I wish Jackson hadn’t ruined Galadriel’s speech

I bow to no man in my admiration of Peter Jackson’s fine trilogy of Lord of the Rings films (and indeed his ongoing Hobbit). I may not be able to disagree with any of the specific criticisms Andrew Rilstone makes in his fine reviews (Fellowship, Towers, Return), but I am a million miles away from agreeing with his downbeat conclusions. Yes, all the films are flawed; but they are mostly flaws of ambition, and so they are easy to forgive. And they are overwhelmed by the huge amount of good stuff. In fact, the three LotR films are arguably my three favourite films of all time.

That’s why this pains me so much:

galadriel

It’s the scene in Lothlorien when Frodo has freely offered the One Ring to Galadriel. In the book, here’s what she says:

“And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”

She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

“I pass the test”, she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.”

In the film, Galadriel’s speech is slightly rewritten — and I hope I will not be thought a heretic if I say that I think the Jackson/Walsh/Boyens version is, if anything, an improvement:

In place of a Dark Lord, you would have a queen! Not dark, but beautiful and terrible as the dawn! Treacherous as the sea! Stronger than the foundations of the earth! All shall love me, and despair!

But Jackson can’t accept the obvious metaphorical reading of the second paragraph. When we read that she stood before Frodo, “seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring”, we immediately understand that the key word is “seeming”: Tolkien is describing what goes through Frodo’s mind as he understands what it would mean for Galadriel to take the ring. He is not saying that Galadriel flipped into photographic negative and her voice became deep, distorted and ring-modulated. But that’s how Jackson interprets it.

And I find this mystifying because Jackson’s touch is so sure elsewhere (not least in the condensation of the speech noted above). When Gandalf delivers the “and some that die deserve life” speech, Jackson trusts McKellan to do it right, and so he does. It’s half-whispered, spoken almost as much to himself as to Frodo, more a meditation than a lecture. Gandalf is not lit up in flourescent lights, and his voice is not artificially raised in pitch to chipmunk levels.

McKellan needs no such treatment, because (unlike some of the cast, it must be said) he can act. The thing is, so can Cate Blanchett. She’s perfectly capable of delivering such good lines under her own steam, and absolutely doesn’t need the flavour-enhancers that Jackson imposed — not even had they been done well, rather than in such a way that they obscure the words.

It was badly done, Peter. Badly done indeed.

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10 responses to “I wish Jackson hadn’t ruined Galadriel’s speech

  1. I didn’t think that part was half as bad as the character assassination of Merry and Pippin. In the book: Frodo’s dedicated friends, who willingly planned to join him despite knowing the danger. In the movie: A pair of buffoons who stumbled into the journey entirely by accident.

  2. Hey, Mike, my friends tend to joke about Galadriel’s “condition” in that scene, it seems to fit.

    I take your point about the speech being altered, but not ruined. Jackson and the writers recast the speech into its forms: Galadriel is assuming an aspect, and in the mythos of the world Frodo is “seeing” this transformed figure as she takes its seeming. Jackson earlier shows Gandalf describe to Frodo what would happen if HE took the ring:

    ‘No!’ cried Gandlaf, springing to his feet. ‘With that power I should have power too great and terrible.And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.’ His eyes flashed and his face was lit as by a fire within. ‘Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused; The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils life before me.’

    We shall assume his face did not in fact become as of fire or was truly lit within. Jackson depicted this with distortion of the frame, of Gandalf growing larger, more imposing, and become as a threat … the very point. Galadriel, on the other hand, was describing her future potential state, Gandalf his fears of the powers gained by the Ring, yet both took on aspects that may seem otherworldly.

    It may be something of Tolkein’s work that he describes Elves and Maiar and Wizards as essences, mutable things that, unlike the mortal races, could BECOME aspects (the price for being immortal), intangible or tangible qualities. Galadriel would and could take on the shapes and grow to size — it’s not just in Frodo’s mind, just as the Ring’s weight DOES increase. That’s the thing about this that may be lost, though yes something fundamental about the declarations of both are lost: Tolkein is describing creatures that can become something other, and resisting the changes such power brings, and merely entertaining the idea (both have the empowered Elven rings) can cause changes to them.

