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 Fellowship of the Ring (4-disc Ext. Ed)

  • Title:  LotR:  The Fellowship of the Ring (4-disc Ext. Ed)
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  New Line Cinema
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy, Adventure, Drama
  • Cast:  Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC, 4-Disc Extended Edition

“The world is changed.  I feel it in the water, I feel it in the Earth, I smell it in the air…  much that once was, is lost.  For none now live who remember it.” — Galadriel, spoken intro.

“For the time will soon come, when Hobbits will shape the fortunes of all.”  — Galadriel, spoken intro.

“I think a servant of the enemy would look fairer and feel fouler.”  — Frodo

“A Balrog, a demon of the ancient world.  This foe is beyond any of you.  Run!”  — Gandalf

For a detailed summary of the film, see two-disc edition blog entry; here I will highlight the new scenes, differences, and appearance of the four-disc edition.

The extended edition of Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring is a very special DVD set.  First, it looks gorgeous — like a leather-bound book, embossed with “gold” leaf.  The DVDs are in a slide-out case within the outer slip case, and that case folds flat to reveal the four discs.  The discs, luckily do not overlap, there is one per leaf.  It looks very, very nice.  The first two discs are the movie and the second two discs are the extra features.  Between the three extended editions, this really is “film school in a box” as the special features look at each and every department that worked on these films, including some that are rarely featured in “making of” materials (such as foley — the art of adding back in regular sounds such as footsteps or hoofbeats to the soundtrack of the film).  The film itself is also re-edited and re-scored, and with the additional time allowed on a DVD release, it’s a fuller and richer film, not constrained by theater running time schedules.

Disc One of the extra set is the movie up to the Council of Elrond, specifically Frodo’s decision to take the ring to Mordor.  Disc two picks up with the Fellowship leaving Rivendell and goes to the end of the film.  Because the movie is split across two discs, it is easy to take a break, or even watch it over two nights (as I will be doing with the other two extended editions).  I watched Part I of Fellowship today after lunch, took a break to go grocery shopping, make dinner, and then eat dinner, then watched Part II after dinner — and it worked very well that way.

The extended edition, builds up the plot and brings more of the richness of JRR Tolkien’s world to the screen by adding brief moments, that had to be edited out of the theater edition mostly for time.

The opening of the film is the same, still with Galadriel’s introduction, but this flows into an introduction by Bilbo Baggins, who is working on his book, There and Back Again, A Hobbit’s Tale. There is more exposition of who the Hobbits are, who Bilbo is, even who Frodo is.  We even see Sam gardening.  This gives the viewer a more thorough understanding of who the Hobbits are and where they come from.  Bilbo’s party is re-edited and is longer.  We see the Sackville-Baggins, his dis-liked relations.  There’s a wonderful conversation between Frodo and Bilbo, that shows both the affection between the two, and Bilbo’s hint of a darker nature, right before Merry and Pippin set off one of Gandalf’s fireworks.

After the party, and Bilbo leaves, and Gandalf gives the ring to Frodo for safekeeping, there’s a new scene at the Green Dragon, the pub in Hobbiton.  Merry and Pippin laugh and sing and dance; some of the Hobbits discuss whispers of troubles in other lands, but most agree it’s none of their business, and if they stay isolated, trouble will pass them by.  But overall, it’s a light and fun scene that just shows Hobbits being Hobbits, and Merry and Pippin in particular having a good time singing, laughing, and drinking.

Again, the slower start in the Shire, adds to the richness of the film, showing us what these Hobbits will be fighting for, and their friendship and kinship.  It should be noted that:  Merry and Pippin are first cousins; Merry is also cousin to Frodo, Pippin is also related to Frodo, though more distantly than Merry;  Pippin is extremely young and won’t reach the Hobbit age of majority until four years after the War of the Ring, he’s really the equivalent of a 16-year-old, Pippin will one day be The Took, the leader of Tuckborough, Merry, in turn, will one day be the leader of the Brandybuck clan.  Indeed, most of the members of the Fellowship are, in some way, future leaders of some sort or another.  A lot of this wasn’t really explained in the films, but it’s quite clearly stated in the books.

Sam and Frodo, prior to meeting up with Pippin and Merry, see the wood Elves leaving Middle-Earth.  Frodo mentions they are going to the Grey Havens.  This scene, besides being pretty and bittersweet, also foreshadows events in The Two Towers, and especially in The Return of the King, where the Elves will leave Middle-Earth.

