In the third "Dead Marshes" post, screencaps, screenplay, and related book excerpts are presented for the EE scene in which Gollum complains of his hunger and Frodo tosses him lembas. An essay precedes the screencaps.
Tolkien’s depiction of the Dead Marshes.
I love Tolkien’s descriptive writing at all times, but it’s exceptional in the Dead Marshes. In the short passage below, he chooses words that say a lot with great economy. Notions of rankness and decay abound, along with a sense of pale, insubstantial, thinness, combining the sense of death and rot with ghostliness.
I thought the art designers and set people did a great job conveying a sense of the book setting, helped by the digital grading that bled most of the colour out of the landscape. Unfortunately it bled all the colour out of the hobbits, too (who are the only really living things in the Dead Marshes), but that was probably unavoidable. Even the lighting turned out well. I remember hearing in one of the production Extras that on the day they shot the outdoor views of the Marshes it had been really sunny. They had to bring the sunlight down in postproduction. But the final effect of bleary sunshine, barely eking its way through the mists, wan and pale, makes the film Marshes that much more unwholesome and eerie. Even the sun is obscured and oppressed there, as if the sun itself could be drained of life.
Book scene: The description of the land, from The Passage of the Marshes.It was dreary and wearisome. Cold clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of the livid weed on the dark greasy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long-forgotten summers.
As the day wore on the light increased a little, and the mists lifted, growing thinner and more transparent. Far above the rot and vapours of the world the Sun was riding high and golden now in a serene country with floors of dazzling foam, but only a passing ghost of her could they see below, bleared, pale, giving no colour and no warmth…..
There was a deep silence, only scraped on its surfaces by the faint quiver of empty seed plumes, and broken grass-blades trembling in small air-movements they could not feel.
‘Not a bird!’ said Sam mournfully.
‘No, no birds,’ said Gollum. ‘Nice birds!’ He licked his teeth. ‘No birds here. There are snakeses, wormses, things in the pools. Lots of things, lots of nasty things. No birds,’ he ended sadly. Sam looked at him with distaste.
Although Ted Naismith did not work on the films, I thought Peter Jackson must have liked the look of his vision for the Dead Marshes. The film scenes of the three wending their way through the bogs very much recall the look of Naismith's illustration.
Ted Naismith’s version of the Dead Marshes:
Book scene: The giving of lembas to Gollum, from The Passage of the Marshes.‘We must take a little food,’ said Frodo. ‘Are you hungry, Sméagol? We have very little to share, but we will spare you what we can.’
At the word hungry a greenish light was kindled in Gollum’s pale eyes, and they seemed to protrude further than ever from his thin sickly face. For a moment he relapsed into his old Gollum-manner. ‘We are famisshed, yes famisshed we are, precious,’ he said. ‘What is it they eats? Have they nice fisshes?’ His tongue lolled out between his sharp yellow teeth, licking his colourless lips.
‘No, we have got no fish,’ said Frodo. ‘We have only got this’—he held up a wafer of lembas—’and water, if the water here is fit to drink.’
‘Yess, yess, nice water,’ said Gollum. ‘Drink it, drink it, while we can! But what is it they’ve got, precious? Is it crunchable? Is it tasty? ‘
Frodo broke off a portion of a wafer and handed it to him on its leaf-wrapping. Gollum sniffed at the leaf and his face changed: a spasm of disgust came over it, and a hint of his old malice. ‘Sméagol smells it! ‘he said. ‘Leaves out of the elf-country, gah! They stinks. He climbed in those trees, and he couldn’t wash the smell off his hands, my nice hands.’ Dropping the leaf, he took a corner of the lembas and nibbled it. He spat, and a fit of coughing shook him.
‘Ach! No!’ he spluttered. ‘You try to choke poor Sméagol. Dust and ashes, he can’t eat that. He must starve. But Sméagol doesn’t mind. Nice hobbits! Sméagol has promised. He will starve. He can’t eat hobbits’ food. He will starve. Poor thin Sméagol! ‘
‘I’m sorry,’ said Frodo; ‘but I can’t help you, I’m afraid. I think this food would do you good, if you would try. But perhaps you can’t even try, not yet anyway.’
The hobbits munched their lembas in silence. Sam thought that it tasted far better, somehow, than it had for a good while: Gollum’s behaviour had made him attend to its flavour again. But he did not feel comfortable. Gollum watched every morsel from hand to mouth, like an expectant dog by a diner’s chair. Only when they had finished and were preparing to rest, was he apparently convinced that they had no hidden dainties that he could share in. Then he went and sat by himself a few paces away and whimpered a little.
Below is the screenplay for the EE scene in which Frodo offers Gollum food. Although I have posted it out of film sequence, the EE scene is actually placed early in the Dead Marshes, before Frodo takes his plunge in the corpse-haunted water or secretly courts the Ring.
