Unused Audio Commentary By Howard Zinn And Noam Chomsky, Recorded For The Return Of the King (Platinum Series Extended Edition) DVD
(With special thanks to Dan Josefson, Rachel Meresman, and Alex Carp.)
BY JEFF ALEXANDER and TOM BISSELL
CHOMSKY: We’re looking down now at the lovely junks of the Haradrim warriors coming down the river to avenge all the hours their children have spent fruitlessly piecing together mithril vests.
ZINN: If Faramir wants better armor, he should hire adults to make it—and pay them a living wage. The Orcs make their own armor and it’s much better, as well as far stronger. They’re not putting their money into absurd castles and banquets of plum tomatoes. More marching Orcs here. Marching to the negotiation table at Minas Tirith, is my guess.
CHOMSKY: Now Denethor begins to see many possibilities. When he goes out and sees that the army of Orcs has come, quite possibly to negotiate, he proclaims his discovery to everyone.
ZINN: “Flee, flee for your lives!” he says.
CHOMSKY: Yes—flee for your lives before Gandalf hits me in the face with a stick.
ZINN: But he obviously means “Flee to the negotiation table and end this destructive war!”
CHOMSKY: Before he can pursue this line of thought, Gandalf knocks him unconscious.
ZINN: And now the Orcs are firing some … well, actually, it’s the suspiciously pink Orc ordering the majority of the bombardment, quite likely violating orders from higher up.
CHOMSKY: There do seem to be some Orcs who are refusing, at least initially, to take these orders. Not every Orc is firing. They’re reluctant to follow the pink Orc’s illegal order.
ZINN: The fog of war.
CHOMSKY: Gandalf has effectively created a coup.
ZINN: Yes. He’s replaced the rightful king, Gondor’s only hope for peace, with his own war-mongering puppet.
CHOMSKY: And now we’re in the midst of all-out war, the armies lobbing huge pieces of concrete at each other. See how quickly it escalates.
ZINN: The way the Orcs stand in line as they attack shows they’re highly disciplined. There’s a lot of scurrying and ducking for cover among the Men of Minas Tirith.
CHOMSKY: Gandalf is screaming, “Fight! Stand by your posts!” It’s all he knows, fighting.
ZINN: And any attempt at peacemaking, any attempt to avoid war, is, in this ideology, fear and weakness.
CHOMSKY: “Kill the trolls!” Gandalf is hollering now. “Bring them down!” Of course he wants the trolls killed. They’re tangible proof that the Orcs have mastered their very limited environment.
ZINN: You see the walls of Minas Tirith up close here. Albert Speer would have been proud. Notice the grand scale, the “great works” emphasis of Gondorian architecture. The fascist uniformity of their battle dress. Compare it to the folk artwork of Orcish armor—their improvisatory use of shrunken heads and Mannish skulls, for instance. There’s something very beautiful about it to me.
CHOMSKY: A perfect example of what Ruskin valorizes as the Gothic aesthetic.
ZINN: It’s nonstandardized, individual, homespun, bespoke. It’s also imbued with a kind of nature worship that Elves merely play at.
CHOMSKY: Now the Orcs are using their triceratops friends to pull Grond, which is a large, flaming wolf’s head that they use to beat down Minas Tirith’s door. Why not employ the gunpowder technology used by Saruman’s army at Helm’s Deep?
ZINN: Apparently that technology has not reached these Eastern Orcs, which does suggest a more complicated regional and ethnic diversity than Gandalf’s anti-Orc propaganda allows for. If Orcs were all united, all “evil,” we can presume they would have shared all relevant gunpowder advancements with one another.
CHOMSKY: Here is another scene that was added to this extended edition: Men using the dead against their own kind. Aragorn is commanding an army of the dead against the fathers and brothers of the children who assemble his armor and tunics.
ZINN: It is particularly craven. Essentially, what Strider does here is no better than having striking workers shot.
CHOMSKY: By the undead.
ZINN: Now Gollum leads Frodo into Shelob’s lair. This terrible spider … well, obviously it was put there by Gandalf to eat and terrorize Orcs.
CHOMSKY: In your eyes Shelob is some kind of overt border-patrol mechanism, then.
