A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 190 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – September 6th, 2010

When this movie came out there was a wonderful thing done at select theaters. They showed the other two movies the day before the release and capped off the trilogy with the new movie around 11 in the evening. So we bought tickets for all three, and we weren’t the only ones. We went with a couple of friends and joined an entire theater full of fans of the movies who hung out all day, surviving on theater food and excitement. They showed the theatrical release of this movie, but they’d done the extended versions of the first two, so we’d been there about seven hours total (including intermissions) by the time the opening scene of the third movie appeared on the screen. It was an amazing way to watch the trilogy. We went home after one in the morning, exhausted but thrilled at having had such a day.

Watching all three movies in a single day is a bit of a marathon. You need stamina to do it. Fountain soda and pretzel bites can only work once. Even though we were tempted to put this in last night after we’d finished the second movie, I’m glad we held off and did it tonight. For one, we need time to think about them and write. For two, as I said, you’d need stamina to do the whole trilogy at once. And spacing them out has been nice. Watching this one tonight I’m struck again by the sheer size of it all. The trilogy does an excellent job building up to the end. If this, the third act, is to contain the true climax of the story, then the other two need to lead you to it. It wouldn’t work at all to have the second movie feel larger and more dramatic than the third. And yet in my opinion it’s never overdone. Everything in the first two is taken a few levels higher in this one and brought to their conclusions.

There’s a persistent theme of the end of an age. Literally, it is the end of the Third Age of Middle Earth, with the Fourth Age beginning at the end of the movie. To bring that theme through the movies there’s the running plot of the romance between Arwen and Aragorn. While I find the Arwen plot to be a bit of a drag on the rest of the movie, I can’t help but appreciate the beauty of Rivendell in the end of its days and the bittersweet note of the elves leaving Middle Earth. Sure, it amuses me that apparently the elves can walk at a snail’s pace from Rivendell to the Grey Havens and no one bothers with them, but the visual of the procession of elves is a lovely one. It’s a bit slow, but a three hour long movie can’t be all action all the time and there is a point to Elrond’s reticence later on.

I know there’ve been criticisms of the portrayal of Denethor, but for the way the movies are built he fits. There is a theme here of people in the seats of power being unable to quite do what needs doing until prodded in just the right way. Even Elrond needs a bit of coaxing. So many are so willing to sit back and look out for themselves. Which, in my opinion, works as an overarching idea in the movies. There are many battles and rallying cries. Speeches and heroic moments. The idea of unifying the free peoples of Middle Earth together is a good one, and how better to set that up as a daunting task than to emphasize the unwillingness of the leaders to help each other. Not only that, but it underscores the lack of hope plaguing the land. So when it all comes together, it feels that much more triumphant. That much more of a reason to cheer and hope.

Watching the riders of Rohan charge the Orcs beseiging Minas Tirith is a truly inspiring and amazing thing. From a dramatic standpoint, it’s got a heavy impact as Theoden orders the charge and his men (and Eowyn and Merry) scream their assent. From a visual standpoint too, it has impact. The wide sweeping shots of the enemy and the new force on their horses are as gorgeous as one could possibly want. And from a technical standpoint it is impressive indeed. It’s easy to forget that the vast majority of those shots are effects shots. They are so well crafted, they seem to be a real scene out of an ancient battle of gargantuan proportions. And then the battle has acts, much like the movies do. It escalates, first with the initial attack on the city, then with the Rohirrim coming to join the battle. Then the Mumakil charge in and the Witch King attacks Theoden, but then Aragorn arrives with the ghost army.

The battles make up a large part of this movie, of course. There’s the siege of Minas Tirith, which as I said is a multi-stage battle full of fantastic action. But there’s also the battle at the Black Gate, which takes place at the true climax of the movie while Frodo is battling with himself and with Gollum over the destruction of the ring. And that plot, Frodo, Sam and Gollum, are the other major theme to the movie. It’s cut into the battle scenes well, so it feels just right, and it’s also acted magnificently. I’ve got to give credit to Elijah Wood and Sean Astin, not to mention Andy Serkis, for carrying an entire plot between the three of them, and a plot that could come off not quite so serious. After all, they’re three guys camping and hiking, carrying a ring. How can that compare with Minas Tirith and the Mumakil? But it does. It really does.

I don’t know if I have the right words to express how impressed I am by these movies. By every part of them. The story in the books is so rich and full and when I said in my review of the first one that watching them is like hearing my father read them to me, I mean that as the highest compliment. My father loves these stories and sharing them with him is something that I hold close to my heart. So when I watch these, and I can hear his voice, that is because there is love here. It comes through explicitly when you watch the vast amounts of documentary material, but it’s also implicit in the movies themselves. There is no way these movies could be what they are without the love and dedication of the people who made them, and I don’t just mean Peter Jackson and the main cast and the leads of the various effects teams and so on. I mean everyone. I mean the entire cast, in full prosthetic makeup and not. I mean the stunt teams and Howard Shore and the scale double cast. I mean the miniatures team and the people who wove cloth at different scales for the Hobbit costumes. I mean everyone. It feels like the sort of thing that hurts when it’s over. I know I cry at the end every time I see it, not just from the emotion of what’s going on on the screen, but because I know the adventure has come to an end. It is a thing to end all things and as much as I’ve loved watching the trilogy this weekend, I’m also sad to see the end of it and move on.