Gandalf and Saruman’s discussion is longer and there is more exposition.  Saruman actually tries to convince Gandalf to join him; Gandalf points out that Saruman is mad, and then Saruman attacks and imprisons Gandalf.  We also see Saruman with the Palantir (we did see the Palantir in the shorter cut of the film as well, though more briefly).  The Palantir, and Sauron’s selective showing of events is probably part of what’s driven Saruman mad — as well as his own lust for power.

There is more to the scenes of the Hobbits running from the Black Rider before they make it to the ferry.  The Hobbits continue to Bree, find Gandalf not there, and meet Strider (Aragorn).  Upon leaving Bree there’s an added scene of Aragorn leading the Hobbits through a swamp.  Again, this scene is a bit of foreshadowing — this time of the Dead Marshes, near Mordor.

There is slightly more to the conversation between Boromir and Aragorn in Rivendell.  Actually, Boromir gets several more lines in this version of the film.  At various points he’s trying to convince others to agree with him and to bring the Ring to Gondor, to Minas Tirith (referred to as “my city” by Boromir and “the white city” by Aragorn).

There is more to the council scene in Rivendell.  Gandalf, in an attempt to stop some of the bickering actually speaks Mordor speech at the council — this seems to physically hurt the Elves present, and Elrond criticizes Gandalf for it.  But Gandalf is trying to make a point, especially to Boromir, that the Ring cannot be used.  Still, Boromir makes a speech after that asking to bring the  Ring to his city, and use it as a weapon.  The council really begins to break down after that.  Frodo hears the Mordor speech in his head, sees the reflection of the arguing men, dwarves, and Elves in the Ring, then sees it consumed by fire.  That is still a totally awesome shot!  Frodo volunteers to take the ring.  The Fellowship is formed.

End of  Part One.

Part Two

Part Two of the Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, picks up in Rivendell.  Elrond talks to Aragorn of Narsil, the Sword that was broken, and Aragorn insists he does not want to wield its power.  As before, we see Bilbo giving Sting, his Elven sword, and his Mithril mail shirt to Frodo.  When Bilbo sees the ring on it’s chain, he attacks and looks very Gollum-like.  Then Elrond well-wishes the Fellowship.  Frodo is asked to lead the way.  They walk out of  Rivendell, in a very pretty and scenic shot of the Elven city.  There are also several beauty shots of Middle-Earth / New Zealand, some of which are in the shorter version of the film, others are, I think added beauty shots with more music, that add to the scope and majesty of the film.

When the Fellowship tries to cross the Misty Mountains by using the High Pass, Boromir gets an extra line, “This will be the death of the Hobbits!” and there’s an insert shot of a very cold looking Merry and Pippin.

The Fellowship heads to Moria instead, and there’s a conversation between Gandalf and Frodo.  There’s also more conversation between Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf as they try to figure out how to open the door to Moria.  A tentacle from the creature in the water grabs Frodo, Sam slices off the tentacle with his sword and calls for Strider.  Then Frodo is grabbed again before being rescued.  The Fellowship heads into the mine.  In the mine, Gandalf talks about the wealth of Moria being in Mithril, and the true value of Bilbo’s Mithril mail shirt which Bilbo has now given to Frodo (though Gandalf doesn’t know yet that Frodo is wearing the shirt).  When looking into the depths of the Mithril mine, Pippin stops Merry from getting too close.  Gandalf also tells Frodo Gollum’s name was Smeagol and his life was a sad story.

The Fellowship’s fight against the Orcs and the Cave troll is longer, and better edited.  Merry, Pippin, and Sam all fight the Orcs as best they can.  And Merry and Pippin, even kill one Orc together with a sword.  Aragorn saves Boromir during the fight as well.  Parts of the fight are the same, Frodo getting stabbed and collapsing, only to be ok, his life saved by the Mithril shirt.

But, eventually they are surrounded, then the Orcs run off when the Balrog appears.  Gandalf explains exactly what a Balrog is.  They run to the Bridge, and Gandalf’s fall is the same.

When the Fellowship reaches Lorien, they are first met by Haldir, who doesn’t want to let them pass.  Aragorn convinces him to take them to Galadriel and Celeborn.  The Fellowship reaches the Elvish city, which is beautiful, full of flickering lights, and multi-level platforms in the trees.

The conversation between the Fellowship and Galadriel is more specific and longer.  Legolas tells her Gandalf was taken by shadow and flame, a Balrog.  Galadriel addresses Gimli, specifically.

