Van Helsing

  • Title: Van Helsing
  • Director:  Stephen Sommers
  • Date:  2004
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre: Horror, Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh
  • Format:  B/W prologue only, then Color/Widescreen (old)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You’ve never been out of the Abbey, how do you know about vampires?” – Van Helsing
“I read.” – Carl

“My life, my job, is to vanquish evil. I… I can sense evil. This thing, man, whatever it is, evil may have created it, may have left its mark on it, but evil doesn’t rule it. So I cannot kill it.” – Van Helsing (re: the Creature)

Van Helsing is much more about style than substance, though as the CGI-heavy film moves along, it does improve – and it has some great moments.

The film opens with a black and white prologue – Dr. Frankenstein is doing his famous experiment to create the Creature, but after it becomes alive, he is confronted by Count Dracula. Dracula kills Dr. Frankenstein, but the Creature escapes with Frankenstein’s body to the famous windmill. There, a crowd of local people confront the Creature with torches, quickly burning down the windmill, presumably killing both Dr. Frankenstein and his Creature.

One year later the film opens into full color, and shows Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) chasing Hyde of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fame. Unfortunately, when Hyde falls off a roof he turns back into Jekyll – and dies. Van Helsing is blamed for the murder. However, he really doesn’t have much to worry about because he goes to a supernatural MI6, where the cardinal, like M, is the voice of exposition. M explains that Van Helsing must go to Transylvania to rescue the last members of the Valerious family by destroying Dracula. Due to some sort of curse, that Van Helsing’s Secret Order was also involved in, if Dracula isn’t destroyed before the last members of the Valerious family die – the entire family (including the dead members) will be cursed for eternity. Yeah, OK – it doesn’t make much sense, but plot is more of an excuse in this film, than something that’s well thought out. Have plenty of popcorn and enjoy the show. Anyway, while at his secret headquarters, the Cardinal, like M in a James Bond gives Van Helsing basic info, some clues, and a torn piece of a scroll bearing a mysterious signet – which is identical to the signet on Van Helsing’s ring. Conveniently, Van Helsing has also lost his memory. After getting information from M, I mean the Cardinal, Van Helsing goes to see Carl, a friar with more than a passing resemblance to Q in the James Bond films. Carl (David Wenham) kits out Van Helsing with special gear. However, Van Helsing surprises Carl by requesting he come along to Transylvania. As he is a bookish, scientist-type, Carl isn’t that happy about it.

Van Helsing and Carl travel to Transylvania where they meet Anna, the last member of the Valerious family (her brother had been recently transformed into a werewolf). Anna, Van Helsing, and Carl need to find and defeat Dracula.

There is a lot of CGI in the film, and the entire thing is digitally graded to make it look darker. The action scenes are good to excellent but lack depth because the characters are not that well drawn. This is probably why I haven’t watched the film since it originally came out and I originally purchased the DVD. Anna is strong, capable, and an excellent fighter – but still manages to get captured by Dracula and has to be rescued by Van Helsing. Carl is an excellent character, and his ability to put together information from libraries and stained glass windows is a valuable addition to Van Helsing’s quest. I also liked his character. Van Helsing is cool – especially his costume, and his weapons, but because he has no memory, and the audience for the most part only sees him when he’s fighting – he’s an enigma, so as a character he’s hard to like – despite a good performance by Hugh Jackman.

About halfway through the film, as Anna and Van Helsing are escaping through some water-logged tunnels, they encounter the Creature. However, the Creature speaks, and feels bad for himself because everyone hates him. He also knows Dracula’s secrets. Despite orders to the contrary – Van Helsing not only works with the Creature but in the end lets him go. The Creature shows surprising humanity, and is one of the better things in this film.

Overall, Van Helsing felt like a graphic novel adapted for the screen, though the credits list it as an original film (that is, written for the screen). The visuals were very typical CGI, but at times were impressive. They made have been more impressive in 2004. The entire cast, especially some of the smaller roles, also did a very good job – the acting can’t really be critiqued negatively. The director also at times did some great things. A scene with a mirror in what turns out to be Dracula’s Summer Palace is particularly memorable. Likewise, there’s a hidden door scene that’s far from the norm done seriously in so many films and parodied brilliantly in Young Frankenstein. However, the film also reminded me of The League of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen.

Special Note:  I have the Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which not only includes the film Van Helsing but the original monster films Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man from the 1930s – all of which are worth watching at least once. And the original Frankenstein can easily become a Halloween tradition to re-watch.

