The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

  • Title:  The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  New Line, MGM
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Dean O’Gorman, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans and Stephen Fry.
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You’ve changed, Bilbo Baggins, you’re not the same Hobbit that left the Shire.” – Gandalf

“I started this!  I cannot forsake them.  They are in grave danger.”  — Gandalf
“If what you say is true, the World is in grave danger.” – Radagast

“What have we done?” – Bilbo

There is an innate problem with any trilogy, especially a trilogy of films – and that is, the film often has no beginning and no ending.  The beginning, background, and set-up is all in the first film.  The resolution will be in the final film.  And sometimes, the middle film is very hard to judge without seeing the final film.  This seems to be especially true with Peter Jackson’s trilogies based on JRR Tolkien’s works, because Jackson takes the approach they are three long chapters of a single work.  An approach that, in the end, especially when the extended editions are included, worked for Lord of the Rings.

However, for The Desolation of Smaug, I find it very difficult to review the film on it’s own.  I suspect that the extended edition (to be released on Blu-ray next Tuesday 11/4/2014), may affect how I view the film, and the third film, The Hobbit:  The Battle of Five Armies, which is due in theaters in December 2014, will change my opinion further.  But I will say this – I didn’t hate it.  Overall, I felt the theater-version of The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug was “ok” to “good”, but not terrible.

Whereas, The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey emphasized that the Dwarves Quest was to return to their home, which made the film more universal and made it easier to emphasize with the characters and the whole point of the exercise; The Desolation of Smaug, rather like the book, emphasizes both adventure and a Quest for gold.  Often, the Tolkien’s works, Dwarves are seen as overly concerned with money:  gold, jewels, and treasures of the Earth.  This is certainly the case in The Desolation of Smaug, where Thorin seems to be not only motivated by returning to his ancestoral kingdom but by claiming the dragon’s horde of treasure to be found there.

The Desolation of Smaug is very episodic as a film; and each section often involves a lot of action, fighting, and special effects.  However, there seems to be little characterization amonst all the action, which is a pity.  In terms of characters, new ones are introduced:  Tauriel, a female Elf, who is a good fighter and who has a passion for hunting down Orcs (and possibly a crush on Legolas); Bard, a bargeman who’s raising three children on his own, and lives in Laketown (Esgaroth); The Master (played with relish by Stephen Fry) – the tyrannical dictator of Laketown.

The character of Tauriel, though completely non-canonical, I actually liked, especially the second time I watched the film, and on DVD.  She brings a freshness to the film, and I hope we see more of her in the third film.

Bard seems much more distrustful of the Dwarves and even seems to dislike them, once he figures out who they are.  However, he’s also interested in genuinely helping the people of Laketown, and seems to be the one in charge of attempting to rid the town of their rich and tyrannical Master.

Additions of new characters such as Tauriel, and the expansion of short sequences in the book into full-blown action scenes in the film, almost, at times, makes Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit seem like Fan Fiction.  I don’t mean that in a negative way.  But Tolkien created a very rich, and detailed world, and even, it’s said, felt it was OK for others to “play in his sandbox” as it were.  But regardless as to whether or not the author would have approved of the films – they really do feel like an expansion of Tolkien’s story and world.  This is especially true in the introduction of completely original characters, such as Tauriel, or the expansion of the roles of other characters, such as Legolas (who, as the son of King Thranduil might have been mentioned in The Hobbit novel, but he doesn’t have a major role.)  I love Tolkien’s books, especially The Lord of the Rings, so I don’t really have a problem with Peter Jackson’s additions.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Jackson had made The Hobbit first, and as a single film, prior to making Lord of the Rings, and how that might have gone, but we will never know.

The other aspect of The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug, that I found especially interesting – and I picked up on this more watching the DVD, than I had seeing the film in the theater a year ago, was the amount of foreshadowing of events in Lord of the Rings. Gandalf’s mission with Radagast to discover what is going on, and who the Necromancer is, leads directly into The Lord of the Rings, as does the marching of the Orcs.  When Bilbo briefly drops The Ring in Mirkwood and fights off a spider to get it back, then says “Mine,” as he grabs it – it is frightening because we know where that leads.  And even Bilbo, as he realizes what he’s does, seems startled by his own actions.  The spiders, also reference the confrontation between Sam and Frodo and Shelob (which is in The Two Towers novel, but in the film of The Return of the King).

