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:


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.

37 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.”)


  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

  11. I agree, the negative image & degree of voice warping was overdone. But I believe what Frodo was describing is a “glamour.” The Fay were described as being able to create a glamour, or magical illusion. This could make the fay appear in any way they wanted the humans to view them… Gandalf uses a glamour as well when his voice booms, he seems to grow taller, and the space about him appears to shrink & grow dark. Tolkien was very much inspired by mythology, so I believe that is what this scene with Galadriel is describing.

  12. I’m sure you’re right; but I’m also sure that Frodo would not have perceived Galadriel under her glamour as anything resembling what we were shown in the film.

  13. It’s one of my favourite moments of the LOTR films – although, on saying that, I do have a lot of them! It’s pretty close and you have to give the director some space to interpret the book in his way. You can’t possibly translate the whole the book verbatim – it would take far longer than the 10+ hours it was squeezed into.

  14. I disagree with your reading of the second paragraph. While I will concede that the use of the word “seeming” gives some credence to your interpretation that she is not literally growing, that “seeming” is the only leg you have to stand on in your argument. The sentence immediately prior to that has says: “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”. To interpret that as a metaphor is a stretch, and to label it an obvious one is just not true at all. In fact, I would say that is ‘obviously’ a literal magic light coming out of her magic ring. If that line (further supported by how lowering the ring ends the light show) is supposed to be a metaphor countless lines concerning magic or fantastical elements throughout Tolkien’s writings must be second guessed for whether they are supposed to be taken literally.

    SO, I don’t feel that Jackson’s interpretation of the scene is near as bad as you make out.

  15. in the books, Tolkien uses “seem” all the time when referring to magical effects, giving them an air of semi-illusion, where you can tell what you’re seeing may not be quite real or partially in your mind. this is not the only place where the book is subtle, and the book is explicit. other examples include the worms/insects that appear when the hobbits are near the nine riders, the dragon firework, the “possession” and “exorcism” of Theoden, the one ring changing size and weight, and probably others that I’ve forgotten.

  16. I heartily agree with your thoughts on that scene, and feel too that it overshadowed a very good and important speech. However, the thing that bothered me most about it was how unsure or surprised Blanchett-Galadriel was when she said, “I pass the test”. I’ve always felt the character spoke those words with more resignation, knowing that as an Elf, her time (and that of her people) is coming to an end in Middle Earth.

    Anyhow, great article, I enjoyed reading it.

  17. Thanks, Supervike. I actually really like Blanchett’s delivery of “I pass the test”. I guess it shows that there are several different ways it can be read, each of them implying something subtly different about Galadriel’s attitude, her future and even her past. The writing is very rich.

  18. UlfrikLionmane

    This is not the only time PJ took something literaly that is(probably) not meant to be.. The best example: the great eye. While in the books the eye is allways a vision and a metaphor for Sauron having many spies and seeing everything, in the movies he put a real eye on a tower, wich seems to make no sense, because why would Sauron, after loosing his body take on the form of an eye? And how would he do it, he was the most powerfull maiar, but i do not think he would have been able to transform his ghostly form into a gigantic eye.

  19. I do agree that Tolkien probably didn’t have in mind anything like the flaming eye of the movies. On the other hand, he did have the luxury of working in a medium where he didn’t have to depict post-Second-Age Sauron at all — he was able to use all words and no visuals. Jackson, being a film-maker, had to come up with something to represent Sauron, and I’m not sure what else he could have done. Did you have an alternative idea?

  20. Just a perspective and suggestion. Take a look at the 1978 film. Galadriel was portrayed in the same manner as the latest movie.

  21. I rewatched the Ralph Bakshi movie recently. I thought its portrayal of Galadriel was awful. Blanchett is, on the whole, superb in the role. It’s only that one scene that goes horrible wrong.

  22. Gandalf at Edoras gets exactly the same treatment–the reasoned encouragement of Theoden to resume his responsiblities (with a little magical son-et-lumiere) turned into a “Dispel Magic” spell.

