All in all, I think the film scenes for Gorgoroth are very, very good. They are truncated, it is true, due to the screenwriters’ need to compress so much material into a few brief scenes. There are moments and nuances missing that I love. Still, I think the filmmakers did wonderfully well.
The production values are excellent for the Gorgoroth sequences, too. The actors are at the top of their form, the music supports the drama with emotional power, the make-up and costuming people detail the characters’ deterioration with care. The cinematographer and art design team produce frame after frame that look like art masterpieces. What’s not to love? [And, yes, the swoon appeal of Frodo drinking from that waterskin, seen out of context, does not escape me. :)]
Yet there’s nothing like the book. However splendid the film, the book’s scenes offer the depth and complexity that only the written word can give. The book excerpts below appear in sequence, but there are bits missing (which will be used for upcoming screencaps in the series; the film scenes jumble the sequences somewhat). Gaps in the text are indicated by ellipses [...] or larger spaces between paragraphs.
To illuminate the waterskin caps I have chosen passages that portray the hobbits’ thirst, and weariness. Sam’s extended "soliloquy”, passages threaded through the chapter in which he comes to grips with the likelihood that there will be no return journey, form the centre.
The film could not include the soliloquy (superbly acted, by the way, by Bill Nighy in the BBC radio production of LotR), but a good deal of Sam’s perceptions come through on screen. Re-watching this scene attentively, making the caps, it occurred to me that in spite of the fact that Frodo's face is in the foreground, receiving most of the close-ups, it is Sam’s subtly played reactions that give the film scene its poignant power. Whatever Sean Astin was told to play, the expressions on his face as he watches Frodo drink the last (or nearly the last) of their water show much of what Sam is thinking in the book.
I also want to note how much I appreciate the section (from Sam’s POV) reflecting on the uncanny merits of lembas bread—all the more reason not to go flinging it into the dirt in the Dead Marshes (per the EE version of TTT).[T]his waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.
Book scene: Excerpts from Mount Doom.
Sam tried to guess the distances and to decide what way they ought to take. ‘It looks every step of fifty miles,’ he muttered gloomily, staring at the threatening mountain, ‘and that’ll take a week, if it takes a day, with Mr. Frodo as he is.’ He shook his head, and as he worked things out, slowly a new dark thought grew in his mind. Never for long had hope died in his staunch heart, and always until now he had taken some thought for their return. But the bitter truth came home to him at last: at best their provision would take them to their goal; and when the task was done, there they would come to an end, alone, houseless, foodless in the midst of a terrible desert. There could be no return.
‘So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started,’ thought Sam: ‘to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him? Well, if that is the job then I must do it….
But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength. Sam’s plain hobbit-face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue….
So the desperate journey went on, as the Ring went south and the banners of the king rode north. For the hobbits each day, each mile, was more bitter than the one before, as their strength lessened and the land became more evil. They met no enemies by day. At times by night, as they cowered or drowsed uneasily in some hiding beside the road, they heard cries and the noise of many feet or the swift passing of some cruelly ridden steed. But far worse than all such perils was the ever-approaching threat that beat upon them as they went: the dreadful menace of the Power that waited, brooding in deep thought and sleepless malice behind the dark veil about its Throne. Nearer and nearer it drew, looming blacker, like the oncoming of a wall of night at the last end of the world.
There came at last a dreadful nightfall; and even as the Captains of the West drew near to the end of the living lands, the two wanderers came to an hour of blank despair. Four days had passed since they had escaped from the orcs, but the time lay behind them like an ever-darkening dream….
Now as the blackness of night returned Frodo sat, his head between his knees, his arms hanging wearily to the ground where his hands lay feebly twitching. Sam watched him, till night covered them both and hid them from one another. He could no longer find any words to say; and he turned to his own dark thoughts. As for himself, though weary and under a shadow of fear, he still had some strength left. The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled wit the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind. But now a new decision must be made. They could not follow this road any longer; for it went on eastward into the great Shadow, but the Mountain now loomed upon their right, almost due south, and they must turn towards it. Yet still before it there stretched a wide region of fuming, barren, ash-ridden land.
