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One film to rule them all

I staggered blearily back to an Internet connection this morning and looked for the Samizdata Lord of the Rings review so I could add my comment of a single word, ‘Triumph’, before staggering even more blearily through to the New Year.

But though I looked high and low in the Gladden Fields of Micklethwaitian cultural commentary, this review appeared to have rolled down the Anduin bit pipe and down into the sea of review history long ago. Or had it even appeared at all? A bit more searching and still nothing appeared. So it seemed the task had fallen to a simple Oxfordshire resident, rather than one more worthy.

I must apologise in advance if this review starts falling apart in its latter stages. I watched most of the last twenty minutes through a tearful blur of homoerotic emotion just glad the lights were down so nobody could see the big blubbing bloke in the corner. So where do we begin? The start is usually traditional, and what an opening. Andy Serkis finally revealed in the sunlit flesh as the younger Smeagol, remorsefully commiserating for almost a whole second, over the murderous death of his friend Deagol, before giggling at his acquisition of the Ring. Then follows the descent of Smeagol into hell at the roots of the Misty Mountains before we see Frodo descending into a similar hell at the roots of the Ash Mountains to, as Douglas Adams might have once put it, counterpoint the surrealism of his relationship to both Slinker Stinker Gollum and Master Samwise Gamgee.

This direct foray into the destructive evil of power, right at the start of the film, and the way such power destroys both individuals and their relationships to other people, marks the film out, for me, as a truly great work.

But how on all of Middle-Earth did Peter Jackson manage to cram so much in? I felt I’d been in the cinema for the entire period of Frodo’s climb up the stair of Cirith Ungol, though in a fully absorbed and attention-glued way, before any of the real serious battle-schmattle scenes got underway. How long is this film, I thought, briefly returning to Earth for a moment about halfway through. It must be about fifteen hundred years, almost the total length of the Third Age itself!

But still it went on, smacking me over the head with giant rocks and cave trolls, creeping ever closer towards the furnace lip of the lava cliff inside Sauron’s Mount Doom ring-making factory.

Gimli, of course, got all the best comedy lines. I’ll try to avoid spoiling them for anyone with the misfortune not to have been to see the film yet, but keep an eye out for the one with Legolas and the Oliphant. Absolutely priceless, and worth getting the DVD for just by itself. Indeed, at one point I almost expected Gimli to turn into Scotty of the Enterprise, with Aragorn as Captain Kirk, and Legolas as Spock, all sharing a bit of Transporter Room banter before they beamed down to inevitable death on the planet below. I suppose you could’ve cast Elrond as Bones McCoy, but hey, let’s not stretch an analogy too far.

Given that Mr Jackson had to cram in almost one and a half book volumes into three hours, or less, having given the whole of his second film to just the first half of the original ‘Two Towers’ book, he did have some stretching and cutting of his own to do, to get it all in.

I’ve often felt in the past that the Paths of the Dead was J.R.R.Tolkien’s own desperate way out of a self-imposed novelistic impasse, to avoid splitting the Riders of Rohan into two thin weak columns, one necessarily sent round the back to attack the rear of Minas Ithil’s attacking Orcs. But Mr Jackson manages to improve on the original use of these dead soldiers, IMHO, once again providing Gimli with an excellent opportunity for a punch line.

What I did miss from the cuts were Gandalf’s direct personal confrontations with evil. His major set pieces to break Saruman’s staff at the Tower of Orthanc, to repel the Witch King of Angmar from the gates of Minas Tirith, and to dismiss the quailing Mouth of Sauron before the gates of Mordor, all got cut at either the script editing level or the film editing level. Which I think is a pity. Though few cinemagoers, I’ll admit, would’ve tolerated the four hour film required to get all this in, plus the extended return to the Shire I also missed, with its expulsion of a New Labour-like Sarumanian government bent on taxation, wealth destruction, and regulation. Jackson concentrates instead on the three-way power relationship between Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, to give the movie greater focus.

And who’s the movie director? Is it moi? Or is it Mr Jackson? I think the bloke with the beard and the glasses wins.

Though I must say, if these missing scenes are in the special extended DVD, I’ll be forced to acquire it, and then of course the first two special extended discs, to make up the set. So perhaps Mr Jackson is no Wise Fool after all, for missing out these confrontations.

The box office returns will tell, in the end, bolstered by my Christmas present acquisition of a Gollum mug bearing the inscription, ‘My Preciousss’. And what an ending for Smeagol! Tremendous.

