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I look at the elves in Jackson's movies and how they (almost) all look alike and move synchroneously, e.g., here or here... and my first association is a North Korean parade. Or a Nazi Reichsparteitag.

I don't think the aesthetics of elvish battle formations were ever addressed in the books. Then again, this kind of precision drill does not seem to jibe with Tolkien's portrayal of elves as nature-loving semi-hippies.

Of course, this is not confined to elves. In the Hobbit movies, the dwarves move just the same: in formation, and excruciatingly so.

Has Jackson ever commented on why his battles look like a North Korean parade?


EDIT: Wow, four (net) downvotes and one answer that is well on its way to a reversal badge. So far.

Let me (try to) clarify.

Yes, I do know about phalanxes. In fact, my main pain point about 300 (the movie) was that Leonidas denies Ephialtes a place in the Spartan lines for the entirely correct reason that as a cripple, he would not be able to hold his place in a phalanx... but later the film veers off into the most un-phalanx-like fighting possible, with warriors breaking ranks and fighting single-person actions against what seems to be the entire Persian army. There was almost zero phalanx-type fighting in 300, apart from a few testudo formations (which one can classify as "phalanx-like", even if the Roman legion was really far removed from a Greek phalanx).

All well and good.

However, I have read LoTR a couple of times, along with the Hobbit and the Silmarillion. And I cannot recall an instance where Tolkien implies that anyone in the realms of Middle-Earth fights phalanx-style. He was certainly familiar with the style, as the product of a classical education, but his works of course show far more influences of old Nordic sagas (note his work on Beowulf, or the way he lifted the names of Thorin's company verbatim from the Völuspá, e.g. stanza 11 of the Codex Regius version). And pretty much nobody in the sagas fought a "real" phalanx style (although the Anglo-Saxon formation at Hastings came close).

Instead, the sagas glorified single combat and glorious charges. If anything, the charge of the Rohirrim in the movie was far more in keeping with what Tolkien was familiar with. Along with Théoden's speech, which is quite in keeping with saga-style pre-battle speeches in both content and form. Tolkien was fascinated with the Kalevala, Lönnrot's attempt to collect orally-transmitted folk tales to synthesize a national epic of Finland, and to my recollection (sorry, again no source) at least toyed with the thought of writing LoTR as an analogue for England. Under these circumstances, it simply does not make sense for him to have his elves fight in a style that was used a thousand years before the sagas.

In addition, one far more painful gripe with the LoTR movies (which, admittedly, I did not spell out in my original question) is the way that hundreds, nay thousands of warriors in a kind-of-medieval setting have what looks like identical armor. I understand mass produced identical uniforms in early modern warfare, or in 20th century German SA troopers. (Especially ones selected for filming in propaganda movies.) I find it less in keeping with Tolkien to watch essentially uniformed elves. Especially since mass-producing cloth uniforms for an 18th century army is, of course, far easier than mass-producing metal armor and helmets. Armor can't just be tailored and stitched together. Each suit of armor represents a major investment of time and effort.

On the contrary, I found the scene in The Fellowship of the Ring (movie) entirely in character where Saruman's preparations for war are shown, along with industrial-style production of actual heaps of apparently quickly produced helmets for his troops.

Tolkien's views on industrial production of identical products were rather... negative. See The Scouring of the Shire (the book). One could philosophize about how his experiences in World War I trenches and WWI-style industrialized killing shaped his views of industry, or how World War II and the Nazi atrocities that came to light and were judged pretty much while he was writing LoTR combined to make Jackson's aesthetics jarring to me. Yes, Tolkien explicitly repudiated a facile allegorical reading of his work, where one could instinctively and facilely see orcs and Mordor as "obvious" allegories of the Nazis and their horrors - but then again, I don't think Tolkien had elves in mind that moved with the precision and drill of the Leibstandarte.

Finally, I do understand that CGI producing masses of identically moving clones is easier than hand-crafting every single one, or even filming many actors. What I am looking for is not a technical explanation ("it was easier/cheaper"), but an artistic one.

Did Jackson anywhere, in an interview or some such, address the question of why his battle formations look and move like a modern industrial army (or, if you want, like a phalanx with anachronistically precisely manufactured metal equipment) from an artistic standpoint?

