12.15.2012

Lord of The Rings: A Retrospective

Hey everybody! Congrats, you survived another week of holiday season, and now it's the weekend. Today I want to take a moment to look back, at the original Lord of the Rings movies, in anticipation of The Hobbit, which hopefully I will be able to elbow my way into some time in the coming week. As I reflect, I will remark on plot, comparison, color commentary, and weird recollections about my high school life that I associate with these films (because I was in high school when they came out, and saw them... more than once let's say). Reviews and first hand reports about The Hobbit are already filling up the internet, but I'll reserve judgement until after I've seen it myself. So journey back with me now, into the distant past (about 11 years exactly) as I relive The Lord of the Rings.

The Lord of The Rings: A Retrospective

Where they visit stilt town.
The Fellowship of the Ring:(2001):  So let's set the scene. In December 2001 I was 14. Phone's were huge, computers were slow, my internet connection was a 56k dial-up one, and The Matrix was still cool. I know it's difficult to imagine, but The Matrix Reloaded wouldn't be released for another two years, so it was true. It's hard to remember, because all three LotR movies were so hugely successful, and have since become so very iconic, but they weren't always a mainstream big deal. The books first reached the U.S. in the early 1960s (in bootleg form, before being republished in the mid-60s legally) and over the course of several years became the definitive face of high fantasy. Despite that fact, the books themselves didn't necessarily get read by everyone on the block. If I might be so bold, frankly the LotR can be real snoozefests. Tolkien was a brilliant world builder, a genius linguist (having mastered virtually every Germanic language extant or dead) but he was not a gripping novelist. For those not aware, he wrote The Hobbit for his children. This would explain why it is an accessible piece of literature in comparison to the LotR books, which are often dry, plodding pieces of fiction that focus on history and language instead of on the actual events happening in the book. Enter Peter Jackson. Using the fantastically dramatic source material that Tolkien had provided our imaginations with, Jackson created a movie that condensed, streamlined, and adapted liberally, to make a story that was narrower in scope, but a story much better suited to film. Scenes that were a single line in the book became massive battles playing out in the last quarter of the movie (The battle where Boromir is slain at the end of the first film, and the fellowship breaks up, is a flashback that lasts a page or two at the beginning of The Two Towers).

Special effects are a magnificent thing.
What else made this movie awesome? The aforementioned action sequences for one thing really crank up the excitement, and they are backed by what were then and still are today spectacular special effects. This movie was one of the first to use special effects to simulate enormous armies fighting each other. The film was shot in New Zealand, which if you don't already know is a pretty badass place. The film also used a lot of camera and perspective tricks to make the hobbits seem short (and also Gimli, who is played by John-Rhys Davies, who is much taller than Orlando Bloom, who should as an elf be taller than dwarf Gimli). It was cool, and it was seamless. I saw the Fellowship three times in the theater, and each one was more awesome than the last. Well, maybe not, but I liked this 3+ hour movie enough to see it three times.

The Two Towers are Orthanc and Barad-dur
The Two Towers(2002): A year later: I was a sophomore in high school. I spent most if not all of my free time playing Perfect Dark with my friends on my N64, and we also spent a sizable amount of time shooting each other with paintball guns in the woods. I was square into the calm before the storm before I entered the 'bad high school relationships' phase of my life. Also we were presented with the second LotR film, the middle child that originally hadn't existed (Miramax had originally planned two LotR movies, but under New Line it became three movies, so they had to adapt the original two scripts into three). The movie is split between two separate focuses, Frodo and Sam as they progress on their journey towards Mordor, and the remaining characters battle to save Rohan from the armies of Saruman (who is a super douche am I right?) and to rescue Merry and Pippin, who have been captured by the Uruk-hai. Like the first movie, the plot was adapted considerably to create a better movie. The climax of the movie was changed from...nothing, to the battle of Helm's Deep, a massive, gruesome, savage battle between men and terrifying Orc monsters. I saw this film three times as well, and I think that it was probably my favorite of the three, specifically because of the spectacular set-piece battle that makes up the climax of the film. The film also introduces to the forefront the creepy, totally weird Gollum, who was motion-captured and then special-effect overlayed, to be a gross creepy little monster. I wasn't as enthusiastic about that as I was about the battle, but it was still cool. Also worth special mention is the animation of the Ent Treebeard, who apparently took between 1-2 days to render per frame. Holy hell.

Return of the swordkingringvolcano.
Return of the King(2003): In the winter of my junior year of high school, the Return of the King hit theaters. I was in the process of systematically destroying my adolescent life with a succession of poor personal choices. Square-Enix released Final Fantasy X-2, marking the end of Final Fantasy games being good (okay 12 was not bad). The Return of the King was really good, but not as good as The Two Towers, so I only saw it two times. The Return of the King features the end of Frodo and Sam's journey into literal hell, and also the final battle(s) against Sauron's endless armies of nightmares. If the set-piece battles in The Two Towers seemed big, this movie put them to shame. It also felt the need to end about 17 times, which I thought was... not great. It ends, and then there's another ending, and then everyone goes home, and then it ends one last time? I understand that those things all happened at the end of the book... and in its many many appendices, but those probably weren't necessary in the movie. Still, the movie was an epic, fantastic, thoroughly concluded end to what had been a massive, sweeping undertaking. It really was an epic undertaking too, combined length these movies probably totaled something upwards of 12 hours. Which is a lot of movies.

That's about all I have to say about that! Expect my review of The Hobbit some time towards the end of the week, and lets hope the reviews I've been reading are wrong.

2 comments:

  1. Return of the King did "end" too many times. I remember watching it with my family...they kept thinking it was over. And then it wasn't. And then they thought it was over. And then, again, it was not.

    It is pretty impressive condensing those books into a movie story, though.

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  2. I have to say, I loved the multiple endings. Especially when watching all three movies in the space of a week or something it's a big relief, for lack of a better word :)

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