Let me start by saying this: The Lord of the Rings is the best movie trilogy of all time. It represents a coming together of the perfect story, the perfect script, the perfect director to make the films, the perfect cast all suited to their roles, the perfect technology becoming available (or being developed) on cue, and all coming together at the perfect time.
As a collection, the three movies can be called the best trilogy ever, but you can also easily make a case for any one of the three to be called the best individual movie of all time.
Everything about the movies is as close to perfect as you can possibly get – and I’m not just saying this because I watched all three Extended Edition DVDs in a single sitting on Tuesday. You read that right: after over 13 hours of viewing I’m knackered and totally “ringed” out if you know what I mean. Some highlights from the 13 hours and 25 minutes of viewing:
– Getting to 11.45pm, when Return of the King finished, and realising I had done absolutely nothing all day – I mean nothing! I started watching Fellowship of the Ring at 10.20am!
– The look on my sisters face when she came in and saw me watching Return of the King on one screen and playing Virtual Ping Pong on the other screen.
– Noticing things I never noticed before, like the strange pseudo-homo relationship between Sam and Frodo … oh, hang on. I did notice that before.
Anyway, everyone knows the basic story of Lord of the Rings: a magic and powerful ring found by hobbit Bilbo Baggins needs to be destroyed when it becomes the final piece needed by the evil Lord Sauron in his bid to take over all of Middle Earth. The ring is entrusted to Bilbo’s nephew Frodo, who is sent with friends Sam, Pippin and Merry, wizard Gandalf, elf Legolas, dwarf Gimli, and men Boromir and Aragorn, as part of a fellowship of 9 companions to destroy the ring in the volcanic Mount Doom, which sits in the middle of Sauron’s land, Mordor. After the fellowship is broken and Boromir dies, Aragorn travels with Legolas and Gimli, under the lead of Gandalf, to help the people of Rohan and claim his rightful place as the king of Gondor. As Frodo and Sam get closer to the end of their mission to destroy the one ring, with ex-ringbearer and schizophrenic Gollum as their guide, Sauron begins his final war with the men of Middle Earth and the story reaches its natural climax.
(Yes, I wrote that entirely from memory)
Despite the epic story, one of the things that stuck out to me this time around was how good the minor story lines are – there is literally a raft of underlying tales to be told, none taking the spotlight from the main story, but all equally as engaging and well thought out as it.
Of course, I love to rate things, and make lists, so here are my 5 favourite underlying stories from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in the order in which they appear in the trilogy.
(Plus, it’s been a while since I wrote anything about Rings so it was about time for some incoherent rambling you probably don’t care about. Enjoy!)
1: GANDALF’S TRUE SENSE OF RESTRAINT
Not once could you legitimately say that Gandalf really flexes his wizardry muscles to their full extent. In over 13 hours of film, there are only a few times where Gandalf shows his power for what it is. Most of the time he just takes a back seat and lets the others do the fighting.
I mean, when you look through Gandalf’s big magic scenes, most of them are scenes where he is using his wand as a light (in Moria, during FotR; on Pelennor Fields when he runs out to protect Faramir and his soldiers, in RotK), or creating a protective force field type thing (fighting the Balrog, in FotR; when Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn think he is Saruman, in TTT; when Saruman shoots fire at him, in RotK). We know he can do much more, so why doesn’t he? In fact, not once, not twice but THREE TIMES in the trilogy he does things that show he has a lot more power than he lets on!
The first is in Felloship of the Ring, when he fights Saruman in the black tower of Orthanc – they are throwing each other around the room, and basically giving each other a hiding with their wands, before Saruman eventually wins and Gandalf ends up trapped on top of the tower and has to be rescued by a giant eagle (as you do). Whats to stop him throwing around a few orcs here and there? Surely he could have knocked over those attacking towers things that got orcs over the walls at Minas Tirith during the final movie? Couldn’t he?! Why has this never been investigated?! Does anyone even care?!!
The second is in the Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, during the scene where he is fighting the Balrog. In FotR, he forms that protective field when the Balrog strikes his sword down and nothing happens. This is impressive enough, given the immense size of the Balrog, but it is outdone about halfway through The Two Towers, when we are shown more of the fight between Gandalf and the Balrog, and see G getting his sword charged up by lightning and killing the Balrog with the very next hit (and, as Gandalf says, he “threw down [his] enemy and smote his ruin on the mountainside”). You’re telling me the people of Middle Earth couldn’t have used this kind of help?!