Recommendation: Some good elements, but a bit average
Rating: 3 out of 5
Next Film: Wayne’s World

Australia

  • Title:  Australia
  • Director:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Romance, Historical, Drama
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Brandon Walters
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“That strange woman, she fire Mr. Fletcher….  He can’t hurt Momma no more. …  From that day on, we call her, ‘Mrs. Boss’.  — Nullah, narrating
 
“We can’t let them win.” — Lady Ashley
“We won’t.” — Drover
 
“Sarah, I’m as good as Black [Aboriginal Australian] to that lot up there.  Now I don’t mix with dingos or duchesses.  They keep out of my way and I keep out of theirs.  That’s the way it is.” — Drover
“Just because it is, doesn’t mean it should be.” — Lady Sarah Ashley
“But that’s the way it is.”  — Drover
 
Australia is a grand sweeping epic.  It has elements of an American Western, strangely enough (the first act involves a cattle drive) but the second act is where the film really shines.  Australia is beautifully filmed and the land itself is often the star of the picture.  The cast look fantastic too, especially Hugh Jackman (at his sexy best as the rough Outback drover, Drover) and Nicole Kidman (who looks incredible, whether she’s wearing traditional English clothes, or something more suited to Australia’s climate).  David Wenham, as Mr. Fletcher, is playing a real s.o.b. — and relishing it.  And newcomer, Brandon Walters, is incredible as Nullah – the half Aboriginal / half white child, who narrates much of the story.
Australia begins with a brief introduction narrated by Nullah, who’s spear fishing with his Grandfather, “King George”, the magician.  A man (who we’ll later discover is Maitland Ashley) is killed.  Then the film transitions to England, and Lady Ashley.  A pampered young aristocrat (played by Kidman), she’s annoyed her husband has yet to sell ‘that ranch in Australia’.  Convinced her husband is fooling around in more ways than one, she boards a plane and heads for Australia.  Just prior to landing, she receives a telegram that she’s to meet Drover (Hugh Jackman) who will take her to Faraway Downs, their ranch.
But all is not well in Darwin when she arrives.  It’s a rough town, war is on the horizon, and a cattle baron named King Carney has bought up all the land in Northern Australia, except the Ashleys’ Faraway Downs. Yet the price he offers her is far below what it’s worth.  Lady Ashley meets with Drover, who takes her to the ranch.  When they finally arrive, she finds her husband’s been murdered.  She also discovers her husband’s most trusted cattle-hand, Fletcher, has been beating the native women and children who live on the ranch, stealing cows and driving them across the river to Carney’s land, and that he’s also responsible for her husband’s death; most of which she can’t prove to the law.  To her credit, Lady Ashley fires Fletcher.  She then gets Drover to agree to drive 1500 head of cattle to Darwin to sell to the Army. Needing at least seven people for the cattle drive, they assemble a motley crew and head off.
The drive is an adventure, and Australia itself shines in untamed glory. Fletcher uses under-hand tactics against the drive, such as spooking the cattle with fire towards a cliff.  But despite the challenges, Drover and Sarah make it to Darwin.  There, Carney has just gotten the Army representative to sign a contract, as Sarah and Drover arrive with the cattle.  However, the contract isn’t valid until the cows are loaded onto a ship, and Sarah and Drover manage to get their cattle on the ship first.  Sarah wins her contract.
Sarah invites Drover to the ball to celebrate, but he refuses, stating he isn’t one of  the upper crust of  people.  Sarah nearly sells Faraway Downs, but Drover arrives at the ball, cleaned up and in a suit.  The two dance together and decide to make a go of it, taking the half-Arboriginal/half-white child, Nullah, into their unofficial  custody.
Nullah narrates much of the story, and Sarah comes to love the child, especially as she can’t have children of her own.  Drover also loves the child, as his first wife was Black (or Arboriginal) but she died of untreated TB.  Drover, Nullah, and Sarah are happy for a time, enjoying the “wet” season, and Sarah even understands that Drover will be off droving during “the dry” season.  Soon however, the trio’s happiness is shattered.
Fletcher kills King Carney, making it look like an accident.  Nullah wishes to go walkabout with his grandfather.  Drover, understanding the custom, wants him to go, but Sarah disagrees, thinking the child’s too young.  When Nullah disappears, Drover thinks he’s gone with his grandfather anyway, but Sarah thinks something is wrong.  Nullah and his grandfather are arrested by the local police at Fletcher’s insistance — Nullah to be sent to the Mission School for assimilation, and King George to be tried for the deaths of Maitland and King Carney.
Sarah goes off to Darwin to try to get Nullah back.  Drover is off working in the Outback and has no idea what’s going on.  The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, then Darwin, hitting the mission island first, then the small army town itself.  Sarah’s right in the middle of things.  Drover arrives too, but he’s too late.  He’s told Sarah died in the communications tent.  Drover is completely bereft.  However, a young priest finds him and asks for help getting to the mission island to recover any children they can.  Drover, not knowing that Nullah was sent to the island, and having nothing to lose, agrees to help the priest, as does Drover’s close friend and brother-in-law Muggery.
They get to the island and rescue Nullah and some of the other children.  Muggery is killed by Japanese soldier as they make their escape in a boat.  Meanwhile, Sarah is helping with the evacuation of Darwin, unaware that she’s been reported dead or even that Drover is in town.
Drover’s ship sails through the fog and smoke back to Darwin.  The children land.  Sarah hears the children’s singing, refuses to get on the convoy truck and runs to find the ship pulling in.  She’s reunited with Nullah and Drover.
As a last act of mischief  Fletcher fires a rifle at Nullah.  He hits the child, but Nullah’s grandfather kills him with a thrown spear.  Nullah recovers and he, Sarah, and Drover return to Faraway Downs.  Later, Sarah allows him to go walkabout with his grandfather.
This is an excellent movie.  It’s beautifully filmed, both the wild scenery and the people.  The story is a bit typical romantic plot, but the child Nullah, lifts the story out of  romantic drama cliche’.  The cast is excellent. I highly recommend seeing it!
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Avengers

