Sunday, 9 December 2012

My Favourite Film Series - #2 - THE LORD OF THE RINGS (01-03) *****

"One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them"

As the infamous introduction to one of the most glorious trilogies began, nobody could predict what a phenomenon this particular franchise was going to be. Before the neurotic obsession of the TWILIGHT saga came along, fantasy films had been revived successfully in 2001 with the movie adaptation of the HARRY POTTER series coming to light as well. But a film-maker from New Zealand named Peter Jackson started adapting J.R.R Tolken's tale of wizards, hobbits and elves; THE LORD OF THE RINGS which back in the late 1970s, already had an animated film version which received mixed reviews. But once FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) came to the core, it overshadowed the first Harry Potter film in terms of critical acclaim producing an adventure film that had emotion and beauty to help it become known to the world. A marvelous 18 Oscars (from 29 Oscar nominations) were awarded to the trilogy over the course of three years, the fact that Jackson and his team made the trilogy and released them in the space of that time was something not acheived by a franchise in film history. My love for cinema was enlightened by the viewing of these films on the big screen, particuarly RETURN OF THE KING (2003) though my first screening of the film was spoilt by a couple of chavvy lads from my high school *cough* Jake Evason *cough*. However watching it second time around was worth it for being a quiet cinema and an experience never to forget with such a tremendous trilogy. Of course, that notion has been further helped by the extended versions of all three films which make them much better adding more background information from the books to the film, to watch those versions of the big screen would be a sight to behold!

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) ****(1/2)

"Its power corrupts all who desire it. Only one has the will to resist it. A Fellowship of nine must destroy it"

Back in 2001, my passion for film was still not ignited despite the likes of A BEAUTIFUL MIND, MOULIN ROUGE! and SHREK which all did very well that year (though I was to watch them later in time). But when HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE came out in November, the adrenaline of watching an exciting fantasy film made me start to look forward to films again. But it was a month later where it all got interesting, as a certain film involving hobbits, men, wizards, elves, dwarfs and orcs would overshadow the success of Potter and begin a trilogy that would change epic films forever....

The adventure begins with a narrative from the elvish queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) explaining how the One Ring was made by the dark lord Sauron in Mordor to spread evil across the fantasy world of Middle-Earth. However his plans were foiled when men and elves combined a mass army to overcome his orcs as he himself was defeated by the king's son Isilidur. Unfortunately the ring's evil took over Isilidur who failed to rid Middle-Earth of the ring and he kept it for himself. Eventually it betrayed him and ended up in the hands of a gangly creature called Gollum (Andy Serkis) whose mind was poisoned by the ring. But it was then picked up by a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) who took it back to his home in the Shire, a place occupied by other hobbits. Into the present day with Bilbo preparing to celebrate his birthday with a big party, the arrival of his old wizard friend Gandalf (Ian McKellen) visits him but it is clear that Bilbo has plans to leave the Shire. After exiting his party in magical fashion, Bilbo departs altogether but leaves the ring to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) who is unaware of what the ring has done to Bilbo. Gandalf tries to find out information about the ring discovering that it is in fact the One Ring and that it must be hidden from Sauron's forces. He instructs Frodo to leave the Shire knowing that Sauron's servants are trying to claim the ring back, and is joined on the journey by his gardener Samwise Gangee (Sean Astin). Gandalf seeks the assistance of his fellow wizard ally Saruman (Christopher Lee) at Isengaard to help with the situation but soon it becomes clear that Saruman has turned to the dark side and imprisons Gandalf. In the meantime Frodo and Sam are accompanied by fellow hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) to try to meet Gandalf at a pub but on the way narrowly avoid the servants. When they get to the pub, they come across a mysterious ranger called Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) who helps the hobbits try to get to the elvish city Rivendell.
The journey becomes perilous when the servants confront the hobbits on a mounted hill leading to Frodo being stabbed by a mortal blade. Luckily an elvish princess named Arwen (Liv Tyler) attempts to carry the wounded hobbit to her city though eventually manages to overcome the servants with the help of a gigantic wave of water. Frodo recovers in Rivendell to find Gandalf there and is also introduced to the Elvish lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) who is Arwen's father. She it emerges is in love with AragornIsilidur's heir). The main factor though is that the ring cannot stay in Rivendell and instead a meeting is formed involving men, elves and dwarfs to discuss the plan about what to do with the ring. The clear fact is the ring must be destroyed by being thrown in the fires of Mount Doom which is situated in Mordor. After much arguing, Frodo believes it is his destiny to take the ring and have it destroyed. However Gandalf, Aragorn, Sam, Merry and Pippin offer him their services to escort him to Mordor with elvish warrior Legolas (Orlando Bloom), stubborn dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Gondor man Boromir (Sean Bean) also forming the Fellowship. The group begin their quest towards Mordor but find themselves facing more perilous dangers with Saruman determined to end it abruptly including spying birds and treacherous blizzards. They soon make the decision to enter the cave city of Moria but they still aren't out of trouble as they end up being confronted by an army of orcs and a cave troll. Even after overcoming them, they still face the greatest danger of a hellish beast known as The Balrog leading to the tragic death of one of the Fellowship. The quest must continue despite the setback and they soon come across the elvish queen Galadriel who foresees what will happen to the group through friendship and betrayal. This makes its impact in the film's final 30 minutes which sees Saruman's army of Urik-Hai warriors confront the Fellowship in the woods leading to another major face-off and causing the team to be split up, making way for the sequel........

The Lord of the Rings is a fairy-tale of myth and fantasy. Peter Jackson directed a film that was considered, for a very long time, impossible to make, and not only for technical reasons. The narrative roots are incredibly long and detailed, and the storyline is deeply connected with the creation of a fantastic continent from a time unknown called `Middle Earth'. It's author, Tolkien, dedicated a considerable part of his life developing this continent's background, it's mythology and origins, it's different kinds of people, cultures and languages, and therefore it's geographic references are determined to the unfolding of the story of the One Ring. Never losing pace, the writing and direction is flawless, making for one enthralling introduction into Middle-earth. The voice over prologue from Blanchett fills even the most uneducated audience member with all the necessary knowledge they need to know in order to understand our heroes' and villains' motives. The story, sets, costumes & visual effects are so rich, you'll have to see the film several times to absorb everything. The unspoiled New Zealand location is spectacular, providing a variety of environments to represent the different settings on the characters' journey. They are also imaginative and detailed, adding to their beauty, while the studio sets match them in such tenacity. The costumes are at once familiar & strange, drawing on both the medieval & the fantastic, but more important, they're also functional & practical. The Howard Shore score is lovely, and its simple themes are used to great effect throughout all three movies. The musical collaborations improvising on Shore's basic themes are great, and are never weighed down by star-power.
 

The cast also deserves its notice for such an epic fantasy film. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd are career-best as the four hobbits, the most vulnerable members of the Fellowship, therefore the ones we care about the most; Viggo Mortensen is very convincing as the conflicted Aragorn; Ian McKellen gives Gandalf the Grey the warmth and wisdom he deserves (and an Oscar nod for McKellen), while Christopher Lee is the only actor who could play the deceitful Saruman. The likes of Liv Tyler (never looked more beautiful), Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm and Sean Bean also portray their roles with such solidarity and play their characters as you could imagine. Nobody mis-steps, and it is clear from the beginning that the entire cast was completely engaged with the task before them. Each actor is that character, making it seem impossible to imagine anyone else fill that person's boot. One could weep with our heroes should one fall, or feel inspired when they achieve victory. A fantasy with this much emotion just seems surreal, but it's completely believable.
Many believe this is the best of the trilogy but I am in complete opposite. The issue that many raise is that this is not a faithful adaptation of the book which may frustrate die-hard fans of the books (this is also apparent in Two Towers and King). However omissions and changes are always part of adapting a book to film, and the ones made by Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens and Fran Walsh are justifiable in every way. Some may argue, that the lack of epic fight scenes aside from the opening battle at Mount Doom and the climatic battle, does take a bit of the excitement away for younger who would need patience when watching an action film with consistent dialogue. This does not detract the film as a whole, and Peter Jackson went out to achieve the impossible and came out with a recreation of the original that is pure and true to the story in every detail. The film is a masterpiece from start to finish. Yes, it does take perseverance and it's not entirely faithful to Tolkien's work but Jackson has taken on a huge task, and has dealt with it with breathtaking success leading on to the two even more extraordinary sequels.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (2002) ****(1/2)

"All will be sacrificed... All will be lost... Unless all unite against evil"


Having watched Fellowship of the Ring the year before, I had started to embrace the prospect of watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy and after watching the trailer for THE TWO TOWERS (2002) earlier that year (complete with the famous Requiem for a Tower music), the anticipation built up, perhaps due to the fact there was to be more action (Helm's Deep) and new characters (King Theoden, Eowyn, Faramir etc). But while many consider this film the weakest of the trilogy, I was wholly fanatic about it, proclaiming it as even better than Fellowship, and this was a sequel that deserved recognition even more.


Following the break-up of the fellowship from the first film i.e. Boromir's death, Merry and Pippin's kidnapping, it is left to the remaining members to carry on with the objective. Hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) carry on their journey to Mordor to rid of the One Ring but soon realise they are being followed. The stalker is gangly creature Gollum (Andy Serkis), the previous owner of the ring who is intent on reclaiming his beloved 'precious'. Despite Sam's disapproval, Frodo seeks Gollum's help with leading the pair to Mount Doom and so the quest continues. Meanwhile Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) try to track down the army of Urik-Hai who snatched Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) in Rohan, but their initial journey looks to have failed when the pair are feared to have been killed during an attack in the night by Rohirum soldiers led by captain Eomer (Karl Urban). Fortunately the hobbits escaped the attack by crawling into Fangorn Forest where living trees roam the woods. The trio get an even bigger shock when they are confronted by the feared-dead Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who has been reincarnated as a white wizard and has a new objective for the trio with Merry and Pippin both safe. They are to travel to the city of Rohan where its king Theoden (Bernard Hill) has had his mind manipulated by Saruman (Christopher Lee) and squire Grima (Brad Dourif). The arrival of the four proves significant as Gandalf releases Theoden from his spell, who then banishes Grima from the city. However it is expected that Saruman will plan an attack on Rohan and so, Theoden leads his people to the fortress of Helm's Deep as safety but clearly the place has its flaws as Isengard prepares to unleash an army of 10, 000 Urik-Hai to begin Sauron's campaign to rid the world of Men. Gandalf seeks to track down Eomer and his army of Rohirrum soldiers to assist in the battle.


Throughout the film, the focus of the three groups of the Fellowship transcends along the narrative. Frodo learns about Gollum's past (his real name being Smeagol) and soon he respects his master's wish despite his schizophrenic mind affecting his aim to try and get the ring back. The trio's journey into Mordor becomes more enticing when a group of Gondorian men led by captain Faramir (David Wenham) capture them and seeks to know about their plan. We learn he is in fact the brother of the late Boromir (Sean Bean), and he is determined to prove his worth as a man of Gondor but fails to realise the cost the ring has had on others. This is apparent when Smeagol is left hurt by Frodo's so-called betrayal which makes things turn dark in the climax of the film. Merry and Pippin meanwhile, are kept in Fangorn Forest by the leader of the Ents; Treebeard (voiced by Rhys-Davies) but the hobbits plead for the trees to help with the war as they are part of Middle-Earth. Ultimately their involvement becomes key in the final half-hour of the film. The Rohirrum survive their journey to Helm's Deep, though Aragorn manages to survive an attack by Saruman's army of wolves. He faces up to the prospect of being the King of Gondor but also yearns for the love of Elvish princess Arwen (Liv Tyler) whose father Elrond (Hugo Weaving) fears that she'll be left broken-hearted if she remains at Middle-Earth. Aragorn is also unaware that Theoden's niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto) has developed feelings for him but she too fears that she'll live to an old age of being alone but plans to show fighting spirit (as proven in the final film). The traumas are put behind as Saruman's army of Urik-Hai arrive at Helm's Deep with Men and Elves joining forces to try and at least win a war to ensure Middle-Earth will not be overshadowed. The question though remains for the film's heroes; will Helm's Deep (and the heroes there) hold out against such a monstrous army? Can Frodo, Sam and Smeagol get away from the doomed Gondor camp and continue their quest? And will Merry and Pippin convince the Ents to help take down Saruman and Isengard? All this excitement builds for an excellent conclusion to the trilogy!

After Fellowship, the world wondered if Peter Jackson could sustain the momentum. The Two Towers is the shortest segment and the story is split into parallel tales. More characters enter the story, including one of the most important. Can Jackson do it? Of course he can. The opening scene of The Two Towers provides an outstanding, yet very brief, taste of action, cinematography, and special effects, only to be matched (and far surpassed) in the final hour of the film. The stunning events of the third hour of The Two Towers are undoubtedly the centerpiece of the film, and while the first two hours serve finely as story development, they primarily build anticipation for the final hour, which mostly depicts the battle of Helm's Deep. More than anything else, the first two hours merely tease and torment the patient audience. The battle of Helm's Deep is simply unreal; it's unlike any event that has come to pass since fantasy films gained, and regained, popularity. As was The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers is a visual delight. Those who have seen Fellowship are no doubt familiar with the beauty of the landscapes of New Zealand. The cinematography is, again, one of the best aspects of the film. Composer Howard Shore equals Fellowship of the Ring, as the music for The Two Towers is nothing short of awe-inspiring. From the theme of Rohan to the thundering might of Isengard, The Two


The cast is practically the same and there are some who improve a lot in this edition. Elijah Wood doesn't add much to his role but there are signs that Frodo is starting to crack as proven in the climax. Sean Astin as Sam delivers a good supportive role set up nicely for the final film where he steals the show. Viggo Mortensen goes from strength to strength as he gives another strong heroic performance. Mortensen's Aragorn is sensitive, warmer and more human, and yet super-human in presence and charisma. There is a perfect mix of humor in the film given by the characters Gimli (Rhys-Davies), and Legolas (Bloom), while still keeping the viewer in understanding that these are very darkened times. Ian McKellen's return as Gandalf, has been somewhat reduced in the second film but instead he steals every scene he is in. Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd provide delightful comic relief when together, compelling character development when apart. The other cast members from the first film including Tyler, Weaving and Lee all deliver as usual. Most significantly, Faramir (David Wenham) is given a back-story that makes clearer his motivations, a good role for Wenham. The newly-introduced characters are no less three-dimensional than their more familiar counterparts: Brad Dourif as Grima Wormtongue, Saruman's grovelling, serpentine apprentice is played with such chills by Dourif; Miranda Otto as Eowyn, a noblewoman lusting for glory and as gorgeous as her female co-stars and Bernard Hill as Theoden who is possessed by the treacherous hand of Isengard, but Hill shows experience with his defiance to help his people. But of the newcomers in this film it is Gollum who shines in a much-welcomed large role, due to extremely realistic computer animation, and a fine performance from Andy Serkis, upon which the animation was modeled. However, here he is more of a leading character and a 'star', and his convincing double-personality, stabbing voice, and well-choreographed body movements make him consistently eye-grabbing and the center of focus of nearly every scene in which he appears.

Of course there are flaws at the time despite the amazing onscreen visuals but there is one major criticism you can level at The Two Towers, and that`s a lack of an emotional impact . Yes you`ll gasp and cheer and feel your heart race but you won`t burst into tears. Remember the scenes in the first film involving the deaths of Gandalf and Boromir? Of course you do because these two scenes are amongst the most moving and heart wrenching in cinema history. Unfortunately there is no similar equivalent in The Two Towers. As well as that, there was the controversial decision (which angered die-hard fans) to cut out the Shelob sequences and place it in the final film, but considering how long and jam-packed this edition was, it's the best decision Jackson had to make. In size and scale, Peter Jackson has truly redefined the word "epic" and he also pays attention to the small things that truly elevate this movie from great to amazing.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003) *****

"One film to rule them all"


As the tag line confirms, this is truly my all time favorite film and proves that no matter how many others I'll watch, they'll never be as grand nor adventurous or even loved as the climatic part of Peter Jackson's epic fantasy trilogy THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Having been left satisfied by FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) and then mesmerized by THE TWO TOWERS (2002) I was preparing myself for the end of a cinematic phenomenon which had made such a crucial impact on my life in terms of my love for film. When the trailer for RETURN OF THE KING (2003) came out earlier that year, I was overly ecstatic about how it would turn out and come December afternoon, I was treated to three and a half hours of pure entertainment and a real roller coaster of a film. The effect of it proved crucial and soon I was watching other epic films including LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962), GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) and BEN-HUR (1959) and that is the story of how my film passion came alive, one journey ended, another was about to be begin!


Concluding the trilogy, the final installment begins with a flashback sequence revealing just how Smeagol (Andy Serkis) came to own the One Ring, turning out that he killed his friend who found it and was banished to the mountains where the ring messed up his mind. In the present day, Smeagol's intentions is to reclaim the ring from hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) by betraying them to a mysterious creature in a tunnel near Mordor. But his twin personality with Gollum sees Sam overhear his plot and tries to expose him but Frodo insists that they need Smeagol to carry on leading them to Mount Doom, and so the journey continues. Meanwhile Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), King Theoden (Bernard Hill) and Eomer (Karl Urban) are reunited with Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) at Isengard which was overthrown in the previous film by the Ents. Saruman (Christopher Lee) is trapped at the top of his tower but refuses to help the group with information about Sauron's plans and ends up being killed by his henchman Grima (Brad Dourif). However Pippin finds Saruman's plantir 



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