After the conversation between the Fellowship and Galadriel and Celeborn, the Fellowship is resting on a platform in the trees.  Legolas, remarks on the lament to Gandalf, and Sam tries to add a verse of poetry about Gandalf’s fireworks.

Immediately after the scene with Galadriel’s mirror, she shows Frodo her Elvish ring, one of the Three.

When they leave Lorien, by boat, the gift-giving scene is longer, and most of the members of the Fellowship receive a very useful gift.  Sam is given Elven rope (in the book he also received a box of soil and a Mallorn tree seed — which comes of use later when the Hobbits return to the Shire).  Merry and Pippin receive Elven daggers.  Legolas gets a new bow.  Gimli mentions later to Legolas that he asked for a hair from Galadriel’s head, and she gave him three.  Frodo gets the light of Elemmire, “to use in dark places”.  Galadriel tells Aragorn she can’t give him any greater gift than that which Arwen already has, though she names him “Elessar”, or “Elfstone”.  All are given boats, Lembas bread, and new grey Elven cloaks with finely wrought clasps of green leaves with silver veining.

At the landing, at the end of the long river journey, Boromir and Aragorn have another conversation, and Aragorn swears he will not lead the Ring within a hundred leagues of Boromir’s city.  Also, at the landing there’s more of a discussion of options, and Aragorn growing in his leadership.  Frodo uses the Ring to escape Boromir and sees the Eye, then he removes the ring.  Frodo’s used it three times in Fellowship — accidentally at Bree, at Weathertop when the Dark Riders / Nazgul attack, and here at the Landing place.

There some added bits to the fight sequence with Saruman’s Uruk-hai at the end, and we do see Merry and Pippin kill an Orc before being captured.  Aragorn also kills the head Uruk-hai.  Finally, in terms of added scenes, we see Boromir being “buried at sea” so to speak, his body placed in a boat and sent towards the Falls.

The extended edition adds moments — a line here, a scene there, that overall just add to the film by building character, and bring more richness, majesty, and intensity to the film.  Also, more from the book is included, some of which, such as Galadriel’s gift-giving is very important, since they items are used later on in the story.

Recommendation:  See it!  And if you can only buy one version of LotR, make it this extended edition.
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  LotR:  The Two Towers (4-Disc Extended Ed.)

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 Fellowship of the Ring (2 Disc)

  • Title:  Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring (2 Disc)
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  New Line Cinema
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy, Adventure, Drama
  • Cast:  Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC, 2-Disc Theater Version

“Nine rings were given to the race of men, who, above all else, desire power.”  — Galadriel, spoken intro.

“History became Legend, Legend became Myth…” — Galadriel, spoken intro.

“Why do you fear the past?  You are Isildur’s heir, not Isildur himself.”  Arwen to Aragorn

“It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand.  Many that live deserve death.  Some that die deserve life.  Can you give it to them, Frodo?  Do not be too eager to deal out death and judgement, even the very wise can not see all ends.”  Gandalf to Frodo

Peter Jackson magnificently visualized J. R.R. Tolkien’s classic three book work, The Lord of the Rings.  I have both the theatrical 2-disc version and the 4-disc extended version of all three films, so I will be watching them all (first the 2 discs then the 4 discs).  I also watched “Fellowship” on Thursday, but then Friday and this morning were super-busy so this is the first time I’ve had to sit down and write.  I’m a fan of the original books, having found The Lord of the Rings in my junior high school library and reading it for the first time.  I then tended to re-read it about every three years or so.  The books and the films are excellent.  Peter Jackson did not have an enviable job — having to satisfy two distinct groups with his films — fans of the books, some of whom knew every single detail of the books intimately (Not to mention the Tolkien scholars in various disciplines) but also movie-goers who may have never read the books.  This is a hard path to tread.  Yet Jackson succeeded in making incredibly movies.  And I, like others who know the books can nitpick the films.  But I will try to leave my nitpicking for later.

The Fellowship of  the Ring is a beautifully shot film.  New Zealand perfectly plays the part of Middle Earth and the scenery is gorgeous!  The filming really feels like a love letter to New Zealand, and in a story where sense of place is important, it’s great to have such a special place to film.  The film is also perfectly cast, with some unusual choices.  In fact, many of the actors in the film, though experienced, were virtual unknowns — or hadn’t done much for years.  I remember when I heard about the film and the cast — I think the only ones I’d heard of were:  John Rhys-Davies, Cate Blanchett, and Sean Astin (whom I knew as Patty Duke’s son and a child actor).  But having a, for the most part unknown cast, and a cast of character actors, makes it easier for the viewer to imagine and picture the actual characters.  The music by Howard Shore is also gorgeous!  I have all three soundtracks on CD, and on my iPod and I still listen to them.