‘Water, water!’ muttered Sam. He had stinted himself, and in his parched mouth his tongue seemed thick and swollen; but for all his care they now had very little left, perhaps half his bottle, and maybe there were still days to go. All would long ago have been spent, if they had not dared to follow the orc-road. For at long intervals on that highway cisterns had been built for the use of troops sent in haste through the waterless regions. In one Sam had found some water left, stale and muddied by orcs, but still sufficient for their desperate case. Yet that was now a day ago. There was no hope for any more.
At last wearied with his cares Sam drowsed, leaving the morrow till it came; he could do no more. Dream and waking mingled uneasily. He saw lights like gloating eyes, and dark creeping shapes, and he heard noises as of wild beasts or the dreadful cries of tortured things; and he would start up to find the world all dark and only empty blackness all about him. Once only, as he stood and stared wildly round, did it seem that, though now awake, he could still see pale lights like eyes; but soon they flickered and vanished.
At their last halt [Frodo] sank down and said: 'I'm thirsty, Sam,' and did not speak again. Sam gave him a mouthful of water; only one more mouthful remained. He went without himself; and now as once more the night of Mordor closed over them, through all his thoughts came the memory of water; and every brook or stream or fount that he had ever seen, under green willow-shades or twinkling in the sun, danced and rippled for his torment behind the blindness of his eyes. He felt the cool mud about his toes as he paddled in the Pool at Bywater with Jolly Cotton and Tom and Nibs, and their sister Rosie. ‘But that was years ago,’ he sighed, ‘and far away. The way back, if there is one, goes past the Mountain.’
He could not sleep and he held a debate with himself. ‘Well, come now, we’ve done better than you hoped,’ he said sturdily. ‘Began well, anyway. I reckon we crossed half the distance before we stopped. One more day will do it.’ And then he paused.
‘Don’t be a fool, Sam Gamgee,’ came an answer in his own voice. ‘He won’t go another day like that, if he moves at all. And you can’t go on much longer giving him all the water and most of the food.’
‘I can go on a good way though, and I will.’
‘To the Mountain, of course.’
‘But what then, Sam Gamgee, what then? When you get there, what are you going to do? He won’t be able to do anything for himself.’
To his dismay Sam realized that he had not got an answer to this. He had no clear idea at all. Frodo had not spoken much to him of his errand, and Sam only knew vaguely that the Ring had somehow to be put into the fire. ‘The Cracks of Doom,’ he muttered, the old name rising to his mind. ‘Well, if Master knows how to find them, I don’t.’
‘There you are!’ came the answer. ‘It’s all quite useless. He said so himself. You are the fool, going on hoping and toiling. You could have lain down and gone to sleep together days ago, if you hadn’t been so dogged. But you’ll die just the same, or worse. You might just as well lie down now and give it up. You’ll never get to the top anyway.’
‘I’ll get there, if I leave everything but my bones behind,’ said Sam. ‘And I’ll carry Mr. Frodo up myself, if it breaks my back and my heart. So stop arguing!’
Film Scene:Leaning against a rock, Frodo tries to drink some water, but there is none left in his bottle.
Sam: Take mine. There's a few drops left.
Sam watches as Frodo drinks.
Frodo: There'll be none left for the return journey.
Entries in the ‘Gorgoroth Revisited’ series:
~ Gorgoroth Revisited 1a: “None Left”.
~ Gorgoroth Revisited 1b: ‘No Return Journey’.
~ Gorgoroth Revisited Pt. 2: Frodo falls, plus jan-u-wine’s “Where You Are Bound”.
~ Gorgoroth Revisited Pt. 3a: ‘Do you remember the Shire’, plus jan-u-wine’s “Another Sunless Dawn”.
~ Gorgoroth Revisited Pt. 3b: ‘Let us be rid of it’, plus jan-u-wine’s “The Last Hours”.
Other RotK entries:
Tables of Links: