HOW FANTASY IS CREATED IN THE MOUTH OF SAURON SCENE IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (EXTENDED EDITION) THROUGH MISE-EN-SCENE AND CINEMATOGRAPHY
For this essay I shall be analysing how fantasy is created in the Mouth of Sauron scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition) through the use of cinematography and mise-en-scene. This three minute and seven second long clip is roughly three and a half hours of the way through the four hour long film, and although it is a short clip it is a very powerful one.
By this point in the film Frodo and Sam are close to achieving their goal and Aragorn, Éomer and Gandalf have led armies of Rohan and Gondor to victory at Pelennor Fields. The surviving soldiers have now been lead to the Black Gates of Mordor by Aragorn so that they can distract Sauron and defeat the last of the Orcs, therefore making it possible for Frodo and Sam to get to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring.
In this clip the army of Rohan and Gondor have arrived at the Black Gate, and are roughly 25 metres away from it. Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Merry, Pippin, Éomer and a flag-bearing soldier of Gondor approach the gate on horseback. They are greeted by Sauron’s messenger, known simply as “Mouth of Sauron”. Gandalf tells the messenger to tell his master to leave Middle-Earth forever, only for the messenger to present them with Frodo’s meathril shirt and tells them all that Frodo is dead, though they are all unaware that Frodo is in fact alive. As his friends take it in Aragorn rides forward, beheads the messenger and then states his belief that Frodo is in fact alive, which is where the scene ends.
In this clip there are a number of things in the mise-en-scene and cinematography which emphasize the theme of, and create, fantasy, as well as suggesting the mood of the scene, all of which are as follows.
Firstly, is the Black Gate of Mordor. The Black Gate is at least fifty feet in height with spikes at the front of the top. This creates fantasy as this is the sort of thing which is only ever seen in fantasy, as things similar to it have been used in Harry Potter (the great walls of Hogwarts), and King Kong (the great stone wall and gate), and are usually part of the home(s)/ lair(s) of the antagonist of the book or film. There is a good chance that this was inspired by the great gate from the original King Kong, partly due to the fact that King Kong was the film that made the Director (Peter Jackson) decide that he wanted to make films as an adult, and also partly because, similarly to the gate in King Kong, a gate as large as this suggest that on the other side there is something large and that the gate is being used to either keep it in, or keep it out.
There are also a number of shots of the gate in this scene. The first main shot is a distant over-shoulder shot of the Black Gate from the spot where the army of Rohan and Gondor are standing. The second one is when the camera starts at the base of the gate and then moves up the gate as it slowly opens. Coupled with the design of the gate this creates fantasy as it shows how large the gate is, and reminds a viewer that it is something which is almost always found in fantasy and of the fact that it’s sheer size is being used to keep something large either in or out.
Secondly, is the setting of this scene. This scene is in a very depressing and very gloomy setting. The setting is a very rocky landscape, with grey rock ground, grey cliffs/ stone walls at the side and a grey sky as well. This is the sort of dark place that is seen in a lot of fantasies, and is usually associated with the antagonist, but in reality is not found very often, with the most likely place where you would find a setting like this being some part of uninhabited Asia. An interesting thing to note here is the fact that the area that this scene takes place is a very compressed area due to the great walls of rock closed in at each side, as well as the fact that it is very dimly light. This is a big contrast to many other settings of the film which are much brighter, much wider and open spaces.
There are a number of shots of this setting as well. The first shot is an over-shoulder shot from where the army of Rohan and Gondor stand, with the bare rocky landscape straight ahead of them. The second shot is when Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Merry, Pippin, Éomer and a flag-bearer approach the gate on horseback. In this shot the camera starts with a front shot of them and it then follows them as they ride forward, rotating around them and through rotating around them shows the bleak setting in which this scene takes place. This conveys fantasy as the cinematography of this scene will constantly remind audiences that this is the sort of dark place that is seen in a lot of fantasies, and is usually associated with the antagonist, but in reality doesn’t exist, with the nearest thing to it being mentioned above.
