## A Military Historian’s Look at the Siege of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s Return of the King

In a six-part series on his blog, Roman military historian Bret Devereaux took a close look at the Siege of Gondor in Peter Jackson’s Return of the King, the final movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Looking at the logistics of moving the Army of Mordor to Minas Tirith is actually a great way to introduce some of these problems in more depth. They say ‘amateurs talk tactics, but professionals study logistics.’ Well, pull up a chair at the Grown-Ups Table, and let’s study some logistics.

The army Sauron sends against Minas Tirith is absolutely vast — an army so vast that it cannot fit its entire force in the available frontage, so the army ends up stacking up in front of the city.

The books are vague on the total size of the orcish host (but we’ll come back to this), but interview material for the movies suggests that Peter Jackson’s CGI team assumed around 200,000 orcs. This army has to exit Minas Morgul — apparently as a single group — and then follow the road to the crossing at Osgiliath. Is this operational plan reasonable, from a transit perspective?

In a word: no. It’s not hard to run the math as to why. Looking at the image at the head of the previous section, we can see that the road the orcs are on allows them to march five abreast, meaning there are 40,000 such rows (plus additional space for trolls, etc). Giving each orc four feet of space on the march (a fairly conservative figure), that would mean the army alone stretches 30 miles down a single road. At that length, the tail end of the army would not even be able to leave camp before the front of the army had finished marching for the day. For comparison, an army doing a ‘forced march’ (marching at rapid speed under limited load — and often taking heat or fatigue casualties to do it) might manage 20 to 30 miles per day. Infantry on foot is more likely to average around 10 miles per day on decent roads.

I admit I did not have time to read this whole thing this morning, but posts like these are some of my favorite things online. See also Rome, Sweet Rome, A People’s History of Tattooine, and some of my logistical questions about Mad Max: Fury Road. (via studio d radiodurans)

## Ian McKellan’s 1999 Lord of the Rings Blog

Starting in 1999 with his casting as Gandalf and continuing through 2003, Ian McKellan wrote a blog called The Grey Book about his experiences starring in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. (His website is getting pounded right now, so check out the Internet Archive mirror if you can’t get through.)

So the journey has begun without me. On Monday 11th October, Elijah Wood et al gathered in Hobbiton — and I hear they are behaving themselves! I have been in Toronto, masquerading as Magneto, the master of magnetism, on the set of Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” I have just sent Peter Jackson an e-mail of good luck. I don’t expect an immediate reply — directing a film is totally time-consuming.

Meanwhile, Tolkien aficionados are mailing to the “Grey Book.” From teenagers and readers old as wizards come the advice, the demands, the warnings — united by the hope that the film’s Gandalf will match their own individual interpretations of the Lord of the Rings. I take comfort from the general assurance that they approve of the casting (not just of me but of all the other actors so far announced - thrilling news that Cate Blanchett is joining us.) Yet how can I satisfy everyone’s imagined Gandalf? Simply, I can’t.

And yet I believe he did satisfy almost everyone. Maybe McKellen will even reprise his role as the wizard in the upcoming Amazon series. (via a very excited Stephen Colbert)

## How Ian McKellen Acts With His Eyes

In the latest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak examines how Ian McKellen does a lot of heavy lifting with his eyes, especially in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. On his way there, I really liked Puschak’s lovely description of the physical craft of acting:

Part of that craft is understanding and gaining control of all the involuntary things we do when we communicate — the inflection of the voice, the gestures of the body, and the expressions of the face.

P.S. Speaking of actors being able to control their faces, have you ever seen Jim Carrey do wordless impressions of other actors? Check this out:

The Jack Nicholson is impressive enough but his Clint Eastwood (at ~1:15) is really off the charts. Look at how many different parts of his face are moving independently from each other as that jiggling Jello mold eventually gather into Eastwood’s grimace. Both McKellen and Carrey are athletic af in terms of their body control in front of an audience or camera.

## Stephen Colbert connects Chance the Rapper & Childish Gambino to the Lord of the Rings

Stephen Colbert is a *huge* J.R.R. Tolkien nerd. When Rolling Stone asked the late night host to break a song down, he chose “Favorite Song” by Chance the Rapper (feat. Childish Gambino) and connected a verse in it to both Gilbert & Sullivan and Lord of the Rings.

Whether or not you know it, Chance and Childish, you wrote a song that includes in it this really kind of rare rhyme and rhythm scheme that Tolkien used in the poem that actually influences all of the rest of Lord of the Rings.

I wonder about the “rare” bit though…rappers packing songs with internal rhymes is not a new thing nor is referencing Gilbert & Sullivan in hip-hop. Still, this is superbly nerdy. (via craig)