ZINN: A very useful one, isn’t it? Gandalf knows she’ll make sure Frodo never gets to Mount Doom and this magic-ring story will never be exposed as the nonsense it is.
CHOMSKY: Back to the battle at Minas Tirith. Are you as troubled by this as I am?
ZINN: I’m sure I am, but what in particular?
CHOMSKY: Under the influence of the Elves, Men would rather conspire with the dead than live peacefully with Orcs. Men say, “We’re going to ally ourselves to giant poisonous spiders, we’re going to ally ourselves to the dead, we’re going to ally ourselves to small, drunken, dancing jugglers.” Anything that will cause and abet this war with the Orcs.
ZINN: And where is the Orcish Fire in the Lake? The book that sees things from the Orcish perspective? It will never be written. The Orcish historian who was going to write that book was crushed by a large piece of cement outside Minas Tirith. History is written by Elves. And this history would have us believe that Bilbo Baggins was a brave Hobbit who had wonderful adventures, rather than a thief, a liar, and a primary agent of genocide.
ZINN: He’s supposed to be this great traveler. But what was There and Back Again?
CHOMSKY: He might as well have called his book Nothing Happened Again: A History of the Hobbits.
ZINN: Let’s Walk to Bree and Come Back and Say It Was a Great Journey. Meanwhile, the most interesting, rare, and exotic creature he encounters is the dragon Smaug. And he abets its extermination. Now dragons are extinct.
CHOMSKY: Which Gandalf later shamelessly commemorates in a firework. Here Shelob finally makes her appearance, and Frodo vigorously defends himself. He seems to have already recovered from the dioxin poisoning that ceased when Gollum threw the lembas away.
CHOMSKY: He couldn’t have staved off a mouse two days ago. Now he’s fighting a giant arachnid to a standstill!
ZINN: The only reason he’s alive is because Gollum tossed that poisoned bread.
CHOMSKY: And here in his newfound, un-lembas-poisoned clarity, he has a dream after he passes out outside of Shelob’s lair. Whom does this vision concern?
ZINN: Galadriel. This shows the quasi-Manchurian Candidate programming he’s been subject to. More of Gandalf’s tricks, no doubt. And here we have Denethor leading, sensibly, a group of people who are going to set him and his son on fire. We’re meant to believe that this is outrageous behavior, but consider that there’s a catastrophic and totally unnecessary war going on right outside his castle.
CHOMSKY: No doubt only a people’s history of this conflict will someday make that clear. Look at the sheer ferocity with which the trolls fight for the Orcs.
ZINN: Shelob again. Is there a more appropriate slayer of Shelob than Samwise?
CHOMSKY: This bumbling idiot who has no purpose other than to blunder into every scene and somehow direct things to his own—
ZINN: Is that how spiders bite? That would be really terrifying. Can you imagine being attacked by a spider like that? It makes me have a little bit of sympathy for Sam.
CHOMSKY: Now here Denethor is about to commit his act of protest against the madness going on outside the gates—heroically burning himself in protest of Gandalf’s colonial war.
ZINN: There’s a sacred quality to this. It’s imbued with spirituality.
CHOMSKY: And beauty. And symbolism. Of course, Gandalf corrupts the holy sanctity of this suicide ceremony by riding in on Shadowfax.
ZINN: The arrogance of colonial power! Dismissing and denigrating the religion of those you hold in subjugation. It is a truly sad moment.
CHOMSKY: Yes. I think Denethor’s taken the path many nationalists throughout history have opted for. Suicide rather than collaboration.
ZINN: This must be the final aspect of Denethor’s ritual.
CHOMSKY: How do you mean?
ZINN: His half-mile run and swan dive off the edge of Minas Tirth’s highest plateau. What focus the man has. And here’s more death worship as Gandalf spews to Pippin some palliative religious bromides I can’t even bear to quote.
CHOMSKY: If a Muslim militant were to speak these words, we’d call him a madman. When Gandalf glorifies death, it’s a nobly hushed moment.
ZINN: Death is merely “white shores.” Filled with virgins, no doubt, and loads of pipe-weed.
