on October 20, 2004
Peter Jackson proved me wrong when I said, like many people, that Lord of the Rings would be a bust: Spielberg-adventure at best, Lucas-disaster at worst. Had I known Tolkien's classic was in the hands of the guy who directed Heavenly Creatures, I would have been more optimistic. As it turns out, my expectations were completely overturned. In some ways the films are actually better than the books, especially in terms of emotional power. Competent actors, amazing cinematography, and a brilliant music score combine to offer us Middle-Earth as we'd never imagined it.
Fellowship of the Ring is the most polished film, with its elegant episodic pacing. We start in the idyllic world of the hobbits and flee with Ringwraiths hot on our heels; we rest in Elrond's sanctuary and plunge into Moria; we come out grieving and console ourselves in Galadriel's safe (yet unsettling) dream-wood, and then wind up surrounded by Uruk-hai. This is a quintessential fantasy road-journey containing three episodes within an episode, each beginning in a haven and followed by a dark journey. The pacing is flawless, and the plot unfolds to a perfect beat.
Two Towers is the ambiguous film. It's excellent (or at least the extended version is) but structured in a way that the hobbits become sidelined by the Rohan story. As they are the soul of Tolkien's epic, we feel slightly nonplussed at their consignment to B-storylines. Ironically, the film is a showcase for cgi characters Gollum and Treebeard, who manage to steal the show from within these storylines.
Return of the King is the most dramatic film, tragic on almost a biblical level, and certainly the most satisfying. I can understand why Elijah Wood calls it "better than one and two combined". It centers on the hopeless mission to Mount Doom, which, as every fan knows, is the heart of the story. Around this we're bombarded by apocalyptic chaos and destruction on the Pelennor Fields, followed by Aragorn's hopeless march on the Black Gate. We finish at the Grey Havens, the best ending in literary and cinematic history, which encapsulates all of Tolkien's themes: courage, friendship, suffering, and passing on. It just doesn't get better than this.
Peter Jackson deserves more accolades than I'm capable of heaping to the point of overkill. Minor quibbles aside, the extended versions of these films are masterpieces to be treasured as much as the books. Tolkien's classic may be pure, but the movie's cinematography takes us where even the written word cannot go. Tolkien's writing is irreplaceable, but Howard Shore's music taps deeper into Middle-Earth's soul. The text is sacred, but the scriptwriters changed it anyway so that it could actually work on screen. The entire project has been too good to be true, and I'm still in awe of it.
on November 16, 2004
The extended DVD of "Return of the King" is filled with many new and extended scenes that will please fans who love Tolkien's original story. The July 26, 2004 San Diego Comic Convention featured a preview of many scenes, some introduced by Peter Jackson himself. (Some of these scenes were recently featured in the sneak preview trailer at Lord of the Rings.net, although now it seems to have been removed). In reference to a couple of reviews on the board here -- if you're waiting anxiously for the Scouring of the Shire, don't hold your breath. That segment was NEVER filmed by Jackson, therefore it will NOT be included in the extended edition DVD. But there ARE plenty of great scenes to be included:
· We hear Christopher Lee's booming voice echoed over a dark screen that lightened to reveal Saruman on top of Orthanc. He warns our heroes of something festering in the heart of Middle-earth and that they will all die.
· We see Frodo and Sam in their Orc disguises joining the column of Orcs as they march out of Mordor.
· There are numerous shots of the Houses of Healing with Faramir, Eowyn, and Merry all seen.
· A lot more looks to be added to the siege of Minas Tirith, as there was a bunch of new battle footage.
· Frodo and Sam venture into the Crossroads and a few clips from that section were included.
· The Mouth of Sauron is featured pretty heavily. If you've played EA's Return of the King video game you'll recognize the scene. The Mouth of Sauron rides out of the Black Gate and presents Frodo's mithril coat to the Fellowship.
· Aragorn reveals himself to Sauron by approaching the Palantir in Minas Tirith and wields Anduril to show that the Heir of Elendil was alive.
· We get to see more of Saruman later in the preview when he knocks Wormtongue down and also fires a giant fireball from his staff that engulfs Gandalf on Shadowfax.
