The Prestige

  • Title:  The Prestige
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date 2006
  • Studio:  Touchstone, Warner Brothers
  • Genres:  Drama, SF, Historical
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Mark Ryan, William Morgan Sheppard
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray, R1

“But you wouldn’t clap yet, because making something disappear isn’t enough, you have to bring it back.  That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call… The Prestige.” – Mr. Cutter, narrating

“I love you.” – Alfred Borden
“Not today.  Well, some days it’s not true, and today you don’t mean it.  Maybe today you’re more in love with magic than me.  I like being able to tell the difference, it makes the days it is true mean something.” – Sarah Borden

“I don’t want to kill doves.” – Robert Angier
“Then stay off stage.  You’re a magician not a wizard.  You gotta’ get your hands dirty if you’re going to achieve the impossible.” – Mr. Cutter

“I can recognize an obsession, no good will come of it.” – Nikola Tesla

“The truly extra-ordinary is not permitted in science and industry.  Perhaps, you’ll find more luck in your field – where people are happy to be mystified.” – Tesla

The Prestige is a film about envy, jealousy, and obsession. But rather than jealousy over someone else’s relationship with a third person; or obsession with a person, The Prestige is about professional jealousy and obsession with an idea. Add to that it’s unusual structure, and it’s a fascinating film, that’s intriguing to watch.

This is the story of two stage magicians in the 1890s. They start off as friends, working with an ingenue (or magic trick designer) and a female magician (Julia, played by Piper Perabo) who is married to one of them (Angiers, played by Hugh Jackman). Bordan (Bale) seems to be jealous of Angiers relationship with his wife, though this is not obviously stated. And when Julia dies performing a water-tank trick, after Bordan tied her hands – Angiers becomes angry and blames Bordan for the accident. However, this definitely doesn’t become your cut-and-dried “you killed my wife – I’m going to get revenge” film. Even by the end of the film, we don’t really know if Bordan deliberately tied the wrong knot or if it really was an accident. However, the death of Julia is the spark that turns a friendship into a rivalry – and then into professional jealousy, and finally into obsession. As the film unfolds Angiers and Bordan both one-up each other, and both simply do horrible things to each other – physically harming each other, undercutting each other’s stage acts, and simply just not letting the rivalry rest but escalating it with each act of the film.

The structure of the film is also different.  It starts with the end, then tells the story through a series of interweaving flashbacks that tell the story in short scenes that not only move forward and back in time, but change point of view as well. The film begins with Angiers dying in a stage magician’s trick and Bordan being arrested and charged with his murder. The flashbacks explain their history, their rivalry, and Angiers growing obsession with Bordan’s trick:  The Transported Man. Angiers follows his obsession to Colorado where he meets Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) and his assistant Alley (Andy Serkis), and convinces them to build a special machine for him. Angiers both gets what he wants and gets much more than he bargained for. But, as the story unfolds – and different parts of the story are told first from Angiers point of view and then from Bordan’s, the audience learns more and more about these characters – the doomed characters.

Because the flashbacks are interweaving, as an audience member, not only is one forced to pay very close attention in order to follow the film – but one is also, constantly rearranging the scenes in one’s head. Especially the first time I watched this film, as I watched it, I found myself thinking, “OK, so this goes before that, and this goes before that, etc.”  But unlike other films with a lot of editing and scenes that aren’t presented in chronological order – with The Prestige, that the film’s story is essentially presented in reverse order before returning to the present and then again turning on a dime, everything in the story is crystal clear.  You will not be confused by the story – at all, once you get used to the style and concentrate on the plot.

I’m determined to not spoil this excellent film, but it is also very dark and even somewhat disturbing. To explain just what is going on, and how, would destroy the experience of seeing this film.  It’s excellent, with an excellent cast, incredible direction, and it’s very thought-provoking. However, it is very, very dark.  I mean, I’ve seen film noir before, but the final implications of this film really push the envelope into disturbing territory. Oh, and by disturbing – I do not in any way mean “gross” or bloody, or any of the typical tropes of horror. I wouldn’t even call this a horror film. Do not avoid this film simply because of a prejudice against horror – that is not what it is at all.