The third scene is during the Return of the King, when the big trolls come charging through the gate. A few minutes later, Pippin has come down to get Gandalf’s help, and we see Gandalf touching enemies with his staff and killing them instantly. Again, this wouldn’t have helped a little earlier in the battle?!
While this isn’t really a minor plot line, it is worth mentioning because it nags at me. If Gandalf has all this power then why does he never use it? Its not like the army of men is heading into certain victory or anything, so why not do a few things to shake things up? I guess we’ll never know.
2: THE LOVE TRIANGLE YOU PROBABLY MISSED
No, I’m not talking about Frodo, Sam and Gollum.
In the appendices of The Return of the King, there is a back story included which outlines how Aragorn came to reside at Rivendell as a child, how he met Arwen, and how they fell in love. Its a pretty standard ‘boy meets elf’ story, so not too much to share there – the main point is, they’re as good as engaged, and they get married at the end of RotK.
So when Eowyn meets Aragorn, on his arrival at Edoras in the Two Towers, and instantly falls in love with him (but then, how could you not), it adds a new facet to the story. Several things happen which make Aragorn seem as though he is leading her on:
– The scene where they have a little bit of swordplay in the hall at Edoras, and they may as well be flirting. This actually comes across as one of the most awkward flirting scenes in movie history and it goes without saying that Peter Jackson can’t direct romance.
– The scene when the wargs attack, and Aragorn rides off, but before he goes he hesitates and looks round at Eowyn before he leaves.
– The scene where Aragorn drinks from the cup Eowyn offers him, which really was as good as sealing the deal to get married and have babies (at least in Eowyn’s psycho mind).
– The scene where Aragorn finds Eowyn sleeping in the main hall next to the fire, covers her up with her blanket again, and comforts her while she explains her dream to him. Honestly, he may as well just have jumped under the blanket with her … not!
… and all this time Arwen is at home in Rivendell, not suspecting anything, and getting closer and closer to death. To paraphrase Michael Moore: Shame on you Mr Aragorn! Shame on you!
Actually, my favourite bit of this bizarre sub-plot is when Aragorn explains that he can’t get involved with Eowyn (“it is but a shadow and a thought that you love; I cannot give you what you seek”) and drops her like Lennox Lewis fighting an amateur boxer … okay, bad analogy, but you get the point.
Eowyn shacks up with Faramir while they are getting better in the house of healing, so its all ok in the end, right? Right?! Besides, she’s pretty much delusional anyway, so its not Aragorns fault …
3: THE WORST MISTAKE IN THE HISTORY OF BAD MISTAKES
So I’m watching the Return of the King again, and it gets up to the bit where Gollum takes out the elvish bread, crumbles some on Sam’s jacket and then throws the rest over the cliff. Of course Sam wakes up and catches him, then Gollum makes out that Sam has eaten the bread, Sam asks to hold the ring, Frodo tells Sam to leave and heads up the mountain with Gollum.
(queue sound of record scratching to a sudden halt)
Umm … what?!
Actually, I was thinking about this, and wondering what the real world equivalent would be, as far as the relationship and the way it went haywire goes. My best guess? The Brad-Angelina-Jennifer breakup.
It makes perfect sense – Frodo is Brad, the star at the centre of the whole thing, and the object of both Jennifer and Angelina’s affections. Everyone knows he’s carrying all the burden, is probably the most talented, and will eventually have to make the big decision all by himself. Frodo has been with Sam for a while now, and things were pretty serious lately (platonic for Frodo and Sam, romantic for Brad and Jen), but Gollum is on the scene now and Frodo is starting to realise a few things about himself.
Sam is Jennifer – he’s faithful, has stuck by Frodo all the way so far, and would go even further if that is what was required. Sam is content to take a back seat and happy to support Frodo as he tries to fulfill his mission. The only real difference is that Jen was in a bunch of crappy movies while Brad was making blockbusters – at least Sam and Frodo shared some scenes together!