CHOMSKY: Finally, Aragorn arrives, with his army of the dead, which looks like nothing so much as an unusually vicious incarnation of Scrubbing Bubbles.
ZINN: Were it not for the intervention of the dead, this would go down in the annals of history as the most foolish, worthless, romanticized bloodbath since Pickett’s charge.
CHOMSKY: Let’s not forget this victory is not that of Men over Orcs, good over evil. It’s the success of a vile pact between Aragorn and the dead over the vital, living forces of a Mordor insurgency.
ZINN: We’ve been accused of being Orc apologists. I don’t think that’s fair.
CHOMSKY: I admire their pluck and I’m impressed by their loyalty to one another and their homeland, but I don’t want to glorify them either. For example—
ZINN: The Orcish hazing that goes on.
CHOMSKY: Yes, Orcs do seem to haze one another. Calling each other “slugs” and “maggots,” and what have you.
ZINN: But they’re pulled from the earth. Being called a slug or a maggot might not be such a bad thing from the Orcish perspective. In the end, we shouldn’t be talking about humanizing Orcs. Perhaps we should be talking about Orcanizing humans.
CHOMSKY: There’s a movement I could get behind.
ZINN: My, what valor Strider shows here on the battlefield. Rushing in behind a tide of massacring dead and slitting the throats of the few survivors.
CHOMSKY: Eowyn now has slain the Witch King of Angmar. This seems to be the result of some sort of paradox: she’s able to kill he whom no man can kill because she’s not actually a man.
ZINN: The entirety of Man’s battlefield success rests upon a word game. It was better when Homer did it.
CHOMSKY: Now Aragorn—
CHOMSKY: Excuse me. Strider now tells the army of the dead to “be at peace,” granting them amnesty for their reluctance to serve in an earlier war. Good luck being at peace after that performance, army of the dead. It might be easy for the calloused souls of Gandalf and Aragorn to kill, but the dead are obviously scarred by the things they’ve seen and done.
ZINN: Be at peace, indeed.
CHOMSKY: I’m a bit mystified by this post-battle montage: Pippin is looking for Merry; Eowyn, horribly wounded, is healed by Aragorn; Eowyn, recovered, falls in love with Faramir, who is also miraculously recovered. But somehow in the passage of all this time—weeks? months?—we cut back to Pippin, who’s still looking for Merry out on the battlefield.
CHOMSKY: Hobbits were not chosen by Gandalf because they were smart.
ZINN: Samwise here is going up the stairs of Cirith Ungol, slaughtering Orcs left and right. He appears much happier here than we’ve seen him previously.
CHOMSKY: He in fact seems thrilled. He’s claiming blood debts—for the Shire, for Frodo, for his own confused emotions. I’m not sure the Shire would want this violence to be enacted on its behalf.
ZINN: Back to Gondor. Gandalf concocts one final suicidal charge on the supposed theory that if the Elf-Istari coalition attacks Mordor, then all of the 10,000 Orcs standing between Frodo and Sam and Mount Doom will rush to the front.
CHOMSKY: It seems ridiculous that an entire army would desert its homeland to rush to the front of a clearly hopeless battle.
ZINN: What’s truly ridiculous is that he convinces anyone of the perspicacity of this so-called plan. He’s going to more unlikely and reckless extremes to continue this war.
CHOMSKY: Here the Evenstar falls from Strider’s neck and shatters on the floor. What was that all about?
ZINN: More obfuscation in the name of … uh, permanent war. We don’t see any Orcish love scenes in this movie.
CHOMSKY: That would be a hell of a thing. And, at last, Frodo and Sam approach Mordor. The apparent influence of dioxin poisoning is very strong again, now that Gollum’s out of the picture and Frodo’s completely at Sam’s mercy.
CHOMSKY: Frodo, so listless he can’t even stand.
ZINN: Notice the rash that’s broken out across his face—a clear mark of dioxin.
CHOMSKY: What, I ask, is so terrifying about Sauron? He’s just a light, searching. A beacon, really.
ZINN: Sauron is a beacon for people.
CHOMSKY: A beacon that the Istari feel needs to be destroyed.