Overall, the film was good – I did buy the DVD, after all – and I intend on buying the Extended Edition Blu-Ray (or possibly DVD if there is one).  And I certainly want to see the final film.  But I felt the first film of Jackson’s The Hobbit  trilogy was better.

Recommendation:  See It (for the spectacle at least).
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Prestige

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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

Doctor Who “The Snowmen” (Christmas Special 2012)

  • Title:  ”The Snowmen”
  • Series:  Doctor Who
  • Cast:  Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Richard E. Grant, Ian McKellen (voice), Catrin Stewart, Neve McIntosh, Dan Starkey

This is definitely my favorite Matt Smith Christmas special, but then I was somewhat disappointed by the previous two:  ”A Christmas Carol” (predictable, as is anything inspired by the Charles Dickens short story; though the fish in the fog were, um, whimsical – and impossible) and “The Doctor, A Widow, and the Wardrobe” (which just irritated me).  But, seriously, I really liked “The Snowmen”.

First, I really liked Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax.  I liked them so much I’d watch a spin-off about Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax set in the Victorian Era where they solve crime.  OK, yes, it’s a bit unbelievable that nobody noticed a lizard woman and a Sontaran in Victorian London, but somehow I just really, really loved those characters and I hope to see them again.  I know Madame Vastra and Strax were in “A Good Man Goes to War”.

I also loved, loved, loved Clara.  So much better than Amy Pond.  Now, I’m not one of the very vocal “Amy-haters” one finds on-line and at IRL conventions.  But, overall, Amy wasn’t one of my favorite companions, and I can’t even put my finger on why I didn’t like her (other than her life making no sense whatsoever).  I liked Rory better, and I thought he made more sense as a companion.  But I digress. Point is, I like Clara… in all her forms:  barmaid, governess, slightly insane Dalek, you name it.  I recently re-watched “Asylum of the Daleks” and actually enjoyed it more than the first time I saw it.  I hope Clara returns.  And, I hope Moffat doesn’t make her life too complex, like he did with Amy Pond.

I did have a question though – as soon as the Ice Governess pulled Clara off the cloud and into the sky… why didn’t the Doctor run to his TARDIS, disappear, and re-appear to catch her before she hit the ground? In the swimming pool if necessary.  After all, he’s done it before to save Dr. River Song.

So who is Clara?  How will she return?  Will she return? (The previews for the rest of Series 7 suggest she will).

The other part of the special I found very interesting was the Great Intelligence.  The Doctor at one point remarks, “It sounds familiar.”  It should – it did to me too, so I looked it up.  Here’s what I found:
Great Intelligence:  Entity from another dimension, which was exiled into ours, and condemned to hover between the stars and without substance.  It eventually took over Padmasambhava’s mind.  It planned to reincorporate itself and conquer Earth, when its gelatinous substance flowed through a pyramid gateway.  In spite of its robot Yeti, the Intelligence’s plan was thwarted by the Second Doctor, Jaime, Victoria, and Professor Travers in the mid-1930s.  The entity was banished when the Doctor held it in check mentally while Jaime and Thomni smashed its pyramid. (The Abominable Snowmen)
Thirty years later, Travers reactivated a robot Yeti’s silver sphere, which led the Intelligence to launch a new attack, this time in the London Underground.  It was again opposed by the Second Doctor, with the help of Travers, Jamie, Victoria, and Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart.  The Intelligence plotted to drain the Doctor’s mind, but the Doctor secretly reversed the polarities of the device, and would have turned the tables on his enemy if Jaime had not unwittingly wretched the device from the Doctor’s head at the last minute, thereby releasing the evil entity. (The Web of Fear)
Quote from:

Lofficier, Jean-Marc.  Doctor Who:  The Universal Databank, pp. 168-169, London: Doctor Who Books, Imprint of Virgin Publishing Ltd.

I also loved both the idea of the Doctor keeping his TARDIS up in the clouds, both physically away and separated from the world – and mentally and spiritually separated from helping people.  The Doctor has become cold indeed.  The new interior design I love, though, it’s so reminiscent of the late-70s/early-80s council rooms (prior to the stacked white boxes in the interior of the TARDIS council itself).  Clara climbing the staircase to “nowhere” reminded me both of “Jack-and-the-Beanstalk” and Mary Poppins.  Actually, Clara, as the magical governess, reminded me a lot of Mary Poppins.  OK, yes, Poppins was a nanny, but still, especially with the umbrella the Doctor gives her.  Very much Mary Poppins.

So who is Clara Oswin Oswald, really?  Is she a future Doctor?  A future River?  River or Amy’s future child?  Jenny – the Doctor’s Daughter?  And will she be back? I hope Mr. Moffat answers these questions!

UPDATE (9/6/2014):  The above review was written immediately after seeing “The Snowmen”.  As we know, Clara became the Doctor’s companion, and is the 12th Doctor’s Companion as well.  In terms of Moffat making her life too complex, we do have the “Impossible Girl” storyline which was wrapped up with Moffat turning Clara into a Mary Sue who spends her entire life saving the Doctor.  However, Series 8 seems to have forgotten entirely about that plot thread.Thank goodness.

Oh, and one more point, although the first story to feature the Great Intelligence, The Abominable Snowmen is still missing and presumed destroyed; the second, The Web of Fear is available on DVD.  The Doctor Who Missing Adventures (original paperback series) novel Downtime, also features the Great Intelligence and the Yeti (as well as Victoria, the Brigadier, Sarah Jane Smith, and Kate Stewart, the Brigadier’s daughter).  My review of Downtime is on Goodreads.

Original 2012 Reaction to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I saw The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey last night.  I bought my ticket about 1:00pm, then did other stuff, including dinner with Mom & Dad at a new restaurant near the movie theater, Kitchen 67 by Brann’s, in short, dinner was OK.  The showing was at 8:30pm last night in the largest individual theater in my local multiplex – and it was a sold out show.

In short, the film is awesome – Peter Jackson really does have another hit on his hands, and I’m already eagerly awaiting the next two films, since Jackson has somehow turned “The Hobbit” into a trilogy.

The three most developed characters were: Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Thorin Oakenshield son of Thrain (Richard Armitage) and Gandalf (Ian McKellan).  All the actors are excellent in their parts.  Martin Freeman, whom I know from Sherlock (where he played Dr. John Watson), spends much of his time looking confused and bemused — something Martin Freeman is particularly good at.  However, though the Dwarves underestimate him, Bilbo has strange courage when pushed and he’s loyal despite being ignored, treated as baggage, and even scolded.

Thorin is played by Richard Armitage (whom I know from the BBC’s recent Robin Hood TV series – the one with Jonas Armstrong as Robin) and he’s fantastic!  For one thing, even under all the hair, make-up, and costuming — Armitage is gorgeous, and as he’s very much the hero in the film, he gets several “heroic poses” shots, which I must admit got my attention in the theater last night.  But Armitage brings a real strength and gravitas to the part.  He doesn’t “ham it up” — and with him in the role Thorin becomes more likable.  No longer is this simply a group of Dwarves out for gold — it’s a group of thirteen wanderers in search of a home.  The parellel with the Lost Tribes of Israel popped into my head in the theater and just wouldn’t go away.

Ian McKellan’s Gandalf returns, whom most viewers of the film will remember from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  Also returning for a scene in Rivendell are:  Cate Blanchet as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, and Christopher Lee as Saruman.  Somehow they managed to make Hugo Weaving look a little younger — and I love his “hunting uniform” as we first encounter him when he and a group of Elves hunt and kill Orcs and wargs, thus saving Thorin, Bilbo, and their troop.  Though at the time neither really realises what’s happened, and who’s saved who.  Christopher Lee seems threatening and dark here (as Saruman), though at this point in the overall story everyone trusts him, including Gandalf.  I actually liked Cate Blanchet better this time around, and her psychic conversations with Gandalf were actually effective storytelling. And they were cool!

New to the story (besides Thorin and his Dwarves) is the wonderful Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown, one of the five Wizards entrusted with the care of Middle-Earth.  I loved it that when Bilbo asked about other Wizards, Gandalf said:  ”The head of our order is Saruman the White, then there’s two Blue Wizards but I can’t remember their names, and there’s Radagast the Brown, he’s ‘odd’ – prefers the company of animals over people.” (I’m probably paraphrasing a bit)  But I love that Gandalf says there’s these other two Wizards but he doesn’t know their names.  Tolkien actually never named the other two Wizards, though the fact that their were five of them originally is mentioned more than once in the canon of the books (both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings).  Sylvester is barely recognizable under his costume, and I now understand his comments at Chicago TARDIS about it — it is off-putting and even a bit gross (with the bird poo in his hair and the bird nest that he’s wearing almost as a hat).  But that aside, he still has that sense of strangeness and alien-ness that worked so well in Doctor Who.  The scene where he’s using magic to save a hedge-hog is wonderful.  In the books, Radagast is barely mentioned, here he doesn’t have a large part, but he’s important… breaking messages to Gandalf.

The novel, The Hobbit:  There and Back Again, was a pre-quel to Lord of the Rings, and it came out first. The two stories are connected by the Ring, Bilbo, and some other re-occurring characters, as well as being in the same universe of Middle-Earth.  I’ve read Lord of the Rings countless times.  I first read in in seventh grade, when I found the books in my junior high school library, and I read it about every three years since.  When Jackson’s LotR Trilogy came out that switched to every year, as I wanted to see where the films diverged from the books.  The Hobbit I’ve only read two or three times, as I’ve always preferred LotR.  The Hobbit has always seemed to be more of a children’s book, as well as a straight-forward adventure tale (literally “There and Back Again” — Bilbo gets involved in a quest for treasure, he has a series of adventures, he comes home safe).  There are some memoriable scenes in the book, but really… LotR, which came out later, is much better, deeper, more complex, and transcends it’s “fantasy” label and genre.

I knew Ian Holm was going to be in the Hobbit film, but that Martin Freeman would play “young Bilbo”, so I was expecting some sort of “flashback” opening.  The film starts with Bilbo narrating a rather long narration of the history of Thrain (Thorin’s father), Thorin and the Dwarves.  I rather liked it because it gives the audience more background on Thorin and makes him more sympathetic and more of a hero.  Eventually, we see Bilbo addressing Frodo (Elijah Wood) as he starts writing in his journal.  Frodo arrives with the mail (post) and mentions they are replies to the party invitations.  Bilbo hands Frodo a sign to hang on his door, and as Frodo nails it up, we see it says “No Admittance Except on Party Business”, this neatly places this scene just before the opening in the Shire in Fellowship of the Ring (after that film’s prologue), the film then transitions 60 Years Ago to Bilbo’s adventure (and the sub-title comes up).  I loved the way the transition was done, technically, visually, and as an opening of the plot, so I won’t spoil it.

There is a lot of humor in The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, a bit more than I was expecting.  The acting was really, really good, too.  Visually, the film is stunning (Honestly, New Zealand is just stunning!). I also liked the switch in emphasis from the Dwarves looking for gold to the Dwarves wanting to return to their lost homeland.  ”The Song of the Lonely Mountain”, which was used in the previews, under-scores the film and it’s gorgeous!  The scene in Bag End, where the Dwarves sing their song, each standing one at a time and joining in, was almost like watching people singing their own National Anthem (and brings to mind a similar scene in Casablanca where everyone sings La Marseilles).  It also reminded me of something I had actually seen happen in a pub in Ireland, where someone started singing the Irish National Anthem (tho’ I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time) — the pub got deadly quiet, everyone stood, and everyone joined in. Anyway, it’s a wonderful scene in the film, and I think it’s part of what convinces Bilbo to join in on the adventure, though he initially says “no”.

