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EE Commentary Transcripts
The Passage of the Marshes

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Peter: [laughing] Yeah! Which is great. I always think if he forgets to move for too long, he’s going to [Philippa laughs] sprout roots and kind of –

Philippa: [laughing] Yes!

Peter: – find it hard to move again! (beat) [Frodo, Sam and Gollum approach the Dead Marshes] This shot was about the first Gollum shot we ever did. We didn’t have a clue what Gollum was going to really look like when we shot Frodo and Sam walking up this hill. We were keeping our fingers crossed about three years ago that one day there’d be a Gollum put there that would be looking all right. (beat) The Dead Marshes was primarily a set that we built in the parking lot of an old factory, right next to a railway station, and a lot of times that we’d be shooting the Dead Marshes, there’d be trains rolling through the background. [Philippa laughs] You’d actually see them in the film, the trains going right past the back of the shot, and then later on, we painted it all out and put an extension to the Marshes in here. The big aerial shot [screen cap] is some real marshlands that are down in the South Island of New Zealand that I found completely by mistake: I was actually in a helicopter going between two different locations to shoot something for the third movie; we had a camera strapped to the helicopter – not for shooting Dead Marshes, but for shooting actually the Beacons of Minas Tirith in the third film – and we were just flying along soon after dawn, and we came across this marshland that I never even knew existed and I said to the guys, “God, this looks like the Dead Marshes” and so we weren’t planning on filming anything, but we had film in the camera, so I said to the pilot, “Let’s just circle round here for a while and let’s just roll some film.” [Gollum: “We are famished!”] This is one of the extra scenes that we wrote originally to begin a, sort of, a slightly more meaningful relationship between Gollum and Frodo, didn’t we?

Philippa: Yeah. It’s playing to the first beat where you see that there is this connection between them, and that comes, of course, at the end of the scene. I love this moment. I always wanted…

Peter: I love the worm!

Philippa: [laughing] Yeah!

Fran: It’s a great piece from the book, too, when he talk about “crunchable birdses” and, you know…

Peter: Yeah.

Fran: … being famished.

Peter: The fact that he eats the most horrible things. I mean, it’s one of the great… [Fran: Yeah, yeah!] He eats everything that’s wriggly and squirmy and raw and horrible and nasty.

Philippa: Here Sam’s disgust is palpable, and that’s something that plays to the later scene when they have the argument: it was one of those scenes where we tried to make it do a few things, didn’t we?

Peter: Yeah… I mean, what it kind of does towards the end is – which is probably the most important function of the scene – is to start to mirror [Philippa: Yeah.] that Gollum has shared knowledge with Frodo about what it’s like to carry this Ring. It’s information that Sam can never ever know.

Philippa: Yeah.

Fran: Mmm.

Philippa: It is quite creepy.

Peter: You know, one of the interesting things with animation that you’re seeing in this scene is: ‘less is more’ with Gollum, that we tried often to keep his animation very still, and not have him move too much – obviously there’s time when he is manic and he’s panicking and he’s running round, but for the really intense moments, you know, we discovered, didn’t we, that just keeping him as motionless as possible and trying to generate all the feeling out of his eyes…

Fran: Yes.

Peter: … which is what actors do, obviously – you know, if they don’t do that then they tend to [Philippa: Yeah.] overact, and you’re the same with Gollum: you can so easily get Gollum overacting, couldn’t you?

Fran: Yes. Well, there seems to be a tradition with animated characters [Philippa: Yeah.] to do a lot of body acting, a lot of physical acting.

Philippa: You both spent a lot of time pulling that stuff back. I remember watching endlessly as they’d bring shots to you both, and you’d both be saying, “Pull it back, bring it back”. But also, that scene was meant to play very directly to when Frodo rejects Gollum and finds him disgusting, and this is meant to be part of his journey towards actually seeing something else; but at this start, at the very beginning, he finds Gollum disgusting, and it was supposed to play to this moment where he turns the other way and Gollum almost – even though he saves Frodo – rejects him and is quite cold to him when he pulls him out and says, “Don’t follow the lights!”

Peter: Very evocative, spooky Dead Marsh stuff in the book. I love the corpses lying under the water. Of course, a few people have said that Tolkien got the inspiration – if you can call it inspiration – for this stuff from the First World War, when he saw bodies of soldiers lying in the shell-holes – the flooded shell-holes. And no-one’s going to really realise if they haven’t read the book, but the bodies under the water here, of course, are supposed to be fallen soldiers from the battle that was in the prologue of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, isn’t it?

Philippa: Mmm hmm.

Peter: It’s that same [Philippa: Dagorlad.] period of history – that they’ve been lying there for a bout two- or three-thousand years.

Philippa: They’re actually really creepy.

Peter: Yeah. These were silicone dummies that Richard Taylor’s team made at Weta.