  23. It’s true that the Theoden transformation is also significantly changed from what’s in the books, and that aspects of the film version are muffed — notably, the way Theoden’s beard inexplicably shortens as he emerges from Saruman’s influence. That said, though, I find it much easier to forgive this change, because at least it’s comprehensible (where Galadriel’s speech is virtually impossible to parse) and, crucially, because I find it very moving. Essentially, it’s a physical and visible manifestation of Theoden’s inner change — which is arguably the only way to approach something like this cinematically.

  24. The speech warping was a bit too much, and it could have been better done, but I think it was great, because this is one of the few scenes were you really see how powerful she actually is, how terrible and out of this world an ancient being like her is.
    @Supervike – you are forgetting that she was not permitted to sail West, and her “passing the test” is one of the reasons that Valar did give her permit.

  25. Stephen Fursten

    Hmmm, interesting thoughts and well written but just reading it, I can’t help but be amused at the random things that perplex us and put bees under our bonnets. Irrespective of whether one resonates with it or not, could it not seem clear that this scene has been presented precisely from Frodo’s point of view, packaging his emotional and visceral response into the experience we receive sitting in the comfort of our theatre seats. It’s perhaps not meant to be viewed and measured literally but rather experienced, in Frodo’s moment of witnessing an elf queen of the first days, the kin of Feanor, at the height of her three thousand year old passion. An understandable directorial decision I think. I guess we all have our little issues with the interpretation but if this is the most noteworthy, Jackson has performed a miracle.

  26. Well, I agree with your last sentence. But I still think this was a truly horrible miscalculation.

  27. After seeing the travesty of the Hobbit films, I think we should count ourselves lucky that the movies were as good as they were. I’m re-reading the book and, when I got to the Tom Bombadil portion I realized how truly wretched that would have been if Jackson had attempted to add that to the movie. The Hobbit has destroyed what Jackson managed to achieve in LOTR, namely the humanization of the Hobbits and the Dwarf. They weren’t corny or cheesy in LOTR, but the Hobbit movie seemed to really be aiming at children with their depictions. I haven’t had the heart to watch the last movie. I think we should all just hold the book very dear to our hearts and realize that some things are never going to make it as far as a movie version goes.

  28. I have to say, with the benefit of some more perspective, I feel more and more disappointed by the Hobbit movies. Whatever details the LotR movies muffed, they always had their heart in the right place. That just isn’t true of the newer trilogy. It speaks volumes that, while we got the Extended Edition of Desolation for Christmas, we have still not watched it nearly ten months later.

  29. I just the Battle of the Five Armies…Extended Edition, and Cate delivers her lines so aristocratic, confident, and dangerous, that the entire scene with her and Sauron, and she glowing like a horror movie was totally unnecessary….badly done that part, but the EE were good when she destroyed that ORC!

  30. How on earth Galadlier’s speech was ruined? Do you know how long that movie would’ve taken if the whole speech had been there?

  31. How on earth Galadlier’s speech was ruined?

    In the manner described by the post.

    Do you know how long that movie would’ve taken if the whole speech had been there?

    Jackson’s rewritten speech is 37 words long, compared with 74 in the original — exactly half as long. So the film’s length would have been another 20 seconds or so had he used the original.

  32. I agree, badly done! But can I ask a question – how would you have done it if you were the director? I think the digital voice didn’t work, and the photo negative effect was poor, but on the right track if that makes sense. IOW inflating her into a dream like apparition was a good effect, just imho badly executed.

  33. I’d have done it the same way they did Gandalf’s “Many that live deserve death” speech: by hiring a world-class actor, and trusting them to do the job. For Galadriel’s speech, they did the first half of this (as the rest of her performance shows), but muffed the second half. Basically, a failure of trust.

  34. Wait you ignored the fact that it says a “great light issued from her ring” that shone upon her in an unnatural and entirely magical way that made her seem so. Come on.

  35. I do not believe the text says that the great light converted her into a photographic negative.

  36. I agree the effects might have been overdone, but I disagree with your interpretation of the text. Where Tolkien writes: “She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful.” I take that to mean that she stood tall, seemingly beyond measurement. Not that she didn’t actually transform, but that the extent to which she transformed was so great that it was seemingly beyond measurement. It all depends upon how you distribute the word “seemingly” in the sentence.

  37. But hasn’t Tolkien already distributed the word for us? So everything after “she stood before Frodo” is how it seemed?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s