For those who’ve neither read the book nor seen the film, who’re planning to see it soon, I’ll say no more on the plot, except, the hobbits are the ones with the hairy feet. And the final scene at the Grey Havens is one even Mr Jackson didn’t dare cut, filled with the final majestic Middle-Earth words of Tolkien’s Maiar of Manwe, alternatively known to his friends as Gandalf, Olorin, or Mithrandir.

Which brings us to the Tolkien family. What a strange bunch of folk. For decades now they’ve been living off the genius of J.R.R., cackling and spitting at each other, not speaking to each other, having bust-ups, and generally living the lives of ungrateful malcontents. Come on, get a grip. You sold the film rights off decades ago, for that half-finished cartoon, so you’ve only got yourselves to blame. Just count up the book sale proceeds and be grateful. What Peter Jackson has done is simply incredible. And if I were you, I would hand him ‘The Hobbit’ film options, right now, and even gratis, on the sole condition that he drops all of this King Kong nonsense and starts making ‘The Hobbit’ straightaway, instead. Clean up on the book sales royalties, and stop complaining. In a few years time you’ll lose copyright anyway, under the fifty year rule, so make a few quid now while you can, before some of those Austrian economists succeed in their plan to remove all intellectual copyright protection even earlier from all kinds of software, including books and films.

Oh, and by the way, you’ll also be giving me something to watch next Christmas, or the Christmas after, so I must declare this selfish interest. Though I fear it will be a many years yet before even the redoubtable Mr Jackson takes on ‘The Silmarillion’. Now that really would be an epic.

And almost at the end of all things, a word for Mr Howard Shore, the driving force behind this incredible trilogy’s Wagnerian music score. From the braying of the trumpets for Barad-Dur and Sauron, presumably inspired by Morgoth’s intervention in the Music of the Ainur, to the Irish-feel brogues for Rohan, and the theme for the Fellowship itself, the music behind this film is a true work of genius in itself, matched only by the inspirational qualities of Alan Lee and John Howe, Mr Jackson’s conceptual designers, and the two illustrators who in the last three decades have brought the world of Middle-Earth to life more than anyone else, after the death of J.R.R., and before the advent of Mr Jackson.

Gentlemen, Ladies, and anyone else who had anything to do with the making of this movie trilogy, I salute you. Though I do have just this one final question.

Did Aragorn really have to sing? It must have been the return of Tom Bombadil, in disguise.

23 comments to One film to rule them all

  • Spot on about Howard Shore’s score. Best composer-director combination since Leone and and Morricone in Once Upon a Time in the West.

    I’m surprised you think Saruman was a new-Labourite; I didn’t spot a single Jarvis-branded PFI Uruk-Hai, although admittedly they may turn-up to the Helm’s Deep 12 month’s late, demanding to be paid by the Rohirrim Horselords for unpaid contracts with Saruman.

  • Julian Morrison

    I watched the movie. I didn’t hear the music, I didn’t see the special effects or the set design, I didn’t note the absence of the cut bits, I just saw Tolkien’s story, as it happened and perfect.

  • David Gillies

    I saw it yesterday and I’m going to see it again at the earliest opportunity. The only real disappointment I had was the ommission of The Scouring of The Shire, which apart from being one of the most satisfying sections of the books, is an important underpinning to the moral of the story. I certainly hope that Peter Jackson has footage that can be re-edited for the special editions.

  • Eamon Brennan

    Tolkien himself sold the movie rights, not his family.

    Eamon

  • Russ Goble

    The wife and I saw it last week and was simply amazed. As one who has not read the books (no, I’m not proud), I was blown away and did not have to get caught up in the diversions from the book.

    And, yes, definately buy both extended additions, especially the one for the Two Towers. They add a great deal to the overall story, particularly the Gondor subplot.

    I believe I’ve read that Gandolf’s confrontation with Saruman was filmed and will be included in the extended addition. Also, I think there is a rumor that the same can be said about the scouring of the Shire and may be included in an alternate ending sort of way. But, I thought the level of melancholy was just right and may have spoiled it for some of the audience if he’d stuck totally to the book (it is still a mass audience movie after all).

    If the Oscar’s snub Jackson, it will be a crime. ANd I wish there was some way to award the overall work that went into making Gollum. I can’t think of any animated character that had such a dramatic portrayal before. Gollum was a truly deep and occassionally sympathetic character that almost made you forget that he wasn’t real.

    But, yeah, just an amazing piece of work that sets the bar really really high for epic film making.

  • toolkien

    The disappointment of the whole trilogy is the omission of the entire elemental theme of the book – the internal religious system contained in all of the middle earth writings – the misfortune of those who have rejected the West, and the perseverance of those who don’t, to vanquish Big Evil (the Scouring brings forth the notion that it is up to the ‘lesser’ folk to handle ‘little evil’ on their own).

