Monday, January 31, 2005

Review (sort of)
The Lord of the Rings Extended version, viewed in one sitting

I am on holiday this week, using up leave before the end of the holiday year (for me the same as the Financial Year). I decided to set one day aside to watch all six DVDs of the extended version of the Lord of the Rings movie, one after the other; and here, for what they are worth, are my thoughts.

Firstly, a few practical points. It pays to start relatively early. I started this at just after 9am, and I am grateful I did otherwise I would still be watching. Second, this is actually pretty difficult, especially alone. I imagine if a bunch of people were doing it together the cameraderie and spur of the moment commentary would help. I found the 5th DVD the hardest to keep going through - it was like the final steep hill on a cross-country run. The 6th DVD was like a downslope to the finishing line. Nibbles are essential, but should be rationed along the length of the film, interspersed by somewhat more substantial meals.

Was there any particular advantage to watching the whole thing at one sitting though? I would have to say yes.

The whole film flows together surprisingly well, better than the 3 films do individually. This is particularly noticeable in DVD#5. Seeing it as a whole means that the editing decisions to shift large-ish parts of TT into film3 is no longer apparent or problematic. It also makes one realise with even greater clarity just how much of RotK ended up hacked out of film3.

The Frodo/Sam/Gollum scenes also benefit, being now seen from beginning to end in one long sweep. The last gollum/smeagol sequence in Film2 basically foreshadows the Gollum of film3, but it is far more satisfactory to see the whole thing out to its conclusion in the Sammath Naur. I found Gollum's politicking rather blunt in Film3, but obviously it merely carries on from the division between Frodo and Sam already present in Film2, and this is far easier now to appreciate.

Watching the whole version together though also makes the weakness of this triangle of characters glaringly obvious: Gollum/Smeagol gives far the best performance, hats off to the computer geeks who did the animation and Andy Serkis for the amazing versatility of his voice. Frodo is especially weak, at times seeming simply flat. On reflection one wonders whether the character of Frodo should not have been given to a more mature actor, since Elijah Wood simply does not seem fully capable of carrying this difficult role.

Other characters/relationships that progress and are more appreciated for the one-sitting option: Merry/Pippin and Legolas/Gimli spring to mind. For the hobbits it is both the development of their friendship and their own personal development that is so engaging. In the case of Legolas/Gimli it is the development of the friendship. At Rivendell it is "Never trust an elf!", before the Black Gate "I never thought I die by an elf. / How about alongside a friend? / Aye, I could do that". It also makes plain how Gimli throughout was the comedy character, something I feel is a mistake. This is most obvious in film2, but also present in the other films. Some of the humour is fine, but some I feel cheapens things. Likewise I feel Gimli was often cheated of some of his best lines in Tolkein - in particular his relationship with Galadriel is glossed over.

One thing made even more obvious by the one-sitting is how out of place Gandalf's sudden cowardice and second-fiddling in film3 is. That is rather irritating, and in a way the one-sitting also highlights some things I consider flaws. I won't dwell really on these, since I've gone over most of them one time or another. There was one thing that became noticable to me though on this sitting, how at both Helms Deep and Minas Tirith Peter Jackson actually goes beyond Tolkien and makes the battle situations a good deal worse. In Helms Deep he has the orcs battering down the door into the hall, in Tolkein the citadal (the Hornburg) remains held. At Minas Tirith Jackson has the orcs high up in the city, Tolkein has them stopped at the first level. It seems to me that Peter Jackson was trying to make things utterly extreme, to add potency I guess. At Helms Deep it mostly works. At Minas Tirith it basically doesn't because while the Riders of Rohan are busily chopping up orcs and oliphants quite successfully apparently more and more orcs are pooring into the city when they should be attacking the Riders from behind. Also the confrontation between Gandalf and the Nazgul was off for similar reasons. It is strange the thing that anyone could film LotR in an over-the-top manner, but in this I think Peter Jackson does.

It made me think that of all Tolkien's great battles the one Peter Jackson was wanting to shoot was Nirnaeth Arnoediad: The Battle of Unnumbered Tears, for of all Tolkiens battles this is the one where hope nearly completely fails, where the scene between Gandalf and Pippin at that last gate has its home. For it is in the Silmarillion where such extreme feelings are at home, where the great alliances are everywhere defeated, where great fortresses that make Minas Tirith look petty, Nargothrond and Gondolin, fall to flame.

Which is a somewhat odd not to bring this to an end. For people like me the experience was worthwhile, but I would not casually recommend it.

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