Recommendation:   See it
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Inception

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey

  • Title:  The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers, New Line, MGM
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Sylvester McCoy, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, James Nesbitt, Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

 

“For he had seen dragonfire in the sky and a city turned to ash, and he never forgave and he never forgot.”  — Old Bilbo describing Thorin Oakenshield

“I’ve never used a sword in my life.” — Bilbo
“And I hope you never have to.  But if you do, remember this:  True courage is about knowing not when to take a life but when to spare one.”  — Gandalf

“Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check.  But that is not what I have found.  I found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the blackness at bay.  Simple acts of kindness and love.”  — Gandalf

The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey opens with old Bilbo (Ian Holm) reminiscing, speaking to Frodo, but only in his head as he goes through some of his old souvenirs of his adventures.  Bilbo’s narration includes the famous first line that Tolkien wrote about Hobbits, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit…” and background information about the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the kingdom of Erebor.  When Frodo does arrive he brings in the mail, most of which are responses to Biblo’s birthday party — and Bilbo gives him the sign to hang on his garden gate, “No admittance except on Party business”.  The screen then transitions to the title card for “An Unexpected Journey” and young Bilbo (Martin Freeman).  This neatly ties The Hobbit in with the previous Lord of the Rings film trilogy.  JRR Tolkien wrote The Hobbit first, then The Lord of the Rings which was so long, his publisher suggested publishing it in three volumes, which became:  The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.  Now, you can get LotR in either a single volume or in the traditional three-book version, and often it’s packaged in box sets with the prequel, The Hobbit.

In the Shire, Bilbo is standing around outside when Gandalf arrives and tries to talk Bilbo into accompanying him on an adventure.  Bilbo dismisses the idea.  Later, one by one, then in groups, a total of twelve Dwarves arrive at his Hobbit hole.  Finally, Thorin Oakenshield the Dwarven leader arrives, as does Gandalf.  The Dwarves are rather chaotic house-guests, but they tell Bilbo of their quest — to return to Erebor and re-claim their kingdom under the mountain from the dragon, Smaug.  Bilbo is reluctant.

The Dwarves sing, “The Song of the Misty Mountains”, their anthem, and each of the Dwarves stands to sing.  This somewhat convinces Bilbo, but when he gets a look at his “contract”  he’s shocked at all the ways he could die, and ultimately he refuses.

The next morning, Bilbo awakens and his home is sparkling.  He finds the contract, signs it, and runs out his door to join Gandalf and the Dwarves on an adventure.  As they travel, the scenery is beautiful and gorgeous.  Stunning, really.

One night, when they’ve stopped to camp, Balin fills Bilbo in on more of Thorin’s background.  His Grandfather and Father had attempted to re-take Moria which was filled with Orcs.  Not only did they face an horde of orcs, but a pale orc beheads the king, Thorin’s grandfather, and Thorin’s father runs off, driven mad by grief, anger, and fear.  The pale orc, Azog, also attacks Thorin, who defends himself  with an oaken branch.  Thorin rallies the Dwarves, but though they “win” the battle, the cost is much too high, with the piles of Dwarven dead on the battlefield, and the death of the Dwarves’ king.

Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves continue their journey in the rain.  Bilbo asks Gandalf about other wizards. Gandalf mentions Saruman the White, the two blues, and Radagast the Brown.  The film transitions to Radagast, who is investigating mysterious occurrences in the Greenwood.  Radagast travels by way of a sled pulled by rabbits.  The film transitions back to Thorin’s company.

Again, the Dwarves camp for the night.  Two ponies go missing.  Fili, Kili, and Bilbo investigate and find trolls.  While the trolls, are gross, stupid, and acting like the Three Stooges, Bilbo sneaks over to free the now four taken ponies.  Bilbo is caught and the trolls threaten to eat him.  Kili and the other Dwarves arrive to the rescue.  There’s a fight, but in the end, Bilbo is caught and the Dwarves have to put down their arms.  The trolls plan on eating the dwarves.  Bilbo tries to delay the trolls.  At dawn, Gandalf arrives and the sun turns the trolls to stone.  Bilbo’s playing for time had saved the Dwarves as much as Gandalf’s arrival, but Gandalf  has to point the fact out to Thorin.

The company finds the nearby troll hold of  treasure and weapons.  They discover three fine Elvish swords, Gandalf takes one, he gives Thorin another, and Bilbo takes a third, a knife that is just the right size for him to use as a sword.

Radagast arrives and tells Gandalf that a darkness has fallen on the Greenwood, and spiders have invaded it.  a dark power, the shadow of an ancient horror, the Necromancer is now there.  Wargs (giant wolf/dog-type animals) and orcs attack, and the ponies bolt.  Radagast draws off the Wargs.

Gandalf  leads the Dwarves to a secret passage, Thorin covers the retreat.  Suddenly, someone arrives and attacks the orcs, a group of Elves.  Gandalf  leads the Dwarves through the path and they arrive in Rivendell.

Elrond arrives, he is back from hunting Orcs.  Elrond and his Elves exhibit impressive horsemanship, and Elrond’s red-tinged armor is gorgeous!  Elrond greets Thorin by name, and by the names of his father and mentions knowing his grandfather.  The Elves offer the Dwarves food and shelter.  Thorin reluctantly accepts, still holding a grudge against Elves because they did not aid the Dwarves when Smaug attacked Erebor.