Philippa: [screen cap] Was this guy real?

Peter: Yeah – the guy that we’re seeing now was a real person. Everybody else is a rubber dummy, but this guy’s a stuntman that looked the most like an Elf, and he just held his breath underwater. But he had normal eyes, in actual fact, when we shot him [Philippa laughs], but we painted them out on the computer to give him those white eyes. It was your idea, Fran, wasn’t it? [Fran: Mmm.] To take his eyes, turn them white. (beat) [Frodo underwater] This stuff’s not really in the book, is it…

Philippa: No.

Peter: … quite in the way that we did it? It’s… I think there’s something in the book that you feel that once you’re under the surface of the water, these corpses are actually quite creepy [Philippa agrees] and they’re ghoulish, and we kind of enhanced it for the movie.

Philippa: I think Gollum definitely hints at that conceptually in the book.

Peter: Yeah.

Philippa: Definitely. And also what I love about that is that you just know he’s been down there.

Peter: [Gollum drags Frodo out of the water] Great shot of Gollum pulling Frodo out of the water – which is an example of using Andy Serkis to actually just pull him out and we painted Andy out and put Gollum over the top, but you get that wonderful feeling of real, physical connection between the two characters. (beat) [Frodo caressing the Ring] This was a scene that we shot as a pick-up early in the editing of ‘The Two Towers’. We felt we didn’t have, really, a strong moment of Frodo and the Ring, because, unlike ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ where he actually puts it on two or three times and so you have that real impact of what happens in the Twilight world, in this film he never puts the Ring on, so in a way we hardly ever see the Ring. The scene develops into a really nice connection between Gollum and Frodo.

Philippa: We thought it would be really creepy – actually, I think this was your idea, Fran – that Gollum knows when he’s looking at the Ring, knows exactly –.

Peter: He’s rubbing his hand [Philippa: Yeah.] because he’s almost feeling the Ring [Philippa: Yeah.] in his hand like Frodo is looking at it in his.

Philippa: We took these lines from a cut –. This is an amalgam: the poem that Gollum is saying.

Fran: Is it from the Barrow-wights?

Philippa: It is. We’ve used some of that, and we wrote some ourselves.

Peter: A wonderful piece of animation here: I mean, this is such beautiful, subtle animation that we’re looking at to make this face of Gollum’s feel so emotional like this.

Fran: Yes.

Peter: Great work.

Fran: What’s really interesting about this scene to me is that it starts off with Frodo very much at a disadvantage – on the back foot if you like – and Gollum almost taunting him about his knowledge of the Ring and what it’s doing to Frodo.

Philippa: Hmm…

Fran: And Frodo turns it, because he too has knowledge, as he starts to reveal, that he… you know, what he’s learnt of Gollum’s background and who he used to be, and disarms him: by the end of the scene he’s disarmed him quite considerably. And really, that’s the time when we see this character of Sméagol – it’s kind of bringing him forth.

Peter: Yeah. Another little secret of that scene, too, is that at the very end when we go in close to Gollum’s face, that was going to be a moment that we were going to go into a flashback [Fran and Philippa: Hmm.] of Sméagol with his cousin Déagol, and we were going to show a three- or four-minute sequence, which Fran directed, which I know a lot of people have actually seen photos of in books and magazines; and when we looked at it in that position – because that’s where it was, at the end of that scene: it was… like, went into a flashback and then it came out of a flashback as the Nazgûl scream happened – we decided that the momentum of the film was getting a little bit too slow; and we also felt that we didn’t know Gollum that well at this point in time, and to actually then learn a lot about his back-story was maybe slightly too premature, and so the decision was made to take that scene, not put it back in the DVD extended version, but to actually put it in the theatrical version of ‘Return of the King’, so that’s where people will be able to see it. (beat) I don’t think we ever really got the idea clearly across that the Ringwraiths that appear here are the same Ringwraiths that pursued them in the first film. I mean, I don’t know quite what people who haven’t read the book really understand of this, but what did happen is that when the horses and the Wraiths were swept away at the Ford of Bruinen, the horses died but the Wraiths didn’t, because the can’t drown – you can’t kill the Wraiths that easily – and so this is the return of one of those Black Riders – of the Nine that were in the first film, except this time they’ve obviously given up horses – they think horses aren’t too flash anymore – and they’ve got these amazing, big winged beasts that they’re now riding on.

Philippa: Yeah, the Nazgûl were in the film and then out of the film and back in the film for a while: we weren’t really sure about using them, were we?

Peter: No. No. One of the things that’s hard to do with the Nazgûl – I find very hard – is that Tolkien’s so great in the books about how they generate fear, that if you’re around them, you hear them, they’re…

Philippa: Yeah.

Peter: Just their presence makes you terrified and it’s very hard to convey that in a movie. (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.