Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Reflections on the Rings

Yesterday, me, Anton, Danny, Justin, Scott and Ryan all sat down to finally appreciate Peter Jackson's epics in one fell swoop; A twelve-hour plus movie marathon of the Extended Editions of the three films. It took the whole day, but the only other time that I've felt as engrossed by Tolkien's creation was the time I read Fellowship of the Ring in one day.

As someone who is already a noted fan of the films, this viewing gave me a new appreciation of the films as one story. These aren't really separate films, and judging it as such isn't really fair. Like Tolkien's stories themselves, the book divisions are somewhat arbitrary and they're really meant to be read/viewed in one volume as one story. Hence you won't ever have me complaining about moving the death of Boromir to the end of FotR or Shelob to the beginning of RotK because it is all rather arbitrary, and more importantly it preserves the time frame of the books. It also gave me a new appreciation of TTT, which was my least favourite of the three films, but really has some nice moments in it.

My first thoughts on the Extended Edtion of Return of the King was that I feel that the extended versions are the better versions. Perhaps with RotK, the added scenes felt less necessary but that's probably because I felt that RotK worked the best as film on its own. However, I think RotK:EE adds a number of things that I think can be called improvements.

I'll just go through the changes in the film and say what I thought of them. I'll reference by scene number, so those of you with the DVD can check it out.

4. The Fate of Saruman - Not my favourite addition, especially Saruman's fire ball, but I like it better than just saying "Oh, well he's in his tower and can't do any harm..." It lends some closure to the Saruman figure, who really was the most visible villian in the first two films and needed to be dealt with.

5. Drinking Game at Edoras - I actually liked this part. I got some good laughs and it adds to the camaradarie between Gilmi and Legolas.

7. Eowyn's Dream - Nothing really to add. I think it's fine.

12. Gandalf describes the Decline of Gondor - Excellent addition which adds depth to Denethor and explains why the Lineage of Kings is done.

13. Cross-roads of the Fallen Kings - I liked this addition. Anyone who appreciates the history and myth that Tolkien created will like this.

16. Warning of Sam - Nothing to say really.

22. The Wizard's Pupil - Another worthy addition. This is the kind of thing that these extended versions excel at. Here we see the deeping of Faramir's character and his conflict with his father more fully fleshed out. Any chance to make Faramir a more noble character is good in my book.

25. Pippin, Soldier of Gondor - I liked this scene. Again, we get more insight into Faramir as a character and Pippin, who I love.

35. Paths of the Dead Extended - Some people didn't like the avalanche of skulls and such, but I really liked this addition. Not only did it make the Paths more creepy, but it's fun as well.

37. The Corsairs - I liked this too. Though it spoils some of the suspense of the later arrival of the Corsairs. Funny watching Peter Jackson get shot by Legolas (I suppose appeasing those who didn't like the films).

39. Merry's Simple Courage - In one sense a nice scene between Merry and Eowyn, but nitpickers might be curious to note that Eowyn removes her helmet in this scene (possibly spoiling her disguise), but I suppose with her hair in her face it might be possible.

45. Gandalf versus the Witch-King - In one sense this was necessary, as in earlier in the film the Witch King states that he will "break" Gandalf, but then nothing happens in the theatrical version. This plays up the roles of the two warriors, but the shattering of Gandalf's staff is an iffy change given the symbolic nature of the wizard's staff. I can live with it though.

56. The Houses of Healing - This is one of those scenes that is sure to please fans of the books, and I liked it. But I can't really say it's integral or seems important. As a film fan, I might say that this was unnecessary in almost every way, but the Tolkien purist in me rejoices.

60. Aragorn and the Palantir - A good addition, though one that occurs in the book at a much earlier scene.

61. Faramir and Eowyn - Nice addition that fits with what we know happens to the characters, and also explains them being together at the end of the film (which might have been confusing to none Tolkien adepts in the theatrical version).