ZINN: Yes. Hide, lest he see through you. Destroy, lest he uncover your true motives. It’s obvious why Gandalf would fear Sauron’s ability to see within. The Orcs, on the other hand, seem perfectly comfortable with Sauron’s panoptic ability. They have nothing to hide.
CHOMSKY: Frodo only has the strength to move once he’s sure his mission will kill him. What kind of sick psychology empowers Hobbits?
CHOMSKY: You see here in this added scene “the mouth of Sauron,” evidently his chief diplomat, sent out to speak with and welcome the Mannish invaders.
ZINN: It was a spirited parlay, but I don’t think anything justifies Strider’s action to summarily lop off his interlocutor’s head. If there are rules of engagement in Middle Earth, they were definitely violated here.
CHOMSKY: Now we see Men and Elves and wizards and one Dwarf surrounded by Orcs, who are protecting their homeland, acting in self-defense, while Sam and Frodo charge up Mount Doom. As the ring is destroyed, there is some sort of corresponding explosion upon the battlefield.
ZINN: There’s no denying that.
CHOMSKY: But what is the giant explosion really a result of? Could it be, perhaps, some sort of munitions drop? The Eagles, say, providing air cover.
ZINN: It is interesting that the mysterious explosion does not go off until the Eagles arrive.
CHOMSKY: Gandalf explains nothing. He just watches, astounded by the fulfillment of his plan.
ZINN: The only one who possibly has any true insight into what is going on here is Elrond, and he’s so wrapped up in his daughter’s on-again, off-again relationship to Strider that I don’t think he even cares by this point.
CHOMSKY: The neutron bomb flattens all Orcs while it miraculously spares the Men. Perhaps Gandalf has shielded them from the effects of the Eagle-dropped bomb with his wizardry.
ZINN: And, in the process, turning Mordor, an already-benighted land, into a desolate barrens.
CHOMSKY: Well, Gandalf knows he’s soon leaving Middle Earth. Why would he care? Now Strider’s coronation.
ZINN: Held, I might add, at the very site of Denethor’s beautiful act of protest.
CHOMSKY: It’s shocking that these people have the gall to stage Strider’s coronation ceremony on that sacred ground.
ZINN: A single flower blooms on Gondor’s tree. I suppose that’s symbolic.
CHOMSKY: Or it means that some Hobbits climbed up there to water it.
ZINN: This inbred puppet-king is finally crowned. But please, people of Gondor, stay behind the phalanx of armed guards while you watch.
CHOMSKY: A legitimate king would clearly not need this kind of security at his inauguration. Did they really need to bring their spears?
CHOMSKY: “Let us together rebuild this world,” Aragorn says. And bury all the Orc carcasses before any tribunals can be established. Look at his outfit. It probably took 50 Haradrim orphans six months to assemble.
ZINN: I bet it still couldn’t repel a good Orcish arrow.
CHOMSKY: The so-called Fourth Age of Middle Earth begins. Gandalf’s plot is complete. Elvish rule is absolute.
ZINN: And no one, of course, is talking about the single greatest instance of Orcicide in the history of Middle Earth, nor the countless numbers of endangered triceratops and oliphants slaughtered on the battlefield.
CHOMSKY: Strange how all the ringleaders head immediately to the Grey Havens.
ZINN: No extradition laws there, I’m sure. And those who remain in Middle Earth won’t have any Orcs to bother them with talk of independence. “Stability” is established, and the foolish Hobbits can return to their homeland.
CHOMSKY: With all the invisibility cloaks and illegal drugs they need. “It’s good to be home.” Samwise says this.
ZINN: Sam doesn’t really understand the legal consequences of what they’ve done.
CHOMSKY: He’s just a murdering, ill-tempered fool, a patsy.
ZINN: Yes, what Sam doesn’t know is that the small, hirsute hand of some bravely independent Hobbit in Bree or South Farthing is dutifully investigating his war crimes, and will soon be knocking on his circular door.
CHOMSKY: But not before Frodo leaves him the very chronicle of their crimes—with a blank page at the end! As if to say, “Wrap this up, Sam. See if you can put a nice gloss on it.” So concludes The Lord of the Rings.
ZINN: Just disgusting.
CHOMSKY: I know. I feel wonderful.
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