    I realize the task is gargantuan from the start just to relay the plot elements in some satisfactory way (which the first and third did reasonably well and the second did not, in horrible fashion, not only deviating from the book, but even within the logic of the movie, it did not make sense (how is it remotely logical to have Frodo reveal the ring in Osgiliath?). I suppose one could say that the viewer, who has read the books, can bring the elemental theme with them into the movie experience, but recharacterization (mostly in part II) successfully skewers the heart of the elemental theme making it very difficult to even pretend (Faramir, Treebeard, Theoden).

    The movies are visually striking and much of the plot and content is there, albeit moved around a bit. The only other major gripe, with the monumental time constraint already embedded in thr process, was the need to include ‘new’ material of Arwen and Aragorn to make it more slick for the masses. Unnecessary and compresses the real material even more.

    But my views mirror the discussions of the movies at http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/ – The Encyclopedia of Arda so don’t need to take up anymore space here (assume no need to make it a link as most likely those interested already have it book-marked, just referencing).

  • Richard Garner

    I think that the film was practically perfect. Apparently about three hours of it landed up on the cutting room floor, so perhaps thats why the film was disappointingly short on rounding up Saruman’s part of the tale. They also missed out the most anti-socialist part of the entire book: The Scouring of the Shire.

    However, this fairly minor quibbles fade into insignificance next to the sheer scale and beauty of the film. I seriously recommend that people don’t wait for it to come out on DVD or video, because it has to be seen on the big screen to be fully enjoyed.

    Personally, I think Peter Jackson should retire now. He took on the most ambitious film project in all time… and pulled it off. Given the sheer brilliance of this series, the odds are that whatever he does next won’t be as good, so why not quit when he’s ahead?!

  • Shawn

    I saw the film two nights ago here in New Zealand. Stunning. Moving. A triumph.

  • Antoine Clarke

    Brian won’t go and see it in the cinema. Sad.

  • Toolkien- thanks for pointing out that Encyclopedia; was new to me. I actually have a book that functions as something of an encylopedia like that, but this online version is quite exellent.

  • Yoseph

    Gandalf’s real name is not Manwe. Manwe is the greatest of the Valar, while Gandalf is indeed the maia Olorin. Petty, but in a review by a Tolkien-nut you can have high expectations.

  • Yoseph

    Gandalf’s real name is not Manwe. Manwe is the greatest of the Valar, while Gandalf is indeed the maia Olorin. Petty, but in a review by a Tolkien-nut you are allowed to have high expectations.

  • Morgoth

    Yoseph, I don’t think Andy claimed that Gandalf was Manwe – rather he claimed that Olorin was the representative of Manwe. Which is correct. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that Olorin might have been the representative of Varda instead. Can someone consult the Holy Tomes (IIRC it in Unfinished Tales) to find out?

  • Andy Duncan

    Morgoth writes:

    Although I have a sneaking suspicion that Olorin might have been the representative of Varda instead.

    Thanks for the support, Morgoth, or can I call you Melkor? :-)

    BTW, I nominate the posting below as my entry for the ‘Saddest Teenager of All Time’ competition:

    From what I remember of the ‘Unfinished Tales’, when it talks about the sending of the five wizards from Arda to Middle-Earth, Saruman is nominally the greatest of the five, and a Maia of Aule, Lord of the Earth, and Gandalf is a Maia of Manwe, Lord of the Air (hence the link with eagles, or as Mr Jackson cleverly extends it, big moths :)

    As Aule is the Master Smith, who created the dwarves, Saruman has tremendous skill in his hands, and the ability to create wonderful objects, perversely turning this skill of course towards the dreadful Uruk-Hai. Strangely, Sauron was also once a Maia of Aule, before being attracted to the power of Melkor. Hence the strong connection between Saruman and Sauron because both were servants of the same Lord, with the same sorts of skills, In the Beginning.

    But Olorin was generally acknowledged as the wisest Maia of them all, spending much of his time in the gardens of lamentation in Lorien, with the Valar Irmo. And although nominally ‘weaker’ than Saruman, Cirdan of the Grey havens recognised Gandalf as the greater of the pair, which is why he gave the red ring of fire to Gandalf, and not to Christopher Lee, sorry, Saruman.

    And anyway, what’s the point of being the chief counsellor of the top God, if you can’t also be the top wizard! :-)

    Now you may wish to check this, but I also believe Gandalf was also, originally, one of the few fire spirits who didn’t desert the ‘good’ Valar, to become Balrogs of Morgoth. Hence why Sir Ian is able to take on that Balrog in Moria. He was an equal to the Balrog, and may even have known him personally from The Beginning.

