I loved this EE scene from the first time I saw it. With its mix of wistful regret and deep-breath-before-the-plunge subdued anticipation, I thought the mood perfect. I liked the way it depicted the Elven world, too. Like the Rivendell scenes throughout, it was filmed with elegiac beauty.
The book talked about the Elven places – Lorien, to be specific – as possessing a beauty both immediate and of great antiquity. Besides the impression of purity (in Lorien there was no stain), a major impression was of it being present and remote at the same time. In Lorien, it was as if Frodo were seeing the Elder Days, an age long past, come to life before his waking eyes, he thought; yet it was more alive than anything he’d seen. The colours were ones he knew, yet they seemed fresh and poignant, as if he were seeing them for the first time.
I think the filmmakers gave a sense of this in their Rivendell sequences, rather than in the Lorien scenes, in which they established a very different mood and look from the book: beautiful but eerie, chilly; even threatening.
Perhaps because time seems to be collapsed in the film, the Fellowship doesn’t seem to stay very long at Rivendell. It still seems mild, not cold or wintry, just pleasantly cool, like early autumn. Leaves fell at the Council of Elrond, but the trees in the farewell scene are leafy and green. In the book scene (excerpt below), it’s branch-snapping winter when the Fellowship leaves, December 25th, at the feet of mountains comparable to the Alps. Bilbo chatters seeing them off.
In the film, the look and feel of Rivendell is more like book-Lorien, where the weather is sequestered from winter, soft and mild, the trees still covered with [golden] leaves. In film-Rivendell, the colours are soft but very natural in the early light, as if mist were still rising off the dewy surfaces of everything. There is a softness to the lighting, as if the scene were painted on old parchment, further implying antiquity. But the verdure is green, not autumnal, fresh and alive, like a cool, ferny forest in which no one has yet trod.
Some fans disliked this scene because of Frodo’s last line (“Mordor, Gandalf, is it left or right?”), which they found inane. Well, we know by now that PJ really can’t resist those humorous little touches. I never minded, Frodo is so dear and lovely saying it.
He looks even lovelier, perhaps, in the turning of his head as he walks to the gate. In the opening shots, as Elrond delivers his blessing, Frodo looks much like he did in the Council of Elrond; attentive, resolute, chin up. But then comes the head-turn. I can’t think of images from the three films in which Frodo looks more deer-like. His manner and features are as sensitively and delicately nuanced as a fawn’s, stepping into a clearing by itself for the first time.
As for the “Mordor, Gandalf, is it left or right?” sequence, how can I complain? Yes, Frodo would very well know which way to go when leaving Rivendell, but when he has the face of a Michelangelo, bathed in the dew of the first dawning of the world, I cannot dwell on that. I have interpreted the line as an expression of Frodo’s flusterment, all eyes unaccustomedly upon him – increasingly awed then made resolute by the enormity of what he was doing.*
* ETA: For some excellent observations on appreciating how the "Gandalf, Mordor...?" question can work for viewers, see the comments of chickenlegs and estelanui below.
When I learned to make screencaps, I knew I would one day make caps of this EE sequence, since I have always wanted more shots from this scene than were available on websites. Now I have them. Perhaps some of you have been wanting them, too. As usual, I have cropped, brightened, and sharpened the focus of these images. Since there are 35 caps, it may take a while for some of you to open them all. I apologize, but they are best seen together.
For reference, here are the two versions of the scene, book and film.
Book scene, abridged, from The Ring Goes South:
Their farewells had been said in the great hall by the fire, and they were only waiting now for Gandalf, who had not yet come out of the house. A gleam of firelight came from the open doors, and soft lights were glowing in many windows. Bilbo huddled in a cloak stood silent on the doorstep beside Frodo. Aragorn sat with his head bowed to his knees; only Elrond knew fully what this hour meant to him. The others could be seen as grey shapes in the darkness.
(…) Elrond came out with Gandalf, and he called the Company to him. ‘This is my last word,’ he said in a low voice. ‘The Ring-bearer is setting out on the Quest of Mt. Doom. On him alone is any charge laid: neither to cast away the Ring, nor to deliver it to any servant of the Enemy nor indeed to let any handle it, save members of the Company and the Council, and only then in gravest need. The others go with him as free companions, to help him on his way.’ (…)
‘Good . . . good luck!’ cried Bilbo, stuttering with the cold. ‘I don’t suppose you will be able to keep a diary, Frodo my lad, but I shall expect a full account when you get back. And don’t be too long! Farewell!’
Many others of Elrond’s household stood in the shadows and watched them go, bidding them farewell with soft voices. There was no laughter and no song or music. At last they turned away and faded silently into the dusk.
They crossed the bridge and wound slowly up the long steep paths that led out of the cloven vale of Rivendell; and they came at length to the high moor where the wind hissed through the heather. Then with one glance at the Last Homely House twinkling below them they strode away far into the night.
Film scene, from EE of FotR:
The Fellowship and the elves are gathered in a courtyard in Rivendell [in what appears to be the early morning].
Elrond: The Ringbearer is setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On you who travel with him, no oath nor bond is laid to go further than you will.
Aragorn exchanges looks with Arwen, who looks as if she's going to cry.
Elrond: Farewell. Hold to your purpose. May the blessings of Elves and Men and all Free Folk go with you.
Gandalf: The Fellowship awaits the Ring-bearer.
Frodo looks around at everyone uncomfortably, then starts out on the path.
Frodo: Mordor, Gandalf, is it left or right?
The company follows. Aragorn exchanges a last glance with Arwen.
Scene: The Fellowship departs from Rivendell. They travel through the woods, over open plains and hillsides. They pause on a hill in the wild
~ Elrond's blessing, the head turn and exit through the gate.
~ Riv. 15 – Bilbo's remorse, plus jan-u-wine's 'Rivendell Suite Pt. 8'.