Elrond recognizes the Elvish swords that the Dwarves found, telling Thorin his is, Orcrist – the Goblin Cleaver, and he tells Gandalf, his is, Glamdring, the Foe Hammer.  Elrond tells them a little of the swords’ history.  Bilbo looks up with expectation, but he’s told his “sword” is too small to have done great deals, that it is probably a “dinner knife” or child’s toy.  The Dwarves are treated to a meal and music, but are uncomfortable.

Elrond explains the moon runes on Thorin’s map to Gandalf and Thorin.  Elrond discovers the company’s quest and refers to Gandalf as a “Guardian of Middle-Earth”.  Gandalf shows the Morgul blade to a council of  himself, Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman, as proof of Radagast’s news that something is going on in the Greenwood.  Saruman dismisses this news, and Radagast himself, but Galadriel takes Gandalf more seriously and offers her help if he should ever need it.

The Dwarves leave Rivendell, and continue their journey.  On a black mountain cliff, in the rain, they wander into a battle between storm giants.  Bilbo nearly falls from the cliff.  In rescuing him, Thorin is nearly lost.  In a fit of anger, he tells Bilbo, “He’s been lost, ever since he left home.  He should never have come.  He has no place amongst us.”  The Dwarves move into a cave to rest.  Bilbo’s about to leave, to go home, but he talks to Bofur who convinces him to stay, then his sword glows blue – indicating orcs or goblins nearby.  The company is attacked by goblins (orcs).  The Dwarves are captured, but Bilbo is over-looked and left alone.  There, he is attacked by a goblin and fights, then falls down a cavern.

The captured Dwarves are brought to the Goblin king.  Thorin comes to defend the Dwarves.  The goblin king threatens to send Thorin’s head to the pale orc.

Bilbo wakes in the dark.  He sees Gollum.  Gollum loses the ring while attacking a goblin, which he drags back to his underground pond to kill and eat.
Bilbo finds the ring, and pockets it.
Once Gollum has killed the goblin, Bilbo’s sword ceased to glow blue.  He and Gollum meet. Slowly Bilbo and Gollum get into a game of riddles.  Biblo asks Gollum to show him the way out if he wins, and if  he loses, Gollum wants to eat him.  Gollum alternates between his “Gollum” and “Smeagol” personalities throughout the scenes between he and Bilbo.  It’s extremely well done!

Since Bilbo wins the game, Gollum must show him the way out.  Gollum also realises with a panic that he’s lost his precious, and also realises that Bilbo has it in his “pocketses”.

Gandalf arrives to rescue Thorin and his Dwarves.

Bilbo escapes a wrathful Gollum by squeezing through a tight passage in the rock – so tight the brass button pop off  his waistcoat (or vest).  The ring falls on his finger and he’s dropped into “wraithworld” without warning or understanding.

Fighting the goblins, the Dwarves and Gandalf move to escape but they are confronted by the goblin king.  Gandalf defeats him.  The Dwarves and Gandalf, however, fall off a wooden bridge, into a cavern and land in a heap.  They run for the exit.

Bilbo, in the wraithworld, sees the Dwarves running by, who, naturally don’t notice him.  Bilbo is unable to kill the helpless and pathetic Gollum.  This will be very important later, in The Lord of the Rings, where Bilbo’s mercy has great consequences.  Bilbo runs for the exit, and Gollum doesn’t really know what’s happened.

In the woods, Gandalf counts the Dwarves, sees they are all there, then asks after Bilbo.  Bilbo takes the ring off and appears.  Wargs and orcs attack, Bilbo kills a warg.  The company escapes into the trees.  Gandalf speaks to a Monarch butterfly to call for help.  Azog arrives.  Gandalf attacks the wargs with fire, setting pine-cones alight and throwing them.  Bilbo and the Dwarves also throw flaming pine cones at the wargs.  But the forest of trees bursts into flame and the Dwarves nearly fall off  the cliff.  Walking through the pale trees, Thorin attacks Azog, the pale orc.  Azog strikes back and knocks Thorin out.

Bilbo attacks the orc sent to take Thorin’s head and kills the orc.  The Eagles arrive to rescue the Dwarves.  The Eagles attack the wargs and orcs.  One eagle picks up the still unconscious Thorin in his talons.  All, including Bilbo, are rescued.  The eagles carry everyone to a rocky cliff face at the top of a mountain.  Gandalf goes to check on Thorin and heals him.  Thorin is grateful to Bilbo for saving him, and admits to being wrong about him.  From the cliff, they can see Erebor, the Lonely Mountain.  Under the mountain, is Smaug.

