Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lord of the Rings: an Annual Viewing, part 1 of 3

In The Middle Room, it has become an annual event. Every year, at around this time, we watch The Lord of the Rings extended editions. It is unclear why we do so now, but such has become custom.

Of course, one does not merely watch The Lord of the Rings: one must reflect. When these aired, they set a new bar for epic film making.

Now then. How do they hold up?

It is, of course, a dangerous path to travel. Fans love these films with a religious devotion: we've heard it said some have built shrines in its honor. We would not want to invoke the anger of such a person.

Like all movies, The Lord of the Rings has aged in some ways. Oh, overall the movies are as fantastic today as when they opened, but there are a few aspects which seem different in hindsight; some for better and others for worse.

Let us start with Fellowship. For years, this was far and above our favorite of the trilogy. Largely, this was because the source material offered more diverse settings and characters than the later installments. In addition, we would argue that the material added in the extended edition of the Fellowship includes many of our favorite scenes and lines. From the added bits in the Shire to Gandalf's discussion on mithril to the gifts of Galadriel, the added material improved the film dramatically and unexpectedly.

However, over time it has grown difficult to watch this as we once did. The fault is not with the movie but the viewer: we've seen too much. We've seen all the extras, the featurettes, and commentaries; some more than once. We know how every shot was accomplished, where stilts were used, when forced perspective was employed, and where CG was utilized.

In essence, we feel like we've lost the ability to watch this movie as anything other than a technical marvel.

Fortunately, a technical marvel it remains. The beauty of the movie endures, particularly in its depiction of the Shire. Likewise, the horror of the Balrog has not lessened over time. What's more, the scene where Gandalf hands Bilbo his hat and staff remains, in our opinion, one of the most impressive illusions ever captured on film.

This remains one of our favorite movies of all time, but it is no longer our favorite of the trilogy. That, we will consider in part 2.

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