“The Bridge of Khazad-Dum” begins in the depths of Moria, where the Fellowship has discovered what happened to Balin and his company of dwarves that tried to retake the former Dwarf kingdom. After repelling an attack by orcs (and one large cave troll), Gandalf hears more approaching and orders the group to run for the famed Bridge of Khazad-Dum, a bridge spanning an endless chasm (and also the only way to get out of the mines).
As the group begins to run, the music is a double-timed reprise of the “Fellowship Theme” (that will be covered when I discuss “The Ring Goes South”). Despite hearing this theme that represents unity among the 9 members of the fellowship, things don’t look good right now: thousands of orcs are literally swarming out of every corner, until the group is surrounded on all sides.
I like to think of this moment as a colossal fake-out: the music has been building in tension all this time, and it seems to be building to another fight between the Fellowship and orcs. But then, just as the strings and brass build up to the highest possible point…the music drops out, replaced by a guttural roar at the far end of the corridor.
Given how the orcs are now quivering in terror themselves (not to mention running away as fast as they can), it seems the actual enemy is something else, something much, MUCH worse than mere orcs. Just how much worse can be summed up by this exchange between Boromir and Gandalf:
“What is this new devilry?”
“A Balrog. A demon of the ancient world. This foe is beyond any of you, RUN!!”
Okay, when a powerful wizard tells you to run, that’s a bad sign (because Gandalf isn’t one to just run away for no reason). This begins the second stage of “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum” as now the Fellowship must get out of the mines before the Balrog catches up to them. The Bridge itself is very close, but they still have to get over a ruined staircase, and THAT is quickly crumbling apart as the group is also being fired on by Orc archers. To help create even more tension, Howard Shore employs a Polynesian choir (introduced at the same time the Balrog is named by Gandalf). They add an almost primal feel to the moment, which is fitting because Balrogs are a very ancient type of monster, created by the first Dark Lord (Sauron was just his lieutenant).
One tense moment that I love is when Frodo and Aragorn are caught on the remaining part of the stairwell just as a large boulder is pushed down (by the quickly approaching Balrog) and crashed through last remaining support, turning their part of the staircase into a free-standing pillar (that isn’t very stable). The chanting here is just amazing (sometimes I listen to this part over and over again). Thankfully, Aragorn employs a little momentum and they are reunited with the rest of the Fellowship.
Now comes stage three, the final dash for the bridge. But as Gandalf urges them on, time runs out. The massive Balrog comes soaring out of a fiery chasm, an infernal nightmare of flames and shadow (the animated Balrog from the first Lord of the Rings movie has NOTHING on this creature).
The rest of the Fellowship makes it safely across the bridge as the Balrog approaches. But Gandalf turns around in the middle of the bridge and forbids the monster from coming any closer (this is the famous “You shall not pass!” moment). The Balrog challenges the wizard, who responds by cracking down on the bridge with his staff, causing a rupture that drops the Balrog to what will presumably be his doom at the base of the mountain. But just as everyone breathes a sigh of relief, the Balrog’s flame-whip darts back up and grabs Gandalf by the legs. He tries to pull himself up, but too much damage has been done. With a last “Fly, you fools!” Gandalf is gone!!
I remember the first time I read this moment in the books, I literally shouted in horror because, in my mind, this is GANDALF we’re talking about, Gandalf can’t die, he’s a powerful wizard! This is definitely one of the biggest “shock moments” of the film.
The aftermath of this moment and the subsequent flight to Lothlorien will be covered in “Lothlorien.” I can’t wait to share something I discovered about the nature of Lothlorien’s main theme….
I have to apologize for something: though I was able to find the complete soundtrack for this part, I’m having trouble finding the corresponding film scenes for the entire sequence. For now I’ll leave you with the final section (Gandalf vs the Balrog) and as I find the rest I will upload it. Enjoy the terror and suspense of “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum.”
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