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EE Commentary Transcripts
The Taming of Sméagol

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Peter (cont.): [The Taming of Sméagol] [screen cap] This was shot on a real volcano in New Zealand, called Ruapehu. It’s, sort of, the one place we could find all of these jagged rocks and mountain peaks and… Because the Emyn Muil scene is something that I like in the book as well: the idea of just walking round this mist-shrouded mountainous countryside and getting lost, going round in circles.

Fran: And the wider shots were shot about two years earlier, weren’t they?

Peter: Well, the wide shots were done in the original shoot, yeah, the wide location shots; and the close-ups that we’re looking at now were again part of the pick-ups that we did. This sort of shows you what pick-ups can be like, where you’re inserting a couple of new lines of dialogue into a scene you’ve already shot before. We just did these in a studio. That’s a studio shot [screen cap], that’s a studio shot [screen cap]; and now we’re back on location again, just…

Fran: Two years earlier!

Peter: Yeah. Two years.

Philippa: Just coming up about… now! [screen cap]

Peter: Now we’re back on location shots.

Philippa: [laughs] Two years apart!

Peter: [Sam: “Oh yes, lovely! Lembas bread!”] The lembas bread is a funny little thing too, because, like, the lembas bread was introduced in the ‘Fellowship’ extended cut, but it was in the theatrical version of ‘The Two Towers’ [laughs], so unless you knew something of Tolkien or had watched the DVD, you wouldn’t have a clue what this stuff was; but, you know, too bad. You can’t worry about those sorts of things.

Philippa: What was that lembas bread, by the way?

Peter: It was some sort of…

Philippa: Was it scone, or…

Peter: It was like a –.

Philippa: Looks like something I’d make! [laughs]

Peter: Well, it was. It was baked in the oven – it was like a, sort of, a pastry, sort of, ‘biscuity’ shortbread-type thing that they –. The art department made them, and they had a big supply of them; and I think [Philippa laughs] they got to nibble on them during the course of the shoot!

Philippa: [Frodo and Sam sitting in the Emyn Muil at night, rain pouring down around them] I love this scene.

Peter: Another prefiguring of Gollum, where we just wanted to build up tension before his arrival. All of this stuff was, you know, things that we just did without when we cut the theatrical version, really just to try to get the time down to three hours; and we just felt, you know, we won’t spend so long intro… you know, prefiguring Gollum. [Frodo and Sam continue to traipse through the rocks] This stuff here was… This was a great day, because we were up this mountain, and suddenly the clouds descended and it fogged right up, and we just grabbed out cameras – we abandoned what we were supposed to shoot and just said, “Let’s shoot the stuff with them wandering around lost. Quickly! It’s foggy, it’s misty, it’s great, it’s cloudy!” And all this is natural: none of this is like added, artificial, fake smoke – it’s all real clouds and smoke that suddenly all… mist that was suddenly there on the day. And we shot this stuff very quickly – we sort of jumped onto the scene when we realised that the clouds were going to be with us for a few hours. (beat) [Gollum approaches the sleeping hobbits] Gollum! It’s kind of weird to watch this, because when we shot these plates – you know, the background footage – it was about two years before we ever really saw Gollum; and you’re shooting, you know, a shot like this, craning down a cliff and you’re just hoping one day that Gollum’s going to look good! [Peter and Fran laugh] And you’ve got no idea! You’ve got no idea: you’re just shooting this rock and praying that one day, you’re going to have a great-looking creature there.

Fran: And you did.

Peter: And we did, yeah. He’s fantastic. He’s so amazing; I think that, you know, the Weta animators and the CG artists just wanted to do the best work possible, and threw their heart and soul into doing this guy.

Philippa: [Gollum fights Frodo and Sam] For a very long time, this was actually Andy fighting with them. When you look at it…

Peter: Yeah, all the shots in this fight are with Andy Serkis actually physically interacting – like when Frodo grabs Gollum’s hand here, it is Andy’s hands he’s holding. He’s really holding Andy’s hands – we put Gollum’s hands over the top, so the physical interaction is really quite real and immediate.

Philippa: [screen cap] That’s one of my favourite –.

Peter: That shot there – that’s my favourite shot too! That’s incredible! – when I saw that shot, it was like one of the first times you really felt this guy’s going to work.

Fran: [in agreement] Mmm.

Philippa: I love the blanket spinning round.