I enjoyed The Hobbit.  Yes, it is a long film, and  there are several complex action sequences, as one would expect from Peter Jackson.  But the emphasis and heart of the film is the characters, especially, Bilbo, Gandalf, and Thorin.  Tolkien’s original novel is only about 300 pages, and it’s a straight-forward, there-and-back again tale of adventure.  So, I wondered how Jackson was going to take that and make first, two films, and later, it was announced, a new trilogy of films. However, one of the things he does in An Unexpected Journey is he changes the emphasis of the Dwarves’ quest from one for gold — the gold horded by the dragon, to a quest to re-take their home.  Making the quest about home means it’s easier to identify with the entire story, and it gives Bilbo a reason to accompany the Dwarves on their quest.  He tells Thorin that he has a home but he will help Thorin take his home back, if he can.  Bilbo can understand and emphasize with Thorin’s quest to take back his home.  I’m hoping 2013’s The Desolation of Smaug will also be as good, though I have no doubts that it will be.  Anyway, this film is excellent, highly enjoyable, and highly recommended.

New Zealand again plays Middle-Earth, and the scenery is stunning, absolutely stunning. Howard Shore’s score, which I was anticipating last year almost as much as the film itself, is perfect.  It’s new, but has a quality that lets you know this is the same Middle-Earth as in Lord of the Rings, though a younger, more innocent time, with only a hint of the darkness to come.  And the Dwarves’ choral piece, “Song of the Misty Mountains” is beautiful, I really loved it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Cloud Atlas

LotR: The Two Towers Ext. Ed. (4 Disc)

  • Title:  Lord of the Rings:  The Two Towers Ext. Ed. (4 Disc)
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2002
  • Studio:  New Line Cinema
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy, Drama
  • Cast:  Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Brad Dourif, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Andy Serkis, Sean Bean, John Noble
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“It’s very special, that, it’s the best salt in all the Shire.” — Sam
“It is special.  It’s a little bit of home.” — Frodo

“The Old World will burn in the fires of Industry, the Forests will fall, a New Order will rise, we will drive the machine of war with the sword, and the spear, and the iron fist of the Orc.”  — Saruman

“It was more than mere chance that brought Merry and Pippin to Fangorn, a great power has been sleeping here for many long years.  The coming of Merry and Pippin will be like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains.”  — Gandalf

“If we go South, we can slip pass Saruman, unnoticed.  The closer we are to danger, the further we are from harm.  It’s the last thing he’ll expect.”  — Pippin
“Hum, that doesn’t make sense to me, but then you are very small.”  — Treebeard

The Two Towers Extended Edition DVD set is beautifully boxed, in a red slip-case that looks like a leather-bound, gold embossed book.  The DVD holder slips out and unfolds with a DVD on each of four leaves.  The movie is split across the first two DVDs and the special features are on the second two DVDs.

Like the Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition DVD, The Two Towers builds more into the story of the film by adding little moments, lines, and scenes.  But whereas Fellowship Extended could almost have been released in theaters (the extended edition of Fellowship is about as long as the Theater version of Return of the King after all), The Two Towers is better suited for a DVD release.  However, it is a shame that the longer version of the film wasn’t released to theaters (except the special Celebration showings).  I think the extended editions could have been released in theaters as long as there was an intermission.  The extended edition really builds up the storyline of what happened to Merry and Pippin — which is my favorite part in that book.  The incident with the Palantir however is still moved to Return of the King.

I watched this over two nights, and even after a full day at work, in a very real sense, even though the film is much longer, it feels shorter.  The film is more engrossing because the characters, and the sense of place is built up better, and the film spends more time with one set of characters at a time, which seems to work better than quickly cutting between the three main storylines.  This also gives a better sense of place, as The Two Towers opens up Tolkien’s world by including the realms of Rohan and Fangorn, and showing Ithilien between Gondor and Mordor.  As before, for a detailed summary of the film, see review of the two disc edition; here I will highlight the differences and added scenes.

The opening of the extended edition is the same — Gandalf’s fight with the Balrog, but then the film moves to show Sam and Frodo climbing down a cliff in Ithilien using Sam’s Elven rope.  This is the same rope that later Sam ties around Gollum’s neck like a leash.  The film includes Sam wishing he didn’t have to leave the rope, and it untying itself and falling free.  Sam also mentions that Galadriel gave him the rope.  There’s also more Smeagol/Gollum discussion, describing Gollum’s fear of seeing Sauron.

There’s an added scene with Merry and Pippin and the Orcs.  Merry is plainly injured and Pippin pleas for water for Merry.  The Orcs force “medicine” down Merry’s throat, nearly drowning the Hobbit.  Pippin pleas for them to leave Merry alone.  When the Orcs “smell man-flesh”, Pippin whispers, “Aragorn”, and drops his Lothlorien leaf clasp.

Aragorn gets a few extra lines, introducing who the King of Rohan is to Legolas, Gimli and the audience, and notes “something is quickening the pace of the Orcs”.

Saruman makes his speech about the industry of war, and orders that Fangorn Forest be burned.  The Wild Men also swear allegiance to Saruman.  He also predicts that Rohan is ready to fall.

Eomer and his company of men find a company of Rohan’s men slaughtered.  They find the King’s injured son, Theodred, amongst them.

