In both The Desolation of Smaug and Battle of the Five Armies, there are scenes where good characters face Sauron and there is an almost-psychedelic effect:

Both Gandalf (in 2nd film) and Galadriel (in 3rd film) face Sauron in his "eye form" in Dol Guldur. At one stage in each battle, the flaming eye of Sauron is shown on screen, and the pupil shape is not a slit, but the shape of a standing figure, which repeatedly zooms forward then flashes back to zoom forward again.

This and similar effects continue, without dialog, for a few seconds, and it seems quite likely, to the point of being laboured, that something otherwise unseen/unspoken is happening between the characters.

It struck me when I saw this that the effect is not really in keeping with other instances of supernatural forces shown in the film, even in the same scene. The rest of the effects in the film are more fluid and modern CGI which most of us are familiar with. Whilst this particular effect seems like a throwback to 1970's fantasy and sci-fi (even though of course it is rendered beautifully)

So I was wondering:

  • Is the type of effect here chosen to visualise something specific from Tolkien's writings?

  • Is the effect a homage to some other fantasy/sci-fi film?

I am hoping here that the truth is to be found either in some interview with the VFX team, or via some Tolkien writing other than the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. Direct searches for this specific information don't get me anything other than general descriptions of effects in the movie.

  • 1
    Say about the prequels what you want, but that effect was really interesting. Excellent question!
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 7, 2016 at 19:19
  • I think it was to emphasize that the "flaming eye" was possibly not a giant disembodied eye, at all. Dec 7, 2016 at 21:10
  • I thought it was an excellent way to reconcile the different visual appearances of a character that we know is the same being - 'the necromancer' a human sounding figure, with the earlier movie representation of the huge disembodied eye.
    – iandotkelly
    Dec 7, 2016 at 22:26

1 Answer 1


Well, for one the scenes are not fleshed out in the books, so there is no direct Tolkien source for them as far as I know, but there is potentially a source for the psychedelic experience that is spoken about in the books: the elven rings of power.

A number of times it is stated that the Elves forged the rings of power using craft that was taught to them by Sauron (they were not aware he was Sauron at the time). The rings themselves form a bond between each other and the ring of power, and the elves know the "3 ring for elven kings [...] one ring to rule them all" because they perceived Sauron saying this when he put on the one ring for the first time.

(minor spoiler!) Galadriel has one of the rings, as does Gandalf, and the third one Elrond has. This means that they can actually perceive Sauron's thought, but they are protected from him because he does not have the ring of power on his person.

So I don't think that the idea that we may be witnessing some sort of internal experience of the characters is too far of a stretch. At least, it might have given them some form of excuse or kernel of an idea for such a dramatic scene. I actually liked the fact that we perceive a corporeal form for Sauron: the LotR movies made him seem like a giant floating eyeball.

There are some hints at the telepathic abilities granted by the rings, but I cannot find any sources readily. IIRC Frodo asks Galadriel if he could learn to use the ring for that purpose, and there may be a scene in the books during the trip back to Rivendell after Aragorn's marriage.

One random quote from "Fellowship" where Galadriel speaks of this:

I say to you, Frodo, that even as I speak to you, I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves.

And something from the Silmarillion:

As soon as Sauron set the One Ring upon his finger they were aware of him; and they knew him, and perceived that he would be master of them, and of all that they wrought.

  • The book quotes back up that there might be something alluded to by the visual in the film, but don't cover why this particular effect occurs in the film. I am hoping for a more concrete source, either a written description from Tolkien closer to the visual effect, or an explanation from film script, or perhaps found in an interview or article from someone involved in production. Dec 9, 2016 at 8:17

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