  3. @Kyralessa, beautifully put and undeniably true. Watching many of the scenes with Merry and Pippin is to cringe. But then the treatment of Gimli (his status as comic relief, “Ha, he’s *short!*” how funny; the dwarf-tossing “joke” etc) is equally poor. Of course, one must appeal to the excessively dim above all, apparently!

  4. I agree. In fact, it’s this kind of visual “enhancements” that made me dislike the films. In the books, power (in all its forms) is *felt*. In the films, it’s brutishly CGI’d into our faces. I won’t even start with the Gandalf vs. Saruman ninja fight scene – it’s things like this Galadriel transformation, how Bilbo looked when he saw the ring in Rivendell, Aragorn’s swordfight with the undead king, the mouth of the Mouth of Sauron… that’s not to say that the films should follow the books word by word, or that imagery is bad – but c’mon.

  5. Ok, so for me, some of the films’, uh, “enhancements” seemed gratuitous and others of them I was ok with. Because, no matter how good the actor is, you’re still not always going to be able to convey the same degree of emphasis as was present in the text if you *just* rely on the Really Good Acting.

    But I’m wondering why you choose to single out this example from the whole list? Maybe because you really like Galadriel’s speech? Or maybe because you felt the enhancing was just far, far too much?

    Other examples of “enhancing” include, but are not limited to: early in the Shire at Bag End when Gandalf is trying to talk to Bilbo sensibly about the Ring and Bilbo shouts “You want it for yourself!” and then Gandalf “seemed to grow taller” as he shouts back “Do not take me for some conjurer of cheap tricks!”

    And again with Bilbo, there’s the scene where he lunges for the Ring around Frodo’s neck–we see him visually change to Gollum for a moment. IMHO, *that* was a change that was gratuitous. No need for all that, the lung itself would’ve been enough–maybe with an audible snarl.

    So I guess, with Galadriel’s speech, I just don’t have as much of a problem with it. Although it probably had a lot more “enhancing” than it really needed. It would’ve been cool if, still with “enhancing” but instead more gradual, *subtle* enhancing. Imagine: she starts the speech but everything still seems normal. As we focus in on Galadriel’s face, the environment darkens and shifts, but we don’t notice. About 2/3 through the speech, we cut to a wider shot and we have an inkling as to what “beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night” means.


    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  6. WyrdWyrd, you’re right that there are other instances of this kind of lapse in both taste and trust. Gandalf’s going all tall and thundery when speaking to Bilbo of the ring is another horrible example. But the Galadriel one is the worst because its so extreme that we can’t even hear what the words are. Which is ridiculous.

    Bilbo’s lunge for the ring in Rivendell I felt worked as a very brief flash of insight into what was happening (and had already happened) in Bilbo’s heart. It’s also way more subtle than the other examples you mention.

    Your restaging of the Galadriel’s speech sounds like a vast improvement.

  7. I’m surprised that anyone’s main complaint about the films can be from FotR. It had problems, but I like it much better than the other two. Among other things, the ratio of fight scenes to everything else was reasonable in the first film. I’m not sure what you mean about flaws of ambition . . . most of them look like flaws of over-commercialization to me.

    Have you ever read Bellatrys’ reviews of the films? She’s a bit harder on them than I was, but not much. She’s funny (“The Men of Minas Tirith couldn’t win a game of Capture the Flag, and neither could Mordor.”)

    http://web.archive.org/web/20090613063540/http://arthedain.netfirms.com/

  8. Beth, I mostly agree that Fellowship is the most consistent of the three films, and has the least to criticise. But it’s precisely because of this that the abrupt Galadriel foul-up sticks out so visibly.

  9. Pingback: Some thoughts on The Hobbit, part 1: An Unexpected Journey | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  10. Pingback: G. K. Chesterton on Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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