Saturday, February 21, 2015

on Peter Jackson's Gandalf

In Peter Jackson's version of The Lord of the Rings, Isengard is something of a flat valley with the tower Orthanc at its center. All around the tower, in a three-dimensional mandala of evil, are the charnel pits and Uruk-hai spawning chambers—the machinery with which the twisted Saruman the White is generating an army.

In "The Fellowship of the Ring," Jackson shows Gandalf riding into Isengard. Saruman meets Gandalf outside; the scene is cut, and we see both wizards inside Orthanc. As the tenor of their conversation grows more sinister, Gandalf realizes that Saruman has changed allegiance and is now a minion of the Dark Lord, Sauron.

So the question is this: how did Gandalf, as he was riding toward Orthanc, not realize Saruman had turned? Surely he would have seen several square miles of fumes and smelled the intense charnel stench, no? I don't recall clearly, but I think Tolkien's novel actually elides all of this, leaving it to the reader to imagine how Gandalf's encounter with Saruman went. Jackson's movie, by contrast, produces what may be an unforced error: Gandalf's inability to see what Saruman is doing on Isengard's property means either that Saruman is very good at hiding his operation (and we're given no hint that he's hiding anything), or that Galdalf, for all his years and wisdom, is unwontedly imperceptive.



John (I'm not a robot) said...

As I recall (from the book, not the movie) Gandalf had just confirmed that Bilbo's ring was indeed "the one" and he wanted to consult with Saruman as the head of the Wizard's Order about the ramifications. Saruman had fallen under the sway of Mordor by peering into the Palantir one time too many, but I don't recall that he had actually started building his army of Urak-hai orcs at the time of the meeting. I think it was later in the story that Saruman denuded the surrounding forests to fire his furnaces.

It's been awhile though and I'm old and my memory may not be what it once was.

Kevin Kim said...

That may be another way in which the book and the movie differ: the chronology of Saruman's army-building.

Kevin Kim said...

Whoops—let me be more specific about what I mean. The movie does indeed agree with the novel (or with your memory of the novel) that Saruman doesn't begin ripping down trees until after Gandalf is defeated and imprisoned atop the tower, but the digging of the huge, deep pits around Isengard would have taken years to accomplish, and there's no way Gandalf could have missed those pits—or their purpose—as he rode toward the tower. Even without the smoke, there would have been the pits and the noxious fumes of the charnel to alert any good guys to Saruman's enormous project. It's not as though Saruman were secretly growing weapons-grade pipeweed on a 400-square-foot plot of land, such that he could just throw a tarp over it right before Gandalf arrived.

Or maybe Saruman called upon his mad skilz as a White Wizard and performed some sort of concealment magic? A "glamour," as they say? The magical equivalent of throwing a ten-square-mile Elven cloak over the works?

John (I'm not a robot) said...

It's a point I never really considered notwithstanding multiple readings of the trilogy. Some sort of wizardry may have indeed hid his construction work from prying eyes, which I suppose is as good an explanation as any.

I do seem to remember that Gandalf berated himself for not noticing Saruman's traitorous intent sooner. I think he blamed it on being distracted by the serious undertakings in which he'd recently
been engaged.

Charles said...

Or Gandalf was just high. After all, Saruman did berate Gandalf, telling him: "Your love of the halflings' leaf has clearly slowed your mind."