Gollum is Angelina – new on the scene, and telling Frodo exactly what he needs to hear. They’ve been working together to get into Mordor (like Brad and Angelina working on ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ together). Gollum represents what Frodo could become, and knows exactly what Frodo is feeling. But Gollum also represents danger, and Frodo knows deep down that if he sticks with Gollum theres a good chance he may die (just like Brad knows theres a good chance Angelina could kill him in his sleep, take out 30mls of his blood using a syringe, put it inside a locket and hang it round her neck on a silver chain).
Of course Frodo chooses Gollum and heads on up the stairway to almost certain death. The whole world is in shock, wondering why Frodo would do such a thing, and waiting with baited breath for it all to go horribly wrong. Lucky for Frodo, Sam came back for him – that never happened to Brad … at least not yet.
(While we’re here, was there ever a worse romantic decision than trading Jen for Angelina? I mean, Jennifer Aniston is beautiful, stable, happy to support a husband who is more famous than her, and almost certainly a nicer person to be with. Angelina is also attractive, but on the down side she is a certified nutcase, has been married several times already, and has adopted kids from weird countries. In my mind, you’ve gotta go Jen every time … every single last time! Brad, you’re crazy!)
4: THE MADNESS OF LORD DENETHOR
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Denethor is my absolute favourite character in the whole trilogy. He’s a nutbag! Absolutely crazy! Consider the following list of crazy Denethor moments:
1. In The Two Towers, Denethor shows up in a flashback that Faramir is having about when the city of Osgiliath was taken. Boromir and Faramir are celebrating victory, and Denethor shows up to congratulate Boromir. When Boromir tells his father that Faramir was just as big a part of things, Denethor rips into Faramir for having lost the city to start with. Boromir storms off and Denethor follows, continuing his rant about Faramir, and saying the classic line “I know his uses and they are few.”
2. In Return of the King, when Gandalf shows up to talk with Denethor, it turns out Denethor has already foreseen everything that Gandalf is about to tell him, from using the palantir (seeing eye). Denethor also knows of Aragorn and says “Rule of Gondor is MINE!!!”.
3. A few minutes later Faramir arrives back from the city of Osgiliath and his father rips him a new one about letting the city go too easily and being a softy, and referring to him as a ‘wizards pupil’. Denethor is also none too pleased when Faramir tells him of meeting Frodo, and letting the ring go. As you can imagine Denethor is none to happy, and then rips Faramir another new one for trying to appear too “kingly”.
4. Denethor sends Faramir off to take Osgiliath again, despite the fact that the city is completely overrun and Faramir and his men would have no chance. Thus, sending Faramir knowingly into this danger is as good as conspiracy to murder. Plus it leads to the following exchange:
Faramir: You wish now that our places were changed – that I were dead and Boromir had lived.
Denethor: Yes … I wish that.
Faramir: When I return, Father, think better of me.
Denethor: That will depend on the manner of your return.
5. Faramir rides off for Osgiliath, and Denethor makes Pippin sing him a song. Right as the song ends, the arrows are flying towards Faramir and his men, and Denethor is eating a meal of chicken and fresh vegetables. Next time you are watching Return of the King, look for the nice cut when the arrows are about to strike, and the picture cuts to a closeup of Denethor’s mouth as he bites into a nice ripe tomato and the red juice drips down his chin. Truly morbid – thanks Mr Jackson!
6. When Faramir returns to Minas Tirith, Denethor realises what has happened, and decides that all are going to die. Instead of doing something brave, he instead decides that himself and Faramir are going to burn alive “like the heathen kings of old”. After setting the fire and covering himself (and Faramir) in oil, Denethor lights himself, but is thwarted by Pippin and Gandalf, who save Faramir. Denethor escapes, still on fire, and jumps from the pointy bit at the top of Minas Tirith, falling to his death.
As you can see, Denethor is crazy enough that he deserves to be on my list of Top 10 Crazy Guys from a couple of years back. Alas, that list is gone, but Denethors’ legacy can live on.
5: ONE HERO TO RULE THEM ALL … BUT WHO IS IT?!
Frodo and Sam make it to Mordor and destroy the ring. Its a happy ending. Frodo was the ringbearer, and almost died getting rid of the ring – but he wouldn’t have gotten to the end if it weren’t for good old Samwise Gamgee. So who is the hero?
The Case For Frodo: Starting from the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo leaves the shire without really knowing why, escaping the Ringwraiths. He gets stabbed by the lead Ringwraith, and then almost dies on the way to Rivendell. Once there, he volunteers for the job of Ringbearer. He manages to fight off Boromir. He decides to go it alone to Mordor (but ends up taking Sam). He comes up with the idea of using Gollum as a guide. He confronts Faramir, almost loses the ring to the Nazgul, which convinces Faramir to let them go. He makes it to Cirith Ungol, where he manages to escape Shelob (the giant spider) before fighting off Gollum. Despite recently being stabbed and poisoned by a giant spider, he makes it across the plains of Mordor, in plain sight of Sauron, and gets the ring to Mount Doom. After deciding to put the ring on instead of destroying it, Gollum takes it by biting Frodo’s finger off at the knuckle. After Gollum falls into the lava with it, Frodo manages to resist the temptation to jump in after the ring, and instead escapes to a rock on the side of an erupting volcano. He lives on for a few years before being invited to leave Middle Earth with the elves and Gandalf. All in all a pretty heroic effort really.
The Case For Sam: Sam is initially recruited to assist Frodo in his mission to get the ring to Rivendell. He threatens Aragorn when the hobbits think he has taken Frodo. Sam volunteers to accompany Frodo to Mordor, and thus becomes one of the Fellowship. He helps Frodo resist the ring several times. When Frodo decides to go it alone, Sam wades out into deep water to follow him (event though he can’t swim). He has suspicions about Gollum from the very beginning, but trusts Frodo despite them. He goes without food so Frodo can eat. He goes without water so Frodo can drink. He helps Frodo make his way into Mordor, and when Frodo sends him away (after the aforementioned ‘chucking food over cliff’ incident), he realises what has happened. He chases them down, arriving just as Shelob has poisoned Frodo. Sam then fights off, and defeats, the giant spider, but has to hide from some orcs – so he takes the ring and carries it to complete the mission. When he realises that Frodo is still alive, he then takes on a tower full of orcs to get Frodo back. He carries Frodo part way across the plains of Mordor, and fights with Gollum again on the side of Mount Doom. When Frodo almost falls to his death, Sam pulls him back up the cliff, and makes it back outside, where he rests on a rock on the side of an erupting volcano. After the mission is over, Sam becomes mayor of the Shire.
People say there is no Christian parallel in The Lord of the Rings, but here is one example: Frodo couldn’t have done anything he did without Sam, but this wasn’t a mutual arrangement, since Sam would have been fine without Frodo – and this is very reminiscent of the relationship we have with Jesus Christ.
Hence, I think Sam is the real hero.
BONUS: THE TALENTED MR. JACKSON
I just need to weigh in on this topic: I was reading a message board on IMDb.com (great website, by the way) where some people were debating whether Peter Jackson was a talented moviemaker or just a talented director. Those arguing he was not a talented filmmaker were using things like the fact that his work all seems to be based on other works, like the Lord of the Rings being based on the novels, King Kong being based on the 1933 movie, and his upcoming works, The Lovely Bones and Halo, being based on a novel and video game respectively.
Its amazing how quickly people forget that Peter Jackson was actually a visionary filmmaker who scripted the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, somehow managed to film all 3 simultaneously, was heavily involved in scoring, editing, casting and producing the movies. As well as that, he had a unique vision of what the movies could be like, stuck to it, and created something he could be proud of. He also assisted in the development of groundbreaking software to use during battle scenes (a program called MASSIVE, which was mostly developed with money from his own pocket).
As for King Kong, its not like he made a scene-for-scene remake of the 1933 film – using his amazing vision, he managed to create something that was equal parts frightening, entertaining and mindblowing. Sure it ran at around 3 hours, but it was a great story. Again, he was heavily involved in the writing, casting, editing and scoring of the movie.
As for basing his films on other works, ALL films are based on other works, whether the script is written as an original by someone else, or whether it was written based on something else. Sure filmmakers like M Night Shyamalan make films based on their own scripts, but it also has its downside. So lets just agree that you don’t need to write your own story to be the best filmmaker in the world, and have no more talk of the “Peter Jackson is a cheat” variety!!