The Hobbit the novel is the prequel book to The Lord of the Rings, and it was written and published first. However, Peter Jackson’s film was filmed and produced AFTER the very popular Oscar-winning (among other awards) Lord of the Rings Trilogy of films.  Movie-making logic suggests that sequels need to be bigger, more exciting, and more awesome than the original.  Yet, Tolkien’s book, having come first is smaller in scope.  I’ve already mentioned how it seems more like a children’s book and it has a straight-forward, there-and-back plot.  Initially, when news broke of a Peter Jackson film of the Hobbit, and the news broke as “two films” my first thought was “How?”  And, as we now know, Jackson is planning a trilogy.  Again, How?  The original story is much shorter, and doesn’t seem to have enough material for two films, let alone three.  My cynical thought was “Jackson overshot the movie”.  However, this is Peter Jackson, who, though he loves his action sequences (and The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey has plenty), also has a way of writing his characters, expanding their parts, and making the outline of the story better.  I do think it’s odd, The Hobbit, could have been one film, but Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, could have each been two films, if The Hobbit had been filmed first, as one would have expected.  That the stories are switched is going to have a interesting effect on the complete storyline.  I almost wonder if Jackson’s long-range plan is to re-do LotR as six films after The Hobbit Trilogy is complete in theaters.  (If you haven’t read LotR it is six books, split into three parts — each a separate book, plus an appendix).

Anyway, the film was awesome, I highly encourage everyone to see it!

LotR The Return of the King (4 Disc Ext. Ed.)

  • Title:  Lord of the Rings The Return of the King (4 Disc Ext. Ed.)
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • 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, 4-disc Extended Edition

“He’s always followed me.  Everywhere I went, since before we were ‘tweens.  I would get him in to the worst sort of trouble, but I was always there to get him out.  Now he’s gone.  Just like Frodo, and Sam.”  — Merry

“One thing I’ve learned about Hobbits, they are most hardy folk.”  — Aragorn

“Take heart, Merry, it will soon be over.”  — Eowyn
“My Lady, you are fair, and brave, and have much to live for and many who love you.” –Merry

For complete summary of The Return of the King, see review of the two-disc edition, here I will highlight the differences and added scenes in the extended edition.  Again, the added scenes make the film richer, and more enjoyable, though unlike the other two extended editions, many, though not all, of the “new” scenes are extensions to the battle and fight scenes in the film.  Or new battle scenes altogether.  However, there is more characterization, and Merry and Eowyn get additional scenes and dialogue which is most welcome.

Return of the King is a magnificent film.  It is a truly wonderful film.  The heart of the film is the emotional journeys of the characters, which are now fulfilled in the third and final chapter of The Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien’s book is loved by so many, including myself, because not only are there a lot of characters, but those characters each have an important and interesting journey to take — and they each have a part to play in the story.  In adapting the books to film, I think many directors would have been tempted to only show us Frodo and Sam’s story — and that might have been okay, heck it might have even been fine; but such a film would have lacked the richness of the books.  Peter Jackson choose to adapt all the story lines of the books — and allowed each of the major characters to have their stories and for them to be completed.  That makes these films masterful.

Now on to specifics about the Extended Edition.

The prologue scene of Smeagol murdering Deagol to get the Ring, seems longer.

Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, with Theoden and Eomer, ride through Fangorn forest, which now lies between Helm’s Deep and Isengard, to Isengard.  Merry and Pippin, at Isengard, talk a bit more about Longbottom Leaf pipeweed and ale.

There’s a confrontation between Gandalf and Saruman.  Saruman has the Palantir.  Gandalf breaks Saruman’s staff, casting him from their Order of Wizards.  Theoden asks Grima to give up his loyalty to Saruman, and return to Rohan as a loyal subject.  Grima stabs Saruman in the back, and he then falls to his death, landing on his back on his own machinery which crushes him.  The Palantir falls from his hand and then Pippin sees it and gives it to Gandalf.

I like this better than in the shorter version of the film, where Gandalf simply leaves Saruman and Grima in his tower (a line added to the film in ADR, when the above scene was taken out).  Saruman’s death at Orthanc is closer to the book, than merely leaving him there.  In the book, he and Grima escape, after Grima throws the Palantir at Gandalf and Company, and Saruman is responsible for the Scouring of the Shire.  However, Saruman does meet his end at Grima’s hands, who stabs him in the back.  If the filmmakers were determined to drop the Scouring of the Shire, for there own reasons, some of which were sound (partially it was a matter of time), then actually showing the death of Saruman is considerably more satisfying than just saying “we’ll leave him in his tower” and that’s that, and the general audience has no idea what happened to him.

