I knew when I started this project that I would have to watch some movies that I didn’t want to watch. I was thinking about movies like Taxi Driver, with its rough subject matter, and Raging Bull, with its graphic violence. I had forgotten that I would have to watch The Lord of the Rings. You see, I love the book. A lot. I’ve read it several times, and I have a very clear picture in my mind of what everyone and everything looks like. I saw The Fellowship of the Ring when it first came out, and I wasn’t impressed with what Peter Jackson had done with Tolkien’s masterpiece. I had no desire to see the other two, especially since the Ents are my favorite race. I didn’t want Jackson to ruin them for me. But I love writing this blog, so I made the sacrifice and watched The Two Towers. (And I was right. The Ents sucked.) I am going to try very, very hard to judge this film based on its own merits and not compare it to the book, but I may not succeed. Please just bear with me.
So what’s the story? This isn’t a stand-alone movie. It’s hours three through six of a nine-hour movie, so it’s a little hard to recap. But Frodo and Sam are making their journey into Mordor to destroy the ring. Merry and Pippin have been kidnapped by Orcs, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are on their trail. Merry and Pippin meet the Ents, a race of tree-people, while Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli meet the Riders of Rohan, a tribe of Men. Saruman is growing bolder, sending out his armies to destroy both Rohan and Gondor. Confused? Yeah, don’t watch these movies out of order. There is no recap from one to the next, so you will be lost if you don’t already know the story. You might be lost even if you do know the story, because the movie and the book are rather different.
The Good: Sean Astin is wonderful as Sam, Frodo’s loyal friend and servant. His complete devotion to Frodo and their cause shines out of his faces. It’s great to see. I do rather like Ian McKellen as Gandalf. He manages to appear both grave and kind, both serious and cheerful. Good stuff.
The set design is quite good. The world of Middle Earth comes to life in these movies. Although it’s not quite the same as what I envisioned, I am willing to admit that it is a wonderful vision.
There are some wonderful effects. Gollum was especially well done, which I feel is also partly due to Andy Serkis’s acting. The animation or capture or both of Gollum made him come alive with all his facets.
The Bad: There wasn’t a good balance between battle and storytelling. I feel like there was a lot of time spent on the Battle of Helm’s Deep, while some other things (like everything in the court of Rohan) were skimmed over. The Ents and their destruction of Isengard are barely shown, even though it’s a crucial part of the fight against evil. Also, what was that Arwen/Aragorn interlude? Jackson is already telling multiple stories at once; throwing in one more just bogs the whole thing down.
I didn’t like how no one in this movie but Our Heroes are willing to do what they need to do. Aragorn tries unsuccessfully to get Theoden to fight against Saruman’s masses, but Theoden thinks that hiding is a better option. Of course, when the armies come to Helm’s Deep, it’s Aragorn who gives the pep talks and plans the defenses, even though Theoden has defended Helm’s Deep before. The Ents don’t care about helping fight Saruman until Pippin reminds Treebeard of what Saruman has done: he has cut down trees that were friends of Treebeard’s. If Pippin hadn’t come, Treebeard would have melted into the forest and sat peacefully watching his friends die to feed to fires of Isengard. The only problem with that is that Theoden and Treebeard are both noble men, leaders of their people. They would have taken action without a third party telling them what to do.
The Ugly: There were some seriously cheesy moments in this movie. I groaned out loud when Legolas slid down the stairs on a shield, shooting arrows all the way. I know Legolas is good, but that’s just silly. Also, the “Aragorn being rescued by his horse” scene was a bit much. It didn’t fit in this movie. (And here is where my book-loving part comes out: There is so much in the book that had to be cut because of time constraints. Why did Peter Jackson feel like he had to make stuff up and add it in? That time could have been spent better. Anyway, that’s my rant. I tried really hard to write this review based solely on its merits as a movie and forget that it was based on an extraordinary book, so I figure I am allowed one little rant.)
Oscars Won: Best sound editing; best visual effects.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best art direction-set direction; best film editing; best sound.