September 6, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

September 6, 2010

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

We first saw this movie with friends on opening night as part of a day long motion picture trilogy event. We watched the extended versions of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers before finally, after two years had passed since we saw the first Lord of the Rings movie, we reached the epic end to this amazing film trilogy. It was a twelve hour marathon. The hardest part of the whole affair was subsisting on greasy movie theater food for the whole time. But in spite of the challenges it was he perfect way to first experience this movie. Seeing it as part of the trilogy, and with a crowd of fans was an adventure I will never forget. By the end we in the theater were exhausted and battle-weary. We were worn out and spent, much as Frodo and Sam are by the end of their quest.

Every time I watch this movie I am overwhelmed again as I was that first time. It’s not just the enormous scale of the picture, with its lengthy battle on the plains before the white city of Minas Tirith. The battles are amazing, and the effort that must have gone into creating them practically unprecedented in film making. The power of the movie lies more in the writing, the direction, the score, and the powerful performances of the cast.

Peter Jackson has this amazing knack. He stages these massive impossible battles with thousands of orcs and knights in armor and oliphants and undead warriors, but then he pushes in for these human moments. Pippin singing for Denethor while Faromir leads the doomed charge on Osgiliath. Gandalf telling Pippin about the Grey Havens at the peak of the siege on Minas Tirith. Eowyn and Theodin on the field of battle. Sam and Frodo on the slopes of Mount Doom. It’s these little human moments that really sell the movie.

To this end Peter has collected a fantastic group of talented actors to bring this epic to life and to imbue it with a heart and soul. The amount of superior acting craftsmanship on display here is truly daunting. There’s the classic Shakespearean power of Ian McKellen who perfectly fills out the robes and pointy wizard hat of Gadalf. For moments of unbelievable heroism there’s newcomer (at that time) Orlando Bloom as Legolas. For comic relief you have John Rhys-Davies as Gimli and the fantastic comedy duo of Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd as Merry and Pippin. Viggo Mortensen, as Argorn, is a particular treat for me. He’s an actor I would probably never have discovered but for this film, and he’s one who throws himself with such passion into every role he undertakes that it’s always a treat to watch him. I could just go on and on. Karl Urban, David Wenham, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Hugo Weaving, Brad Douris, Cate Blanchette… every one of them lends gravitas and reality to their roles. Everybody involved treats Middle Earth with deadly seriousness. Nobody plays it for camp or seems to indicate that just because this is a fantasy it has any lesser worth than any other epic or drama.

Of course as with the quest at the heart of the series everything ultimately rests with two simple Hobbits and their twisted guide. Andy Serkis gave such a powerful performance as the sad, corrupted creature Gollum that even though he only has a very few minutes of actual screen time at the start of this movie I can still recognise him in the expressions of the computer generated character the wizards at Weta modeled on him. Elijah Wood and his captivating eyes is able to show just how destructive the One Ring is to Frodo’s very soul. As the film progresses you see the corruption set up in the prologue setting in, so that the climactic scene in Mount Doom is all the more perilous and powerful. And by far the biggest hero in the movie for me is the steadfast Samwise Gamgee. Sean Astin brings such a wonderful heartfelt dedication to the role that I can’t help loving him for it. When I read the books Sam came off to me as almost a servant to Frodo, a lackey who waits on him throughout the series. Astin, along with the writing of Peter, Fran and Philippa, makes Sam into a much more powerful character. He alone, more than any other character, is the force that brings the quest to its successful conclusion. (It’s worth it to listen to the commentaries and look at the making of interviews to get some insight into Sean Astin’s process as an actor. He talks a lot about finding ways to act out emotions that his character is feeling.)

Some have said that this movie has too many endings. The movie goes on for more than twenty minutes after the great climactic battle and the confrontation in Mount Doom. Twenty minutes of sniffles and tears on my part. The movie fades to black an fades to white and many times looks as though it has reached its conclusion only to go on with another scene. But the movie, and the trilogy, needs all this I think. Part of what the Lord of the Rings is all about is endings. It’s the end of the age of elves and the start of the age of men. It’s about all this magic and wonder leaving Middle Earth.

You have to picture me there in a darkened theater, exhausted after twelve hours of watching Lord of the Rings and a little sick to my stomach from too much popcorn and greasy theater chicken fingers. There I am, barely able to see the screen because there are tears streaming down my face. And I never wanted the movie to end. I still don’t. After watching the trilogy again this weekend I once again feel that these movies are among the greatest movies ever made. They brought to life a trilogy of books that were influential not just in my life but in the entire genre of fantasy which was the center piece of my adolescent life. And they did so with such class and power that I can’t imagine anything ever topping them. What a grand adventure.

September 6, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment