Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Lord of the Rings Film Retrospective

One Ring to Rule Them All...

A few months ago, I went and watched all six STAR WARS movies back to back. This provided an unparalleled opportunity to review one of my all-time favorite film series as a whole. So, recently, I decided to go for a marathon viewing even more epic in scope: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. And I didn't cut corners-- these were the Extended Editions, the shortest of which is three and a half hours long. The Return of the King is over four. In other words, this viewing took almost as long as the one for STAR WARS. It's a big time commitment, but one that is ultimately extremely rewarding.

Here's a note beforehand: these films were released over three years' time, but they together comprise a single storyline. Watching them as such, the continuity is to die for, and the love for the source material from the filmmakers is overwhelming. You can feel the love in every frame, in the costumes and sets, in the editing, in the special effects, and in the brilliant score by an inspired Howard Shore.

It is the height that all book adaptations strive to reach, and the height that few, if any, others will. Sure, there are great adaptations out there, like Stardust, The Princess Bride, or To Kill a Mockingbird, but even these fantastic films cannot match the emotional weight of almost twelve hours of breathtaking story. I saw all of these films when they came out in the theater, and the memories of that first viewing are still clear in my mind: the audience sitting on the edge of their seats, cheering, and crying together. It was an experience, and one I'll never forget.

So, with that out of the way, here goes some EPIC.

The Fellowship of the Ring: Peter Jackson initially wows audiences with his nailing of the first third of J. R. R. Tolkien's classic story. Frodo, a hobbit, finds himself in possession of the One Ring, an object of great and sinister power forged by the dark lord Sauron in the fires of Mount Doom. He sets off to the mountain to destroy it, aided by Sam, his closest companion; Merry and Pippin, two hobbit friends; Gandalf, an ancient and wise wizard; Legolas, an elf; Gimli, a dwarf; Boromir, son of the steward of Gondor; and Aragorn, blood heir to the throne of men. But the Fellowship is being tracked by Sauron's forces of evil, and the road will not be easy...

What I Liked: The Prologue, which can bring even someone who has no idea of what Tolkien is talking about up to speed, and narrated by the lovely Cate Blanchett. The Shire, which Peter Jackson nailed, and graciously didn't speed through to get to the action. Rivendell is realized marvelously, as are all the environments and locales. New Zealand is truly the perfect place to shoot The Lord of the Rings. Boromir's arc was well-handled. Peter Jackson also gives a taste at what the Scouring of the Shire would have looked like. And in the Extended Edition, Bilbo's trolls from The Hobbit even make a brief appearance, as well as the rest of Galadriel's gifts.
What I Didn't Like: No Tom Bombadil, which makes me sad deep in my heart, but I understand why, for time reasons, it was cut. There are a few other changes, but most of them were made for understandable reasons, such as Arwen being the one who takes Frodo the last leg to Rivendell.

My rating: 9.5/10

The Two Towers: The Fellowship has been broken. Some have died, and the rest are spread out over no less than three locations. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli track Merry and Pippin, but get sidetracked by trouble in Rohan, caused by the turncoat Saruman. Merry and Pippin, having been carried away by orcs, flee into Fangorn Forest and find something far older and stranger than they would have imagined. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam receive the aid of an unlikely creature to help them on their way the the land of Mordor...

What I Liked: Rohan, especially Edoras. This set was beautifully constructed, and feels like an Alan Lee illustration come to life. The new additions to the cast fit in nicely. I think this is a good time to talk about Christopher Lee's pitch-perfect portrayal of Saruman. Lee says he reads The Lord of the Rings every year, and it shows. He's really, really good. And I can't write this review without talking about the marvelous Ents. Seriously, I giggle with fanboyish glee everytime I see them, and my father's worse. Gollum is a feat of groundbreaking motion capture that still holds up today and doesn't distract from the story. Also, in the Extended Edition, there is a scene that is a lovely homage to Tom Bombadil.

What I Didn't Like: Faramir. Peter Jackson, I know you wanted to add another dimension to him, but in doing so, you deprived him of his strength of character. I like him better in the book-- a lot better. Also, I know that Arwen is here mainly to be a reminder of her importance in Aragorn's life, but she doesn't actually do anything in this movie besides cry in a sexy way. And yet, the film is still fantastic.

My rating: 9.5/10

The Return of the King: Winner of 11 Oscars, this is the final part of the saga of The Lord of the Rings. Sauron unleashes his forces upon Gondor, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli struggle to combat it. They go into a haunted mountain in search of a secret weapon to turn the tide. Gandalf and Pippin ride fast to Gondor to bring a warning, but the steward, Denethor, has turned to madness, and they quickly become embroiled in the conflict. And Frodo, Sam, and Gollum journey the final stretch to Mordor, where Sauron waits to reclaim his prize.

What I Liked: Can I just say this film was practically perfect in every way? Howard Shore's score will move you to tears. The acting reaches new heights of success. The action is tense and epic in scope. The "Lighting the Beacons" sequence features jaw-dropping cinematography. Aragorn's speech is full of great literary value, and his final, "For Frodo" is exciting and dramatic. The entire Mount Doom sequence, one of my favorite scenes of all time, is emotionally charged and true to the book's heart. The Gray Havens WILL make you cry. If not, you have no soul. The very last line of the book has been preserved, something that makes me extremely happy. And, on the Extended Edition, there are a number of great additional sequences, such as one in Isengard that gives an element of the Scouring of the Shire, and the Houses of Healing.

What I Didn't Like: No Scouring of the Shire. I miss the Scouring of the Shire. I mean, the movie would have been nearing the five hour mark if it had been included, but still. I wouldn't have minded. Honestly, I just can't fault this movie.

My rating: 10/10

So there you have it. When put together, The Lord of the Rings is One Movie to Rule Them All, based upon One Book to Rule Them All, centered around One Ring to Rule Them All. It's just... awesome. I'm sorry, but I don't know what else to say. I love these movies so much, and and sincerely hope the movie version of The Hobbit gets made eventually. The world needs more Tolkien movies. Although I don't know how well The Silmarillion would go over with audiences. You know, regular, non-geeky audiences.

I will return again very soon with more Stephen King and Lev Grossman's The Magicians.

Until next time,

The Writer


David Wagner said...

Truly, the series is one of the great cinematic accomplishments of all time. I've always wanted to have the stones to watch all three Extended editions back to back and review them - kudos to you, my friend.

My favorite stretch in the entire trilogy have to be the Mines of Moria sequence, from the crazy entrance and battle with that octopus thing, to the clashing of Gandalf and the Balrog. Stellar stuff. Even that exchange between Gandalf and Frodo as they contemplate which door to take has some of the series' best dialog.

Great work on this post.

Long live Boromir!

The Writer said...

Indeed, long live Boromir! In The Two Towers book, he even gets a song for him after death.