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EE Commentary Transcripts
Retreat to the Hornburg

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Peter: [Retreat to the Hornburg] Some of these, sort of, spectacular wide shots we’re seeing of Helm’s Deep [screen cap] were ones that were added at the very last minute. By the time we thought we were done with cutting the battle scene, there were still some what I called the ‘geography shots’ that I felt were missing, which really showed you where people were and what the situation was within the walls of the castle. I remember, I was in London doing the final bit of cutting, and doing the scoring, and we had, maybe, six weeks to go before we had to finish the film completely, and I picked –. I remember the phone call where I said to Weta, “Listen, I don’t know how you’re going to do it, but I need another seven big Helm’s Deep shots, completely CG shots that just allow us to show more of what’s happening where, so, like, the geographical clarity; and they… there was just this silence on the phone. I mean, I think they all nearly had heart attacks.

Philippa: Oh, my God.

Peter: But they went ahead and they did them, and they’re, like, perfectly great shots: they’re, like, spectacular! And it’s a lot of the big wide shots towards the second half of the battle, where Aragorn’s fighting for his life behind the wall where the big ladders, those big grappling hook siege ladders are being raised up against the Hornburg: it’s key shots which now, I mean, make a huge difference to determine the clarity of what’s going on.

Fran: [Haldir’s death] There’s a beautiful piece of solo singing here from Elizabeth Fraser.

Peter: As Haldir dies.

Peter and

Fran: [together] Yeah.

Philippa: Mmm.

Peter: Because she did the lament for Gandalf in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ [Fran: Mmm.] didn’t she?

Philippa: Mmm hmm.

Peter: And we felt that that was something that – we should repeat that sense of an Elvish lament at that moment, although we did –. We wanted to use something different.

Philippa: The reason Haldir dies is – one of the reasons Haldir dies is – not just to place Aragorn on that wall so he has to make that great escape with the ladder – although that’s pretty cool – it’s also because we wanted to show the price that the Elves had to pay. One of the things that happens, of course, with… An Elf can be killed in battle, otherwise they’re not going to die, so it’s a huge cost to them; and that’s something we wanted to show. And it’s, sort of, honouring the whole thing of Gil-galad in the Last Alliance dying as well: we wanted that to his [?] on that level as well.

Peter: I think a few people get confused about Elves being immortal, but then they can die in battle [Philippa: Mmm.], but they are, basically, living creatures [Philippa: Mmm.], they just simply don’t age: they don’t [Philippa: Mmm.] go through an ageing process. I guess they don’t have disease [Philippa: No, they don’t.] in the way that we have disease, but, of course, if you kill them with a sword, they’re absolutely as capable of dying as we are, aren’t they?

Philippa: We used to have that in the prologue: “Some who were not born to die, whom age nor disease could touch, were slain.”

Peter: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. (beat) [Aragorn and Théoden defend the Gate] I had a lot of fun shooting this Gate stuff: I shot quite a bit of this with Bernard, and I really enjoyed it, actually. It was great work from the stunt-guys, and we did it all handheld to make you try to feel like you were right in amongst it. (beat) [Aragorn and Gimli sneak towards the causeway] This is another example of trying to just keep a battle scene, kind of, based on character and based in a way that you can relate to the people that are involved in it, rather than just having endless fighting, so it’s always very effective just to take some time out and have a little moment between our guys. This was always in our original script: I mean, when we did the Dwarf-tossing gag in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, we knew that this was… I mean, this had already been shot, in actual fact, for ‘The Two Towers’ that was setting up something from the following movie. (beat) I love this shot that’s coming up now [screen cap]. This is a completely CG-shot, with a miniature castle, but all those guys are motion-captured: that’s motion-capture animation. (beat) Filmmakers are in a great position of being able to really show battle scenes of a size and scale and complexity to what you could never ever do. You know, even the biggest battle scenes in movies to date have been with four- or five-thousand extras, but because you have this… these computers and all these little CG-soldiers, there’s no problem putting, you know, ten-thousand, twenty-thousand soldiers on screen now. [Philippa: Hmm.] It’s…

Philippa: It’s extraordinary, isn’t it?

Peter: You know, you can finally show the size and scale.

Fran: Do you think there comes a point when it defeats itself? You know, all these thousands of, sort of, you know, little CG-people flocking around.

Peter: Well so long as it’s telling a story: I mean, it’s all to do with the story, isn’t it, with the narrative? (beat) [Legolas brings down the siege-ladder] That gag didn’t exist until the cutting: Legolas… That was a moment of Legolas firing at that Olympic torch-holder guy, and I came up with the idea that maybe we should involve him in the action more, so I took a shot of him firing his arrow, and we just did a little CG, fake shot of an arrow severing the rope, and then put the shot of the tower falling back in.

Philippa: Orli must have been a bit surprised! [laughs]

Peter: Yeah, he didn’t even know it was there…

Philippa: He didn’t even know he did it!

Peter: [at same time as Philippa] … until he saw it… until the premiere, no he didn’t! (beat) [Aragorn and Gimli grab the rope the escape from the causeway] Kind of like a Douglas Fairbanks moment, isn’t it?

Philippa: [in agreement] Mmmm. (beat) [Man impaled by grappling hook] Oh! That’s a Peter Jackson moment! That thing going through somebody.

Peter: Yeah, well that stunt-man actually broke his leg on that: that was one of the few serious accidents [Philippa: Ooh!] that we had on-set. In fact, it was just about –. The only accident we had shooting Helm’s Deep was the stunt-man that got hit with the grappling hook. He had, like, a jerk wire that pulled him back against the wall, and he just landed awkwardly against the wall [Philippa: Ow! Oh, no.] and broke his leg very badly [Philippa: Ooh.] on that particular shot.

Philippa: [screen cap] Great shot. I…

Peter: Now this is an interesting shot, because this is basically the set that we built in a quarry filmed with a big crane, and half the people, again, are CG and half are real, and the set is being extended with a digital extension blended into the real set: it’s a difficult shot, but it does really sell the idea of what’s happening.

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The Lord of the Rings and its content does not belong to me, it is property of the Tolkien Estate;  the commentaries transcribed here, as well as the images used, are the property of New Line Cinema.