Witch-king (more to come in the second part), I think of this book moment, so crucial for understanding Frodo's growth as a character.







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~*~








Related Entries:


~ Minas Morgul Pt. 1: The Dead City.


~ Minas Morgul Pt. 2: ‘No one will ever know', with jan-u-wine's "Moon Tower".





Tables of Links:



~ Entries with jan-u-wine's poems.


~ All Frodo and Elijah screencaps.



~ Mechtild


Comments:


ms_banazira at 2007-06-23 20:39 (UTC) (Link)
This is another of those scenes where I miss Frodo's defiance. I would really have liked to see him discover the starglass, and find it's strength again. Also I can clearly picture a dramatic moment where the WiKi is riding straight at him, senses the power of the vial, and then leaps over and away from him. That would have been so cool! But since the WiKi is riding one of those flying things rather than a horse, it wouldnt have worked so well. Besides, I suppose using the starglass twice in rapid succession would have been redundant.

I never find Frodo at all appealing in the scene where the WiKi flys over, and he shrinks back against the rock clutching his shoulder. To me he his face looks like it ought to appear next to the definition of "nauseated" in the dictionary! I have to concentrate on Sam's attempts to lend him support, or I can literally begin to feel quite queasy myself!
ms_banazira at 2007-06-23 20:41 (UTC) (Link)
Which is not to say that EJW doesn't do a fabulous job of acting in that scene! It just reminds of how pain can sometimes make you feel ill, and it's uncomfortable to see.
Mechtild
mechtild at 2007-06-23 21:06 (UTC) (Link)
To me he his face looks like it ought to appear next to the definition of "nauseated" in the dictionary!

You're right, Honey. He does look almost physically ill, and people do actually vomit from terror and stress. But I think it works beautifully here in the film. Somewhat in answer to your second comment, you are also right that Frodo lacks defiance in the scene. But that would be book Frodo.

Think where the screenwriters are taking Frodo in this scene. (I'll be repeating a lot of this when I get to "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol"; sorry.) They are *not* preparing viewers to see Frodo pass through the black of Shelob's tunnel, choking on the smell and nearly owerwhelmed by terror, but going ahead anyway, with Frodo finally confronting Shelob, forcing her back through sheer will, with Sting drawn and the Lady's glass held aloft. That would be book Frodo.

Film Frodo is going to be shown so stressed, so exhausted, and so beaten down, that he is going to become temporarily unhinged on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol. In fact, he is going to be shown accepting Gollum's outrageous claim that Sam has eaten not some but *all* of their provisions—weeks away from Mt. Doom—telling his best friend and servant to "go home"—right there in the middle of No-hobbit's Land. How could this scene work (and I think it does work in the context of the film) if they hadn't prepared for it? This scene [of Frodo going to pieces on the side of the pass] prepares for it excellently.

Again, it's not the book, but it works well in the film. Think of it as a scene from an ultra-angsty fanfic rather than from the book. *g*
ms_banazira at 2007-06-23 23:40 (UTC) (Link)
Ultra-angsty, ultra-expensive fanfic!

Yeah, *le sigh* I know this was film Frodo, not our beloved book Frodo. Someday someone's going to succeed in making those films right. But until then...
mechling at 2007-06-23 23:50 (UTC) (Link)
Ultra-angsty, ultra-expensive fanfic!

Ha ha! Yeah, it was expensive all right. But cheap for a three-part spectacular of rare quality. :)

