Finally, he’s the King!
Colleen (MomGamer) wrote about how a geek AND a mom perceives PG-13. In Honor of Lord of the Rings: Conquest… kinda… Here’s a Kid Factored review of the greatest Fantasy epic of all time and the only one with a Best Picture Oscar!
We staggered out of the theater with amazed eyes and full hearts, talking about the little details that are all that can come to mind after an experience like this. I would have loved to go to a coffee shop or something somewhere and natter back and forth over the details to keep the real world cloaked in the story for just a little longer but I couldn’t. So my poor keyboard gets the brunt of the tumble of feelings and impressions that came from watching this film.
I’m a huge fan of the books, and have been since I discovered them in sixth grade. Many people went out to find the books after seeing the films. I had to stop reading them when Fellowship of the Ring came out or I would have driven myself to distraction during the intervening years between each installment. I could go on for something like forever. When I first got home I started blathering and before I knew it this article was frighteningly long. Like about five times too long. And I wasn’t even done. Giving myself a little reality-check, I went back and hit it with a battleaxe repeatedly and hacked it down to a more reasonable size. This is what remains.
With the first two films and their Special Editions under our belts, there was a lessening of the worry for me. I’d seen enough of the work to trust. While it might not be the cut I would have made, I have enough of a toehold in real life that I recognize my imagination doesn’t have a budget or a schedule to contend with, or any of the rest of the commercial trappings of the film industry. I am not a purist who compares the novel line-by-line with the film and decries any differences I find – film and text can live happily side by side with no diminishment of either in my head and heart.
All the actors really shone. The only one-dimensional performances were from the rocks in the catapults and arbalests. Bernard Hill (Theoden) shows the mettle of his forefathers, and John Noble (Denethor) manages to even eat his meal in such a way that shows his madness to us all. Hugo Weaving (Elrond) finally stops blinding himself with his love for his daughter and he brings his knowledge to bear and gives what he can. Orlando Bloom (Legolas) is still very much the elegant elven prince and the deadliest of warriors at the same time. John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) steps back from the jokes just far enough to really bring his character out while still leavening what could have been a deadly portentousness. Viggo Mortenson (Aragorn) takes up his mantle and his sword, and gives a royal performance.
Andy Serkis and the WETA wonks have pulled off a miracle. The prologue that showed the “creation” of Gollum was wonderful in all the right horrid ways. If they don’t consider this performance as fitting a “Best Supporting Actor”, then they need to create a new category. Something like “Best Performance in Support of An Artificial Character”. This is not a situation that is going to go away and it’s time they realized it. He could go up against several of the cast of Finding Nemo, Mark Hamill for his work in the US version of Miyazaki’s “Castle in the Sky”, and Matt McKenzie for his work in “The Animatrix”. Oh, and Frank Oz for Yoda in Episode II. Serkis would still be a shoe-in, though. Just beautiful work all around.
Our favorite White Wizard is there as well. When he was cast I knew we were in good hands – as a craftsman there are few who can top Sir Ian McKellan. Here we get to see the white mantle truly fall around his shoulders, and he takes it up with a certain twinkle that reassures us that the old saw about power corrupting is just a few words here. I really loved the way they made it clear he was just as in the thick of the fighting as the younger men around him, and the whirling of his staff and Glamdring made him something to be reckoned with.
Dominic Mognahan (Merry) and Billy Boyd (Pippin) both truly grow up. Pippin’s trial-by-fire shows in his voice and gestures – he doesn’t loose his core outlook on life, but the rose-colored glasses are crazed and cracked by events as they unfold and he takes a good hard look at the world around him. Merry, on the other hand, shows his maturing by beginning to see what his going on around him and rather than just being carted around he finds his own path through the Pellenor fields. It shows even in their carriage, and you see the Thain of the Shire and the Master of Buckland standing there in the final scene rather than the two unspanked cubs that tumbled down that hill with Frodo and Sam in the first film. Billy Boyd’s singing voice was a very welcome surprise (though I still have “Cloud and Shadow” stuck in my head).
Preternaturally large blue eyes and a tiny build may have gotten Elijah Wood the part of Frodo, but they are not what made it successful. Particularly in this last installment of the series, Frodo’s got all he can do to stand upright. In the book this is shown by long discussions of the feel of the weight of the Ring. In a film that isn’t available to us, and the actor has to somehow give us a tiny glimpse into the Hell that he is going through. He’s got madness eating him inside and mad-things capering around him and leading him straight into horror and it seems like it will never end and with very few words Wood gives it all. I particularly love the parallels in the cinematography from when the Ring took Isildur and when Frodo turns back to Sam after it takes him.
If you have to have “steadfastness” as the defining characteristic of your work, then I think you’re head and shoulders above the rest. Even if you’re only 5’2″. With “Rudy” and his other roles, Sean Astin’s stock-in-trade has been earnestness and certain stubbornness and it stood him in good stead in the first two films. Here at the last, Samwise has added a gravitas to the traits that transformed them and him. There is power here, and it turned the simple act of following into a tower of leadership and keeping your word into an unbreakable binding oath. This sort of person has long been lacking in our film lexicon. Sam gives us a new touchstone for duty, for honor, and for a promise faithfully discharged. Put him up there for Best Actor – I think he could take it.
The effects were all we could have hoped for and more. We knew the oliphaunts were going to be cool, and the orcs were going to be ghastly and so on and that it would be amazing. The first two films showed us enough to trust that. But we didn’t know it would be THIS. Scope and scale are beyond belief but still there in full glowing color. You have to believe it. I used up just about every variant of “Holy Cow!” in my vocabulary watching it all unfold. Superlatives are insufficient to describe it. You have to back it down to specific pieces to try to grasp it and even that will only give a feeble glimpse to those who haven’t seen it.
The charge of the Rohirrim was as thunderous as you would imagine (it helps that we were in a theater with a really good sound system and you could literally feel the thunder of the hooves in the floor). That little object lesson on how heavy cavalry kept England under one banner for most of four hundred years played out in widened Orc eyes, tumbled bodies and streaming green banners. The Orcish battle engines were well designed and were not just copies of historical machines but took into account the abilities that having semi-intelligent burden beasts could give (cave trolls aren’t that smart but are still smarter than an ox). Watching the Rohirrim figure out how to deal with the charging oliphaunts was a great look at how you would have to learn on the fly how to defeat something you’ve never seen before. The Army of the Dead pouring off the sickly green walls of the cave and encircling our friends was chilling and then watching them coming off the ships and sweeping into the fray brought a shudder. I can only describe the stooping of Gwaihir and the Eagles with an inarticulate noise of awe.
The “several endings” comment from many people is understandable, but it’s an artifact from the book. In the book there are more like 15 or twenty of these sentimental goodbye speeches and riding-off-into-the-sunset montages as each of the characters headed off to their home (or to make a new home). I think he winnowed it down quite well. He took care of at least four of them just with Aragorn’s walk down that courtyard to Arwen (Faramir, Eowyn, Eomer, Legolas) as well as fitting in the blossoming of the White Tree. Bunchteen pages of reunion-text was distilled into that one scene of laughing (I did have the irreverent thought that if Frodo doesn’t stop waking up in strange beds like that people are going to start talking). It took more than half the first film to pull all these people out of their homes and half their world away to do battle. It is only right that they all get sent home with at least as much courtesy.
The leaving out of the Scouring of the Shire was a painful but understandable amputation. For those of us who read the books, it was a huge missing part. It could have been turned into a film in it’s own right, but I shudder to think how they would have marketed that. Adding it to this one would have been impossible; it would have stretched an already seat-bone searing running time out to a mini-series. I would much rather have it be cleanly gone than mangled and twisted into something it’s not. Besides, theater owners who were already struggling to swallow a 3 hour and 18 minute bite would have screamed bloody murder.
