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Lord of the Details

I saw all the Lord of the Rings movies as they came out on the big screen, but I've finally caught up with the extended editions on DVD. (Yeah, I know – they came out years ago. Hey, they're long movies.) And once you see the movies, of course, you then get to watch the hours and hours and hours of documentaries on how they put the things together. I think they're the best bonus material I've ever seen by far, and I don't think that's just because I'm a New Zealander. The DVDs are pricey, but way worth it.

What struck me most when I saw the docos is what incredible patient loving care went into every single aspect of the movies. Everybody in Middle-earth has a different type of arrow, and there's even embroidery inside some of the costumes. And the locations? Well, the reason Helm's Deep looks so real is that it is real. (When I saw the movie the first time I assumed it was all CGI, but that would have been far too simple for Peter Jackson.) They even planted the hobbits' gardens a year in advance.

But after I finally staggered back into the daylight after what seemed like weeks in Middle-earth, I started to wonder – was it all worth it? Yes, the movies are incredible. But could Peter Jackson have gone to less trouble and got just the same effect? After all, some of the pickups are done not in the spectacular locations the scenes were originally shot in, but in the studio carpark – and I certainly couldn’t tell the difference. Why not save a few mil and shoot everything in the carpark in the first place? And I didn't notice all the different arrows, either: unless they'd used ones with suckers on the end, they probably could have got away with using just one standard pattern, couldn't they? And did they really have to spend forever getting Aragorn's belt buckle exactly right? I'm as smitten with Viggo Mortensen as the next girl, but I didn't even notice he had a belt buckle.

So, yeah, it could probably have been done a lot cheaper, and most of the audience wouldn't have seen much of a difference. That "much of", though, is key. Peter Jackson wasn't shooting for OK, he was shooting for definitive. Did he succeed? Hell, yeah. While the movies aren't 100% perfect, they're going to be the definitive version for decades to come. And the loving care that went into the movies is a big part of that. If Bernard Hill felt more like a king because of the embroidery inside his costume, his performance was probably just that little bit better. It's lot easier to act as if you're exhausted from hours of climbing over rocks, as Elijah Wood and Sean Astin did, when you really have climbed over rocks for hours. And who knows what subliminal effect all those different arrows had, even if I didn't notice them consciously?

More than anything, it's about the effect that dedication to excellence can have. If you're a member of the crew, and everyone around you, from actors to costume designers to set builders, is passionately dedicated to making movies that are the best they can be, it's going to lift your game too. In turn, your dedication inspires everyone else. And that kind of virtuous circle is how we ended up with movies that were as good as Peter Jackson knew how to make them. Yep. It was worth it.


  1. Agreed, on all points.

    Easily the best DVD extras ever, along with some of the best audio commentaries (if you get the chance, listed to the actor commentary of FotR). My only disappointment is that all three trailers (and the supertrailer) aren't available on the extended editions.

    As for the arrows and carparks...well. I don't know. I don't understand the need to spend so much money when you can do it for cheaper, however, clearly a lot of love went into every piece of armour and weaponry and that comes across in the film.

    Sigh. I'm gonna go fish out the discs now. High time for a rewatch, I think.

    Glad you enjoyed the so much!

  2. I thought it was brilliant. I preferred Two Towers as it seemed to have better pacing and balance.

    Return of the King was just... long and too CGI. The scene where the Rohan calvary arrived felt just a bit silly. Where were the blighters at Helm's Deep?

    ROTK felt like a PhD thesis that was rushed.

    And the ending could have been shortened.


  3. The most brilliant thing about the trilogy of Lord of the Rings was that Peter Jackson and J.R.R.Tolkin made us believe that middle earth somehow did exist at some point in the dark ages! Just pay attention to the costumes, the wigs, weapons, the battles . . everything was perfect, not to mention the original soundtrack. Simply perfect score!

  4. For the first time in about 5 years I watched the blu ray extended trilogy over the Christmas holiday period, more or less back to back, including all the extras from each.

    I still prefer the books over the films by a long way, but Peter Jackson does a truly excellent job despite of some major exclusions (Tom Bombadil), and reinterpretations.

    The Fellowship of the Ring, remains the best and most complete of all three – the pacing is just right, and the emphasis on the CGI is fairly restrained compared to the hokey and extremely dated sfx in the latter two films.
    The attention to detail with regards locations, structures and clothing etc., were all second to none, especially Gondor and Mordor.

    Being English I did find some of the American actors doing English accents a little jarring, especially Sean Astin’s Sam character and his rolling Devon/Cornish carrot-cruncher accent. But he did a fine job all the same, and was probably my favourite hobbit after Gollum, to whom I had a lot of empathy for.

    Viggo Mortensen was convincing as Aragorn, king of Gondor – that is until he opened his mouth and spoke! He really didn’t have much of a commanding voice compared to the likes of say Christopher Lee’s Saruman or Ian McKellen’s Gandalf. Far too wishy-washy to be a king or Ranger of the North.

    And as for Orlando Bloom. The guy couldn’t act his way out of a cardboard box! In fact the cardboard box would probably be more convincing! I saw Bloom In the Pirates films, and again he lacks any dynamism or range other than for his good looks and charm.

    A superb boxset overall, but not being huge LOTR fan I doubt if it will be seeing the light of day for a few more years hence.


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