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Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings Marathon

Posted on Sunday, December 9, 2012 in Film, Rant, Review

Yesterday, I attended The Lord of the Rings Marathon at my local movie theater. This was an all-day showing of each of Peter Jackson’s films based on Toikien’s magnum opus from 11:00 am to 11:30pm (with only a half hour break between each film). I also saw it with my children who never got the chance to see the films on the big screen when they were first released so that was fun, too. Viewing the film trilogy in one fell swoop was an eye-opening experience and really allowed me to see the work as a whole. I’d like to share some thoughts and favorite moments from the films. Some of these will be familiar from ten years of voluminous commentary in print and online, but this is meant to be my subjective reaction to Jackson’s opus.

There were probably around 20 to 25 people in the theater for our marathon, so it was somewhat of a shared experience. There were even a couple women who showed up in medieval gowns. Of course, no one talked to anyone else, but we all clapped when each film was over, and giggles went through the audience at several key points: Boromir’s “One does not simply walk into Mordor” line, Sam’s “PO-TA-TOES” line, Legolas’ “They’re taking the hobbits to Isengard“, and several others. My daughter and I enjoyed Elrond’s facepalm during the Council.

One of the things that struck me was the prevalence of clasped hands. Take a notice next time you happen to watch these films. I often saw one character reaching out for another’s hand and the other grasping the outstretched hand. The two biggies are Frodo rescuing Sam from the water when leaving the Fellowship, and Sam rescuing Frodo in the Sammath Naur. There are a number of others, and I wish I had kept track. One of the reasons it struck me was when it didn’t happen. When Aragorn stretches out his hand to Gríma after Théoden is ready to kill Wormtongue on the steps of Meduseld… and Gríma spits on Aragorn’s outstretched hand.

Not having viewed the trilogy for quite some time, another thing that struck me was the prevalence of tears. I knew there was crying, but, wow, that was a lot of tears over 12 hours of movies.

And the last plot device that struck me was people plunging off of cliffs. Gandalf in the first (okay, it’s a chasm but the effect’s the same); Aragorn in the second (not in the book); Denethor, Frodo and Gollum in the third (only one of those goes over in the book). Even Boromir plunged off the Falls of Rauros, but he was already dead. I may be reading too much into this, but it looked to me like Middle-earth needed a lot more signage to alert people of dangerous cliffs.

I do have some favorite moments from Jackson’s films:

  • Gandalf and the Bridge of Khazad-dûm
  • Gandalf driving out Saruman from Théoden
  • The ride of the Rohirrim into the forces of Mordor on the Pelennor
  • Any scene with Sindarin in it 🙂

There are more, but those really spring to mind. I do find it interesting that none of those first three occur in the movie exactly as they transpired in the canon. For example:

Fire came from [the Balrog’s] nostrils. But Gandalf stood firm
“You cannot pass,” he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”

“You cannot pass!”

Yes, a lot of the film dialogue in that scene is from the movie, but I think the change from “You cannot pass” to “You shall not pass” was a very good decision.

The episode between Gandalf and Théoden is also much more dramatic in the film than the book. The addition of Saruman’s possession of the king of Rohan appears to have helped that plot point along in the film. Kudos again to Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair and Peter Jackson. Finally, the ride of the Rohirrim. One scene I did want to see there was Théoden blowing on the horn until it “burst asunder” although I realize that might be a little difficult to pull off realistically.

I do believe that Jackson absolutely got the casting spot on with Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey and Christopher Lee as Saruman the White. In fact, McKellen’s Gandalf is one of the major reasons I can’t wait to see The Hobbit this coming week. In my opinion, Théoden, as portrayed by Bernard Hill, was also very regal and convincing. The design team also hit the nail on the head with the Black Riders, right down to the nails coming out of the bloody hooves of the horses. And Andy Serkis’ Gollum/Smeagol is always amazing (and disturbing… in a good way) to watch.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some scenes and plot points I don’t particularly like:

  • Elves at Helm’s Deep: If the Elves were going to show up anywhere, it would have been to come to the aid of Minas Tirith
  • Elrond himself bringing Narsil to Aragorn: This is like Capt. Kirk always having to lead the away team (Although I did go back to the book and see that Elrond’s son, Elrohir, was the one to remind Aragorn about taking the Paths of the Dead).
  • The avalanche of skulls in the Paths of the Dead: WTF?
  • Faramir taking Frodo, Sam, and Gollum to Osgiliath: Seemed a little needless
  • Aragorn’s angst: The “book Aragorn” seemed much more sure of himself and his duty to be king
  • Denethor’s death

That last one especially still bothers me. After watching it again yesterday, it seems to me that it would be easy to blame Gandalf for Denethor’s getting torched. In the film, Denethor even has a last moment of sanity looking at his son’s face before he bursts into flames and runs off the cliff. And it looked to me like Shadowfax either pushed him onto the pyre or, at the very least, Denethor was trying to get away from the rearing horse. In the book, it’s Denethor that takes the torch and leaps onto the pyre. He takes an active role in his self-immolation. In the film, it looks, in the end, to happen almost by accident.

I really enjoy the movies, but I have to remember that they’re based on Tolkien’s work. Masterfully adapted in many cases and even (gasp) improved-upon in some, but based nonetheless. I find that the films drive me back to the books and Middle-earth again, and maybe that is the most important thing. I’m fine with some people only experiencing Middle-earth through Jackson’s prism, but I would compare it to someone only knowing the Iliad through the Brad Pitt film. Yes, you can get a good idea of the characters and the plot, but there’s no substitute for returning to the source material.

Hannon le, Tolkien. Hannon le, Peter Jackson. Eglerio!

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