The intriguing audio of the Uruk-hai in ‘The Lord of the Rings

The fascinating sounds of 'The Lord of the Rings' Uruk-hai

Crafting the auditory experience for The Lord of the Rings trilogy was no small feat for the sound design team, given the unprecedented nature of bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy to life on the big screen. Undoubtedly, Hollywood has a rich history of employing unexpected and sometimes bizarre methods to capture the perfect audio for iconic scenes. From turning a can of dog food upside-down to mimic the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day to the unconventional use of tortoises for the iconic velociraptor calls in Jurassic Park, the industry has consistently demonstrated a penchant for ingenuity.

However, when it comes to the realm of fantasy, the challenges are unique, demanding inventive solutions. The Lord of the Rings crew exhibited remarkable creativity in addressing these challenges. In the Mines of Moria scene from The Fellowship of the Ring, for instance, the groan of a walrus was employed to convey the dying breath of a cave troll. To simulate the scuttling feet of the orc horde, the sound team went a step further, literally, by running around on a floor covered with bottle caps.

The Ents, ancient tree-like creatures, moving through their home turf of Fangorn Forest, presented another audio challenge. The solution? A cow’s sounds, slowed down and deepened, provided the lumbering, majestic effect needed for these mystical beings. The fell-beasts, ridden by the Nazgûl, had their eerie cries created by combining braying donkeys with the sound of a cheese grater on a string being whirled around the recording studio. Even the deafening echo caused by skulls erupting around the King of the Dead in The Return of the King had its own inventive recipe, involving coconuts launched down a flight of stairs and walnuts being propelled along a concrete ramp.

Yet, one of the most remarkable instances of creative audio design in The Lord of the Rings trilogy occurred when director Peter Jackson sought the perfect recreation of an Uruk-hai army chanting ahead of battle. The decision was made to capture authenticity by gathering tens of thousands of voices chanting in unison. Jackson took advantage of a cricket match at Wellington’s Westpac Trust stadium in February 2002 between England and New Zealand. During an innings break, he stood on the pitch and acted as a conductor, leading the 25,000-strong audience in chants, roars, and growls that would later become a pivotal part of The Two Towers.

In the context of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Black Speech, the throngs of the Uruk-hai were chanting “Gu kibum kelkum-ishi, burzum-ishi. Akha-gum-ishi ashi gurum,” translating to “No life in coldness, in darkness. Here in void, only death,” adding a chilling and foreboding atmosphere to the cinematic moment.

The inadvertent involvement of cricket fans in this unique audio experiment not only allowed them to enjoy the game but also made them an integral part of cinematic history. It serves as a testament to the lengths to which the sound design team went to ensure an unparalleled auditory experience in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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