Saturday, 16 January 2010
Lording it over the Rings: Part 1 - Hairy Feet and Fiery Demons
Being on leave this week and with plenty of time to fill I decided it was time to do something I’ve been meaning to do for ages: re-watch the entirety of the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings back to back…or as close to as possible. All twelve hours of it. I haven’t watched any of these movies all the way through for several years just having caught bits and pieces of them when they’ve been on tv (those being the regular and shorter cinema cuts.) This has partly been due to it being a major time investment to do so as the extended cuts are the definitive versions and the only ones I ever want to watch in their entirety. And you really need to watch them in order and then all together as it is one big story and one huge film. To call these extended editions is rather unfair really. They are actually entirely new editions of the films using different takes, added scenes, extended scenes, re-editing of the narrative, new music etc. to totally re-forge the story.
On Wednesday I broke out the lovely green and gold box of The Fellowship of the Ring. I popped disc 1 (of 2) in to my upscaler bluray player, turned on my 42” widescreen telly, adjusted the home cinema settings for digital 5.1, cranked up the volume and let rip. On Thursday I finished The Return of the King and have just finished re-watching the hours of wonderful documentaries that accompanied those discs.
And I gotta say that once again I was totally blown away.
These three films – especially in their superior extended cuts – are simply three of the finest films ever made. They are huge yet intimate, sweeping yet subtle, quietly emotional yet rousing. They are epics that tell a timeless mythic tale which, despite the magic and monsters and fantasy, always remains grounded in a historical reality that is utterly believable. They also contain so many of the best moments in modern filmmaking that it is almost ridiculous to behold. Though The Fellowship of the Ring remains my personal favourite of the three, The Return of the King is crammed full of so many gobsmacking scenes and moments with more glorious money shots than a dozen other films combined. In this marathon exercise I also gained a much stronger love for The Two Towers, always my least favourite of the three. So, without further ado…
The Fellowship of the Ring
I love, love, love this film - especially in its extended edition. The opening whispered Elvish words bleeding in to Cate Blanchett’s wonderful narration over the spectacular history of Isildur’s defeat of Sauron and his subsequent fall from grace, through the journey of the ring to the Shire, really sets the scene and lets you know this is gonna be something special. The extended stuff of Bilbo’s party is wonderful, as is the journey of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin to Bree. The Black Riders/Ring Wraiths/Nazgul are introduced in this section and are the main threat for the first half of the film. And they are scary and freaky as anything. Truly the stuff of nightmares. It’s with the Nazgul that Peter Jackson’s horror movie roots shine. The knives in the dark sequence where the Nazgul try to kill the Hobbits at Bree is a dark, malevolent powerhouse of film making using brilliant imagery, music and cross cutting to put the audience in real fear for our heroes. And then comes the confrontation at Weathertop, which is equally stunning and nightmarish. This is then followed by the thrilling and tense ride of Arwen to Rivendell to save Frodo while closely pursued by the Black Riders. Upon reaching the river they snarl, “Give up the halfling, she-elf!” Arwen defiantly replies, “If you want him, come and claim him,” while unsheathing her sword. Awesome!
After the Council of Elrond where the Fellowship is formed, our band of heroes start out for Mordor. And there comes the journey through Moria and the confrontation with Goblins, a cave Troll and – of course – the Balrog. The Moria sequence all the way up to the Bridge at Kazahdum, Gandalf’s “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” and “Fly you fools!” followed by its end on Frodo’s heartbroken face is probably my favourite sequence in this entire trilogy and one of my favourite ever in film. I remember when seeing The Fellowship of the Ring at the cinema for the first time and the Balrog turned up I lost my freaking mind. It roared that hot, gravely, rumbling roar…and the cinema shook. I felt my seat vibrating. Jesus H. Christ! That moment goes down as probably my single favourite movie going moment ever. Of course from then on this film can’t top that on a visceral and gobsmacking level. But it manages it on a purely emotional and story telling level with the realisation by Frodo that he must abandon his friends and go on alone to his likely doom. You have the sacrifice of Borimir, the flawed yet ultimately heroic warrior of Gondor. There’s also the oath of Strider, Gimli and Legolas to save Merry and Pippin from the orcs. And of course there is the selfless, unwavering loyalty of Samwise the Brave, which ends the film on a hopeful and reasonably positive note. Glorious!
Everything about this film is perfect. The performances are all very strong with Ian McKellen as Gandalf being the standout. I especially love Cate Blanchett as Galadriel. She brings a real otherworldly beauty yet also scariness to her role. And John Rhys-Davies as Gimli the Dwarf is wonderful fun too. His rivalry and burgeoning friendship with elf Legolas is a great thing to watch especially as it grows stronger throughout The Two Towers. A landmark in filmmaking, The Fellowship of the Ring is a truly brilliant film on every level.
The story continues…