Grima shows the order, signed by Theoden King, to Eomer when he is banished.

When the Orc stop for the night, Pippin and Merry are talking and Merry talks about the Old Forest near Buckland. Orcs cut Fangorn Forest for firewood.  The Orcs discuss the “Elvish weapon” to be brought to Saruman that the two Hobbits have.  Both Merry and Pippin realize this means the Ring.  Merry realizes they must pretend they have it, both to protect Frodo, and to protect themselves because they will get killed and eaten (literally) without  a bargaining chip, so to speak.  When the Orcs fight each other, the Hobbits try to get away, then Rohan attacks.  Merry and Pippin make their escape.  This scene is longer, and more coherently organized than in the shorter version.

The Rohirrim meet Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli — and yes it’s in both versions, but the extended edition has more discussion of what’s going on in Rohan.  I also love the formation riding of the riders of Rohan, especially surrounding Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli with spears.

Meanwhile, Frodo, Sam and Gollum are in the Dead Marshes — there’s actually two scenes, first Gollum leading them through the marsh, and complaining of hunger.  Frodo gives him Elvish bread but he can’t eat it, it makes him sick. Later on, is the scene where Frodo sees the corpse in the water and falls in.

In Fangorn, there is more dialog between Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas as they walk into Fangorn, before they meet Gandalf.  Legolas explains it was the Elves who began waking up the trees.  Gandalf arrives, and Aragorn tells him of the trouble in Rohan.  Gimli upsets the trees and has to apologize in his own Dwarven way.  Gandalf explains Merry and Pippin will be safe with Treebeard.  This is much better than in the shorter version of the film, because the audience isn’t left wondering why Aragorn and company don’t actually rescue Merry and Pippin, after chasing them across half of Middle-Earth.  The exposition about what, exactly, is happening in Rohan is also quite helpful.

Treebeard is shown walking across Fangorn Forest, reciting poetry.  He brings the Hobbits to his home, and his poetry puts them to sleep.

Gandalf talks to Aragorn of Sauron’s plans, and the weakness of Rohan.  He speaks of Frodo and summarizes the Quest.

Sam and Frodo reach the Black Gate and discover they can’t get into Mordor that way (same as shorter version).

Merry and Pippin awake in Fangorn.  Pippin is drinking the Ent Draughts.  Merry remarks that Pippin has said something, “treeish”, and Pippin seems to be a few inches taller.  They are also nearly eaten by a tree and are surrounded, before being rescued by Treebeard.

Theoden’s people, and Aragorn, kneel to Theoden king.  The film shows the funeral procession for Theodred, and his burial at the tomb.  Eowyn sings a lament for her cousin.

Aragorn calms a wild horse in the stables, a horse that belonged to Theodred.  Aragorn and Eowyn speak.  When she compliments his Elvish and skill with horses, he tells her he was raised in Rivendell for a time.

Grima and Saruman talk of the Dwarf, Elf, and Man with Gandalf in Edoras.  Grima talks of Aragorn’s ring.  Saruman realizes that this means Gandalf’s thinks he’s found Isildur’s heir — but, he says the line “was broken” long ago

In Ithilien Sam and Frodo watch evil men marching towards Sauron’s gathering place of his forces, and they see the Oliphaunt.  Faramir and his Rangers attack, and win out the day, but Faramir laments killing someone he didn’t even know.

End of Part One

Part Two

Part Two picks up with Gimli talking to Eowyn about dwarf women.  Theoden tells Aragorn about Eowyn’s history. Eowyn feeds Aragorn some pretty awful stew.  Aragorn and Eowyn discuss Aragorn’s age, he’s eighty-seven and a member of the Dunedain.

Especially in The Two Towers a big deal is made of the pendant that Arwen gave Aragorn, which they call the “Evenstar” in the film.  The problem with that is “Evenstar” or Undomiel (in Sindarian Elvish) was Arwen’s title, not a jewel she bore.  Aragorn was also (among many names) called Elessar, or Elfstone, but because of a large emerald brooch he wore when he arrived in Gondor.  If in the films, Arwen had given Aragorn the Elfstone brooch I would have been OK with it, but taking her title as a physical thing is one of my nitpicks with the films.

There’s a slightly longer scene between Aragorn and Arwen in Rivendell as he tries to convince her to go with her people to the West.

I think the warg battle on the plains of Rohan (as the people head to Helm’s Deep) is longer and more complexly shot.  Aragorn falls off the cliff, and later lies in a creek (he imagines Arwen) and he’s found by his horse and heads for Helm’s Deep, seeing Saruman’s many thousands of troops on his way.

There’s another scene with Merry, Pippin and Treebeard.

Isengard’s troops marching towards Helm’s Deep are shown a couple of times as different people see them.

In Ithilien, the waterfall that hides their cave, the Window on the West, is visible behind some of Faramir’s men. Faramir talks to the Hobbits of finding Boromir’s horn cloven in two, then remembers a dream of seeing Boromir’s body in a boat.