· There's more of Frodo and Sam in Mordor after they join the column of Orcs and before they discard their disguises. In one scene, Sam looks to the dark sky of Mordor and tells Frodo that he can see light as one little star can be seen glimmering through the clouds.
· And yes, we will finally get to see Gandalf facing down the Witch King. It happens exactly as we've seen, but when Gandalf holds up his staff the Witch King pulls out his sword and holds it to the sky where it spouts flames. As he brings it down, the air around the burning sword is distorted.
That was just the preview. New Line treated fans to three full clips, with the third introduced by Peter Jackson himself:
· There was a nice scene of Pippin and Faramir in Gondor where Faramir explains to the Hobbit how the small Gondorian armor he was wearing belonged to a young son of the Steward when he was a kid. Faramir further explains how Boromir was always the soldier and he wasn't.
· A scene that takes place about five days after they were healed by Aragorn features Faramir and Eowyn on a balcony at the Houses of Healing where Eowyn falls for Faramir.
· The Paths of the Dead is extended from where it ends in the theatrical cut. After Aragorn poses his offer, the dead laugh and go back into the walls. A massive earthquake starts, and the Three Hunters must escape an avalanche of millions of skulls.
· Described, but not shown, another scene expanded in this edition is the scene where Pippin finds Merry on the battlefield. Now, Pippin searches the field for an entire day after everyone else has gone back into the city. He finally locates Merry at night in the new version of the scene.
Just a few weeks to go till the "Return of the King" extended edition hits the stores!
on January 7, 2004
...wow. That's all I can really say for this film. It was inspirational, beautiful, heartrenching, and captivating, making this film amazing. Jackson truly outdid himself for Return of the King. The hopelessness and pain Sam and Frodo are experiencing as they struggle to destroy the Ring is so wonderfully done that you truly feel as if you are with Sam and Frodo as they struggle to climb up the mountain. The love and friendship between the two is so moving that it seriously brought tears to my eyes, and I *rarely* cry.
The acting was simply superb in this film, especially Sean Astin (Sam) and Viggo Mortenson (Aragorn). As always, Miranda Otto was wonderful as Eowyn, as were Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan as Pippin and Merry. The movie flowed exceptionally, and despite its lengthy time, there was not a moment that I wasn't captivated by Tolkien's vision of Middle-earth. One of the lines that stands out the most to me is during the moment when Sam and Frodo believe they are going to die while Mt. Doom is erupting is, "I'm glad to be with you, Sam. Here, at the end of all things." Another beautiful scene is when Aragorn, crowned as the King of Gondor, bows down to the hobbits, telling them, "You bow to no one." The heartfelt emotion expressed really does make this film the greatest of all three.
As always, the everpresent rivalry between Gimli and Legolas is there, providing comic relief. Surprisingly, Merry and Pippin do not provide any humour other than at the beginning of the film, and are a very chief point in the plot. The two are separated for the first time since the triligy began and must mature, which largely develops their character. The lovable Smeagol has now once more become the treacherous Gollum; though in the beginning Smeagol pleads against his darker side, the Ring takes control of him, adding to the list of enemies.
Fans of the book will happy to find that Shelob is in this movie; in the books it was originally in the second. Also, the Sword that was Broken is in the film as well, while in the book it is carried by Aragorn in all three. Peter Jackson also remains faithful to the warrior side of Eowyn, which is touched upon in the second film. Though the Houses of Healing were cut out, hopefully they will be in the extended DVD version of the film.
I really can't do this movie justice. It's impossible to explain how I felt both times I saw the movie as I saw the struggle of Frodo and Sam. This movie isn't just a war-movie, or a fantasy movie; it's a movie about love and trust, finding hope in a world that has none, about companionship and fighting until the very end. All three and a half hours of this film is exceptional, and will surely be a classic for years to come.
on December 7, 2004
Like all Tolkien fans, I had once been afraid of this. I had been afraid that our beloved books would be taken by a talentless, indifferent hand and thrown into the horrendous money-making machine. I had been afraid they'd be ground mercilessly and without any consideration for J.R.R. Tolkien's work or for its fans, ground into pieces of overbudgeted FX with not much else left to the eye and to the mind.