I did find a few quibbles, mostly just enough to spark long conversations, not enough to get out my protest signs. Aragorn was supposed to have crowned himself – that is the tradition of the Kings of Gondor. And Sam was supposed to have ended up living in Bag End when Frodo left, not Number 3 Bagshot Row. The only one I’m going to have to struggle with was the madness of Denethor. Since they took the palantir out of the equation, his actions are far less comprehensible, and his treatment of his son even more reprehensible. And having him jump off the King’s Court like that was just a cringe inducer for me. I hope against hope that the key footage is in the extended edition.
I am content with the work as it stands, but I’m doing an impatient “potty-dance” for the Special Edition of this film so I can sit down and truly see the entire story in it’s entirety and make my judgements from a properly informed standpoint. Until then, I guess I’m going “Back Again” and probably again.
I wish I could say that everyone on the planet should see this film, but I can’t. Every kid that was in the theater with us both times we saw it was transfixed the whole time. But I don’t think it was necessarily a good thing.
The murder of Deagol and the transformation of Smeagol into Gollum is intensely disturbing on many levels. The carnage at Pellenor, that nauseating sequence of a fell beast eating some Gondorian regulars, the spattering black blood of a beheaded orc, and Denethor’s “fall” are all shown up close and personal. The siege of Minas Tirith is intense from both sides. I watched those huge hunks of city smash batallions of orcs like flies with a flinch, and I flinched at the way the fell beasts kept picking up Gondorian troops and dropping them to their deaths, too.
Frodo and Sam are on the other side of the Black Gate, and it’s even worse there. The fell beast carrying the Witch King of Angmar out of Minas Morgul was an Alan Lee painting come to life when he stooped and perched on that wall right in front of where they were hiding, but he was incredibly frightening. Chris Columbus should look at Shelob and cry – she made Aragog look like a Muppet. She about made me cry, too. If you have a little one who is not fond of spiders, please watch out and be prepared to explain the eating-habits of spiders – it’s played out in huge scale (Shelob is something like 20 feet across).
Even more than the other two, this is a war film, and it plays out with those same sensibilities. This is not a case of a few violent scenes and the rest is a stroll in the park. All the bad stuff they’ve been saying would happen in the other two films is happening right in front of your eyes. The storylines are full of darkness and death. We have Merry riding under “Dernhelm’s” cloak right into the teeth of the Pellenor Fields, we have Pippin trapped with a madman intent on burning himself to death, and Frodo and Sam crawling into the very center of darkness. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas face an army of the dead in one of the creepiest sequences in the film.
Death, destruction and darkness are all around and the ending is in doubt until the bitter end. Especially since a younger child is far less likely to have read the books and know that all is going to turn out for the best.
If you can possibly stand it, I recommend waiting until the DVD comes out – having it on TV scale rather than theater scale does help these things for little children. If they are seeing it in the theater I would recommend that you stick with the rating, particularly if you are not going to see the film with your child. If you are thinking about breaking the rules for this one, I would give my strongest recommendation that you see it first without them before you bring them into that theater.
GamerDad’s Take: I just wanted to step in and voice my support for the rating. This is truly a wonderful film. I also want to echo concerns over the fear factor, this is an intense and complicated film. But I want to add my admiration for Peter Jackson’s handling of the naked emotions Tolkien writes about. Middle-Earth exists in less cynical times than today. Times when people were more free with their passions, emotions, tears, love, and more. So Hobbits weep openly when reunited, warriors cry out in anguish when parted, and wizards laugh with honest mirth when great deeds are done. I heard more than one modern teen mutter “that’s gay” during these moments. If your kid does this… do GamerDad a favor and smack them up side the head. The theme of friendship, loyalty, sacrifice, heroism, and love reverberate well through these films and that, to me, trumps damage done by the violence. It’s a great story and your kids will benefit from the sharing, just be careful about their age.
The extras are solid for the Extended Edition as you’d expect. Exhaustive and extremely interesting. These are good for kids too, because they can see how all this is done. It makes the violence on the screen less frightening when you start admiring it for the staged choreography and stunt work that it is. The extra scenes fit in very well, but there’s an empalement that sort of ups the violence a bit. Be warned. DVD review by GamerDad
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images.
GamerDad Age Recommendation: 13+
Reviewer: Colleen Hannon