In  Rohan, at the celebration feast/wake for the fallen warriors, Gimli and Legolas have a drinking game, and Merry and Pippin sing and dance.  However, during the Hobbits’ song, there’s a pause as Pippin looks at Gandalf.

During the Smeagol/Gollum discussion in Ilthilien, Gollum flashes back to killing Deagol.

Pippin looks into the Palantir, and his separation from Merry is still heart-breaking.  However, not only does Merry climb to the top of one of the watchtowers to watch Gandalf and Pippin leave, he talks to Aragorn of what his cousin means to him, that Pippin always followed him.

The introductory flyby shot of  Minas Tirith is breath-taking, and the city is very beautiful.

Pippin flashes back to Boromir’s death, when Denethor mentions that he knows his son is dead.  Pippin offers his service and explains Boromir was pierced by many arrows defending his kinsman and him.  Denethor claims Lord and Kingship, saying he will not bow to the Ranger from the North (e.g. Aragorn).

Gandalf explains what’s happened in Gondor, where the stewards come from.

Frodo talks to Sam of not coming back.  Sam encourages him that they’ll go there and back again, like Bilbo.  They reach the Crossroads, and see the statute of the king, with it’s Orc pumpkin-head like thing.  The proper head of the statute is on the ground a few feet away, covered with a crown of flowers.  A beam of light hits the flowers, making them shine like a crown of gold, this heartens the Hobbits.

I loved that scene in the book — the description of  the crown and the sun, and the way it gives hope to Sam and Frodo, is very beautiful and meaningful.  I was so disappointed it wasn’t in the shorter version of  the film when I saw it in the theater, so I was very glad to see it here in the extended cut.

Sam threatens Smeagol, basically saying he will kill him if anything happens to Frodo.

Gandalf tells Pippin there’s an opportunity for the Shirefolk to prove their great worth, when sending him to light the beacon.

Faramir is with his guard in Osgiliath, and his aide-de-camp tells him of sending out scouts to the north.  Then we see Orcs on boats.  Faramir takes his men to the river to attack the Orcs. Faramir and his men fight the Orcs with swords.

Then we see Pippin lighting the beacon, and the beacon fires going one by one to Rohan.

Merry offers his service to Theoden King, who accepts it, naming him Esquire of Rohan.

Gimli talks to Legolas, wishing he could bring a legion of Dwarves to the battle.

More of Faramir’s battle in Osgiliath.  He begins to call for retreat to Minas Tirith, and a Nazgul attacks.  They make a run for it.  Faramir’s aide-de-camp (or second in command) is killed.  Gandalf rides out, with Pippin, to challenge the Orcs and Nazgul and help Faramir’s men safely get to Minas Tirith.

Denethor criticizes Faramir about sending the Ring with Frodo to Mordor.  Faramir states he wouldn’t use the Ring. Faramir tells Denethor, Boromir would have used the Ring and been corrupted — they wouldn’t know him.  Denethor has a vision of Boromir standing near Faramir.  Denethor kicks Faramir out of his chamber.

The Witch-King orders the Orc Captain to take the city and kill them all.

The men of  Gondor ask Gandalf  if  Rohan will come.

Pippin wonders what he’s done, offering his service.  He meets Faramir who tells him the armor he’s wearing was once his own.  Faramir talks to Pippin of Boromir, Pippin tells him he has strength of a different sort.  Then we see Pippin formerly swear loyalty to Denethor, and the service of the guard in Gondor.

Cuts to Sam, Frodo, and Gollum sleeping.  Gollum throws away Lembas, the Elven waybread, setting up Sam.  Frodo sending Sam away is heartbreaking.

The men of Gondor leave the city, at Denethor’s order, women throwing flowers — it’s a very mournful scene. Gandalf tries to stop Faramir —  Faramir states this is the City of the Men of Numenor and he will die defending it.