    The only other fire spirit I’ve heard about, who didn’t succumb to Balrog-style whips and chains fetishism, was Arien, the Maiar carrier of the Sun, from whom all the evil people of the world still quail.

    Oh, and being a fire spirit, also makes Gandalf love fireworks! :-)

    Now I’m taking all this from memories acquired many years ago, so I’m unsure of the Varda/Manwe split on Gandalf’s alleigance, but the Maiar servants of both these Gods served as a joint people, so the point may be moot, to use a great old-fashioned word, with Manwe and Varda ruling Arda jointly.

    Speaking of which, Bilbo gets to go to Arda taking Arwen Undomniel’s place. But how does Frodo (and later Sam) get to go? This implies to me that not only does Gandalf have access to Manwe’s right ear, he’s also got access to Eru’s left ear, the only one who can decide to allow mortals to cross the straight path across the bent seas.

    So all in all, I reckon that Gandalf bloke really is in with the big knobs ;-)

  • phwest

    I’ve beeen struggling over the last few days to understand why I was so disappointed by The Return of the King (the problems with the Two Towers were more glaring). One particular problem I have is that while Jackson’s construction of Middle Earth is detailed and quite beautiful, he destroys any sense of realism in the combat sequences by the staging and overuse of special effects.

    A small example is the fight between the Lord of the Nazgul and Eowyn – Why is it necessary for the head of the Witch King’s “mace” to be the size of a small boulder? And then Jackson breaks up the verbal exhange between the two and has Eowyn spend 5 seconds revealing that she is not a woman between Merry wounding the Witch King and delivering the coup-de-grace while the Witch King just kneels there waiting for it.

    For all Tolkien’s fantastic races and creatures, his vision of war and battle is quite realistic, with a major emphasis on morale and sound tactics. Jackson replaces this with a James Bondian sensibility – a perfect example being the “Dwarf tossing” sequence in the Two Towers. These would be quibbles – except that the movie is just full of this kind of grating detail.

    It’s not that film isn’t good – it is remarkable given its almost impossible task. But in the end it fell flat for me, and was all the more disappointing given how much I liked large pieces of the effort, particularly the Fellowship.

  • R C Dean

    Saw it. Loved it.

    Was wondering what, if anything, would be done with the Scouring – I had a hard time figuring out how you would work it into a cinematic narrative flow, considering that it had been so long since we last saw the Shire and it would require (re)introducing a bunch of new characters at the end of the movie just to dismiss them. Frankly, I don’t know that it was much missed.

    I was in perhaps the ideal position to enjoy the movies – I had read the books (repeatedly), but not for 20 years or so. I remembered enough of the characters and the broad outlines of the plot to easily follow the movie, without remembering enough detail to quibble about most of the changes.

  • “A small example is the fight between the Lord of the Nazgul and Eowyn – Why is it necessary for the head of the Witch King’s “mace” to be the size of a small boulder? And then Jackson breaks up the verbal exhange between the two and has Eowyn spend 5 seconds revealing that she is not a woman between Merry wounding the Witch King and delivering the coup-de-grace while the Witch King just kneels there waiting for it.”

    That’s why it’s a drama, not a documentary. As for the size of the Witch-King’s weapon, it would hardly be a feminist triumph if he had a little mace, would it?

    Here is the real answer to your questions:
    OSCAR

    Not a few of the decisions were made to appeal to Academy voters instead of combat buffs or SCA Period Nazi’s. I’m sorry if this offends you, but Peter Jackson deserves the statue, and if some gratuitous combat feminism is necessary to get it, that’s OK.

    Now, as for realistic, how many large scale muscle powered weaponry armies have you seen battle? If your answer is more than zero, put down the pipe. Nobody living has seen lancers charge, trebuchet hitting ground troops, or heavy infantry hacking down barbarians.

    It’s not a perfect period combat piece, get over itl.

  • Cobden Bright

    Listen chaps…no offence intended, but what exactly is the point of literature? Lord of the Rings may well provide enjoyment for many people, but exactly what relevance does it have to politics or the real world? I don’t care what political allegories people see in it – for the vast majority, it is a fantasy story and that’s it. So how does it change the political landscape? IMO, it doesn’t change anything. It’s just a film that many libertarians happen to enjoy. Well hey, I bet many Cambodians circa 1975 enjoyed Gone with the Wind and Casablanca – they still got stuffed. Any reason why we should be any different?

    Quite frankly I don’t see the point in straying off into film criticism like this. Isn’t this a political blog, not “Halliwell’s Film Guide”??? What is the point in it if the main subject matter is films and space travel?

  • “So how does it change the political landscape?”