Moulin Rouge

  • Title:  Moulin Rouge
  • Director:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Musical, Romance
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham (Cameo)
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and to be loved in return.”

“You expect me to believe that scantily clad, in the arms of another man, in the middle of the night, inside of an elephant, you were rehearsing?”  — The Duke

“Hurt him to save him.  There is no other way.  The show must go on, Satine.  We are creatures of the underworld, we can’t afford to love.”  — Zidler

Moulin Rouge is an incredible, incredible film.  The color, music and dancing all reflect a surreal, hyper-reality feel.  Yet the story is a simple story about love — an impossible love.  Christian is a young naive Englishman who makes his way to Paris, to the heart of the Bohemian Revolution to become a writer and experience love.  He quickly falls in with a group of Bohemian artists, and is chosen to write their new show.  Needing backers, they go to the Moulin Rouge and Howard Zidler, and his head courtesan, Satine.

Through a misunderstanding, Christian meets Satine, and they fall in love.  However, Zidler needs money to convert his nightclub and bordello to a real theatre.  He promises Satine to the Duke.  The Duke even gets Zidler to sign over the deeds on the Moulin Rouge to him.

Satine is shocked to discover the man she’s really falling in love with isn’t a rich Duke after all, but a penniless Bohemian writer.  The plot revolves around their love triangle — Christian and Satine and Satine and the Duke.  And the question is:  Will Satine, a Courtesan, choose true love with Christian or go for the money she can get from the Duke (which Zidler also encourages, since he’ll lose the Moulin Rouge if she doesn’t).  The love triangle is even built into the show that Christian is writing to debut on the new stage of the Moulin Rouge.  It may seem like a simple and traditional plot — but what pulls Moulin Rouge out of the commonplace is it’s style and look.  A style that’s surreal, hyper-reality, more real than real.  And Ewan McGregor as Christian and Nicole Kidman as Satine really do give the performances of their lives.  And my gosh can they both sing!

The majority of the music in Moulin Rouge is modern music.  Rather than keeping to a historical look and feel to the film — Baz Luhrmann goes completely in the opposite direction — accentuating the way it would feel to someone in 1899-1900 to be in such a remarkable place.  The opening dance number is a whirl of lights, color, movement and loud music.  One knows this won’t be your typical musical when the can can girls and the men in white ties and black tails are singing and dancing to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

Satine’s song that she performs as a courtesan is a medley of  “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “Material Girl”, though the song she sings when she’s on her own is, “I’ll Fly Away”, because her ambition is to be a real actress – or at least to get out of the Moulin Rouge.  Christian first courts her with Elton John’s “Your Song”, but he’s most impressive with the song he writes for her, and the only original song in the film, “Come What May”.  (Though “The Pitch/ Spectacular Spectacular” could be argued as original – only the lyrics are, the music is The Can Can.)

But it’s surprising and even amusing to hear the modern music in the film, though the mood always fits.  “Elephant Love Melody”, for example, is an argument between Christian and Satine where they throw lines from romantic pop songs at each other.  Zidler gets to sing “Like a Virgin” to the Duke, when he’s trying to come up with an excuse as to why Satine has missed a date.  There’s also a very impressive Latin Tango done to “Roxanne”.  And many others.  It’s also common for lines of dialogue in the film to be quotes from famous music (Christian even gets his writing job by quoting “The Sound of  Music”).  Yet, somehow, it fits, it’s like when you and your friends quote lines from movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read.  Christian, Satine, and even Zidler quote lines from music.

There are also some remarkable special effect sequences in the film – and as showy as they are, it merely emphases the point at the time.

But the most remarkable aspect of  this musical is the end – it really is astounding and surprising.  I’ve seen this film now several times and I always enjoy it and appreciate it more with every viewing.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating 5 of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Network

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