This leads to Faramir remembering he and Boromir re-taking Osgiliath, and celebrating, and Denethor showing up and praising Boromir while putting down Faramir.  It’s clear Faramir and Boromir are close and care deeply for each other, while Denethor favors his older son, and despises his younger one.  Denethor also sends Boromir to Elrond’s council in Rivendell, and tells him he must bring the One Ring to Gondor.  Boromir initially doesn’t want to go; Faramir offers to go in his stead, but Denethor insists Boromir go anyway.  And thus we are left to wonder, what would have happened if Faramir had been part of the Company instead?

Frodo talks to Sam of the Ring taking him.

Eowyn begs Aragorn to let her fight with him instead of going to the shelter caves.  Again, it’s hinted that she has feelings for him.

Merry and Pippin are talking in Fangorn, when the Entmoot pauses.  Treebeard tells them the Ents have only finished saying “good morning” — it’s now evening.  Merry gets upset, knowing they are running out of time.  Treebeard urges, as he does many times, “Don’t be hasty”.

Aragorn addresses the Elves at Helm’s Deep in Elvish.  He also frequently speaks to Arwen and Legolas in Elvish. He is actually behaving the way someone who is truly bilingual would, using Elvish with Elves he knows will understand it, and the Common Tongue (represented as English) with those who speak it, or at all other times as a Lingua Franca (language in common).  In Lothlorien, when Gimli makes a remark in Dwarvish, Aragorn seems to understand it as well.

Frodo does ask Faramir to please let him go.

There’s a bit more with Treebeard, then he sees the destruction of the forest.  Also, Treebeard sends the Ents after the Orcs at Helm’s Deep, and he will deal with Saruman and Isengard.

The Ents destroying Isengard is extremely well-done and I really liked it.  We also see the Ents and trees destroying the Orcs as they flee Helm’s Deep.

Legolas and Gimli finish off their battle count competition in a tie.

At Isengard, Merry and Pippin gather apples, then find a storeroom full of food and goods from the Shire, including Longbottom Leaf pipe tobacco.

Faramir not only lets the Hobbits go, after seeing Frodo nearly giving the Ring to the Nazgul, but he shows Frodo, Sam and Gollum out of the city, through a tunnel.  When Gollum tells them he will take Frodo up the winding stair to Cirith Ungol, Faramir warns of a “nameless terror”.

Recommendation:  See it!  And again, if you can only buy one version of the Lord of the Rings films, buy this one — the extended editions.
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  LotR:  The Return of the King (4 disc extended edition)

Lord of the Rings The Return of the King (2 Disc)

  • Title:  Lord of the Rings The Return of the King (2 Disc)
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2003
  • Studio:  New Line Cinema
  • Genre:  Action, Drama, Fantasy
  • Cast: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Ian Holm, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Bernard Hill, Mirando Otto, Karl Urban, David Wenham, John Noble
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC, 2-disc Theater Version

“Young Master Gandalf, I’m glad you’ve come.  Wood and water, stock and stone I can master.  But there is a wizard to manage here.”  — Treebeard

“From ashes of fire shall be woken,
A Light from the Shadows shall spring,
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be King.”  — Arwen

“A day may come when the courage of  men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of  fellowship — but it is not this day! An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of men comes crashing down — but it is not this day!  This day we fight!  By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand — Men of  the West!”  — Aragorn

I truly loved re-watching this movie.  Yes, Return of the King is long, but it never seems to drag the way The Two Towers does in parts.  All the high points of the novels are there and perfectly visualized.  The film is a masterpiece of storytelling both visually and verbally, with another excellent score by Howard Shore.

The film opens with Smeagol and Deagol fishing, Deagol is pulled into the water and finds the ring. Smeagol is immediately taken with it, and at first asks Deagol to give it to him as a “birthday present”, then kills Deagol and takes it.  Quickly the audience is filled in on Smeagol’s sad story.

Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli arrive, with Gandalf, at Isengard — only to find Saruman’s tower destroyed and Pippin and Merry sitting on a field of victory, enjoying the spoils of  battle. Pippin catches a quick glance of the Palantir, one of the Seeing Stones of Gondor, and then hands it to Gandalf at his request. Later the group returns to Rohan.  That night, unable to sleep, Pippin has to see the Palantir again, he takes it from Gandalf and looks into it — and is attacked by Sauron.  Sauron mind-rapes the Hobbit, but Pippin is able to hide his knowledge about Frodo.  Pippin is shocked senseless by the attack.  Aragorn is able to take the Palantir from Pippin, and Gandalf questions the young Hobbit, and realizes he gave away no information.  Gandalf  takes Pippin to Gondor and Merry remains in Rohan.  Watching Merry and Pippin being split apart is heart-breaking.  This scene of Pippin being attacked via the Palantir is in the novel, The Two Towers, and I must admit I was upset when that scene didn’t appear in that movie. However, it is perfectly visualized here and Jackson doesn’t ease off or wimp out in showing the true horror of what’s happened to Pippin.  I definitely liked the way this important scene was shown.

