Lord of the Rings: A Christmas tradition

Lord of the Rings feels like some sort of a Christmas tradition, doesn’t it?

Lord of the Rings

You could be mistaken for associating it with the season. The three films, released throughout three Decembers from 2001-2003. It has left a lasting impression. It wasn’t that December was a dumping ground like January and February. December wasn’t precisely blockbuster season either. What came out the previous December? Traffic, Chocolat and the timeless classic Dracula 2000.

Lord of the Rings left its mark on release schedules. Jackson himself has tried to recapture that magic with King Kong. Later The Hobbit trilogy and this year with Mortal Engines (whatever the hell that’s supposed to be).

You know a favourite film the first time that you see it. You don’t just remember the film but the context around the viewing. When I went to see the first film Odyssey Cinemas had not long opened. The screen was packed, and there wasn’t much room. You didn’t even get the obligatory empty seat beside you to put your coat, the humanity.

The lights went down, three hours passed, the lights came up and to be honest, I wasn’t impressed.

There was way too much talking about stuff I didn’t care about, and I didn’t know what the ring did. It made some people invisible it made some people powerful. I didn’t get the hype. There were school friends who told me to give it a second chance. I did I loved it, and the rest is history.

Every year I find myself being drawn back to the films for a rewatch. It comes from a nostalgic place. The first came out not long after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. These films feel like a segue from the ’90s to the ‘00’s. There’s a part of me that blames these films for the bloat that many movies have. Why the hell is everything two and a half hours now? What happened to an hour and a half, the perfect length of a film.

There’s a Hebrew expression that sums up the attitude to great works of art, “The Torah hasn’t changed, you have”. The true mark of something great is that each time you go back to it, you get something new out of it each time.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is no different. Every time that Lord of the Rings gets rewatched you notice something different. Here’s what I took away from it this time.

Theoden is the best character

Lord of the Rings
There he is, the lad himself. The O’Den to his friends.

You could say that because Lord of the Rings tells a broad story, it doesn’t tell a deep story, that’s fair enough. Despite its large cast, there is some subtlety when it comes to the characterisation.

Don’t ask but for some reason, Theoden is the best character. Theoden’s the best because he’s a guy who has gone through great loss. Theoden makes terrible decisions, has his pride which blinds him from reaching out. In the end, he does the right thing and makes a heroic sacrifice. The other good guys are a little too good for my liking if you know what I mean?

Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas are all a little dull.

Gimli is a comic relief character.

You don’t relate as much to them as you can the other characters. That could be part of the point, maybe we’re not supposed to relate to them. Aragorn is supposed to be a reluctant leader, yet he spends the majority of time being a good leader. Aragorn is a leader without a people.

Theoden, on the other hand, starts the Two Towers under a spell oblivious to the death of his son. Those around him can’t get rid of Wormtongue (pro tip, when looking for advisors don’t hire the guy called Wormtongue and pass on Jimmy McSlitherysnake).

Theoden gets abandoned.

The group of heroes show up and set him right, bury his son and tell them that they need an army to march east. Don’t get the wrong idea but Gandalf is just as much as a manipulator as Wormtongue. Gandalf frees him from the spell. Not because it’s the right thing to do but because he needs Theoden fighting fit and ready to lead.

How does Gandalf react when Theoden decides to go to Helms Deep? Gandalf storms off. Theoden has more depth than many of the characters, he has choices to make. In The Two Towers, he makes a decision to benefit his own people and suffers dearly. In Return of the King, he makes a decision to help the world at large and pays with his life. Theoden makes choices that have consequences. Theoden’s a more relatable character, he’s more flawed than the main cast.

Frodo Fails (Frodo at Minas Tirith)

The ending(s) of Return of the King always get the mick taking out of it because it goes on for so long. The first couple of times I watched the thinking was that this is well deserved and that’s just how it was done.

There was something that is more apparent. Frodo fails to destroy the ring. The ring is destroyed but not by Frodo, but by accident.

This might be obvious to you, but I’ll be honest, it didn’t click with me. Lord of the Rings is an example where the plot ends well before the story. The reason that it feels that the ending goes on forever is because the story isn’t done. It’s about Frodo’s return to the Shire and ultimately his failure to reintegrate to the normal world. Frodo goes to the Gray Havens. Not because he has “earned” his place like Gandalf and Bilbo but because he has no place in the world. It makes the ending all the sadder.

Game of Thrones has f**ked itself

“Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy?” – George R. R Martin

Remember how when Game of Thrones came out everyone was like, “Oh yeah this is the real deal, Lord of the Rings for adults.” When it started, it was great. It had Sean Bean. It felt like there was a connection.