Then Denethor asks Pippin to sing, and Pippin’s song is still intercut with Faramir’s men riding out to a hopeless battle — where they are all going to get killed.

The shorter version tightens up the editing of this sequence, but keeps Pippin’s song and the intercutting between that, Denethor stuffing his face, and Faramir and company riding out to their doom.  The slightly shorter, more tightly edited version is actually better, even though it makes sense that Gandalf would try to stop Faramir.  Gandalf can’t succeed at that, and Faramir must prove his loyalty.

During the muster of Rohan, Eomer talks to Eowyn of war, but you can see in her eyes it hasn’t dissuaded her.

Aragorn has nightmares of Arwen dying.  As he wakes from the nightmare, a messenger asks Aragorn to see Theoden. Elrond comes to Aragorn, talks to him of the Oathbreakers in the mountain, gives him Anduril, the Flame of the West, the re-forged Narsil.  Elrond also encourages Aragorn to become king.

Aragorn tries to dissaude Eowyn from her plans.  Then he, Legolas, and Gimli take the Paths of the Dead.  Legolas talks a bit more in detail of the prophecy that the heir of Elendil, who shall come from the North, will call on those who are Dead to fulfill their Oaths.

There’s a quick shot of the Orcs marching on Minas Tirith.

Legolas sees ghosts of men and horses under the mountain. There are mists of ghosts near Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn. There are skulls in the cave. They reach the cavern where Aragorn asks for the allegiance of the dead. There are more shots of the dead army. Aragorn raises Anduril, summons the dead, commands them to fight for their honor.

There is an avalanche of skulls.  Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas leave the path and see the Cosair ships. Aragorn seems completely defeated. Then, the dead King arrives, swearing they will fight.

Injured Faramir is returned to Gondor. The heads of the rest of his men are flung into the city by Orc catapults. Pippin realizes Faramir is still alive, no one listens.

Denethor begins to break, blames Theoden for betraying him.

Gandalf leads the battle, the battle begins in earnest. The battle is longer. Pippin makes his way to Gandalf, saves him from an Orc and is ordered back to the citadel by Gandalf.  (This was in the shorter edition).

The Orc Captain orders that Grond, the flaming Wolfshead ram, be used to break the city gate.

End of  Part 1

Part 2

Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli meet the Corsair ships. Aragorn denies them passage. The dead attack the ships.

Smeagol leads Frodo into Shelob’s lair.  Frodo tells Smeagol he must destroy the Ring for both their sakes. Smeagol attacks Frodo and falls down a cliff.  Frodo continues on through the pass of Cirith Ungol.

The men of Rohan gather at the camp.  Eomer reports the scouts say Minas Tirith is surrounded, the lower levels in flames.  Eowyn and Merry talk, he tries to raise her spirits.

Flaming stones or rocks are sent into Minas Tirith.

One flower blooms on the tree in Minas Tirith — despite Denethor saying Gondor is lost.

Denethor argues it is better to die soon rather than late, for ‘die we must’; then he calls for wood and oil to burn himself and his son.

Gandalf  is still commanding Gondor’s soldiers.

But when Gandalf and Pippin return to the citadel to confront Denethor and rescue Faramir they are stopped by a Nazgul, the Witch-king.  Gandalf’s staff is broken.  Pippin starts to charge and then stops  — the Witch-King leaves at the sound of the horn of Rohan.

I’m glad this scene WASN’T in the shorter version of the film, and it makes no sense here.  It also slows down the sense of urgency to rescue Faramir.  I mean, seriously, Denethor is already in the midst of commiting murder and suicide — Pippin and Gandalf need to get there quickly to stop it.  Saving Faramir is one of Pippin’s great heroic scenes, breaking it up isn’t necessary and actually lessens the tension rather than adds to it.  Also, as powerful as the Witch-King is, he shouldn’t be able to break Gandalf’s staff — only another Wizard can do that, and the only other one left is Radagast the Brown who’s never seen in the films, and is barely mentioned in the books. (There are meant to be five Wizards, but the remaining two aren’t even named).

