Saturday, 8 October 2011

100 Days, 100 Films; Day 100 - Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

#1 - Lord of the Rings: Return of the King:

Well here we are at the very end of the challenge. I’m sure some of you saw this coming and I’m sure some were expecting something else, and I’m sure they fall into the category of those who weren’t paying attention when I said I’ve never seen Star Wars. Now what else could the number 1 spot be taken by really? I’ll admit that I wasn’t that into the Lord of the Rings hype in the winter of 2001 though I thought it looked like a fun movie and I liked it when I saw it in the cinema. I honestly actually thought there was only going to be one film and that the end of Fellowship just implied Frodo would destroy the ring eventually. The obsession train for me kicked in about a few months after the film came out. A combination of video games and my brother reading all about everything and of course making me listen to him turned me into a fan. I saw the second and third films twice in the cinema, I started subscribing to the magazines and I even collected a few figurines. For months after the last film came out I was obsessed with all things Lord of the Rings. Now I thought about adding the whole trilogy to the list but ultimately I decided to let the best film represent them all.

The plot kicks into gear right after the end of Two Towers with the two separate groups on their merry ways. Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf and the rest of the Rohan army all arrive in Isengaard to meet up with Merry and Pippin while Frodo, Sam and Gollum get closer to Mordor. Pippin discovers one of Saruman’s seeing stones and is silly enough to take a look which causes him to have something of a personal one-to-one with Sauron. Luckily  he catches a glimpse of the Dark Lord’s plan – he and Gandalf ride towards Gondor into the city of Minas Tirith to warn them against the approaching attack. The Rohan army prepares to ride in to help Gondor but Aragorn knows they are outnumbered against all the Orcs so he takes Legolas and Gimli into a haunted mountain in hopes of recruiting an army of ghosts cursed for not fulfilling an oath to his grandfather in their lifetimes. Meanwhile Sam continues to mistrust Gollum, for good reason, as the conniving little creature is leading him and Sam into a trap. A trap known as a deadly giant spider by the name of Shelob. Frodo, being the paragon of purity and goodness, is determined to trust Gollum. Also, in a small plotline, Arwen refuses to go to the ships leaving Middle Earth after she captures a glimpse of her possible future with Aragorn. As a result she is revealed to be dying, her fate tied to the fate of the ring.

I really don’t know what there is to say about Lord of the Rings that hasn’t already been said. The project was a huge gamble and the result ended up shaping the future of cinema forever. The entire trilogy was shot non-stop over a two year period in New Zealand, as well as additional reshoots that had to be done months after the first film opened up.
There were thousands of extras used, millions of costumes created and let’s not even mention the work that went into creating all the unique locations. I mean all of Bag-End had to be built from scratch over a year. Of course the sets I found most impressive were those of Rohan and Rivendell. Rohan, specifically the city of Edoras, draws heavily from Viking and Norse culture to give a very warrior nation feel to it. There isn’t a large amount of finery even in the throne room and so you do get the impression that this particular kingdom isn’t the type to indulge in all the pleasures of being royalty. Rivendell on the other hand has a Celtic mythology vibe to it in all its architecture. In contrast to Rohan, it’s a peaceful place and is one of the most beautiful locations created for the film. I might be the only one here but I got a distinct autumn vibe from it. The city of Minas Tirith is also quite a sight to behold as well as the city of the dead that only gets about five minutes of screen time. And when you get into all the natural locations used you really do appreciate that this trilogy was probably the best promotion the New Zealand tourist board ever had. I do want to applaud Richard Taylor and WETA Workshop for all the work they did on the films, creating all the armour, weapons and miniatures but I’m sure the folks at the Academy Awards did that just fine for everyone else, considering the film series as a whole has a record for winning 17 out of 30 nominations.

