“If you want him, come and claim him,” said Liv Tyler 20 years ago. (Image Design: Tina Tiller)
“If you want him, come and claim him,” said Liv Tyler 20 years ago. (Image Design: Tina Tiller)

MediaDecember 7, 2021

Flight to the Ford is cinema’s best car chase, with horses

“If you want him, come and claim him,” said Liv Tyler 20 years ago. (Image Design: Tina Tiller)
“If you want him, come and claim him,” said Liv Tyler 20 years ago. (Image Design: Tina Tiller)

The Lord of the Rings’ finest moment is an action sequence involving a dying Frodo and some magical movie-making.

We’re talking about elves, dwarves, cave trolls and sneaky little hobbitses for an entire week. Read the rest of our dedicated Lord of the Rings 20th anniversary coverage here.

Frodo Baggins shivers and gasps on the ground, his stab wounds being tended to by his sidekick and possible love interest Samwise Gamgee. Aragorn, Merry and Pippin worry at each other in inconsistent accents. Aragorn takes out his knife to cut a herb, and then a long curved blade is put against his throat.

A silky alto chuckles. “What’s this? A ranger, caught off his guard?”

The Fellowship of the Ring has a lot of memorable moments. Gandalf refusing to let a Balrog pass, Galadriel anti-yassifying herself after seeing the ring, the whole Boromir pin-cushion scene, Legolas awakening the sexualities of people across the gender spectrum (that one’s less a moment, more a state of being).

But one moment that doesn’t get its due is “Flight to the Ford”, an action sequence involving Arwen, a character not so much beefed up by Peter Jackson’s adaptation as she is ‘roided up, rushing Frodo to Rivendell after he has been stabbed by a Ringwraith/Nazgul.

I have watched this scene, no joke, hundreds of times. It is chapter 17 on the DVD menu (23 on the extended edition) and on pretty much every Air New Zealand flight that has screens. It appears in my YouTube recommendations far too often, and if I leave the app to play by itself, it will show up sooner rather than later. I am a connoisseur, and this scene is my Michelin-starred restaurant.

Flight to the Ford is the first time The Lord of the Rings really, truly lifts off after having circled the runway for close to an hour. The camera swings wide, Howard Shore’s fantastic score justifies the size of his orchestra, and the SFX finally get a spotlight after that ridiculous, bonkers prologue. Flight to the Ford is Peter Jackson nudging us and going, “Don’t worry. I know this is an epic.”

It also really shouldn’t work.

Let’s strip it down: Flight to the Ford is functionally a car chase, just with horses. What is a horse if not a regal, smelly, spiteful car? Just like any action scene from The Fast & the Furious franchise, it involves our heroes being chased on vehicles – albeit breathing, hoofed ones – from one point to another, with the threat of death being a stumble or a wrong turn away. It’s very, very high stakes.

It also fails at pretty much everything a good car chase should be. There’s no sense of geography, pr speed, or a clear narrative journey beyond “they get chased and end up somewhere at some stage”. I’m going to ask you to watch the scene for me now if you’ve got five minutes spare, and don’t have every frame of it burned on the back of your eyelids like I do. It’s the video above. I’ll wait for you, don’t worry.

Done? Great. Isn’t it awesome? Now, ask yourself a few questions.

Why do they go from the dead of night to high noon, and how far into their journey do we start the chase? Furthermore, where the hell do the Ringwraiths/Nazguls come from and where the hell are they placed at any point in time? 

How fast are these horses going, considering that the average speed of a thoroughbred horse in the real world is 43kph? Can you tell how far any of the characters (or horses) have moved from the preceding shot?

And do you really care because if it feels this fantastic to watch, why would any of the above matter a single bit?

If you’ve seen Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, you can hear this photo.

Like eating meat and smoking cigarettes, Flight to the Ford is most enjoyable if you don’t ask any questions. Let it take you on a ride from that haunting shot of the white horse starting up a canter in the forest, right through to Liv Tyler absolutely nailing (with some post-production audio assistance) the line reading of “If you want him, come and claim him!”. Also water horses drowning evil horses.

There’s the fact that too that if you zoom out just a little, Flight to the Ford just works from a screenwriting point of view. It sets up the elves as a different and (supposedly) superior race to the hobbits – they can stand up to the Ringwraiths, and have both magic and access to hair straighteners. And then the audience sees all of that subverted over the next eight hours. The elves might save a hobbit one time, but the hobbits are the ones who have the determination to actually save the world.

Beyond that, it’s a savvy way for Peter Jackson to remind us that this isn’t going to be a page-by-page, word-by-word adaptation of Tolkien’s 1,000-page series. The moment that a woman who looked suspiciously like Steven Tyler rode out of the light, speaking Elvish in a gorgeous alto, any Lord of the Rings diehard knew Jackson was doing his own thing. While I can’t speak for the consistency of quality of that “thing” for the other 1027 minutes of his two trilogies, these five minutes are pretty much perfect.

We’re talking about elves, dwarves, cave trolls and sneaky little hobbitses for an entire week. Read the rest of our dedicated Lord of the Rings 20th anniversary coverage here.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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