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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Lord of the Rings:
The Beacons

Paulo Gabriel
Fantastic Four

Feb 2, 9:12pm

Post #1 of 16 (2304 views)
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The Beacons Can't Post

I found this comment online about the third movie pretty interesting:

''Don't say "it's fantasy" as if that justifies all impossibles. That reduces LOTR to the level of a Roadrunner cartoon. Why not have "Gimli" run on the air for a little bit before doing a pratfall then? Why not have little birds and bells circling in the air over any character who gets hit, or little hearts over "Arwen" and Viggo at the coronation? Why not have the impossible catapults flip over and flatten their own crews, with ACME stamped on the side? I assure you, none of those would be any more out of place, or any more impossible, than the things which did happen in ROTK-M.

Here is a signal example, that of the in/famous "Beacon Scene." Some pretty pictures, rendered completely meaningless, by their impossibility. The scene in the books was apparently not exciting enough, when Gandalf, racing through the dark to Gondor, is spurred on to even more urgency by the line of beacons bursting into flame one by one in a lengthening chain down the opposite direction, followed almost immediately after by a group of couriers bringing the Red Arrow to Théoden. The beacons, as in the Primary World, are set on hills — not mountaintops, not peaks as of the Himalayas or the Swiss Alps, whereupon in broad daylight vast blossoms of gas-jet flame leap up instantaneously from piles of logs.

This is ROTK-M's version of the impossible Argonath statues, where the realistic upraised arms of the Kings are replaced with utterly impossible extended arms. (Look at any decent art book, you will find plenty of statues of figures with arms raised up to the shoulder, but few (surviving unrepaired at least) with extended arms, for a very good reason called gravity, and another very good reason called breakability. Stone is quite brittle, compared to wood or plastic.) In order to make the "drama" greater, the scene has been reduced to irrationality, rather than remaining a believable fantasy. We are even shown one beacon igniting above the clouds! How, pray tell, is that supposed to do any good to those below, and be visible to the people it is meant to summon? Let alone how it can burn, how its keepers can survive, in a zone of low oxygen and lower temperatures? (The situation, in which Pippin is obliged to scale a tower to light the beacon, is moreover one of laughable implausibility both in its execution and its setup. Definitely an Honorable Mention for the Aristotelian Improbability Award, if not a Bronze.)

But — it's all magic, it's fantasy, it's irrational, just the way stupid science fiction is dismissed by reviewers as "it's sci-fi, what do you expect?" Only it isn't supposed to be — this was billed to us after all as Lord of the Rings, not Dungeons & Dragons, or Indiana Jones, or Tarzan of the Apes, and in Middle-earth, miles are after all real miles, objects have to be carried by someone across a given distance, there are no teleport devices or Magic Bags of Holding, resources are limited to what is available and practicality dominates over histrionics — to the overall increase of drama, imo''.

Honestly, this is pretty funny, as well. I wonder if anyone else here has ever wondered how absurd those Gondor Beacons, or other elements in the movies, were? As this writer says, it's by far not the only example!

Thoughts? Laugh


Chen G.
Defender

Feb 2, 9:23pm

Post #2 of 16 (2266 views)
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Strikes me as very petty [In reply to] Can't Post

Sure, The Lord of the Rings is a relatively grounded fantasy, but its still fantasy.

Realism in film doesn't mean versimilitude. Not everything has to make sense to the 'nth degree. It has to work visually, which the Beacons scene does most gloriously.


skyofcoffeebeans
Fantastic Four

Feb 2, 9:35pm

Post #3 of 16 (2261 views)
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I thought it was going to go into time [In reply to] Can't Post

The beacon system of Ancient Rome was able to send messages and signals 90 minutes apart, yet the beacons in the film transferring a message across a similar distance seems to take at least 24 hrs. Ah, well. That night shot made the sequence better.


Otaku-sempai
Avenger


Feb 2, 9:46pm

Post #4 of 16 (2261 views)
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Less fantasy (in this instance)... [In reply to] Can't Post

...than dramatic license. I'll give it to Peter Jackson in this case because the scene works on an emotional level.

#FidelityToTolkien
#DiversityWithFidelity


Greenwood Hobbit
Justice League


Feb 4, 10:37am

Post #5 of 16 (2207 views)
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Absurd or not [In reply to] Can't Post

the music and imagery of the beacon sequence makes my heart soar, so I'm happy with it!


squire
Asgardian


Feb 4, 7:11pm

Post #6 of 16 (2200 views)
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It's been a long time since the New Line LotR films were a hot topic around here [In reply to] Can't Post

But if I remember, a number of people here on the Movie board agreed with the sentiments of your quotable grump.

