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At around the 18 minute mark of the Extended Edition of The Return of the King, after a slain Saruman has fallen from Orthanc, the Palantir is shown slipping out of Saruman's robes into the flooded ground, before it's picked up by Pippin. However at this moment the Palantir doesn't have any effect on Pippin despite him holding onto it for at least 10 seconds. By contrast, just a few scenes later, it makes him writhe in pain on the floor while holding it, and later on in the film it makes Aragorn faint when he tries to do the same.

Is there anything from the movies or the books to suggest why this is?

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  • 5
    Still booting up
    – Valorum
    Jun 25, 2020 at 22:30
  • 2
    There's nothing in any of the (four) cast/crew/director/producer commentaries for this scene
    – Valorum
    Jun 25, 2020 at 23:11
  • @Valorum My first assumption was water damage. Maybe that sack Pippin took it out of later was full of rice.
    – Prometheus
    Jun 26, 2020 at 17:05

2 Answers 2

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+100

A palantir has to be placed in the right position for it to work

Pippin, it's noted in Unfinished Tales, by sheer "coincidence" sat the Orthanc Stone in its right position, facing it towards Mordor in the East while he himself sat on the West.

So it was "by chance" as Men call it (as Gandalf would have said) that Peregrin, fumbling with the Stone, must have set it on the ground more or less "upright," and sitting westward of it have had the fixed east-looking face in the proper position.
Unfinished Tales, Part 4, III, The Palantiri

And coming back to that of course, when Pippin first picked up the Stone he didn't place it in the right position, so it didn't work then.

Though without any external markings of any kind they had permanent poles, and were originally so placed in their sites that they stood "upright:" their diameters from pole to pole pointed to the earth's centre, but the permanent nether pole must then be at the bottom.
Unfinished Tales, Part 4, III, The Palantiri

Finally coming to when he does get it right, he established a link between the stone now in Sauron's possession.

'"So you have come back? Why have you neglected to report for so long?"
The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, The Palantir

The movies got it wrong (duh) by not showing the Stone being placed on the ground for it to work.

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In 'Unfinished Tales' it is explained that the Palantir needs to be in the correct orientation to function. It is stated that it is pure luck that had Pippin hold it the right way to see Sauron; the first time it must have been held incorrectly. In their original settings, they would be mounted so that they were always ready to use.

But the minor Stones, those of Orthanc, Ithil, and Anor, and probably Annúminas, had also fixed orientation in their original situation, so that (for example) their west face would only look west and turned in other directions was blank. If a Stone became unseated or disturbed it could be re-set by observation, and it was then useful to revolve it. But when removed and cast down, as was the Orthanc-stone, it was not so easy to set right. So it was "by chance" as Men call it (as Gandalf would have said) that Peregrin, fumbling with the Stone, must have set it on the ground more or less "upright," and sitting westward of it have had the fixed east-looking face in the proper position.

(There are master stones that did not have this limitation).

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