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.

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September 6, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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