62. Sam and Frodo with the Orcs - Nothing really bad nor good to this scene. But it does explain why they discard their Orc armor.

64. The Mouth of Sauron - I liked some parts of this addition. I liked having it here, and it adds to making this a confrontation between Aragorn and Sauron. The Mouth was a lot scarier the way I imagined him, and also, I thought it out of character for Aragorn to behead an emmisary in that way. But again, I can live with it.

So, despite a few nitpicks, I love this film and and this film series. There were moments that I had to sit back and say to myself "Wow, this is really, really amazing filmmaking." I know some people (Caitlin) dislike things like the battle sequences and oliphants, but I still think Pellenor Field might be the most exciting battle sequence ever put on film. I remember back in the spring when I watched Troy, I was bored, because really once you've seen the mighty Rohirrim battle oliphants on that scale, a bunch of guys on a beach is kind weak. On a technical and adventure scale these films are second to none.

Secondly, and I noted this on Caitlin's blog, it seems to me that some people will end up liking and disliking different things in the films. What one man loves, another man hates. I have met few people who actually like and dislike the same things. I think this is because everyone has latched onto different elements in Tolkien's books, and fair enough. There are a lot of different themes in the books and not all could be given prominence in the films. I think this is because of the problems of adaptations. These books have become so personal for people that any attempt is only going to please some and bother others. On that regard, I have to commend Peter Jackson for doing such a good job. Sure not everything was perfect (some still really need their Tom Bombadil or Scouring of the Shire), but in the end I didn't think anyone could bring Tolkien to life so convincingly and in a manner that is true to the spirit if not the specifics. When one considers the state of most other film adaptations of famous books or stories, these films are remarkably faithful and I'm thankful to have them as a fan of both the books and of grand scale filmmaking.


At 4:53 p.m., Blogger Ewan said...

He had a mammoth task and he really did a great job. It's so tough to adapt a beloved series, all the expectations and such, and i think Jackson really suceeded.

At 7:45 p.m., Blogger cait said...

Hey, I got nothing against oliphants; what I object to is the many battle oliphants in lieu of Sam singing the oliphant song, which demonstrated so much about his character. And, again, the battle tactics annoyed me a great deal in their ineffectiveness.

At 7:55 p.m., Blogger Anders said...

Fair enough, but you have to remember that Jackson isn't a Historian with an interest in making the battle scenes "realistic" but rather he is, not unlike myself, a guy who grew up watching scifi and horror films and loves the spectacle and energy of a good battle scene. Let's face it. Real battles aren't nearly as exciting or glamourous, but rather ugly, effective, nasty bits.

At 4:05 a.m., Blogger cait said...

Well that rather raises the question, ought we make war glamourous?

At 6:05 p.m., Blogger Anders said...

You've read Tolkien's books. Maybe you should ask him?

At 1:30 a.m., Blogger cait said...

Well, except for the whole death thing, I might--I suppose that the lesson one should take from LOTR is that war is sometimes necessary for a just cause. Tolkein always swore that LOTR was not allegorical to WWII, but I think he couldn't help but be influenced by such a massive phenomenon. Of course, the issue is more black and white in LOTR than it ever would be in real life, with perhaps the exception of when Sam sees an enemy soldier struck down (I think that's in book four in the Two Towers) and Sam realizes that he was just a man, not an evil minion of the dark lord. A person, like Sam, with a family and hopes and fears like himself.

However, I don't think that arguing for just war means that it ought to be glamourized; I personally think the opposite should be the case. It should be shown in its harsh reality, as if to say, "this is what you're getting yourself into. You'd better be damn sure about it." Whether justifiable or not, right or wrong, war is universally horrific. Even in a fantasy movie, I think it is dishonest to show it as anything but. A discerning mind such as yours can look at it and think, "that's not the way it really is," but I know a lot of people who were absolutely stunned (and disgusted) by what I've told them about military technology and medicine. But when their knowledge of the military comes from reading Bernard Cornwell novels, how can they possibly actually know? Statistically, Richard Sharpe should have died at least four times. Nobody survived that many gunshot wounds. They didn't use full metal jackets, and medical technology was almost helpless against their injuries.