    This movie exists to make Viggo Mortensen look like a doof when he describes it’s message as brotherhood and comradery. This movie is about fighting a just war against those who would sacrifice any value for power.

    I’m sorry that you didn’t get it. For your sake, I hope that you’re at least as cute as Viggo in compensation.

  • Andy Duncan

    Cobden Bright writes:

    Quite frankly I don’t see the point in straying off into film criticism like this. Isn’t this a political blog, not “Halliwell’s Film Guide”??? What is the point in it if the main subject matter is films and space travel?

    It’s up to Mr De Havilland what this blog is for, and as he provides an ‘Arts and Entertainment’ article option, I’m more than happy to provide occasional entries to it.

    When he cuts the option, I’ll revert to 100% coverage of Austro-Libertarianism, particularly book reviews. But wouldn’t that be awfully dull?

    I also think that a great book like the LOTR is worth a thousand political blogs, with a thousand worthy commentaries upon them.

    The human brain, IMHO, is several things. It’s a memory processor, it’s a pattern recogniser, it’s a visual processor, and it’s a sex-mad procreative machine. It’s particularly that last thing! ;-)

    And what has humanity done virtually every night for a hundred thousand years? It’s sat down before bedtime to hear stories, in order to process memories, recognise patterns, process visual imagery, and get excited about sexual procreation.

    And then at bedtime itself, if it’s been lucky, it’s indulged in sexual procreation, and then spent the rest of the night in dreamland re-organising all of the day’s events with a re-connection of memories, and cortical linkages, to make sense of everything that’s happened to it. And in this huge task, which takes up to eight hours a day, it is greatly assisted by the entertainment provided by before-bedtime stories (or books, or story-based video games, or films), which provide the dreaming human brain with a fixed substrate to work upon.

    These stories have been provided by stone-age firelit wandering troubadors, Homer’s precursors before writing, Homer himself when he wrote down the verbal stories, then Jane Austen when she helped create the novel, then eventually Hollywood, when it took these stories and turned them, ironically enough, into the form of realistic dreams, and now Mr Jackson in New Zealand, with his tremendous work based upon the greatest English novel of all time (as declared by the British State’s BBC, against its will).

    Now you may be lucky, and you can remember the writings of Cobden, and of Bright, but most of the rest of us relate much better to stories. This is something Ayn Rand realised and something Robert Heinlein realised. Which do most libertarians remember best? Murray Rothbard’s description of elastic pricing in Man, Economy and State, or the train disaster in Atlas Shrugged?

    Put me down for the train disaster. That made it far clearer for me as to why government control is so useless as compared to private control, than anything even the redoubtable Uncle Murray ever wrote for us (God bless Him). And I’m an Austrian, not a Randian, and a worshipper at the shrine of St Rothbard.

    Can you really not see the effectiveness and the point of a film which has attracted millions of otherwise state-educated, state-indoctrinated, and state-loving people all over the world and said things like ‘Free peoples of the West, let us throw off this yoke!’?

    And then even better made them go out and buy the book, to read about the Scouring of the Shire?

    As I’m afflicted, I write terribly long and terribly pretentious and terribly dull articles about ‘straight’ libertarianism, and will continue to do so for as long as Mr De Havilland tolerates me. But I fully expect, that on my deathbed, that if you counted them all up, and laid them all end to end, they would still have less than 1% of the libertarian effect that one chapter in one book, namely the Scouring of the Shire, has had. If I’m lucky.

    And yes, that really does mean I must complete the 2nd draft of my 30,000 words for my eventual debut novel, to get it round all the publishers, to see if they’ll bite. Yet another New Year’s resolution! :-)

    Hope you’re having a good one, in whichever tax haven you’re currently residing in. Those of us of a weaker inclination, and a more determined wife, salute you!

    PS. Wouldn’t it also be nice if this wasn’t a political blog, because there were no politicians left, only free people leading free lives, in a world entirely privately owned? Then we could all talk about the LOTR 100% of the time, or whatever else it was that took our fancy. It won’t happen in my lifetime, but if in some weird post-meteroid strike situation it does, and when we’ve recovered from it, after the meteorite somehow managed to hit just the UN building, the EU, and all the world’s parliaments, leaving most of the rest of us alone, I’d just love to be in a world where I never have to hear another politician say another word, ever again, and never feel the need to write another word about politics, ever again.

    O perchance, to dream.

  • I thought the Smeagle/Gollum sequence was totally unneccesary and there were too damn many Oliphants – other than that it was flawless, though I would have gladly sat for another hour to watch the hobbits clean up the Shire.
    Aloha

  • Witch-king of Angmar

    Best books ever made = best movies ever made