Film script for the scene: from the EE of TTT:Sam, Frodo, and Gollum pause to rest in the dry grass. Sam scowls at the place, and at Gollum, who sits moping a few yards off, moaning pitifully about the state of his hunger. Apparently deep in his own thoughts, Frodo munches the piece of waybread Sam has handed him, not paying much attention to either of them.
Sam: I hate this place. It's too quiet. There hasn't been sight nor sound of a bird for two days.
Gollum: No, no birdses to eat. No crunchable birdses. We are famished! Yes! Famished, we are, precious!
Frodo glances Gollum’s way when he says that he is famished, and watches with mild interest as Gollum seizes and swallows a large worm. Sam stops eating and gives a disgusted look. Frodo breaks off a piece of his lembas.
Frodo tosses the piece in Gollum’s direction. It falls several feet short, landing in the grass. Gollum scuttles over to find it. Taking it up eagerly, he turns it over in his hands examining it.
Gollum: What does it eats? Is it tasty?
Gollum bites into it but starts choking, spitting it into the grass. Sam casts him a dark look, but Frodo goes back to his private thoughts.
Gollum: It tries to chokes us! We can't eats Hobbit food! We must starve!
Sam: (Casting a hard glance at Gollum) Well, starve then. And good riddance.
Gollum takes up his plaint in more tragic tones, moving a bit closer, addressing Sam.
Gollum: Oh, cruel Hobbit. It does not care if we be hungry. Does not care if we should die.
Gollum turns his attention Frodo, creeping closer. Frodo notices and casts him a reluctant, sidelong glance.
Gollum: Not like Master. Master cares. Master knows. Yes. Precious.
At the word “Precious,” Gollum’s eyes have fastened to the place where the Ring lies under Frodo’s shirt, Frodo’s hand tentatively reaching for it, clutching it through his shirt protectively. Gollum continues to stare at Frodo’s shirt front, clutching his own hand, mirror-like, over his bony chest.
Gollum:….Once it takes hold of us, it never lets go.
As if mesmerized, Gollum’s hand lifts, his fingers stretching softly towards Frodo’s breast where he still clutches the shirt-covered Ring. Frodo bats Gollum’s hand away.
Frodo: Don't touch me!
Gollum, looking surprised and stricken, falls back. Frodo, his breaths coming quickly, gives Gollum a furtive glance as he crawls away to lie dejected in the grass. Sam returns to his broody munching and Frodo again stares into the middle distance.
The film scene.
There are many things I don’t like about this film scene, but I appreciate that it picks up some of the mood, the hobbits eating in silence, Gollum's hunger, Gollum going off to whimper afterwards. Best is the way it develops the problematic relationship between Frodo and Gollum. Coming in the film as it does before Gollum saves Frodo and the scene in the night, in which Frodo presses Gollum to remember his old identity, it's the first strong statement of the dark, Ring-based psychological kinship between the film characters. Yet the scene always comes across to me as essentially odd, not quite fitting with the rest of the film.
In screencapping this sequence—which necessarily requires stopping and assessing to an unnatural degree—I came to the conclusion that some of the oddness of the way it plays comes from insufficient advance planning on the part of the screenwriter-filmmakers.
The finished scene turns out to be a showcase of Gollum's acting ability, as if he had come downstage in an opera house to sing his big aria. He almost literally takes the stage, filling the foreground as he strikes histrionic poses, lifting his voice to the heavens as he states his case. The hobbits are almost entirely shown in the background as Gollum emotes. Subsequently, they seem markedly disconnected from what Gollum is saying and doing. Not only are they more distant visually, they simply don't appear to be in the same scene. Sam has a few stock scowling looks, but it's basically sit-and-munch.
Frodo, apart from a couple of very brief, affect-less glances in Gollum's direction, does not look at him at all. He sits like a lump on his tussock, munching and thinking in his own unspecified mental world like a broody hen on its nest, or someone sitting bored and dissatisfied on a toilet. Perhaps he needed a magazine? When Gollum is flailing about, making moan about how cruel the hobbits are and how hungry he is, Frodo pays no attention, continuing to munch absently on his wafer. His body language remains unchanged, too, parked on his toilet-tussock, literally unmoved.
The exceptions are the close-ups: reaction shots that follow specific moments in Gollum's monologue. As for the rest of the scene, all the non-reacting going on in the longer shots could be meant to show that Frodo was dispirited or broody or deep in thought. But I suspect that when they shot the footage of Frodo and Sam sitting in the grass munching their waybread, they just didn’t know precisely what they were going to have Gollum do or say. “Right, lads! In this scene Gollum is going to go on about how hungry he is, erm, basically over here… The script girl will read the lines we’ve got so far. Just give it your best shot and we'll add whatever we need later.” I'm guessing that's the sort of direction the actors received.* They used tennis balls in countless blue screen scenes to show where actors were to look, in order to relate to characters speaking and moving around who were not really there, but the tennis ball seemed more vaguely placed in this one.