~ Mechtild
(Deleted comment)
Mechtild
mechtild at 2007-06-23 23:20 (UTC) (Link)
I find them that way, too, Mews. "Wrenching"--that's a great word for the feeling, very literally applied in this case. I feel as though my insides are being pulled out, watching him suffer so nakedly, so unprettily in this scene.
Shirebound
shirebound at 2007-06-23 21:39 (UTC) (Link)
That's a stunning scene. And anyone who's only seen it on TV can never appreciate that amazing silence just before the green light and thunder shoots out of the tower.
Prim
primula_baggins at 2007-06-23 22:27 (UTC) (Link)
Yes! That's what I was trying to comment on below too. That sudden silence and then the woosh! of the thunder going up from the tower was amazing. That's one thing I miss when watching it at home, not being able to get that effect. Maybe I need a home theater surround sound or something.
: D
Mechtild
mechtild at 2007-06-23 23:21 (UTC) (Link)
It *is* a fantastic rendition of what's described in the book scene. It's not exactly the same, but boy does it work. The reaction shot in Minas Tirith showing Pippin and Gandalf's view of the same thing, makes it doubly effective.
Prim
primula_baggins at 2007-06-23 22:24 (UTC) (Link)
Oh yes, this is one my favorites scenes in the movie too. This plus the part when the thunder bolt goes up from the tower! I loved that in the theater because the sound of it almost made my chair shake, and it make my body shake for certain. Loved it.

I agree with you on the Wizard of Oz comparison here too. There was this scene and a couple of other ones that were WOZ-ish, I thought. Although, I'm at a loss for what the other ones were right now.


I read elsewhere how in the book the Dark City was really much further away than shown in the movie, but of course, for practical purposes they made it seem only a short bridge away in the movie. I love how they made the city look though. That green glow was wonderful.

Gee, you've made me want to go watch it now. : )
Mechtild
mechtild at 2007-06-23 23:36 (UTC) (Link)
I read elsewhere how in the book the Dark City was really much further away than shown in the movie, but of course, for practical purposes they made it seem only a short bridge away in the movie.

Everything was much farther away in the book. They concentrated the landscape in the film the way they concentrated the time frame. But I thought it worked well for the film. The only place I really missed the sense of the time involved was during Frodo and Sam's slog across the plains of Mordor. I suppose they thought it would be too dull, but the weeks they spent in the book really let Frodo and Sam (and Gollum, actually) show their hobbity stuff, having to march on and on in terrible circumstances with no food and finally no water, and STILL make it there. "Soft as butter" they look, but turn out to endure longer than Men.

I loooove that thunder-lightning bolt zooming up to pieces, especially as underscored by Pippin's great reaction shot to it from the balcony in Minas Tirith.
Prim
primula_baggins at 2007-06-24 01:08 (UTC) (Link)
Well yeah, I'm sure most audiences would have been bored by Frodo and Sam's slog across the plains of Mordor, plus it would have added a lot of time to an already long movie, but that is one of my favorite parts of the book. Possibly *the* most favorite part. If they put the entire book in there, it'd be 100 hours long! lol!
Mechtild
mechtild at 2007-06-24 02:23 (UTC) (Link)
...that is one of my favorite parts of the book.

I'm with you! But I can see why they shortened the scene (although I still think they could have shown the extent of the hobbits' monumental slog a lot better, even in only one or two minutes, if it were the right moments of screen time).
Claudia's Cove
claudia603 at 2007-06-23 22:57 (UTC) (Link)
Wow. This scene is just so beautiful and stunning and horrifying. Frodo's suffering is so evident!
Mechtild
mechtild at 2007-06-23 23:37 (UTC) (Link)
I agree with you 100%, Claudia. This is some scene. I adore the Witch-king on the fell beast perched up on the wall, too, even just the way the beast's wing folds and bends against it. It's so great! Bravos to all the artists involved.
pearlette
pearlette at 2007-06-24 17:15 (UTC) (Link)
This scene kicks serious ass. I just LOVE it when Minas Morgul explodes into deadly life and that deadly green light goes shooting up from the Tower of the Dead City. I loved how the cinema just SHOOK with the sound and the vibration! Whoaaahh Nellie!

merylmarie once remarked that Film Minas Morgul reminded her of the Ringwraiths' version of Las Vegas, which tickled me pink. I can totally see that. :D

Not a Frodo-swooning scene for me. I swoon instead for that fabulous Sound Editing (which so richly deserved its Oscar!)