The opening, with narration by Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is particularly well-done and serves as a crash course introduction to the history and mythos of Lord of the Rings, drawing in material from The Simarillian, The Hobbit, and even the appendices of LotR.  It’s an excellent piece of film-making because it draws you in, at once, while at the same time providing needed background information without which, especially someone new to the story would be completely lost.  After the introduction, the film slows a bit, showing us the Hobbits, who are preparing for a major party.  This is one departure in the film from the books.  In the book, not only is it Bilbo’s birthday (he’s 111), but it is also Frodo’s birthday (he’s 33, the Hobbit age of maturity, when they can inherit).  Bilbo literally disappears, returns to his home at Bag End, and decides to go off on a holiday, to see the Elves again and finish his book.  Gandalf, who had attended the party, meets Bilbo and insures that he leave behind the Ring he had obtained from Gollum.  Gandalf asks Frodo to keep the Ring safe, but never use it, and says he must do research.

Now in the books, another twenty years or so pass, in the film the time jump is, understandably, not that long.  Gandalf returns and sends Frodo and Sam to Bree, promising to meet them there.  Gandalf  has warned Frodo to stay off the road, and that Ringwraiths are on his trail.  Gandalf goes to see Saruman, only to discover the Wizard has turned evil and to get himself  imprisoned. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam meet up with Merry and Pippin, two more Hobbit friends of theirs (who had also attended Bilbo’s party). They are confronted with Ringwraiths, but manage to escape.  At Bree, they discover Gandalf has not arrived, and they meet Strider (aka Aragorn), a Ranger.  Aragorn takes them out in to the wild, heading for Rivendell.  At Weathertop, Ringwraiths attack again, and Frodo is wounded.  The group continues on, meeting Arwen, and there’s a mad rush to get to Rivendell, with Ringwraiths following.

At the Ford, Arwen carries Frodo across, the Ringwraiths follow, and when they enter the water, Arwen says a spell which causes the water to rise, forming white horses to counter the black horses of the Riders.  The Ringwraiths are stopped but not destroyed.  Frodo then wakes in Rivendell, an Elvish city, with his friends around him, including Bilbo.  Legolas, an Elf, and Gimli, a Dwarf, as well as Boromir from Minas Tirith in Gondor (the “White City”, so called because it’s made of white stone and marble), are also in Rivendell for a council to decide what to do about the Ring.

The sequence of the council is beautifully done, as each person begins to make a case for what to do with the ring (Boromir, for example, wants to take it to his city to use as a weapon against the enemy), before the council erupts in pointless bickering.  Frodo sees an image in the ring of the reflection of everyone arguing, being swallowed by flame.  Seeing this he announces that “I will take it,”.  This stops everyone flat, and Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli, all offer to help Frodo on his quest.  Sam leaps up from where he had been hiding and also insists on joining Frodo.  Merry and Pippin rush in also to join Frodo.  Gandalf joins the group as well.  Thus it is set, a fellowship of nine, to counter the nine Ringwraiths, and representing all the primary races of Middle-Earth (Elves, Dwarves, Men, Hobbits, Wizards).  They are The Fellowship of the Ring.

The journey begins with knowing they must somehow cross the great mountain range of the Grey Mountains.  First, they try going through a mountain pass, but are caught in a snow storm, partially caused by Saruman.  Given a choice between trying for the Gap of Rohan (which Gandalf says is guarded), and making for the Mines of Moria – Frodo chooses Moria.  This is not the best choice.  Outside the mines they are attacked by a fierce water creature (a cross between a Hydra and a giant spider), barely escaping and getting into the Mines, they discover a fierce battle has occurred.  But they must go through.  The group is attacked by Orcs and a cave troll and must run for the bridge of Khazud-dum. Though the bridge is cracked, and missing parts, and a Balrog (a fiery demon) lies in the deep below it, the group manages to barely make their escape.  However, Gandalf is pulled into the deep by the Balrog. After the horrors of  Moria, the Fellowship make their way to Lorien.  They rest and recover there, and are given gifts (the gift-giving is more elaborate in the books).  Frodo is tested by a vision in Galadriel’s mirror; and she is tested by the ring and passes the test.  They take Elvish boats down the Great River finally making a landing just above a waterfall.  Boromir tries to take the ring from Frodo, Saruman’s Uruk-hai attack, and the Fellowship is split apart.  Boromir, confesses to Aragorn what he’s done, Boromir seeks and gets absolution, but he’s also killed in the ensuing battle.  Frodo and Sam head off on their own to Mordor.  Merry and Pippin are captured by the Uruk-hai, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli will follow to rescue them.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Lord of  the Rings:  The Two Towers (2 Disc Theater Version)