Ah the cast. Much like Aliens this will take some time and you will be shocked to discover that the only acting nomination in the whole series went to Ian McKellen. Of course this would probably be less about an award snub and more about not knowing who to give the nomination to. And really the film got enough nominations so it’s best to not worry too much about it. Anyway yes Ian McKellen plays Gandalf the wizard and becomes him. I never read the books that much (I tried after I saw the films) but I don’t think anyone else could have played Gandalf that way. And it’s always great whenever Sir Ian plays a good guy. Elijah Wood deserves a round of applause for convincing the casting directors to go against their plan to cast only British actors as the Hobbits after his audition tape. Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys Davies and Orlando Bloom make a great three man band and gel so well together that some of my favourite parts of the series involve those three characters interacting. I remember when I first saw the films me and my brother thought Bloom was the coolest because he played Legolas. Times changed of course. Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan make a great comic double act as Pippin and Merry but they do serious stuff really well when the scenes call for it. And when they get separated, you know things are going to get really serious. Although he technically doesn’t appear in this film, this series introduced me to Sean Bean and I’ve been a fan ever since. Andy Serkis of course helped revolutionise cinema with his portrayal of Gollum which indeed laid the foundations for the Na’vi in Avatar.

For the second set of cast members we have Liv Tyler getting a huge upgrade from the source material where Arwen was just a background character and most of her back story was included in the appendices of the books, to give a nice enjoyable performance as well as the romance being more developed. Our other kick ass heroine is Miranda Otto playing the Rated F For Feminist Eowyn but I think when a twelve-year-old boy is cheering at her awesome moment you’re definitely doing something right. Again Christopher Lee doesn’t actually appear in this film but you can’t not mention him especially when he’s the only cast member who’s actually met JRR Tolkien. Hugo Weaving is equally awesome as Elrond even if he doesn’t get to kick ass in more than one film. His scenes with Arwen are particularly touching. Cate Blanchett is used sparingly but it’s still more than she got in the book. But was I the only one who found her a tad creepy when she showed up to help Frodo with Shelob? Two words: Uncanny Valley. Bernard Hill and Karl Urban don’t really have that much to do as Theoden and Eomer but of course the film wouldn’t be complete without them and Hill makes his performance memorable with his epic pre-battle speech. I guess I’ve gone far enough without mentioning Sean Astin. I seem to flip-flop on his performance whenever I watch the films but since it is number 1 this time I will give him praise even if I still don’t know what the hell his accent is supposed to be.

Of course the best scene has to be the battle of Pelennor Fields which will go down as one of the most epic cinematic fantasy battles in history. Topping Helm’s Deep was a hard feat to accomplish but they knocked it right out of the water with this battle and I remember being twelve years old and my jaw slowly dropping when I watched this in the cinema. I think it even happened when I saw it the second time as well. We have the brilliant and hilarious competition going on between Legolas and Gimli, the Army of the Dead showing up just in the nick of time and of course Eowyn’s Crowning Moment of Awesome where she stands against the Witch King and it doesn’t end well for him.
My brother seemed a little pissed that there was a loophole in how he could be killed but I always figured it as nobody ever bothering to try stabbing him in the face. The other big scene that pops out is Shelob’s lair where Frodo has to run through webs and dead creatures trying to escape that monstrous spider. I’m deathly afraid of the eight-legged horrors but I’m still able to watch that scene in its entirety. And it definitely got me liking Sam again even if the best insult he can throw at her is “you filth” though I suppose “you bitch” was already taken. Now for the dramatic scenes, of which there are just too many to describe in detail such as the touching scene in Rivendell between Arwen and Elrond, Gandalf telling Pippin that death is not the end, Theoden telling Eowyn he would see her smile, Sam and Frodo on the rocks of Mt Doom and of course the entire ending. I don’t care if it dragged out because you couldn’t have ended it any other way. And I loved the end credits sequence as well with the illustrations of the actors.

So there you have it. 100 days clocked with 100 films. Hopefully I got in an entire range of genres and didn’t keep it limited to just British or American films. I nodded to some European films and took a couple of visits to our friends in Asia. I even made sure the folks that make animated films weren’t left out. I’m sure a lot of you didn’t agree with my choices, especially this for number one since Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Star Wars didn’t make my list but I’ll see them if or when I feel I want to. You saw some of my favourite plots, directors, actors and types of scenes as well as getting a few semi-interesting stories of my experiences watching all the films. I don’t really know what I’m going to do without these entries to write every day but I guess I’ll think of something. I am open to taking suggestions as to what film I’m going to watch tonight though. And if you haven’t followed me yet on Twitter I’ll just assume for now that you’re not going to so I’ll bid sayonara to you guys until I can think of another reason to type random junk for the world to read.

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