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.