[* See note below: my conjecture was wrong.]
In the finished film, Gollum moves around a good deal as he emotes and flails, but the hobbits don’t seem really to see or hear him, even when they are looking his way. I think the close-up reaction shots were all edited in later, after they had completed Gollum's part of the scene. But when I'm watching the film, the sense remains that the hobbits are inexplicably unaffected by what is a very pitiful picture of Gollum in the scene, almost as if he didn't exist. And, in a way, I suppose he didn't.
Only in the scene’s closing—which is truly excellent, when Gollum draws near saying, “Master cares, Master knows”—does Frodo seem fully brought into the scene. Sam has had his disgusted close-up after he watches Gollum swallow the worm, but Frodo hasn't really connected with what's going on in a convincing way. The "Master knows" scene is shot in a series of excellent alternating close-ups of Frodo and Gollum. It certainly seems as though Frodo is playing off specific lines and gestures, perhaps (by then) provided by Andy Serkis himself. And the scene works. It does much to establish in a fascinating way the dark, Ring-based psychological kinship that is part of all of Frodo and Gollum’s future scenes. The connection between them is made in the viewers' minds, which by itself justifies the scene’s inclusion.
It’s a shame this intense, taut encounter ends with Frodo’s weak (dramatically speaking) batting-away gesture as he tells Gollum not to touch him. It is only conjecture, but I am guessing that the batting-away gesture was the result of the film-makers not knowing precisely where Gollum’s body was going to be when the scene was completed. Frodo bats Gollum’s hand away (rather than seizing his wrist or something other gesture that would be more defined and strong) so that the CGI team would have more leeway showing when his hand made contact with Gollum's.
That is perhaps why Frodo tossed the lembas into the grass, too: because it made it easier to show Gollum receiving it that way. It would be far more technically involved to show the giving of the waybread as described in the book, transferring it from one hand to the other. It would be much simpler to show the piece falling into an unseen location between the tussocks. Then Gollum could lift it from wherever it had landed, the piece only then reappearing in his CGI’d hand.
But how much stronger it would have been, as cinema, to have had Frodo hand the bread to Gollum, who would receive it on his outstretched hand, preferably in close-up. Visually, it would have been a sort of “Sistine Ceiling moment”, right there in the middle of the Dead Marshes. (I am thinking of the famous painted image of the creation of Adam, in which the outstretched hand of God touches the fingertip of Adam, giving him the gift of life.)
Apart from the visual aspect, the tossing of the lembas spoiled a beautiful book moment for me. In the book scene, Frodo offers Gollum his waybread the way any well-bred person would offer another a share of his food. But film Frodo tosses the lembas to Gollum as if Gollum were a dog, as well as letting something Frodo believed precious and rare—the Elvish way-bread—land in “dead grasses and rotting reeds”. Frodo would never do this: either failing to hand food to someone else in a courteous manner, or tossing lembas on the ground. However loathsome Frodo found Gollum, and however stern Frodo could be to him, he was never discourteous or contemptuous to him. And whatever Frodo did or didn't think were the otherworldly properties of waybread, he would never have treated a gift of the Elves with such disregard.
Beyond the matters of courtesy and the way the waybread was handled, that film Frodo did not get up to go over to Gollum only emphasized the viewer's impression of him as static in the scene. If he had even attempted to rise, or reach far enough to offer the bread properly, he would have projected more dramatic energy. It would have been better by far than watching him chewing, sitting like a lump, stuck to his tussock as if his breeches were glued to it. (Like "little Miss Muffet" upon her tuffet, whom only a spider could frighten away.)* ETA note: On 12-07-07, not_alone posted a fascinating entry in her series on the making of the films, Ch. 12, The Filming of the Dead Marshes. Scrolling down to the appropriate images, one can see from the production shots that Andy Serkis was present for the filming of this scene, acting the part of Gollum throughout. Thus, if the finished sequence makes it appear that Gollum wasn’t actually in the same scene as Frodo and Sam, it is the fault of those actors, not the lack of a real Gollum, or, perhaps, the direction they received.
As usual, the screencaps of this scene have been cropped, as well as adjusted for brightness, contrast and focus. I'm sure my fellow Frodo fans will deeply appreciate the close-ups of Frodo, when he seems truly engaged in the scene, Gollum coming close and saying, "Master knows...."
~ Gollum complains of hunger as Sam and Frodo eat...
Most Recent Entries:
~ The Dead marshes, Pt. 2: 'Who are you?"—Frodo tries to revive Gollum's memory of Sméagol.
~ The Dead Marshes, Pt. 1: "So bright... So beautiful..." plus jan-u-wine's poem of the same name.
~ The Emyn Muil, Pt. 3-b ~ "You know the way to Mordor."
~ The Emyn Muil, Pt. 3-a ~ “I do pity him.”