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The LOTR extended DVDs

Well, we've been watching them at the rate of one a night for the last week (last night we took a break so that Anne and I could go out). And my conclusions are as follows:

The Fellowship of the Ring: Lots more extended scenes and fewer completely new ones, compared to the film. The extra material was generally very good, though oddly enough two of the new scenes (the Elves passing through the Shire, and Aragorn's mother's tomb) seemed rather bolted on.

Unlike the other films we've seen most of the extra two DVDs here as well, and of course it's all absolutely fascinating. The introduction to the special effects if anything deepens your appreciation of scenes like Hobbiton, Moria, Rivendell, and so on. It's a bit sad that despite the mini-feature ostensibly on Tolkien, we don't actually get more than still photos of the author himself - not even quotes from letters if I remember rightly. But we do get lots of good quotes from Tom Shippey and Brian Sibley. (And is that Patrick Curry the same one whose writings on astrology I used for my M Phil?)

The Two Towers: This was the one film we hadn't seen in the cinema, partly because it came out just at the time that U was born but also I'd read in the review in Interzone that it took a lot of liberties with the plot. Well, indeed it does: Aragorn falls over a cliff; Faramir takes Frodo, Sam and Gollum as far west as Osgiliath; Pippin tricks Treebeard into going to war against Saruman; and the Elves save the day at Helm's Deep. It all seemed worthwhile to me, except perhaps for the Aragorn bit (and another bot where he tells Eowyn his true age) which felt a bit bolted on. (Also we never find out what happens to the Elves who tuned up at Helm's Deep.) I was sorry, however, to lose Gimli's reaction to the glittering caves. More on this later.

Great bits: Gollum is the real star here. Not just the special effects but the story of potential redemption of someone whose life has been poisoned by the Ring. Treebeard and the Ents are not bad either, though I wished they had looked a bit more solid. And of course, the flooding of Isengard takes your breath away - especially when you consider certain recent awful events in the real world.

The Return of the King: We start with a huge deviation from the book - interestingly not in the film either - as Saruman and Wormtongue both get killed at Orthanc. So on the one hand we who have read the book know that the Scouring of the Shire is not going to happen; but on the other hand, added to the variations from the text in the previous film, there's a real sense of suspense now about whether the ending will actually go as planned. The film becomes also a bit of a Bildungsroman for Merry and Pippin. The parallels between the grievously wounded Frodo and Faramir were a point I had missed in the cinema.

And when Sam does return, and the little Gamgees (played by the little Astins) leap into his arms, and he says, "Well, I'm back", well, anyone whose eyes do not moisten has no soul.

The set piece that made the biggest impression on me in the cinema, the lighting of the beacons, was much less impressive here; small screen vs big, I suppose. On the other hand, Shelob, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and the climax at Mount Doom are still fantastic. And the extra length actually makes the hail-and-farewell scenes at the end, which seemed excessive in the film, seem better paced to the work as a whole. Finally, let's hear it for the Mouth of Sauron, gloriously horrible in the DVD though knifed from the film.

Overall: C'mon, folks, Liv Tyler is pretty good actually. And while it jars at first for the young hobbits to have such different accents, and Gimli to be cast as comic relief (so we lose the Glittering Caves bit), it actually makes him a more rounded character than in the book. Also the relationship between Frodo and Sam (and by extension Gollum) in my view acquires much greater depth in the Jackson treatment, simply by allowing Frodo to be more visibly flawed (and perhaps Gollum to be a little smarter). In sum: I liked it.

Basically, we who have loved the book for decades are incredibly lucky. (Anyone out there remember the 1978 Ralph Bakshi version, which ended with Frodo and Sam adrift in the river, Merry and Pippin in Treebeard's clutches, and the others besieged in Helm's Deep?) This is not just a full-length treatment but a quintuple full-length treatment, made by fans for fans. And its success bears witness to the success of Tolkien's own project to write an epic "linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama". We won't see the like of this again; it's exceptionally rare for a such a popular film to capture the spirit of such a popular book in this way. (I don't know but I suspect the last, perhaps the only other, example may have been Gone With The Wind, in 1939.) And I've still got the extra material on the other four and a half DVD's to get through. Further enjoyment awaits.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 3rd, 2005 09:28 am (UTC)
No, probably not!
Jan. 3rd, 2005 08:31 am (UTC)
We've been watching the extras on the RotK extended version, and it's been influencing my dreams (work-a-day workshop materials-demonstrations scenes - odd to find this reflection from my dreaming self.)