What we got instead was nothing short of a masterpiece. Hype? Sure, there's been some hype. But The Lord Of The Rings has rendered the word hype obsolete. It takes that hype and smashes it against a wall of pure brilliance. The final installment is a glorious ending to a trilogy that decades down the road, I have no doubt, will be hailed as one of the greatest achievements in modern cinema. Had I written the review right after seeing it, it would've probably consisted of one word. WHOA. But I'm OK now. I'm fine. I've taken my Advil, drank my three cups of coffee, got good five hours of sleep. I'm OK now. I can finally sit down and write a coherent review.
On the other hand, do I dare? What can you say about a movie which is, for the lack of a better word, perfect? I know, I know. Of course, no movie is perfect. But this one is as damn well close to perfect as it gets. I've been literally put under a spell, very similar to the one that had seized my mind 18 years ago when I first read the books. Flaws and lowdowns? Sure, there are some, but only if you choose to be a grumpy purist who refuses to get it through his head that literature and cinema are two very different media and therefore cannot be the same, will never be the same. This is as great an adaptation as there will ever be. Call me when you make a movie one-tenth this good.
In my eyes, the films are in some ways better than the books. I find it extremely annoying that Tolkien's work is being idealized by his fans. He was but a man and he, too, made mistakes. His books, as detailed and amazing as they are, still aren't perfect. There are characters who do nothing but sit around, scenes the very presence of which is meaningless or at the very least questionable. Think Arwen, think Tom Bombadil... who, while making a part of the story cool and magical, bears next to no impact on the story as a whole (of course, "true Tolkien fans" will probably have my head if they read this, but oh well). But above all, it makes my blood boil when I hear things like "a true visualization of Tolkien's Middle-earth it is not" (sic. Rogert Ebert). With all due respect, who in the world do you think you are to decide what a "true visualization of Tolkien's world" is? No one but Tolkien himself can give us the true visualization of his world, and he's been dead for decades.
Peter Jackson & Co had a task in front of them akin to dragging a cross to the top of Golgotha, in metaphorical terms. And, by all that's sacred, I cannot see how a filmmaker could succeed more in such a task. It is no small feat to accomplish what they have accomplished. Not only have they succeeded, they have exceeded all my expectations. You can see and feel with every shot that this is a labor of love. That goes for everything and everyone in the movie. Cinematographically, it's amazing. The FX were just enough and never cheesy or unnecessary. The score moves you deeply - even the normally annoying Enya did not bother me this time. The acting was splendid, and the cast was simply perfect. I grew up with the characters in my heart, and now they finally have faces. I mean, how many times do you actually read a book, imagine the characters, and then see the movie and realize that the characters look eerily close to what you've imagined them to look like?
I could go further into details about this particular installment, but I don't think Amazon supports reviews that long. I will simply say that I have never been one of those never-happy purists who nitpick even on the quantity of leaves on trees in Rivendell. I believe these movies should be seen for what they are, not for what they are not. Don't sit there and compare it to the book, or complain how something was added or taken away. Know this: if you want to see Tolkien's Middle Earth, you never will. Only Tolkien himself could give you his Middle Earth, and he's long gone. Look at these films from an overall point of view and try to see that it is simply impossible to film such a leviathan in a way that will make everyone happy. And for what it is, this trilogy is a rare gem. It combines end-of-your-seat action with heartbreaking drama, and brings intensity on both visual and emotional levels, which few films have accomplished so far. For me personally, it was also a memorable experience because I got to share it with a hundreds of moviegoers who sat in the theater with me for three years in a row. We watched in silence, lest we miss anything. We wowed at the sight of the dark, vast Moria, the surreal beauty of Rivendell, the fiery grandeur of Mt. Doom. We laughed at the hobbits' painfully sweet naiveté. We clapped at the grand finale. We couldn't hold back tears in the last few minutes before the credits rolled. We were there, with them, sharing this timeless tale of friendship, destiny, love, the loss of innocence and the reign of good vs. evil. Sounds trite, I know. But this is probably one story where it's not.
Your mileage may vary.
on December 16, 2004
This past week, I had the rare privilege of watching the Lord of the Rings with someone who had never seen it. He is a friend of my youngest brother (17 years old, in High School), and I figured that if he was watching these films for the first time, he might as well watch the extended editions.