I myself made some sarcastic remarks about the absurdity of the beacons being at Alpine altitudes. And I've gone on, more than once, about the unsatisfactory rendering of the Argonath statues for the exact same reasons, involving physics, as your commenter.

I think the better responses of the defenders have been along the lines of "melodrama" rather than "fantasy". Notice that in both scenes (Argonath and Beacons) the musical score really rises to the occasion, telling us to believe the unbelievable visuals for the sheer thrill of experiencing an over-the-top emotional moment.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


kzer_za
Fantastic Four

Feb 4, 7:48pm

Post #7 of 16 (2188 views)
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These scenes work well thematically [In reply to] Can't Post

They are beautifully shot and perfectly scored by Howard Shore. The Argonath communicates in 30 seconds the grandeur of past Gondor/Numenor compared to its current decayed form in a way that a more realistically-sized statue could not. The beacons communicate the hopefulness and historic importance of the moment in a way that a more low-key hilltop scene would not, not to mention the natural beauty of Middle-earth.

This, by the way, is why some of the dumber stuff in The Hobbit (and to some degree Legolas's Mumak takedown) is bad - there is no actual narrative purpose in Legolas running up the stairs to justify the suspension of disbelief. Plus some of it goes on forever. On the other hand, for another positive example: yes Sam and Frodo would have been baked on their little rock island in the lava at the end with realistic physics, but that image fits the story and themes perfectly.

You can do this kind of thing with almost any movie if you want to - why does the German colonel at the end of Casablanca get out of his car alone in a suspicious situation so he can conveniently get shot with only one witness? Is it really realistic that Michael Corleone is able to assassinate all of his rivals in The Godfather simultaneously, timed to his child's baptism? Does it really make sense that the Death Star has one huge weakness the Empire doesn't know about, Rogue One's retcon aside? It doesn't matter, because these things fit what the movie is doing narratively and thematically.


(This post was edited by kzer_za on Feb 4, 7:54pm)


Chen G.
Defender

Feb 4, 9:40pm

Post #8 of 16 (2179 views)
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Or [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Is it really realistic that Michael Corleone is able to assassinate all of his rivals in The Godfather simultaneously, timed to his child's baptism?


Is it realistic that Michael, having shot a police captain in point-blank range in a restaurant, would be able to return to the US with seemingly no prosecution? Is it realistic that Doctor Lecter could impersonate an officer by wearing his literal face?

The list goes on. What matters is that you're swept in the story, engaged in the characters, interested by the themes and moved by the drama.


GreenHillFox
Human


Feb 8, 9:14am

Post #9 of 16 (2050 views)
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Regarding the beacons... [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
'Here is a signal example, that of the in/famous "Beacon Scene." Some pretty pictures, rendered completely meaningless, by their impossibility.


Whereas this “Beacon Scene” certainly suffers some oddities, there is at least some logic to be found at the end of it, which you won’t find in the book: the signal is observed in Edoras and so King Théoden understands that his help is called for. Yes, the movie neglects the issue of the Red Arrow entirely, but I could be forgiving for that.

Compare that to the books. The furthest beacon West is Halifirien which is some 200 miles away from Edoras (according to my “Atlas of Middle-Earth”) and therewith completely invisible from Edoras. All the people that these beacons are warning are limited to two lonely travelers (Gandalf and Pippin, in the event) and the couriers with the Red Arrow, and all of these already know what’s going on. Moreover, Anórien is practically without any population with no cities of importance to warn.

Each time I read the books I wonder about the sense of this part. If Gondor and Rohan (i.e. Minas Tirith and Edoras) needed a fast communication means for calling for help to one another, then the beacons should have been extended much further West.

I would call this is a most exceptional example of a movie that corrects an aspect of the book it is based upon.


squire
Asgardian


Feb 8, 12:47pm

Post #10 of 16 (2044 views)
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Very good point, but there is another angle [In reply to] Can't Post

As you say the beacon system in the books only goes to the borders of Gondor, and thus would not be used to summon Rohan to a war of alliance. For that the Red Arrow is needed. Tolkien's writing makes total sense on its own terms. Even if as you say there is very little help to be had from the outlying fiefs of Anorien, and most of Gondor's feudal strength is in the South, where a similar line of beacons reached, that was the only point of the beacon scene in the book.