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    because it's a lot easier to copy/paste animations than to animate every single model in a giant army scene – phantom42 Oct 21 '15 at 16:29
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    The point about animations is a good one, but this is also not unique to the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. 300 has similar scenes, I imagine Gladiator and other movies about Romans do too. That's simply how you fight, and perfectly mirrored movements is the easiest way to get across the point that this is an incredibly efficient and well trained fighting force, not some ragtag group thrown together. – Anthony Grist Oct 21 '15 at 16:33
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    @phantom42 IIRC, that movie used some fancy new software that did animate every single model instead of just copying and pasting. – Kevin Oct 21 '15 at 16:34
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    You have it backwards. North Korean and Nazi Parades are imitating the formations of ancient, pole-armed armies to look cool. – Oldcat Oct 21 '15 at 17:32
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    Downvote from me. This question not only shows ZERO research or understanding of historical warfare, but it also needs some serious cleaning up. Google "army formations" or anything similar, and you'll find a near-limitless number of explanations for why armies do this. – Omegacron Oct 21 '15 at 17:58
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When you fight with spears, swords, and shields, keeping in formation is vital for survival, not to mention victory. In a formation, each soldier protects himself and the guy next to him with his shield, creating a "wall".

When the Greeks invented the phalanx, they gained a huge advantage over armies, which did not keep in formation. And when two phalanxes came together in battle, it was the one that broke first that would lose. Typically the losing side would suffer huge casualties. So the ability to march in unison keeping the wall of shields intact was paramount.

  • That is quite correct. Thank you. However, this does not address the utterly uniformed appearance of the elves, e.g., during Haldir's entrance to Helm's Deep linked above, nor their lockstep parade ground drill in the same scene. I have attempted to clarify my issues with the "NK elves" in editing my questions. Would you be interested in addressing my expanded rationale for finding the movies jarring in this respect? – Stephan Kolassa Oct 21 '15 at 21:07
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There are multiple reasons that the elven and dwarven armies are portrayed that way, both 'in-universe' and 'out-of-universe'.

First off, 'nature-loving hippies' doesn't entirely describe the elves as they had multiple kingdoms, and have fought in large scale battles (Example, the very first battle scene it shows the elven army attacking in formation and in full armor). In the other books there are tales of the battles the elves have fought, such as the battle of unnumbered tears. So the elves have been fighters for millennia, and have picked up a few things in their battles.

As Dima mentioned, a formation is key to fighting, especially when against large hordes like the orcs.

Out of universe, it was simpler to animate a group if they move in formation. In the commentary for the Two Towers, it was mentioned how individuals in the armies were repeated several times in the animations. It's just easier/faster to repeat than it is to make them unique (even with using something that procedurally generates people). [citation needed, but at work and can't do that]

In real life , we see groups marching in precision all over the world. Go to any parade, and you'll see the marching bands moving in unison. It makes them look 'crisper' and 'cleaner' and shows that they are of one mind moving together. This is something that has been going on since the bronze age, as again Dima mentioned with Phalanx and Legionnaires.

In summary, elves aren't hippies, it's easier to animate, large groups moving in unison looks better.

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    Not to mention, in universe, their discipline in order was probably one of many ways to convey the grandeur of ages past versus the general disarray that the Kingdoms of men were experiencing in the movies. e.g. "We're elves; our kingdoms are unbroken, our splendor unmarred." – TylerH Oct 21 '15 at 19:38
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    I suspect that, once mastered (at school I always had problems when required to march), the synchronisation is also a considerable help to those moving, especially when tired or afraid. – PJTraill Feb 15 '16 at 14:38
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Dima's answer covers why marching in formation and moving in unison is important in battle. I think this explains the Elves behaviour in the scene in the question's first link.

The second link is to the arrival of the Elves at Helm's Deep (a scene that didn't happen in the book). The battle hasn't started yet, so why are the Elves marching in formation? I assume they are marching that way for the same reason that military units march in our world (especially in earlier years).

During training they do drills, practice marching and acting in unison so that they will be able to do the same in battle. Even after training is complete, troops traditionally march in unison, partly to reinforce their training, and partly to show off their skill and discipline to those who may see it. In this scene, it appears that Peter Jackson wants us to appreciate their skill and discipline.

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