And, like Honey, I sadly miss Book Fro's small unseen defiance of the Witch-King which is so crucial to his resistance of the evil of the Ring - and so crucial in the War of the Ring. I love this great Frodo-moment and I can't help but mourn its loss. That would have made wonderful cinema too. It is amazing that PJ missed opportunities like this, in an otherwise simply awesome scene ...

and yet he did other things so fantastically well. I mean, look at the attention to detail here. The film-makers even include those deathly white flowers from the Morgul Vale!

Mechtild
mechtild at 2007-06-24 21:18 (UTC) (Link)
And, like Honey, I sadly miss Book Fro's small unseen defiance of the Witch-King which is so crucial to his resistance of the evil of the Ring - and so crucial in the War of the Ring. I love this great Frodo-moment and I can't help but mourn its loss. That would have made wonderful cinema too.

Yeah, I miss it or I wouldn't have posted the excerpt here and petted it. But as I said to Honey, PJ et al clearly were going somewhere else with the Frodo line of their story. Considering what it turned out to be, I thought this version of Frodo made perfect sense.

Ring-wraith Las Vegas--that's hilarious! I'm sorry I never knew Merylmarie at all. She must have a great sense of humour.

And there were little white flowers? In which views, Pearl? I have never noticed them. Maybe I was too busy being wowed by the actors and the super-duper light that shoots up into the sky and the Witch-king's Fell Beast perched on the wall bellowing. (The Beast should get an award for this scene.) And yes, the sound editors were awesome in this scene.
pearlette
pearlette at 2007-06-25 08:18 (UTC) (Link)
I think the Witch King's fell beast is kind of cute. :D In a big bad monster bellowing sort of way. :p I love the expression on its face as it bellows from the Morgul Tower - it looks so incredibly smug and pleased with itself!

I too missed the Morgul-blooms, until my friend Elwen pointed them out to me on a subsequent viewing of ROTK. As Frodo, Sam and Gollum first cautiously creep up to the road to peer in dread at Minas Morgul, you will see the white Morgul-flowers in the vale, behind the hobbits ... to the right of the screen, I think.
Mechtild
mechtild at 2007-06-25 09:15 (UTC) (Link)
It *does* look rather self-satisfied, you're right! LOL! I commented to someone somewhere I also loved the way the artists had his wings bend and bow as he steadied himself against the wall as he perched.

As Frodo, Sam and Gollum first cautiously creep up to the road to peer in dread at Minas Morgul, you will see the white Morgul-flowers in the vale, behind the hobbits ... to the right of the screen, I think.

Ooooh, thanks! I am definitely going to look!
Whiteling
whiteling at 2007-06-25 11:16 (UTC) (Link)
However, so deeply does the sight of him suffering in this scene move me, even my feelings of desire are overwhelmed. Whether his tears are his own or produced by a tear stick (EW confessed that he had a great deal of difficulty producing actual tears), the sight of his filthy face covered with the sweat of fear and exertion, his nose running, his eyes spilling with tears, work together to kill me. But only nearly: I am always ready to be killed again by his next ordeal.

Same here. *sob* *sniffle*
Your mention of Aeschylus struck me since it gave me the connection to the art work (again!) Frodo's agony in this scene I feel reminded of. It's the ancient Roman marble copy of a lost ancient Greek statue which depicts a dying Celt: "The Dying Gaul" -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dying_Gaul
I've seen a copy it in a museum once and recall how deeply I was moved by it. Frodo would have been a similar brave Gaul (one with hairy feet though).
Mechtild
mechtild at 2007-06-25 11:37 (UTC) (Link)
Great art comparison, Whiteling! I read the entry and was surprised to read that the Gauls actually were reported by Romans to fight naked. One of the reasons I had not gone to see "300" (besides the gore) was that the warriors wore no useful protection (in "300" they wear athletic supporters but no body armour, only huge action-hero capes which no doubt would hamper not help in a fight). But if the Gauls--or some Gauls--fought unprotected, I suppose even Kiera Knightley's "King Arthur" costume, in which the only useful feature was that her breasts were held down by a piece of strapping (a woman doesn't want to be painfully bouncing around while running, even a woman as small-breasted as Knightley), might be plausible.
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