Did you find Gollum's "acceptance speech" for the Oscar? Side-splitting funny but not for kids at all. (Well, I can sometimes find strong language funny when it appears superficially inappropriate; it made Gollum seem like a real person, just another actor, when of course my intellect is protesting that this is all fiction, for heaven's sake!)

Basically, we who have loved the book for decades are incredibly lucky. (Anyone out there remember the 1978 Ralph Bakshi version, which ended with Frodo and Sam adrift in the river, Merry and Pippin in Treebeard's clutches, and the others besieged in Helm's Deep?)

These sentences resonate deeply with me. I definitely remember (sound FX: spit!) that Bakshi monstrosity. I'm glad that it didn't spoil Jackson's efforts to get a proper treatment (despite the liberties you name) to screen. Lucky, indeed.

Crazy(and considering a re-read in the near future...)Soph

Jan. 3rd, 2005 09:32 am (UTC)
I've been aware of the existence of the "acceptance speech" but haven't yet seen it - do you have a link for it?
Jan. 3rd, 2005 10:45 pm (UTC)
Better: dear_hubby got the instructions and sent them to me, so here they are for you!

Insert the first DVD from the box set – the one containing the first half of the movie. From the Main Menu go to the 'Select A Scene' submenu where you proceed to go to the last page of these scene selections. Now highlight the 'Of Herbs And Stewed Rabbit' menu entry and press the 'Down' arrow key on your remote control. The One Ring will appear on the screen now and if you press 'Enter' you will see some footage of Peter Jackson congratulating you to finding this Easter Egg, followed by the clip from the MTV Movie Awards featuring Gollum’s hilarious acceptance speech for 'Best Virtual Performance.'

Reference source: http://www.dvdreview.com/html/hidden_features.shtml

Crazy(have fun!!)Soph
Jan. 4th, 2005 10:39 am (UTC)
It's not on the Region 2 version of those DVDs, as far as I know. However, googling for it should find a downloadable version fairly quickly.
Jan. 4th, 2005 02:03 pm (UTC)
Oops, good point, and my bad. :}

Crazy(and, darn, I can't blame dear_hubby; the temptation to try comes from his primary initiative in acquiring our DVDs)Soph
Jan. 3rd, 2005 09:25 am (UTC)
ok, you've inspired me. I'm going to go back and read the books BEFORE I watch all the movies again! You look cool -- can I add you?
Jan. 3rd, 2005 09:39 am (UTC)
Sure - how did you find me?
Jan. 3rd, 2005 09:44 am (UTC)
a region seach of belgium -- I wanted to add more folks in my time zone :-)
Jan. 3rd, 2005 12:25 pm (UTC)
I absolutely agree with your assessment of the Fellowship. IMO I think it is the best film of the three (at least in the extended versions which are the ones that really count for me as they are the ones I will see over and over). Those two scenes do not feel as much part of the film and it is interesting to hear in Jackson's commentary him saying that they and others were cut from the film for that reason - whenever they tried to advance or beef up the Aragorn plot for the cinema release it just seemed to get in the way of the story.

I will always be disappointed with Two Towers but I like the long version better. At least Merry and Pippin do not spend upwards of three days up a tree without the suggestion of even a pee break in this version.

Yes, Liv Tyler is pretty good but after my initial worries about her being turned into a sort of Lara Croftian swashbuckler were not realised, I still found myself depressed at how wet they made her after the Fellowship and that whole mystical connection with the Ring thing in Return is just woeful. Plus if Aragorn ever lets slip to her how he thought that horse licking him was her kissing him he is dead meat sooner than the plot suggests.
Jan. 3rd, 2005 08:01 pm (UTC)
I also saw the three film in one sitting recently, which was fun, if gruelling. RotK was the only one I hadn't already seen the extended version for, so that's the one that sticks in my mind the most at the moment. The outh of Sauron part was grea, but actually watching one of the documentaries on the disc afterwards I was convinced by Peter Jackson et al. that his presence was pretty redundant, as his taunting of Aragorn over having killed Frodo seems like a really empty and nonsensical lie (or bluff) to make in the context of what was going on.
Jan. 3rd, 2005 09:33 pm (UTC)
Well, it's in the book - and of course Aragorn et al cannot know for sure that it's not a horrible joke by Sauron's minions!
Jan. 3rd, 2005 09:37 pm (UTC)
Ah, but in the book, Peter Jackson explained in the documentary, by that stage poisoned Frodo has been taken by the orcs and the reader has no idea how he is or if he's still alive- which would make the reader quite concerned for Frodo if the next thing they read after his abduction was that the orcs had him...
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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