While I was writing my long essay for the introductory post ("Why I fell for Frodo in the Sammath Naur") I was also working on the posts for this series, in which there will be ten parts.
I don't plan to talk at such great length in these, trying rather to let the texts and images, and jan-u-wine's poems, speak for themselves (although Jan's poems will not appear until Pt. 3).
The Sammath Naur is a scene I decided to present in caps made from the fullscreen version. For those who missed the entry comparing fullscreen to widescreen, I've taken a pair of frames from that post to use as illustrations below.
If you look carefully, you'll note that in the fullscreen version, while the image loses its sides, it gains the top and bottom of the frame originally shot, which is under the black bars visible in the widescreen screencap. The black bars mask the top and bottom of the frame, effectively cropping the original camera frame, turning the standard widescreen format into the ultra-widescreen one used in LotR.
Thus the fullscreen image ends up looking bigger, closer, and fuller. The widescreen format offers a much better sense of place, as can be seen in the two frames below that are shot from a distance, but, since the point of this series is to look at Frodo's face as closely as possible, to appreciate not only its beauty but its expressiveness, I thought fullscreen was the better choice.
1. Screencap from the widescreen theatrical version:
2. Screencap from the fullscreen version, created for TV:
For an extended comparison between fullscreen and widescreen LotR formats, click here.
Below is a book excerpt for the scene. I have so many caps, there is not enough book scene to go with each entry, so some entries will have no book text. The film script, too, consists of very few lines, so I have simply placed each line where it goes in the sequence of caps.
Before I present the caps, I want to say how brilliantly I think they shot the opening of this scene. When Sam enters the Sammath Naur, the first we see of Frodo is a small, solitary shape; a still, indistinct figure standing in the midst of swirling clouds of steam. I think this image vividly portrays Frodo's inner state, and without using any words. At the critical moment Frodo is alone, in crisis, his feelings unclear; and the forces he's facing are daunting.
After Sam's reaction shot the camera pulls away, giving a view from high up (the Valar's eye-view?). Pull-away shots are done periodically throughout the sequence, to remind viewers of the setting, but also of the scale of what is happening internally for the characters. Frodo and Sam are two tiny, lone figures set in a vast, cataclysmic expanse.
Even more brilliant, to me, is the way they make the pull-away shot say so much. The tiny figure of Sam enters, the light from the outside world streaming in behind him (the light of truth? sanity? reality?), its whiteness providing a contrast to the murk in the chamber, which it pierces. Sam's figure is small but distinct. Frodo's figure, on the other hand, standing at the edge of the Crack of Doom, looks vague and gauzy, obscured by the mist and rising heat. Ostensibly, Frodo stands on the brink of the abyss in order to cast in the Ring. But the long shot gives the visual impression of Frodo as someone who is radically isolated, "out on a limb". The impression is intensified by the way Sam, having pelted the rest of the way up the mountain and rushed in the entrance, stops, suddenly hesitant. He can see at once that Frodo is in some sort of critical state internally, or he would have run right up to him. But Sam doesn't, he hangs back, like an emergency rescue worker who doesn't want to alarm a jumper. What a shot.
Although I didn't consider it during my viewings of the film, making the caps it struck me how potent this moment was, symbolically. Sam, coming in from the light and reality outside, the world of clear choices, finds Frodo standing on the brink of doom, in the mist, in a spectral world half-hidden by the swirling vapours and jets of steam rising out of the pit of the Ring's beginnings. It's really a superb opening—done with no lines at all—establishing subliminally for the viewer what no dialogue could convey.
Here are two widescreen frames from the opening, demonstrating what I am talking about:
~*~Book scene, from Mount Doom.
The path climbed on. Soon it bent again and with a last eastward course passed in a cutting along the face of the cone and came to the dark door in the Mountain’s side, the door of the Sammath Naur. Far away now rising towards the South the sun, piercing the smokes and haze, burned ominous, a dull bleared disc of red; but all Mordor lay about the Mountain like a dead land, silent, shadow-folded, waiting for some dreadful stroke.
Sam came to the gaping mouth and peered in. It was dark and hot, and a deep rumbling shook the air. ‘Frodo! Master!’ he called. There was no answer. For a moment he stood, his heart beating with wild fears, and then he plunged in. A shadow followed him.
At first he could see nothing. In his great need he drew out once more the phial of Galadriel, but it was pale and cold in his trembling hand and threw no light into that stifling dark. He was come to the heart of the realm of Sauron and the forges of his ancient might, greatest in Middle-earth; all other powers were here subdued. Fearfully he took a few uncertain steps in the dark, and then all at once there came a flash of red that leaped upward, and smote the nigh black roof. Then Sam saw that he was in a long cave or tunnel that bored into the Mountain’s smoking cone. But only a short way ahead its floor and the walls on either side were cloven by a great fissure, out of which the red glare came, no leaping up, now dying down into darkness; and all the while far below there was a rumour and a trouble as of great engines throbbing and labouring.
The light sprang up again, and there on the bring of the chasm, the very Crack of Doom, stood Frodo, black against the glare, tense, erect, but still as if he had been turned to stone.
Frodo: I’m here, Sam.
Sam: Destroy it!
Entries in this series:
~ Sammath Naur Intro: "Why I fell for Frodo” ~ Main essay for series (this essay is friends locked).
~ Sammath Naur 1: ‘I’m here, Sam.’
~ Sammath Naur 2: ‘Throw It in the fire!’
~ Sammath Naur 3: ‘Just let It go!’, plus three poems by jan-u-wine.
~ Sammath Naur 4: ‘The Ring is mine’, plus jan-u-wine’s “That Which Is My Own”.
~ Sammath Naur 5: Gollum Bites, plus jan-u-wine’s “Frodo’s Remembrance of Gollum”.
~ Sammath Naur 6: Gollum Falls, plus essay on Gollum’s oath.
~ Sammath Naur 7: ‘Give Me Your Hand’, plus jan-u-wine’s “Within the Chamber”.
~ Sammath Naur 8: ‘Take my hand’, plus jan-u-wine’s “The Claiming".
~ Sammath Naur 9: ‘Don't you let go’, plus jan-u-wine’s “In the Garden of the Mind".
~ Sammath Naur 10: ‘Reach’, plus jan-u-wine’s “And I Don’t Mean To".
Other Tables of Links: