I believe it was a blessing in disguise that I was fortunate enough to be born during an era where the most incredible, the most epic, and the most powerful set of films was made and released. However, when Peter Jackson’s incredible Lord of the Rings trilogy was released in 2001, 2002, and 2003, I was too young to see them in theaters (although, my father did take me Return of the King). But I grew up watching the films, so artfully made, with a scale so grand it could make your eyes bulge, at home on DVD. Jackson released his extended cuts of each film after six or so months after their theatrical releases. I’ve come to know the extended edits so well, I barely recall their theatrical counterparts. I’ve seen the films so many times; I can say the lines along with the characters.
The films have had enormous impact on our culture, just as the books by JRR Tolkien had had when they were released. Some of the most indelible scenes in cinema are features in the trilogy. In honor of the release of the extended Edition Blu-ray sets, all three films, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, were released in theaters in their extended form in new high definition transfer. It was the first time the extended editions would be seen on the big screen. It was scheduled as a special three night event; three consecutive Tuesdays for each of the three films. The results were insane.
The Fellowship of the Ring
Fellowship is probably the film I know the best, having seen it dozens and dozens of times. I was introduced to the series when the film was released on video. My mother is a big fan of the books and was wary of the films. But when she saw it, as much of a purist as she was, she was astounded by its technical superiority and incredible storytelling. For all of its fallacies, it had passed my mother’s approval. And as a bibliophile, it’s sometimes hard for her to accept film adaptations of her most beloved books. But she was completely in adoration of Peter Jackson’s technique and the setting and the cinematography. Tolkien’s unfilmable work was translated to the screen fantastically. (Her one qualm was the exclusion of the character Tom Bombadil, a character that was deemed “too complicated” by its writers and director.) Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens had done an excellent job. Its weaknesses were mainly paced based, but since the book and the film serve as appetizers for its main course (Two Towers and return of the King), as in introduction to story, characters, main conflicts, etc., there’s a reason why the pace would be inconsistent and somewhat unfocused. But as much as I loved watching it at home, seeing it on the big screen was an entirely new experience. The cast is excellent, of course, with Sean Astin and Viggo Martinson doing a great sob as Sam Gamgee and Aragorn, respectively. Elijah Wood’s Frodo is emotive and powerful in his “moving moments”, but his thinly veiled accent can be annoying. However, it does not mar the film in the least. The new high definition transfer was, in a word, exquisite. Every cloth had texture, every face had detail, every hair could be seen, and every setting had depth. The extraordinary cinematography that’s in all of the films, directed by Andrew Lesnie, was the most awesome thing on the screen. This film had some color coding difference from the previous version, but, for me, it was a good thing. Hues in the sky were truer and more vibrant, color schemes and pallets (greens, yellows, bluish greys) were sharper. Everything improvement that could be made on the master, was. Sound was particularly impressive, as dialogue was crisp, and the astounding sound effects that made up Middle Earth rocked the theater. The shrieks of the Nazgul were ear splitting. I’m not even joking. The prologue was probably my favorite part of the remaster, as every part of it seemed even more realistic and extreme, in the best way. Cate Blanchet’s powerful voice boomed over the surround sound, and seeing it all in the theater gave depth and meaning to every frame of the film. This, I would learn, would be true of the next two releases. It’s rollicking and impressive remaster made probably the most cinematic experience I’ve ever had.
The Two Towers
I would say that I am equally familiar with the dialogue of the more focused, although slightly slower second entry in the trilogy. This film is where most of the action occurs. But it also has the introduction of one of the most complex, interesting, evil, and villainous characters to ever grace the screen: Gollum. Andy Serkis’s flawless Gollum/Sméagol makes him one of the most underrated actors portraying one of the most fantastical characters in all of cinema. Never has such scorn, complex emotion, and subtle nuance been shown on screen in the form of this kind of evil. And, given the technology advances since 2002, including the release of the mega-CGI-created-blockbuster Avatar, Gollum stands up extremely well against any Na’avi. The slight emotional changes and nuances are all there, which makes the madness of Gollum even more powerful, wicked, and compelling. The detail in his skin and eyes is astounding. And this upgrade in definition and power in the character of Gollum makes my favorite scene seem even more incredible: the Gollum versus Sméagol argument. Whispering every line under my breath, I watched as the poisonous character argues with himself. The emotional complexity of his character is heightened as well as its existential meaning of internal conflict. It makes for an incredible scene. But The Two Towers disappointed in one part. While the news high definition transfer was just as stunning and detailed as that of its predecessor, the scenes in Rohan seemed a little lackluster. Perhaps it was the natural lighting of the location in New Zealand, but, just as on the standard definition DVDs, it seemed bleak and boring. But perhaps it could be merely a representation of the aging city of Rohan and its lackluster quality in general, which is regained after the battle of Helm’s Deep, after ages of the throne being controlled by Saruman. I give kudos to Miranda Otto, who plays my favorite female character in the trilogy (not that there are many to begin with, but all three prevalent women are amazing) Eowyn. Her very strong, feministic qualities aren’t overbearing, but make for an interesting and unique character. Otto kind of looks like Laura Linney. The epic battles at Helm’s Deep and Isengaurd are some of the most incredible battles scenes ever. This would only prepare us for the mind-blowing third act finale.
The Return of the King
The final film in the trilogy is at points the most powerful and the most melodramatic and the longest. There were no intermissions in the previous two films, and this one was no exception. But it was a perfect ending, regardless. The Battle for Middle-Earth came to a climax and the most eye-popping and intense scenes of the trilogy are featured here. The new transfer made it all seem more surreal. When Frodo is battling against the giant arachnid Shelob, it literally wanted to make me throw up. I don’t normally have any fear of spiders in general. But seeing a huge eight legged freak on an even larger screen was too realistic and too nauseating. And I jumped several feet in the air when Shelob stings him. Looking into the eye of Saur on in high definition makes one’s body quiver with fear, and blows one away. As powerful as the film is, it gets to be a bit melodramatic. The meaningful moments between Frodo and Sam seem increasingly laced with unintentional homoerotic subtext. Wood’s baby blue eyes stare with melancholy into the camera and Astin cries and it just gets too much. I suppose it’s understandable, since it’s the ending of the series, but it’s really annoying at times. One of the best scenes is from Billy Boyd, the scene stealing Scot who plays the rambunctious hobbit Merry Took. Before the Seward of Gondor and as the men of Gondor ride off to be inevitably defeated by Orcs, Boyd sings a beautiful and haunting song, from Tolkien’s poem “A Walking Song”. Intercut with the Orcs preparing to unleash their carnage, and the men riding to their death, and the Steward of Gondor feasting on food, it makes for a gorgeous scene. And as the films comes to an end, tears will fall and it remains one of the best films ever made, sweeping the Oscars with eleven wins, including Best Picture. It’s an eloquent end to a stunning trilogy, a feat of enormous talent in filmmaking.
We all know that The Lord of the Rings, though only a decade old, has earned its places amongst the best films ever made, like Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur, but to see it on the screen in a new transfer is an incredible, breathtaking experience. The new transfers are positively gorgeous, with details seen that have never been possible. The films will remain seminal classics for their groundbreaking, visual storytelling. It’s a real shame that this was a very limited engagement, but I was fortunate enough to see all three. The experience, as are the films themselves, was spellbinding!
Two Towers: B+
Return of the King: A-
Transfer and Sound: A+
Overall Experience: A++