Peter: Yeah. Well that was because Andy spun it round with his feet. We didn’t plan on that, but we used it. [laughs] (beat) The image of Frodo with the sword at Gollum’s throat while Gollum’s got Sam is straight out of an Alan Lee painting. [screen cap] We actually had Alan’s painting on the set – it was one that he did for the Tolkien books a few years ago – and I always loved that painting, and I just said, “I want to recreate this”; and Alan was actually there on the day we shot it, and we, sort of, worked at trying to get the actors to push themselves into the same positions as what was on this painting.

Philippa: I love the grading in this, too, Peter. Great colours.

Peter: It’s hard to make this stuff look real: it’s all in a studio, and it tends to look like a studio. You’ve got to be very, very careful; but once we, sort of, made it go blue and dark it looks a lot better, but it’s really tricky. You’re always terrified it’s going to look like some cheap, tacky TV thing.

Philippa: [screen cap] And where’s that? What was that shot?

Peter: That’s a matte painting, Philippa.

Philippa: [shocked] Oh, you’re kidding!

Peter: Yeah, that’s a fake shot. You can’t go and visit it.

Philippa: [disappointed] Oh. Why not? [All three laugh]

Fran: We can! It’ll be one someone’s wall! [Peter laughs]

Peter: [Sam pulls Gollum along with the rope] This is pulling Andy along, Andy Serkis and replacing him with Gollum through a lot of this sequence.

Philippa: This scene actually helps Gollum’s voice, because this was one of the early scenes that you got stuck into, Fran. This was where the voice finally came into being. We had to sign off on it, didn’t we? Especially for clarity and how far you could go with some of the noises and…

Fran: Yes it was, because in one of the early screenings of the film that we had for some New Line people, they really didn’t understand a word of Gollum! [laughs] They didn’t understand anything – he was completely incomprehensible to them, so at that point, we had to really work to bring clarity to Andy’s voice without compromising character. It was quite a journey for him.

Peter: It was sort of a journey for us, because I remember, for a long time, New Line were listening to a voice they couldn’t understand and they were looking at a guy in a leotard [Fran: Yes.] on screen instead of the CG creature; and we were just getting strong feedback from they saying, “Less Gollum, less Gollum, less Gollum, this guy is…” I remember them saying, you know, “This guy is okay in a very small dose, but you wouldn’t want too much of him” and it was because they just were not seeing him, they were not hearing what he was going to sound like; and it’s tough to deal with that, really, because they don’t quite have the, you know, the imagination or the vision of what’s going to be there that we do, and you just have to, sort of… well, ignore it, basically!

Fran: Well the other side of it is: you wouldn’t want a key character to be not, you know, understood; so it was something that we wanted – we had to – address. It was just that he had such a great voice for the character, we didn’t want to lose that either.

Philippa: [in agreement] Hmm…

Fran: And separate to that, there were two voices: that of Gollum and Sméagol; so we, you know, we had to try to keep that differentiation going as well. But Andy really, really, was such a trooper! [laughs] I mean, he worked this stuff over and over: he did so many sessions, didn’t he, for this?

Philippa: Mmm. On this particular scene, I think, he recorded this about five times.

Fran: Mmm.

Peter: [Frodo: “You will lead us to the Black Gate.”] The extra footage here gives a lot more clarity to the concept of Gollum actually leading them out of these rocks. I kind of like the idea that he’s become this really weird guide for them, which was lost a little bit – or was certainly more obscure in – the theatrical cut.

Fran: Yeah, he’s pretty conflictive about going to Mordor, which was good, too.

Peter: It’s kind of –. It is the first Gollum/Sméagol interchange.

Fran: It is, yes.

Philippa: Mmm.

Fran: It’s the first, yes.

Peter: Which we’re seeing now, but it wasn’t in the movie, and it sort of starts to establish that dynamic.

Philippa: It was great for reinforcing that he had been there before, and for setting up the whole idea: when and why and how he had been there before.

Peter: I know we played around with the idea of having that flashback to him being tortured again that we saw in ‘The Fellowship’ –

Philippa: Yeah, we did. That’s right.

Peter: – in that scene in Bag End: we tried to actually put it into ‘The Two Towers’. We didn’t do it – I mean, it’s not in the extended cut either, but we did play around for a while with just reminding people that he knew about Mordor because he had been a prisoner there for a while. Guess it was in ‘The Fellowship’ so hopefully people will remember. (beat)

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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.