Thirdly, is the different characters used in this scene. The characters that are featured most in this scene and the scene revolves around are Aragorn, the “Mouth of Sauron”, Gandalf, Frodo (who only has a three second cameo), Legolas (who doesn’t speak in this scene, but gets an adequate amount of focus), Merry, Pippin, Gimli (who too doesn’t speak in this scene, but gets an adequate amount of focus), Éomer (who gets one comical line at the end of the scene, yet gets an adequate amount of focus) and a flag bearing Gondorian guard (who has no dialogue and is never focused on; it is also the only part of the film in which he is seen).
Aragorn, Éomer and the Gondorian guard are all human and depicted as normal men with long hair and a beard. Legolas is an elf, depicted as tall and slim, but muscular, with pointy ears, long blonde hair and bright blue eyes. This depiction simply comes from the illustrations within the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. The “Mouth of Sauron” is presumably an orc (we never find out as we only ever see his mouth, but he has the teeth and the voice of an orc). However, what of him we see is a short, stocky, body, a bony lower face with pale skin, scars around his mouth and brown teeth, which suggests that, like a lot of orcs in the film he has seen war and has been left scarred by it.
Gandalf is a wizard and is depicted as a stereotypical wizard- elderly, tall and thin with long white hair and beard, wearing white robes and holding a staff. The fact that he is older suggests that he is also wiser. Gandalf’s design is likely to be based on the legendary magician, Merlin, as the two are very similar in appearance and have very similar skills and wisdom. Merry, Pippin and Frodo are all hobbits and are depicted as around four feet in height with large and hairy bare feet, red curly hair and pointy ears, but curly black hair in Frodo’s case.
Gimli is a dwarf, and depicted as four and a half to five feet in height and fat, with long and thick brown hair and beard, and a large axe in his hand. As a character Gimli is depicted as rather medieval due to the fact that he wears a medieval costume of chain mail and on top of that he wears metal armour, as well as a metal helmet, all of which is very similar to what a medieval warrior would wear when he would leave home to go to war. All of these characters constantly have the camera cut to them throughout the scene in the form of close-up shots from the front.
Coupled with the way the characters are depicted this conveys fantasy because these ten characters between them are a total of six different species of human like creatures, as mentioned above, which constantly reminds the viewer of the fact that is a fantasy film, as fantasy is the only genre in which you will find such a large variety of human like species, as if it was any other genre the film wouldn’t work as, although dwarfs do exist orcs, elves and hobbits simply do not.
Finally, for a three second shot we see Frodo lying on the ground, with the great fiery eye of Sauron rotating in the background. Although Frodo lying on the ground is not a way to convey the theme of fantasy as something like that is something that can be seen in any film of any genre. However, something like a gigantic eye of fire that rotates as it is actually somebody is something which can only be conveyed in fantasy as there never has and never will be anything even slightly similar to that in the real world and it is only something you can find in fantasy. The shot is a front shot of Frodo, however, behind him the fiery eye and the tower on which it rests can easily be seen in focus. The lighting brings this to the viewer’s attention as, although the setting is very dimly light, the bright orange colours of the fiery eye stand out against this dim background and the contrast in colours brings the fiery eye to the viewer’s attention.
To conclude, through the use of mise-en-scene and cinematography the theme of fantasy is conveyed successfully in the Mouth of Sauron scene in the The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition) in many different ways and greatly helps the scene become a powerful one.
Looking at it I see a noticable difference between my writing style then and my writing style now, two a half years on. I also see I didn't fully understand the Mouth of Sauron character then. He is in fact a representation of how mouthfuls of evil destroy the human appearance and tarnish (in the film at least) and this makes sense, for in the book (which I reread a year after submitting this piece of coursework) Tolkien emphasises that he was a man, manipulated and corrupted by Sauron.
Anyway, that's enough for how much (erm) wiser (?) I have become since then, for I shall now answer a common question I got at the time - Why this scene? Well, it is only included in the Extended Edition, but it is a powerful, underrated scene in my view, as the emotions expressed when the various Fellowship members believe Frodo dead shows just how strong the bonds truly are, and is a real image of how grief unites people, which hadn't been depicted to such a strong level since Gandalf fell into Khazad-Dum in The Fellowship of the Ring.
If you haven't watched the Extended Editions then this is a must watch scene in The Return of the King, which has a number of strong ones such as the confrontation with Saruman, Faramir reflecting on his bond with Boromir, and of course tonnes more battle and hard feelings - which as ever involve orcs.