You don’t just say that Lord of the Rings “Contains a variety” and leave it at that. There is more than enough heart, drama, and spectacle (not to mention meme fodder regarding this one omnipresent running sequences
2021 marks The Lord of the Rings 20th anniversary, and we can’t imagine exploring the trilogy in just one story. So we’re going to go back and forth every Wednesday throughout the year and examine how and why the movies endure as modern classics. This is Polygon’s Year of the Ring.
You can trust the most passionate (intolerable) of us, burdened with book knowledge, to run annual trilogy marathons and debate us in disturbingly Gollum-esque ways. Between exuberant praise (nothing but respect for MY The community of the ring Prologue summoned with all these world-forming and historical traditions) and scratchy disbelief (You did WHAT to Faramir in the The two Towers?) we can twist ourselves in knots to reconcile these two wolves in us – and in the films themselves too.
With that in mind, we’re taking a microscope to a particular sequence that I’ve been obsessed with since I was an impressionable hobbit boy who was bursting with anticipation in my theater seat in 2003 the return of the King unfolded before me. The Farewell to Sam and Frodo
The end result is uniquely fascinating.
The whole affair between Frodo, Sam and Gollum on the stairs by Cirith Ungol seems uncomplicated at first glance. The possessive and consuming nature of the ring has almost completely overtaken Frodo, leaving him vulnerable to tampering and whispered suspicions. Gollum’s betrayal forces him to toss the last of her precious lembas sandwiches and to blame Sam for the crime. And poor Samwise, benevolent for a mistake, stumbles straight into Gollum’s trap by offering to wear Frodo’s onerous ring himself. Show the tense confrontation, Sam’s ineffective defense, and Frodo’s two harsh words that broke our hearts: “Go home.”
However, a cursory glance at this scene reveals that the strands are frayed just below the surface. Author / video essayist Lindsay Ellis once amusing coined the sentence “Forced Peej Conflict,” which describes a certain type of action that Peter Jackson often relies on when adapting aspects of Tolkien’s work that (at least in theory) cannot be translated smoothly on screen. The go-to method apparently consists of adding character conflicts to otherwise smooth storylines – such as our hero banning his best friend thousands of miles from home because he has misunderstandings about bread and obviously chooses to go with it It is no good staying alone with a hideous creature – and hope that playing on the visceral sensations of the moment will fill gaps in narrative or emotional logic.
Reader, it does Not.
As great as the deviation from Tolkien’s book is – and if it is a non-book reader – the real danger of this scene is how little of it makes any dramatic sense. Immediately, Frodo’s sympathy takes a debilitating and almost irreparable hit. (Sméagol’s potential for redemption from Sam’s well-known devotion will!) In the meantime, the inherent tension in the Sméagol / Gollum duality has completely disappeared as his betrayal becomes a foregone conclusion. Suddenly, at the crucial point, the main thread of the trilogy feels tense.
The biggest victim, however, is none other than our favorite Bodyguard / gardener. This seemingly regressive outcome requires Sam to remain inexplicably passive in the face of Gollum’s apparent villainy, act unusually violent to justify Frodo’s reaction, and, most egregiously, look very slow to record (even Elijah Wood and Sean Austin make it up funny) in the cast comment track).
Sam knows he is innocent, but he meekly follows Frodo’s orders, even if it means break his promise. Very questionable! He just begins his long journey home after stumble upon their lack of food, theatrical swelling with anger and motivation to save his dear Frodo because he … now has visual evidence that he in fact did not mistakenly eat his own food and forget it? …For sure.
Why isn’t this a bigger deal breaker than it is? Why didn’t the audience indignant en masse and chained themselves in front of the Dolby Theater in LA to prevent this from happening? the return of the King sweep off all these Oscars? It’s really simple: Peter Jackson’s repeated efforts to build tension through total nonsense – at a level of human consciousness between lizards and brains – work anyway.
As illogical, non-canonical and terribly strained as the settings for these payouts may be, Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens know damn well how to deliver. Pippin’s bland “plan”
It would be convenient to dismiss these as missteps resulting from changes to the source material, but it’s not that straightforward. Throughout the trilogy, Jackson and his co-authors prove that they understand this intuitively connections and compromises are sometimes necessary to translate novels into visual language. One could argue that the figurative cost-effectiveness ratio sometimes doesn’t work out in Jackson’s favor, but what makes art wonderfully complex is how the pursuit of greatness mixes with the inherent mistakes of artists.
No matter how much we roll our eyes crassly padded action sequences or invented attempts to raise stakesThese weaknesses are exactly what makes this fantasy epic so distinctive, idiosyncratic and downright strange how it is. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is still fueling discussion and testing today, nearly 20 years after it first hit theaters. The results speak for themselves.
Nothing diminishes Sam’s philanthropic heroic moment, who returns with Frodo’s sword, Sting, and the vial of Galadriel in hand, ready to save his best friend from the incarnation of evil itself through the arachnids. It’s exactly the kind of triumphant catharsis that we come to this trilogy for in the first place.
And that’s the ace in the hole that The Lord of the Rings films always carry. As tempting as it is to fixate on unforgivable deviations from the text, through these creative games of chance Jackson & Co. leave their indelible mark in an almost miraculous adaptation. That one bizarre scene, set in a much larger saga, serves as the microcosm of the most rewarding adaptation we could have hoped for, and teaches a downright Tolkien-esque lesson – if unintentional – to appreciate the occasional stumble in the pursuit of success.