by Allan Fish
(New Zealand/USA 2003/2004 249m) DVD1/2
One film to end them all
p Peter Jackson, Barrie M.Osborne, Frances Walsh d Peter Jackson w Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Frances Walsh, Stephen Sinclair novel J.R.R.Tolkien ph Andrew Lesnie ed Annie Collins, Jamie Selkirk m Howard Shore m/ly Annie Lennox, Frances Walsh art Grant Major cos Richard Taylor, Ngila Dickson fight ch Bob Anderson
Elijah Wood (Frodo), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), John Rhys Davies (Gimli/Treebeard), Sean Astin (Sam), Billy Boyd (Pippin), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Dominic Monaghan (Merry), Miranda Otto (Éowyn), Andy Serkis (Gollum), Bernard Hill (Théoden), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Liv Tyler (Arwen), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), David Wenham (Faramir), Karl Urban (Éomer), John Noble (Denethor), Ian Holm (Bilbo), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Brad Dourif (Grima Wormtongue),
Coming out of the cinema in December 2003, having watched the theatrical release of Jackson’s final Tolkien instalment, it’s fair to say that emotions were mixed. On the one hand there was the ecstasy at having seen something beyond your wildest dreams, a film to, as many critics said, totally reinvent both fantasy and epic cinema; a film that topped the previous instalments, which had to be content with being mere masterworks of the seventh art. And yet, through all this handing out of garlands and superlatives to its director, and hoping that he would finally win the Oscar he lost to such unworthies as A Beautiful Mind and Chicago, there was a nagging feeling. After watching Fellowship and Towers, one didn’t feel cheated at the cinema, but when the extended versions came out they embellished the tale. With King, you really could see the cracks, you almost imagined in your head the sequences that were transparently missing – Saruman’s death, the capture of the Black Ships, Faramir’s romance with Éowyn and the avalanche of skulls in the mountain dwelling – and yet still it was a film for which the term magnificent was unworthy. So would the glaring omissions be worthy of the film? Silly question; with the single exception of Sam and Frodo briefly joining the orc armies, each scene enhanced the plot and all the cracks were filled and all doubts put firmly to rest.
More than merely an epic, King set a standard which few could hope to attempt to match, let alone succeed. There are so many scenes here that achieve immortality that it’s impossible – not to mention unfair – to pick one. The battle scenes are, in the computer generated age, the greatest ever committed to celluloid, the romantic asides are soulful enough to not seem like an interruption to the battles, and, miraculously, Jackson even manages to prevent the battles from swamping the real heart of the story, as our two hobbit heroes climb slowly to Mount Doom to the magical moment when Gollum gets his first hot bath in centuries (or the gorgeous fade out at the Grey Havens, aka. Avalon, Valhalla, Elysium, etc.). A testament to its brilliance is that the encounter with Shelob the giant spider is not that extraordinary, despite being infinitely scarier than the similar sequence with spiders in the second Harry Potter film. Every single person behind the camera does their bit (Shore’s music particularly hitting new heights), and the performances are exceptional to a man. Wood, McKellen, Rhys-Davies, Otto and Serkis if anything outdo their earlier work here, while the majestic Lee is given a send off worthy of him. Mortensen personifies epic heroism as a man who, like his friends, has to reach within to find the strength when all seems lost (and gives a speech at the Black Gates to make Mel Gibson’s at Stirling seem like a summoning of his mates to the pub), while Astin is simply a revelation as Sam, bringing regular lumps to the throat. Compared to this, the previous two classics seem, to quote Gandalf, merely like “the deep breath before the plunge.” As Christmas approaches again, the lack of a new Rings film leaves a massive hole, but Jackson’s legacy will shine brighter than Galadriel’s Phial for all time.