But doesn't that make sense? Rohan is not Gondor, and Gondor does not own any hills in Rohan to put beacons on; Rohan could do it, perhaps, but we are told that Rohan is a much looser and weaker monarchy than Gondor's militarized and bureaucratic empire.

So instead the Red Arrow racing past in the night, and later received by a shaken Theoden at Dunharrow, and finally found to have been ambushed on its return journey so that Denethor never knows if the message was received, is all dramatically laid out in the book. Sure, that wouldn't have been as powerful as the beacons being seen in Rohan as the films changed the strategic situation - but the logic is stronger than that of the films.

Rather the movies, for the sake of drama, implies that Gondor and Rohan operate the beacon system in coordination, specifically to call each other for aid. By that screen-logic, when Theoden asks, "Where was Gondor when the Westfold burned?" [or whatever he said], Aragorn should have said, "Well, sire, did you call to Gondor via the beacon system?" and Theoden would have slapped his forehead and said, "Whoa! You're right! My bad. Damn that Grima and his enchantments."



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


skyofcoffeebeans
Fantastic Four

Feb 8, 7:43pm

Post #11 of 16 (2017 views)
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Oy [In reply to] Can't Post

It was said in the Reading Room that sometimes it's best not to overthink the text, but whereas I disagree when it comes to the book, when it comes to the films, I think I might have to just suspend any critical thinking and continue to watch them as if I'm 11.

I always thought Aragorn's line in the film about calling Gondor for aid was ridiculous with the logistics of the situation with Isengard, but it now seems that line makes a little more sense, and now the question is what is going on with Theoden? Why didn't he call Gondor for aid with the beacons? And when summoned, why didn't he light the beacons in return, and let Denethor know help was on the way?


Hamfast Gamgee
X-men

Feb 8, 9:51pm

Post #12 of 16 (2007 views)
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I remember discussions like those as well [In reply to] Can't Post

In the older days. I suppose that as they cut out the Red Arrow, they had to show the drama in another way. Although they could have shown it like in the book, The scenes would have been just as dramatic if the beacons where lighten up whilst Gandalf and Pippin where gallloping at top speed to Minas Tirith.
Mind, I have to say that this was just one of many scenes in Gondor and Minas Tirith which just did not feel right to me and a pale shadow of how it was written in the book. Pippin starting the lighting of the beacons against Denethor's will, then Denethor did nothing about it, what was that all aboujt? The character of Denethor was in general mucked up in my opinion rather than been a masterful lord tragically driven down by events beyond his control he was portrayed as rather an idiot from the start.
Also events like the suicidal gallop to the Orcs in Osgiliath, would Faramar and his knights really have been so tactically stupid the siege and look of the city in general, it just looked more like a castle than a city. Plus of course, changing one of the most iconic moments of the story, the Lord of the Nazgul marching in to Minas Tirith by the gate.
It is a sad fact that millions of movie goers to this day probably think that the Lord of the Nazgul landed on the street as opposed to marching by the gate!


Paulo Gabriel
Fantastic Four

Feb 10, 6:39am

Post #13 of 16 (1956 views)
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This missing scene... [In reply to] Can't Post

of the Witch-King is sorely missing from the movies! I still like both of PJ's trilogies, however.


hatster
Defender


Feb 15, 9:59pm

Post #14 of 16 (1755 views)
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Hard to believe it has been 20 years [In reply to] Can't Post

Since we first laid eyes on the impossible Argonath. How many years before someone decides to remake them? And will the new version be able to resist that drama in lieu of physics? Or will it just get worse?

The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.


CMackintosh
Ant-person

Mar 8, 7:46am

Post #15 of 16 (945 views)
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Judging by other book to film [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Since we first laid eyes on the impossible Argonath. How many years before someone decides to remake them? And will the new version be able to resist that drama in lieu of physics? Or will it just get worse?


Judging from Total Recall (1990) to Total Recall (2012), it gets worse. The first one still had some fidelity to the short story of Philip K. Dick; the second one was based totally on the previous film, and managed to mangle that beyond all recognition (BAR).

On the other hand, most people I've discussed the various film versions of Dune with, consider the miniseries of 2000 to be much better than the David Lynch one of 1984.


Ioreth
Spider-person

Apr 3, 9:10am

Post #16 of 16 (292 views)
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I love that scene [In reply to] Can't Post

It brings my heart to sing ...

 
 

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