Anyway, over supper my friend and I were discussing all manner of things, from the history of the English Monarchy (a good two hours going!) to Tolkien himself. I hadn't seen the Peter Jackson adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring since I first saw it at the cinema (I've just checked the date of its release, and that makes it fourteen years!), but at my friend's suggestion I've just re-watched the scene with the Balrog as it appears on YouTube. In some respects, it's more faithful to the text than other parts of the adaptation but where it isn't, it's just bad. In the book Gandalf alone perceives the arrival of whom or what he assumed to have been the beater of the drums. He was standing alone and keeping vigil at the top of a flight of stairs by the closed door to the Chamber of Mazarbul. The orcs went quiet as the Balrog entered the chamber (an indication that the Balrog was not, as the film portrayed him, gigantic and bestial), and it seized the door handle, and proceeded to open the door. There was then a contest of wills between Gandalf and the still-innominate creature, and the door was shattered. On the other side Gandalf saw nothing but darkness. He was then beaten back and fell into the midst of the fellowship who were waiting for him at a distance. Legolas identified the Balrog only later and Gimli made the connexion with "Durin's Bane," to which Gandalf said "now I understand," and bemoaned their ill fortune. To that point there was no feeling of immediate pursuit, still less the knowledge of being stalked by a fiery demon; just the ominous drumming in the deep places and the menace of the dark.
In the film, the narrative is flattened somewhat. The Balrog breaks his silence by roaring in a far-off cavern and makes his presence immediately known by the red light that steadily spreads throughout the hall. The orcs then flee by climbing up the walls like ants (!) and Gandalf himself names the Balrog and tells the fellowship to run, after which, to maintain the attention of the kiddies who have by this point been watching for almost two hours, there follows a dramatized scene of orc arrows and crumbling stairs before the Balrog descends upon Gandalf in impetuous fire and roars in his face. On that point I refer readers to letter 210 of The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, paragraph 20, in which Tolkien writes: "The Balrog never speaks or makes any vocal sound at all." This letter is particularly apposite in being Tolkien's personal treatment of an early film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Then follows the battle of the bridge, which is more or less faithful to the book with the obvious exception of the "kingly" Aragorn and chivalric Boromir who just watched from a safe distance. Peter Jackson seems to have been very talented indeed at killing the moral uprightness and lofty standing of some of the central characters. I thought Viggo Mortensen was pretty awful and an abysmal choice for Aragorn.
I take it as axiomatic that the book is always better than the film, and I don't just mean The Lord of the Rings. Read the book!