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Monday, January 10, 2005

Well-Deserved Recognition

Last February I found myself in complete agreement with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the very first time: The Return of the King was the best film of 2003. The Academy doesn’t give awards to DVDs, but if they did, Return should win “Best DVD” too. In fact, the third installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy easily deserves to be awarded the “Best Fantasy Film of All Time” trophy; both the storytelling and visual effects are beyond extraordinary, and there isn’t at dull moment even with a running time of over four hours.

LOTR Arwen Poster Posted by Hello

Now before my fantasy and film geek comrades jump on me about the “The Lord of the Rings is one complete work, not three separate films!” thing, let me assure you folks: I know. I first read the books when I was 14 – holy jeeze, that’s 21 years ago now – and I’ve always agreed that The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King should be viewed as a single continuous work instead of an original and its two sequels. But like the books, the films came out in three separate parts anyway, mostly because no one wants to read a 1400-page book or sit through a 12-hour movie. As such I feel it’s fair to pick one of them as my favorite fantasy film, and the extended version of The Return of the King is it.

Beware, spoilers below.

What, however, is better about the extended version on the new DVD? Well, there are three particularly notable scenes:

1) The confrontation with Saruman and Wyrmtounge. In the books, these two villains escape Isengard and raze The Shire – home to the Hobbits – and really aren’t defeated until the very end of the story. In the theatrical movie version they are left imprisoned in the tower for the Ents to deal with. But in the extended DVD edition, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and the Hobbits confront the two as they stand atop Isengard; the end result is a shamed and horrified Wyrmtounge who literally stabs Saruman in the back. Wyrmtounge is simultaneously shot by an arrow from Legolas – who, like the others, wants Saruman taken alive – but it comes too late: Saruman plummets hundreds of feet to his death upon the crushed and jagged rocks below.

It’s the biggest liberty that Peter Jackson takes with Tolkien’s original story, and it works well enough. Though it’ll never seem right that mighty Saruman is killed before taking his revenge on Frodo, the added scene does tie up a loose end. And it’s proof that no matter how subtle the wizard, a knife in his back will severely cramp his style.

2) Gandalf battles the Witch-King on the ramparts of Gondor. This is a great scene, if only because it shows just how powerful the leader of the Nazgul really his: He bests Gandalf after about 20 or 30 seconds of battle. Only the threat of the approaching Rohirrim saves old Greyhem from a real whuppin; when Theodin’s army attacks the Witch-King must rally his orcs, so Gandalf catches a break. As it is he’s flat on his ass and his staff has been destroyed … not a position the most powerful wizard in the world usually finds himself in.

3) The Mouth of Sauron. This is the scene that finally sold me on the “Best Fantasy Film Ever” thing. Never before have I actually been repulsed by a movie character in the same way a real-life villain like Ted Bundy or Saddam Hussein repulses me. But this one did it.

The Mouth of Sauron Posted by Hello

The mouth of Sauron projected such malice – in addition to being physically revolting – that I actually shrank back from the screen; you’d have gotten the same reaction from me if you held out a plate of rotting, maggot-ridden pork and said “Here! Have a bite!”. It was a scene that was both horrible and fascinating at the same time, and I don’t believe the concepts of mouth and corruption could have possibly been married together any better. Not since Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly) whored herself out for heroin in Requiem for a Dream – probably the only time in my life that two women having sex has made want to turn away from the TV – has a fictional scene stuck with me so awfully.

It was great.

There is lots more in the extended DVD as well: A touching scene between Eowyn (who rivals Legolas as my favorite LOTR character) and Aragorn. Lots of little 20 or 30-second extensions to scenes already in the theatrical version, and some important information about Arwen and her relationship with Aragorn. Oh, and a bunch of pirates getting killed by ghosts, which is, of course, cool by definition.

Wednesday (or thereabouts) will be my review of the Painkiller demo I downloaded last week, and Friday will see the next BPCP update. Happy Monday all.