He saw Fellowship 2 weekends ago and loved it. Then he saw the Two Towers last Saturday, and was very eager to see the final chapter. Incidentally, the last extended edition was out this past Tuesday, and yesterday, my brother, this friend and I sat for the Return of the King and watched it from beginning to end, integrated scenes and all.
To be able to see the expressions of shock, wonder, suprise, and conviction as someone watches the Lord of the Rings movies for the first time; the feelings of cinematic release that I myself went through when I was introduced to these films, is quite hard to put in words. Let's just say another fan has been added to the list.
Just as magical was being able to suprise and shock my younger brother and his friends even more with the enriched history and sheer emotion of the books; describing the last chapter in the "Two Towers", and how intense 'The Choices of Master Samwise' is as you read it, and how you do not want to stop reading the rest of the story until the very cracks of Mount Doom have come and gone; seeing their eyes widen and their curiousity abound as I explain the history behind some of the amazing detail that has been included in these films, like Shelob's mother (Ungolianth), or Erendil's light; the saga of the Valar and the Silmarillon, and Morgorth and his many Balrogs.
The best part of this experience in Middle Earth is more personal. Last night my younger brother and his friend asked why, once the climax had passed, there was a need to show so much of the aftermath. I realised then that while it took courage for Frodo and the fellowship to fight their battles and face their fears, especially with almost no hope; once the worst arrived, and the sacrifices were made, a new courage was needed, to face life after 'The End of All things', and to continue to live it. I told them about the casualties of war, and how so many soldiers who have served and suffered, return home, only to find their lives can no longer be the same. Many do not know how to go on living a normal life after experiencing the horror and pain that comes from war. It takes courage to keep on living, to find happiness that brings peace.
For me, this movie shows what courage is like - it shows the many forms of courage. Not 6 months ago, my other, older brother (27 years old, graphic designer) died very suddenly, and tragically. One moment very close, the next, ripped out of my life; once living and breathing, funny and God fearing, my mentor - my friend; now, only memories - many, many good, some sad, all, usually painful. It takes courage to persevere past the pain of losing a loved one, and struggling, fighting to find meaning, happiness, and faith in life - happiness that will bring peace.
These movies are much more than entertainment or great cinema, they are instruments of hope, spanning the spectrum of life's deepest sorrows, and most meaningful truths. They are a treasure, truly, truly dear and precious to me.
For that, I am thankful.
on May 1, 2004
Give this movie a chance. sit down, let yourself be immersed into the lands of middle earth, and feel for the incredible characters (especially billy body and sean astin). ignore the hollywood hype, the stupid jokes about wizards, hobbits, elves, the commercialism of this trilogy and even the eleven academy awards (which i am very very happy about, by the way). i've heard backlash from people calling it boring, long, "gay" (frodo and sam; merry and pippin), and predictable. i didnt understand and it angered me that people would be so naive and immature about it. they say, there's a billion characters, a billion places, and nothing makes any sense. it's pointless and insignificant because its about made up people in a made up land. it's not real because nothing of it exists...nobody cares. it'a about a short guy with hairy feel who tries to destroy this little ring.
if you let it, it will truly inspire you. it has the power to move and touch your heart in a way you'll never forget. watch how war, corruption, greed, and hatred destroys...and how it changes the most innocent of beings and who they become. watch true, pure, and completely unconditional love. perhaps those who didn't enjoy it doesnt know how it feels to know that you're going to lose in the end, but still finds the strength to go on. perhaps they don't know how it feels to love someone so much that you would give your life to save them. times have changed. the great legends of swords and honor and bravery have passed into the present day in which we kill for money and jealousy, in which we lie and cheat, and soldiers die far from home without a clear reason or cause. lord of the rings bring back a time when men would follow their kings into death, when friendship and brotherhood was a bond so strong and powerful, when people dont care about fame or fortune, when they lived and fought so that the peoples after them could live in peace. fairy tale, perhaps. but heartbreaking nontheless. and the story is timeless- "even darkness must pass". watch their eyes and their tears and the undying hope. THAT, my friend, is what the lord of the rings is about. you tell me nobody cares...I care.
"glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee. Here at the end of all things" - Frodo
on January 16, 2004
With the release of The Return of the King, the magnificient journey begun over two years ago is now over, and that is a bit sad. I never read the books by Tolkien and was not all that interested about all the hype over the release of the Fellowship of the Ring. After I saw the first movie I became hooked. The Return of the King is probably the best of the three, although I really loved the Fellowship of the Ring.
This movie refocuses on the importance of the hobbits,especially Sam and Frodo, after all it is up to them to destroy the ring thus defeating the dark lord Sauron and all his minions. By the way, Sean Astin's performance in this movie is superb. After I first saw the Fellowship of the Ring I realized why I became a sort of convert to these movies; they deal with themes that are more than relevant to the real world. Courage, sacrifice, fear, loyalty, betrayal, etc., are all part of what makes these movies so appealling. People can look at these movies and get out of it what they want or they interpret, but I can clearly see a lot of Christian symbolism in the characters and the themes I just mentioned.
The epic struggle between good and evil comes to a stunning climax in this movie with some of the greatest battle scenes ever brought to film (especially at the siege of Minis Tirith) even though so much of it is computer generated. But remarkably this movie tugs at the heart strings as well. The actors truly gave it their all with real emotional performances. Though the ending may have been predictable even if you did not read the books, it still has quite an emotional ending. I realized that the fellowship was over, the story complete, and it was quite sad. These have been some of the greatest movies ever brought to film. When it's all over you realized how much you felt for the characters and how exciting the adventure had been. A movie that can do this is a great movie.
Bottom line, it may be a while before we ever see anything like these movies again. We can thank the film's producer, a talented crew and a great cast for bringing us a great movie that has become rare in Hollywood these days. As an afterthought, I would have liked to have seen Christopher Lee's character brought to a conclusion. I've read where his scenes will probably be included in the DVD edition, but it should have been included in the theatrical release, but that's just my opinion. Any other minor complaints I may have don't really matter.
LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING should win the Oscar for best picture, and for three reasons: first, it was easily the best big-budget film of the year. The only films that I believe rival it in quality are small budget films: LOST IN TRANSLATION and AMERICAN SPLENDOUR. Sometimes independent films can pull upsets, but I really don't expect them to this year. Second, except for the independent films, there isn't a lot of competition this year, unlike the past two years. Many of the films that were expected to vie for the Oscar have been greeted with some fairly negative reviews, like COLD MOUNTAIN, or mild indifference, like THE LAST SAMURAI. One of the better-reviewed films of the fall, MASTER AND COMMANDER, is a very good adventure film that possesses no obvious advantages over THE RETURN OF THE KING. Third, the Academy has a tendency to correct past neglects. Sometimes this can lead to tragic results, such as 1940 when Jimmy Stewart received the Oscar for Best Actor for THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, to atone for his having not received one in 1939 for MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. The tragedy lay in the fact that Stewart's best friend Henry Fonda therefore failed to win for his near legendary performance as Tom Joad in THE GRAPES OF WRATH, one of the greatest performances in the history of American cinema. But in 2004, I expect LORD OF THE RINGS to justly win not merely for the excellence of the third installment of the saga, but for the overall greatness of the three films.
The LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy is unquestionably one of the most successful cinematic treatments of a beloved work of literature the movies have ever seen. I know there are purists who would not have been satisfied by any conceivable film version, and that there are others who are more justifiably bothered by the omission of Tom Bombadil or the schizophrenic treatment of Gollum, but I think anyone willing to cut the movie even the tiniest bit of slack should be able to grant to the great achievement that this movie turned out to be. Of course, ironically it was only the growth of CGI technology that made the filming of this fantasy of lost ancient past possible. Twenty years ago, it would have been inconceivable that Treebeard could have been so satisfyingly come to life. Or Gollum. Or seeing hobbits, humans, elves, dwarves, wizards, and orcs all onscreen at the same time. I can honestly say that there was not a moment that I was consciously looking at special effects rather than balrogs or giant flying eagles or gigantic walking trees.