And yes, fiction is not reality or history, I know, but it certainly raises the question of responsibility; how responsible is the artist for what people take away from his or her work? I don't know. What do you think?

At 11:11 a.m., Blogger Luke said...

Alright this is exciting i finally get to post a comment.
Alright LOTR E.E. Well, despite how long the theatrical version was, i felt it was a little more rushed than the others(and with good reason, they had a lot to fit in). So i was really looking forward to this extended. So my expectations where high, and i wouldn't say i was let down, but after viewing it, i also thought that alot of it wasn't as necessary as the first two. Well now i'll take it scen by scene as well

fate of saruman-i could definatly see why this one was cut. This scene just reeks of peter jackson's love of effects and gore(even though it's not really gorey). Jackson had a problem and to resolve it he dipped into what he knew. It stayed a little to much from tolkien(which isn't a bad thing becuase these are jackson's films) and cutting it was a good desicion. However i do agree that saruman needed more closure, and it was fun to see.

drinking game- Fun, but i think we got enough comrodery between gimli and legolas, so this scene wasn't needed.

Eowyn's dream- not important theatrically, but as the behind the scenes features inform us. this is an actual dream of tolkien's and i geuss a fear of his. So in that sences it's important that it's in their, even if it's given to Eowyn.

Gandalf describes the fall of Gondor- Excellent addition. i fully agree with you on this one.

cross road fo the fallen kings- i'm also in full agreement with this one.

warning of sam- i have nothing to say on this one eigther.

Wizards pupil- this is what the extended editions are all about. I found myself getting a little bored and sleepy during this edition. I'm not sure it needed 50 extra minutes, but scenes like this are the right thing to add. Scenes like frodo and sam with the orcs could have been left out.

Path of the dead- maybe the skull avalanche wasn't nessescary, but i enjoyed aragorn's sigh of despair and then the king of the dead strutting at full speed out of the rock .all menacing and saying they would fight.

the corsairs- all of us who read the books knew what was going to happen so i have no problem with them ruining some suspence, to see members of the production team dressed up as pirates.

Merry's courage- yeah i immediatly question where her helemt was, and why they were resting when they had already said they must ride with all avliable haste..but it built character, so it was alright

Gandalf and the witch king- This scene was one that I and everybody else wanted to see. It didn't dissapoint, but i also questioned the breaking of gandalf's staff, didn't seem right with the mythology. Even thought they had a short encouter in the book, i was hoping jackson would have made them fight a bit or somthing, but then their would have been too much time between pippen going for help and denethor trying to kill faramir (which is proably why the sence was cut in the first place.).

I'm going to skip ahead here to aragorn and the palantier.
I lived this scene. I felt that they needed one scene to really show aragorn taking the situation into his hands and really accepting the mantle of king. and while their are other scenes that show this, this one just did it for me.

The mouth of sauron.
I loved seeing this one. While the mouth may not have been as over all scary as he may have been in our imaginations, it was the little things that really made this guy threatening. First was his mouth. I could just feel the metal scrapping it in the past and the sheer torture it was for this creature to talk. Second was his movement.He moved rather jerky , and you could tell he was smelling fear, and his enemies reactions.
it was out of character for aragorn to get all slice and dice...but i ended up getting so angry for the minipulation of the fellowship members at the gate..that i was gald to see him loose his head.

as for the house of healing...i'm glad its their but i'll have to watch it again...i was getting quite antsy after the long hours...and i wasn't quite into them.

Sorry i missed the marthaon


At 1:33 p.m., Blogger Anders said...

Caitin, it's funny that you mention that line from The Two Towers where Sam muses about the humanity of their enemies. Those lines are in the film, only I believe they are given to Faramir instead (and people say he isn't noble, feh!).


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