The first four series of Game of Thrones are perfect. The first four seasons are what TV does better than film, gets you invested in characters, has you loving characters you hated.

The culmination of the first four seasons is the fight between Brianne of Tarth and the Hound.

It pits a woman against a guy who kills kids, kidnaps people to save his own skin, murders farmers for food. The genius of Game of Thrones is that you struggle to pick a side between the two.

It’s funny when you consider that Game of Thrones started as a reaction to Lord of the Rings. Over time it has morphed into a version of it. People who said “Why don’t they just use the eagles” don’t see any inconsistencies with the magically transporting dragons of the last series of GoT.

There’s a reason that George R.R Martin hasn’t finished the last book, I don’t think that he can, and I don’t think he wants to. If he were to follow the story through to its logical conclusion the White Walkers win. That wouldn’t be satisfying, would it?

Martin has written himself into a corner.

Look at GoT the show. They can’t land this bird either.

Die a hero or live long enough to become a villain?

The Hobbit films were awful compared to Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings
Extended? What do they do, sing all the verses to the songs? Call it the Protestant edition in that case.

When you watch the Lord of the Rings and compare them to the Hobbit trilogy, there is no comparison.

There was the first one which had song after song after song. I walked out of the second one and didn’t bother with the third. The Hobbit has none of the charm or the passion of the Lord of the Rings, and it’s not entirely Peter Jackson’s fault. Here’s an excellent three-part autopsy on the films from Lyndsay Ellis.

Here’s a more concise version of the Hobbit with way more charm

There’s also the Rankin/Bass musical adaptation. The animation is excellent, parts are missing, you get what you pay for.

Start with a scalpel end with a chainsaw.

The above is an expression that deals with editing. When you’re working on a film project, you begin with taking your time. By the end, you’re just trying to get the damn thing finished.

I’m not accusing the makers behind Lord of the Rings of rushing but the look changes from film to film. Fellowship looks the most like a classical Hollywood film. There are many cuts, over the shoulders and all that.

When you get to The Two Towers, the look has evolved. The fluid camera work. Camera work that was usually reserved for locations now carries over into scenes.

There are as many cuts on average, but they definitely do fewer setups. The camera flows around the scene. Combine that with character movement in the space your brain edits it for you.

Go back and watch The Two Towers, fewer cuts.

Lord of the Rings is great because it does shit that would usually annoy me.

It commits a big sin which is the opening with voice over. Not a fan of voiceover. To be honest, it could not have been done more economically. Phillipa Boyens deserves all credit for being able to get the essentials out of the way as soon as possible.

There is also a load of voice-over, usually, not a fan but again because you’re enjoying it so much, you don’t mind. It’s reminiscent in parts of the David Lynch’s Dune were even the pilot’s milkman gets a voiceover.

One of my favourite moments from the trilogy, Gandalf and Pip arrive at Minas Tirith, should be cut. They didn’t cut it, and it’s brilliant. It’s a struggle to intellectualise why. Could be something to do with the music.

If you want to know what love is, look for this guide. Look for someone or something that does a thing that in 99% of times would erode your bap. If you can overlook it, you’re in love.

Rember Homer with the oatmeal and Homer with the bacon, “There’s a fly in it”? That’s love.

Miniature in nature

This is only something that I noticed more recently thanks to something unrelated. Weta, who did the special effects for Lord of the Rings also were behind the new Thunderbirds. Out of nostalgic curiosity, I watched an episode.

One thing noticeable watching new Thunderbirds is that the sets looked amazing. I looked into how they made it. Found out that the characters captured with a computer. The sets, the best-looking part, we’re done with miniatures.

Check this out.

No wonder they’re gorgeous and feel real, they are real. With that knowledge, you can admire the artistry in the miniature work in Lord of the Rings.

They used the same technique.

The testament to the skill of the filmmakers behind Lord of the Rings is that you didn’t even notice. What did you expect them to be? There’s a part of me that thought it was “I dunno CGI and shit”. Rewatching it’s how well that they integrate the actors, the CGI and miniature.

Lord of the Rings was praised for it’s the depiction of Gollum, Andy Serkis is great, and he is the king of motion capture. If you want to play a game where the cutscenes are better than the game itself check out Enslaved: Journey West. Serkis was great in that game. The Gollum effects will date, truth be told, they already have.

via Gfycat

The miniatures will not date. More critical is that Lord of the Rings needs praise for its integration of actors on set, miniatures and CGI.

The culmination of this is the battle at Helm’s Deep. All things converge and are seamless, you could challenge yourself to spot the joins.

If you want to see moments were the joins are more visible the mines of Moria section is a great starting point. Return of the King is where things become more CGI dependent than the other two.

I hope this article helps you have another level of appreciation for these beautiful films.

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