Minas Tirith in Gondor looks perfect!  And it is truly gorgeous, and very detailed.  The “fly-by” hero shots are particularly breath-taking.  In Gondor, Pippin ends up in service to the Steward, Denethor, and the Guard of the Citadel. Gandalf has Pippin light the signal fires, to ask for aide from Rohan, and the scene is truly awesome!  I especially liked the calling out of the names of the mountain peaks.  King Theoden decides he will respond to aid Gondor — but it will take him a few days to muster his troops.  Meanwhile, Aragorn will take a darker road with Gimli and Legolas, The Paths of the Dead.

Osgiliath falls, and is taken by Orcs, Faramir barely escapes and returns to his father, Denethor. Denethor belittles his son, and tells him he wishes Faramir had died instead of Boromir.  Pippin is shocked at this, then Denethor sends Faramir on a fool’s errand, with a small cadre of troops Gondor cannot afford to lose — to re-take Osgiliath.  Faramir agrees to follow his father’s foolish command.  After Faramir leaves, Denethor orders Pippin to sing while Denethor stuffs his face with food.  Pippin sings a sad song of mist, shadow and night.  This scene is intercut with Faramir’s men leaving Gondor, the women throwing flowers before them, and the slaughter of Faramir’s men.  It is sad and depressing. Pippin breaks into tears as he watches Denethor and realizes what is happening.

The injured Faramir is brought back to Minas Tirith by his horse and let into the city.  The Orcs then fling the severed heads of  the rest of his men into the city using catapults.  When Faramir is brought to Denethor, he puts on quite a show of his “sorrow” at the death of his son.  Pippin realizes Faramir is still alive but no one will listen.  Denethor, now totally insane, decides to burn himself and his son alive. Pippin gets Gandalf to stop this.  While Gandalf tries to talk sense to Denethor, Pippin saves Faramir.  Denethor burns himself alive. (In a slight twist from the book, rather than burning in the tomb, Denethor, alight, runs from the Citadel and leaps from the walkway.  It’s not stated outright, but part of what drove Denethor mad was the use of a Palantir).

Meanwhile, Sam and Frodo, with Gollum as guide, continue their southbound journey.  Gollum leads them to the winding stair, but causes a division between the two.  Frodo sending Sam away, away home, is heart-breaking.  Sam soon realizes Gollum’s played a trick, and follows.  He fights and kills Shelob (the giant spider), but finds Frodo dead.  He sees Sting turn blue, and hears Orcs coming — and hides.  Upon hearing from the Orcs that Frodo isn’t dead, merely poisoned, he follows the Orcs as they take Frodo to Minas Morgul.  When Frodo wakes, the Orcs are fighting over his clothes.  By the time Sam gets there, nearly all the Orcs are dead, he’s able to fight off the last few, and Sam rescues Frodo.  Frodo’s panicked because he thinks the Ring is gone, but Sam returns it to him.  They find Orc armor, and leave, entering Mordor, and walking towards Mt. Doom.

Back in Gondor, at Minas Tirith, the Orcs, Nazgul, and other servants of Sauron are attacking the city. The White City is in lockdown, though Gandalf spurs on the men, organizing the fight.  Pippin gets involved, briefly, in the fighting, before Gandalf sends him back to the Citadel.  Just as it seems all is lost, Rohan arrives, and helps fight the Orcs.  Eowyn, dressed as a man, carries Merry, whom Theoden had also forbidden to fight, on her saddle.  The Nazgul Witch-King attacks Theoden, who is subsequently crushed by his horse, Snowmane.  Eowyn, in anger, chops the head off the Nazgul’s flying beast.  She challenges the Witch King, who boasts that he can be killed by no man.  Eowyn removes her helmet and responds, “I am no man!” before stabbing him.  Merry, seeing Eowyn in danger, also stabs the Witch-King, then screams in agony.  The Witch-King dissolves, but both Eowyn and Merry collapse.   It was a perfect visualization of one of my favorite scenes in the books.

A fleet of ships arrive, and at first it seems all is lost.  But it’s Aragorn, leading the Oathbreakers, ghosts from under the mountain, with Legolas and Gimli.  (In the books, his fleet also included allied men from several nations).  Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas join the fight, and the dead dispose of the rest of the Orcs and Sauron’s minions.  It is a fantastic battle.   In it’s wake, Pippin finds Merry on the battle field, but he is injured and will recover.  After the battle, the remaining members of the Fellowship, along with Eomer of Rohan, discuss what to do, knowing Frodo still has a journey ahead of him.  They decide to create a diversion by riding out to the Black Gate.

There is much intercutting between the battle before the Black Gate, and Sam and Frodo’s final journey up Mount Doom.  I hesitate to mention exactly what happens to the Ring, in case anyone hasn’t seen this absolutely brilliant movie or read the books, but it was handled pefectly.

The Eagles, who had previously rescued Gandalf  from Saruman’s clutches at Isengard, rescue Sam and Frodo and bring them to Minas Tirith.  The four Hobbits, and the remaining members of the Fellowship meet again.  Aragorn is crowned king by Gandalf, and Arwen is made his bride.  And thirteen months after setting out for their adventure, the four Hobbits return to the Shire.  Sam marries Rosie Cotton, and Frodo finishes his part in writing his adventures down, before passing the book to Sam.  The Hobbits accompany Frodo to the Grey Havens where he leaves on the Grey ship with Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, and all the remaining Elves (save Legolas, probably — who’s off on a sight-seeing tour of  Middle-Earth with Gimli).

Again, though long, Return of the King, is an excellent movie.  I absolutely love it.  There is as much pure emotion as action in this film, and in all three films.  And considering the scope of the books, and the films, it’s really amazing what Peter Jackson was able to accomplish.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Fellowship of  the Ring (4 disc extended edition)

Lord of the Rings The Two Towers (2 disc)

  • Title:  Lord of the Rings:  The Two Towers (2 Disc)
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2002
  • Studio:  New Line Cinema
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy, Drama
  • Cast:  Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Brad Dourif, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Andy Serkis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Maybe he does deserve to die, but now that I see him, I do pity him.”  — Frodo, to Sam, About Gollum

“The women of this country learned long ago that those without swords can still die upon them.  I fear neither death nor pain.”  — Eowyn
“What do you fear, my Lady?”  — Aragorn
“A cage.  To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them.  And all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.” — Eowyn
“You’re a daughter of kings, a shield-maiden of Rohan, I do not think that will be your fate.”  — Aragorn

“The fires of Isengard will spread — and the woods of Tuckborough and Buckland will burn.  And all that was green and good in this world will be gone.  There won’t be a Shire, Pippin.”  — Merry

The Two Towers begins with sound clips from the previous film in the series, The Fellowship of  the Ring, rather than a more traditional voice-over such as was used in the first film.  The sound clips remind the audience of the Fall of Gandalf  and quickly segue to Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog and his reappearance as Gandalf the White (previously he was Gandalf the Grey).  The film moves back and forth between three stories:  Merry and Pippin who have been captured by Saruman’s Uruk-hai;  Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli who follow, trying to rescue the two young Hobbits, but end-up involved in the troubles in Rohan; and Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor (they quickly acquire Gollum as a guide).

Merry and Pippin’s story is really well realized, as is the story of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli.  Even Frodo and Sam’s journey through the Dead marshes and to the Black Gate was well done (but see nitpick below).  The Gollum/Smeagol conversations were perfect!  It was almost like there was two different creatures.  I also loved Treebeard, and seeing some of the other Ents at the Entmoot.

When reviewing these films I said I wouldn’t nitpick, however, The Two Towers is the most nitpickable of the three films.  Many fans of the books scream about the Elves arriving to help defend Helm’s Deep.  I can actually justify the artistic license there — it was that or actually show that the Elves were busy themselves defending Lorien from three attacks by Sauron.  What I found almost unconscionable was why, oh why, especially when the movie is so long anyway, did Peter Jackson use a big chunk of the movie to have Faramir bring Frodo and Sam to Osgiliath, where Frodo is attacked by a Nazgul?  The flying Nazgul are in the books, but Faramir, in contrast to Boromir, defies the short-sighted orders of his father (Denethor, the Steward of Gondor) and provides food and shelter to Frodo and Sam — then lets them go.

However, I loved how Treebeard was brought to the screen, and Merry and Pippin’s part were well done. The destruction of Isengard is one of  the best scenes in the movie.

And the battle at Helm’s Deep does look really cool.  It brings to mind movies such as Henry V, and classic medieval-style strategy games like Warcraft.  We see all sorts of Medieval battle techniques — seige ladders, a barrista, a battering ram.  And it’s both a scary, and an exciting battle.

Frodo and Sam’s journey is also well done — at least we don’t get singing Orcs.  The Gollum/Smeagol dialogs are incredible and almost make you believe you are seeing two different creatures.  I didn’t like the “ring-as-a-drug” thing, because that seemed too simplistic.  And I really didn’t like Frodo being dragged to Osgiliath, for no other reason that to give Sam another opportunity to say a speech.

Still, the film is gorgeous.  The filming is incredible, and the vistas are also beautiful (or dark and treacherous) and breath-taking.  The music is even better than the last film, especially the Rohan theme, which I just loved.  Overall, I really liked the film.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating 5 or 5 Stars
Next Film:  Lord of  the Rings:  Return of the King