Henry V

  • Title:  Henry V
  • Director:  Kenneth Branagh
  • Date:  1989
  • Studio:  MGM (DVD release)
  • Genre:  Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Christian Bale, Kenneth Branagh, Brian Blessed, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Richard Easton, Ian Holm, Derek Jacobi, Paul Scofield, John Sessions, Emma Thompson
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“Oh, for a Muse of Fire that would ascend the brightest heart of invention.”  — Chorus
 
“No King of England if not King of France.”  — Henry V
 
“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…”  — Henry V
 
“And upon this charge, cry God for England, Harry, and St. George.”  — Henry V

Branagh does a very traditional take on Shakespeare’s history play, Henry V, and brings it to life on the screen wonderfully.  The film features an excellent cast.  When watching Shakespeare, either live, or a television or film presentation, I’m always almost distracted by the famous quotes and Henry V is no exception, which goes to show just what an excellent writer Shakespeare really was.

But Henry V is also a history play, meant to instruct the Elizabethan audience on their history, with a favorable nod toward the Tudor line.  The film opens with Henry’s advisors explaining to him that he has a just claim to the throne of France, through the female line, though France is claiming Sallic law — that is, Royal descent through the male line only.  The French Delphin arrives, bearing the message the King has refused Henry’s claim — and an insulting present.  This pushes Henry into the decision he was leaning towards:  he will invade France and pursue his claim militarily.

Henry and company are next in Southampton.  Henry is asking his advisors how to deal with a man who has broken the law.  They advise harshly.  However, the audience knows these advisors are conspiring against Henry and are actually in the employ of France.  Henry gives the man accused a light sentence, then he has the three conspirators arrested. They are accused of High Treason. Henry, points out that since they did not advise mercy for a lesser crime, he will show no mercy to them.

The English army heads to France, and into a battle.  Henry himself  leads the charge, with rousing words of bravery on horseback, “Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…”  — Henry V. They take the castle, but Henry advises his men, they are not to harrass the villagers.  Nothing is to be taken, but paid for.  The French people are not to be harrassed.  Henry even orders the execution of one of his own men who was caught stealing from a church, though the man is an old friend and advisor.

Finally, the English army reaches Avincourt.  They are cold, wet, tired, and sick.  On the eve of battle, it is plain they are out-numbered five to one.  Henry takes another advisor’s cloak and wanders through the British camp, getting a feel for how his soldiers really feel about the king.  Some support the king, others, fear they are on a fool’s errand and the king will only get himself captured and need to be ransomed. Henry swears this will not happen, though he is also worried by the long odds.  The next day, Henry gives the rousing St. Crispin’s Day speech (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”) and the English charge into battle.  The battle is extremely well-filmed, showing both chaos and violence, and historic tactics.  Again, Henry leads his own men into battle.  The English archers fire thousands of arrows into the French army, killing hundreds of men and boys.

At the end, though it looks like the English have one, Henry is unsure.  The French envoy arrives and tells him that he has won the day.  Later there is an accounting — the French have lost 8000 men, including over 500 newly named knights.  The English, about five named men, and an additional twenty-five.  Henry gives credit to God for fighting for them.

Henry then goes to the French king.  Among his terms, the crown of France and the king’s daughter – Katherine.  The French king gives all to Henry.  Henry, after some courting of Katharine is to marry her. The film shows the two as the new king and queen.  However, Chorus reminds the audience that Henry’s son is not the man his father was, and he will lose France.

The courting scene between Henry (Kenneth Branagh) and Katharine (Emma Thompson) is wonderful, and the sparks fly — though she speaks only French, and he really only speaks English.  He tries speaking in French to her, but only succeeds in making her laugh.  Still, the chemistry is palatable.

Christian Bale is extremely young (like eight) in this, playing one of the boy pages, who sets off the flight of arrows at Agincourt, and is also killed. But he’s recognizable — and it’s surprising to see him.  The cast is filled with excellent British talent:  Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, John Sessions, Robbie Coltrane, Brian Blessed and Judi Dench, as well as, of course, Branagh and Thompson.

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