Gandalf and Pippin do, though, get into the tomb. They are unable to rescue Denethor, but Pippin saves Faramir.

Back to the Battle of Pelennor Fields, which the men of Rohan have joined. There are more Oliphaunts and men of Haradrim in the Battle, and it’s more complex and longer.

Merry fights in the Battle, and Eowyn fights the Orc Captain.

Then the Nazgul arrives, attacking Theoden.  Eowyn goes to defend her Uncle and King, and her fight with the Witch-King is longer.  Merry gets the first strike on the Witch-King, then Eowyn stabs him with her sword through the head, destroying him.  Thus the Witch-King, whom “no man can kill” is destroyed by a woman and a Hobbit.

The ships arrive, but it’s Aragorn and his army.  Note that in the films this is just the Army of the Dead, who make short work of any orcs and evil men still alive in the Battle of Pelennor Fields. In the book, the Battle is even bigger, and involved even more variety of forces than just Gondor and Rohan — Aragorn brings with him Dunedain from Dol Amroth in Belfalas.

Aragorn and Legolas defeat the Orc Captain that Eowyn was fighting before she was distracted by a Nazgul.

King Theoden’s dying speech to Eowyn is longer.

After the battle, Pippin first finds Merry’s Elven cloak.

Eomer finds Eowyn and screams.

We see Eowyn in the Houses of Healing and Aragorn acting as a healer. He succeeds in healing her, and she also meets Faramir there and they fall in love.

Pippin searches for  Merry, finally finds him. Pippin swears to take care of his older cousin.

In a departure from the book, rather than also being brought to the Houses of Healing, where Aragorn heals him, Merry rides with Pippin and the rest of the company to the Black Gate to provide a distraction so Frodo and Sam can get to Mt. Doom.

Insert shot of Sam approaching the tower where Frodo is held.  There is also a tiny bit more dialog between Frodo and Sam as they enter Mordor.

Aragorn challenges Sauron in the Palantir in Minas Tirith, shows his sword.

Aragorn sees Arwen, and the Evenstar pendant falls and breaks on the marble floor.

Faramir courts Eowyn.

Frodo and Sam are forced into a line of Orcs that marches for the Black Gate and are whipped.  Frodo has Sam start a fight and they are able to escape.  They start to climb up the slopes of Mt.  Doom. Frodo talks of the weight of the Ring.  They dump the extra armor.

At the Black Gate, the Mouth of Sauron shows Frodo’s mail.  Pippin cries, and Gandalf  is near to crying himself. Aragorn decapitates the Mouth, and says he will not believe it.  Eomer with Merry, Gandalf with Pippin, and Aragorn return to the line as the army of Orcs appears.

Aragorn gives his awesome Men of the West speech.

Gollum attacks Frodo and nearly kills him. Gollum bites Sam. Frodo runs up the side of  Mt Doom alone.

Aragorn goes down at the Battle before the Black Gate.

Screen blacks out as Frodo says, “I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things,” before Gandalf comes to the rescue with the Eagles.

The end is the same as in the shorter version, as is the Fate of the Ring.  But the film is satisfying, though long. The break between part one and two is welcome and helpful. I even found myself watching some of the extra features immediately after seeing the film yesterday because I wanted more — which is the same feeling one gets when reading the books. I really think Peter Jackson did the best he possibly could. The cast is absolutely brilliant. New Zealand is the perfect place to use for filming Middle-Earth. The effects, including new ones developed for the films are top-notch, but seamless — one doesn’t sit in a movie theater or at home watching the films thinking, “oh, what a nice special effect”.  Great care was given in adapting the novels, and though one can quibble about this or that, I think Peter Jackson did the best he could, and created a nearly perfect adaptation and visualization of the books.

Film is a different medium than the written word, and that changes how storytelling is done.  Also, hopefully, many of the films’ legions of fans picked up and read the books, or re-read them if they had read Lord of the Rings before.  Overall, I can’t complain too much because I really, really love the films, and the books as well.

Recommendation:  See it!  If you can add both versions of Return of the King to your DVD Library, but if you must choose only one, choose this one.
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Majestic

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)