But all of this could be a kind of criticism--namely, that the success of the film depends merely on technology--if it weren't for the fact that the movie succeeds on multiple levels. The art design is the most memorable I can ever remember. I'll forever think of those beautiful pins for the capes that Frodo and Samwise wear all the way from Rivendale to Mordor. The makers of the film got more things right than they needed to, perfecting more detail than anyone could possibly have noticed. Without great acting, however, all of the technology and special effects and art and set design would be a royal place setting for junk, but fortunately the film was both marvelously cast and wonderfully acted. There might have been one or two casting decisions I might have questioned, but by and large the cast was stellar, a few so magnificently that it difficult now to see anyone else in that role. When the film was first announced, much of the debate was over who would portray Gandalf, and I remember some people being upset that not only was Sean Connery (the early favorite) not cast but an openly gay actor in the role instead. But it is now almost impossible to imagine anyone but Ian McKellan in the role. So many smaller roles made the film work, like David Wenham as Faramir (seen only a couple of years ago in the role of "Audrey" in MOULIN ROUGE), or Ian Holm as Bilbo, or Sean Bean as Boromir, or Cate Blanchett as Galadriel. The only weakness in the movie is one that probably couldn't be overcome (and one that Peter Jackson has acknowledged in interviews): Sauron. What can you do with a bad guy who is merely a giant flaming eyeball? Just not much potential to do much more than what they were able to do.
Peter Jackson deserves a special academy award for serving as the creative force that turned THE LORD OF THE RINGS into one of the great experiences in the history of cinema. Most of all, he deserves enormous credit for making all the technology subservient to the story, and not the other way around. The great battle for Minas Tirith might have devolved into a mere showcase for stellar special effects, like many moments in the past two STAR WARS films have, but not once did he lose touch with the human element, not there or at any other point.
on December 14, 2004
For those of you who purchased the extended editions individually, you can still buy the box for all three movies. There's a card inside the individual editions of Return of the King to order a box ONLY for the trilogy. I know a lot of people who were planning on selling the first two movies and buying the Trilogy set. Fortunately there is no need. Outstanding added scenes as well as great bonus features!
on October 7, 2004
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and on December 14, the last milestone in a four-year-long (or decade-long, depending on who you ask) odyssey will be passed. The release of the extended edition of ROTK is arguably the most anticipated DVD event of the whole year, and with good reason. I'm assuming that everyone who is interested this early has read about the extra goodies we can expect from Jackson and Co. Things like the Mouth of Sauron, the orc-march with Sam and Frodo, and (my personal favorite) the blossoming relationship between Eowyn and Faramir, not to mention a whole host of others. I guess the Extended Editions prove the exception to the rule that less is more. 50 extra minutes is a long time, even compared with the original hefty running time of 3 1/2 hours. I'm heartily anticipating the numbing my rear is going to receive.
When you think about it, The Lord of the Rings should never have happened. At least, not in this day and age. We're talking about an unknown director, with no previous experience in epic filmaking, a special effects workhouse in *New Zealand*, of all places, and a smallish production company that really couldn't afford to make a gamble of this magnitude and expect to recover if they lost. Still, Jackson certainly made sure they got their money's worth, even before the movies became hits. He made three movies, each over 3 hours long, with copious special effects and a huge cast, for $300 million. Titanic, a single movie, while admittedly a very ambitious one, had a price tag of about $400 million. I have no idea how Jackson did it, and I don't need to know. Even if he never makes another movie as good as LOTR (God forbid!), he will go down in filmaking history as the man who was able to translate an untranslateable classic to the big screen, and still do it justice. How many "serious" directors can claim that feat, even with less ambitious books?
Now, for those who claim LOTR is a lesson for our time, you may very well be right. Then again, you might not. Either way, it really doesn't matter. We all see what we want to see, but I think I'll trust the author's view in this case. Tolkien was famously contemptuous of allegory, and the least we can do for him is to honor his request that the books (and the movies) be read and seen for themselves, without bringing our own prejudices and justifications into it, at least not on purpose.
So, here's to the final leg of the journey. The most awe-inspiring visual representation that will ever be seen of one of the world's greatest books will be complete in just over two months. Mark your calenders, folks! I myself plan to be first in line at the video store that day...