Fellowship of the Ring
Something different always jumps out at me every time I revisit the Lord of the Rings movies. This time it was how much I enjoyed the parts of the film where the characters are given time to breathe and just interact with each other. You could probably get a significantly more action-packed two hour cut of all of these movies if you just included the action, but I think the soul of these movies is really in the moments between the action. And that’s probably why I like the extended cuts so damn much.
In the special features the editor says that the film would be over four hours long if they included every scene they filmed, and I want it. I wish each one of these films took days to watch. I can’t imagine getting tired of them.
Howard Shore’s score is (sorry in advance for the pun) instrumental to these movies. It’s impossible to imagine them scored by literally anyone else. His score is just so perfectly evocative of the entire mood of these movies.
I am awkwardly horny for the Uruk-hai and I’m not sorry.
The Two Towers
Fellowship of the Ring was unquestionably Frodo’s movie, which sounds like a no-brainer but Peter Jackson has explained in interviews that he really found that choice in the edit. The Two Towers, on the other hand, is Aragorn’s movie. He’s present for all of the most consequential (and iconic) moments. Through him (and Legolas and Gimli), we see Gandalf’s epic return. We follow him to Rohan, to Helm’s Deep. We get all the epic battle scenes and the budding bromance between him and Gimli and Legolas. (My favorite reading of the scene where Aragorn “returns from the dead” is that Éowyn isn’t put off by Legolas returning the Evenstar because it reminds her of Arwen, but because she realizes that Aragorn and Legolas are about to go fuck and she needs to wait her damn turn.)
This is the first time I’ve seen the extended cut in a while. It’s kind of hilarious that even after his death, the extended cut yet again shows us an example of Boromir not being a dick that we don’t get in the theatrical version. It’s like the theatrical cuts of these movies were made with the specific goal of making Boromir look like a massive dick. I also really liked the additional dialogue between Aragorn and Éowyn revealing Aragorn’s Numenorian heritage, something that’s actually never brought up in the theatrical cuts so I bet a lot of folks who haven’t read the books had no idea about Aragorn’s longevity.
The Return of the King
“And thus it was, the Fourth Age of Middle-Earth began, and the Fellowship of the Ring, though eternally bound by friendship and love, was ended.”
Return of the King might just be the best ending to a movie trilogy ever. When you get right down to it, it’s one of the few that really seems to take the time to deal with the fact that it is the ending.
And before we even get started with this talk, you all can cram your jokes about the “multiple endings” because I don’t really see how it could’ve dispensed with any of them except possibly the very last one with Sam, and even that one I entirely understand why it’s there. Grey Havens is where I would’ve ended the film. It feels like the more appropriate sendoff. (I also probably would’ve alluded to the fact that Sam, Legolas, and Gimli were eventually going to join the others, by the way, but maybe there just wasn’t a non-clunky way to do that.)
I think the continuation with Sam was because Jackson was clearly drawing parallels between the Hobbits returning to the Shire and the experiences many in Tolkien’s generation had returning from World War I, and also he probably didn’t want to end the film on a “downer” note. But what I find a little disappointing about that is Gandalf had literally just said, “I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are an evil.” It’s okay for a movie’s ending to make you cry. Hell, Grey Havens is such a beautifully sad sendoff that I’ve rarely finished my ugly crying by the time the credits roll, even with the extra buffer of Sam rejoining Rosie in Hobbiton.
When it comes to ranking the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I’ve honestly never been too sure where to even start. The entire thing just feels like a whole, 11ish hour experience. Which is pretty appropriate when you consider the fact that Tolkien was never really comfortable marketing the thing as three separate books because, in his opinion, he wrote one book. (As a fun sidenote, he also hated the title Return of the King specifically, arguing quite reasonably that they had put a gigantic spoiler right on the front cover.)
The things I love about the Lord of the Rings trilogy the most are present in all three films. It largely comes down to the amount of love and care and just… unprecedented effort that went into making these films. It’s even more obvious if you watch the mammoth amount of behind the scenes material that’s available. These people lived and breathed Lord of the Rings for almost four years. And that really shines through in what they were able to put on the screen. Part of it is just making really great choices in terms of combining miniatures, practical effects, CGI, etc, but there’s also something less tangible that really can only be accounted for by how much these people loved the story they were telling. And I just can’t stop thinking about how amazing it must’ve been to be a part of something that unique.
It seems like nearly everyone’s favorite of the trilogy is The Two Towers, and it’s difficult to fault that choice even if I can’t really point to any specific element it does better than the other two films. Fellowship of the Ring is a tempting choice for me because it’s the only film where the titular Fellowship is united for any length of time, but I think The Two Towers and Return of the King both outmatch it in terms of scope and the impressiveness of their massive setpiece battles. If I really, really had to pick one (I’m not really sure I do?), it would probably be Return of the King, but it would be by a hair’s breadth even if I were more confident in that choice.
I just don’t think I’ve ever seen a series stick the landing this confidently. It paid off so many stories, and still had time to have so many incredible moments that were wholly its own. Aragorn’s coronation, reunion with Arwen, and declaration to the Hobbits, “My friends, you bow to no one” contained so many emotions it might as well have been its own movie. The Battle of Pelennor Fields basically was its own movie. Gandalf’s description of the afterlife to Pippin, backed by some of Howard Shore’s finest work, was so stirring and beautiful it almost made me wish I were still a theist. The lighting of the beacons was stirring, beautifully filmed (and scored), and perhaps even more thematically interesting today in a world where so many of us increasingly rely on the internet and social media to rally our support networks and find the spark of hope we need to get through the day.
One of my favorite moments of the film is one that has sadly become pretty divisive, and I entirely understand why to an extent. But I’m sorry, Éowyn ripping off her helmet, declaring, “I am no man,” and then stabbing the Witch-king in the face will always be a resoundingly awesome moment for me. Like, can I go back in time and come out that way? (No, I can’t, stabbing people in the face is illegal and I don’t want to go to jail.)
I always enjoy rewatching these movies so much, doing so with all the behind the scenes material as well just increased the experience exponentially for me. I honestly kind of want to do the same thing with the Hobbit trilogy now even though I found those movies just as disappointing as everyone else. (I only saw each of them once, though, and only the theatrical versions, so… am I really talking myself into this right now?) And then I want to watch the animated versions. And then I want to have a big, sweaty orgy with orcs, uruk-hai, and goblins.
Oh, uh. Yeah. Fear not: I was more than horny enough for the orcs that I wasn’t that upset that my beloved uruk-hai were marginalized in this one. Also, while we’re on the subject of things in this movie that made me horny, Shelob webbing Frodo into a cocoon in like 10 seconds, holy shit. Also, that scene was just damn impressive even from a technical standpoint. Her stalking him in total silence, no soundtrack, weird camera angles… the whole scene just had a perfectly unnerving quality to it that I very much appreciated. Anyway, I’m pretty fucking jealous of Frodo for the fact that he got web cocooned, carried off by orcs, and then woke up half naked and tied up in an orc stronghold, okay? That would be a really great day for me.
In all seriousness, though, these movies are so damn special. Don’t let my silly orc lust distract from that. They’re easily among my favorites of all time. I’m really happy I randomly decided to watch them (and their bonus material) over the last few weeks of 2017.
Happy new year, everyone. May 2018 treat us much better than 2017.