“The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King” Throwback

Today is Tolkien Reading Day, the best time of year to go out and read up on the works of the great J.R.R Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. However, if you don’t have access to the books, why not take three hours out of your day to watch one of The Lord of the Rings movies? And since this day is intrinsically linked to things that happened in The Return of the King, Part 3 of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, we’re going to be talking about that film.

Spoilers Ahead!

So let’s start our discussion with a reminder that I am one of those people who read the books first, before seeing the films – but, I am not a book “purist”, someone who believes that everything in the text could have been adapted word-for-word onto the big screen, without any need for changes, additions, omissions, etc.

Now, having watched the film about six-thousand times, I have noticed a number of flaws – little things, for the most part, but we’ll discuss them here: I say “we” because I’m going to be writing this post in Gollum/Sméagol fashion, as an argument between my purist self and my revisionist self. We’ll also discuss a number of scenes that capture perfectly the spirit of the book, and even manage to almost elevate the material (which is so good to begin with).

But, we’ll also talk about the movie in its own right, because it’s just such a good movie. Even if you go into these films never having heard of The Lord of the Rings, or J.R.R Tolkien, you’ll still be swept up into this magical world, and, assuming you’re anything like me, you’ll never leave it again as long as you live. The joy and wonder is still there, every time I open the book or watch one of the movies.

Well, now we’re off at last!

Let’s begin with a breakdown of the plot: the film follows the journeys of a group of Men, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits as they travel across Middle-earth. Our hobbit protagonist, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), carries with him the deadly but beautiful One Ring, an object of incredible power that contains the very soul of the Dark Lord Sauron. Only by destroying this Ring can Middle-earth be freed from the horrors of war and evil that have been relentlessly assaulting it. The film opens with Frodo and his loyal gardener Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) being led through the dangerous country around the Dark Lord’s realm of Mordor. Their guide? A treacherous and utterly wretched creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis), who once possessed the One Ring and wants it back. Can he be trusted? Can Frodo be trusted? Can anyone be trusted around the Ring? – for the Ring wants to get back to Sauron, and it has the power to corrupt anyone who owns it. By the time we see Frodo here, in The Return of the King, the Ring has betrayed many masters: it was cut from Sauron’s hand long ago but quickly killed its new owner, a man named Isildur – it fell into the River Anduin, and was there picked up by a hobbit named Deagol, who was very soon murdered by his friend Sméagol. Sméagol took the Ring and fled with it into the mountains, and there, dwelling in dark caves and pits, he changed into Gollum – the Ring abandoned him too, though, and was found by another hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), but Bilbo was good enough that he was able to give up the Ring willingly – he gave it to Frodo. But the Ring betrayed one of Frodo’s friends as well, the noble man Boromir (Sean Bean), who tried to kill Frodo in an attempt to steal the Ring.

That is, of course, the main plot: the Ring must be destroyed, but destroying it takes great effort and great willpower. And the only place it can be unmade is in the fiery forges beneath an active volcano named Mount Doom, in the very heart of the realm of Mordor. Sauron dwells here, a giant flaming eye atop a horned tower.

Purist’s Note: in the books, Sauron is not a “giant flaming eye”. He has a physical form, but it is terrible and maimed, because he has been unable to take any shape fair to the eyes of Men ever since he fell into the ruin of Numenor in the Second Age. The Eye is merely a metaphor, in the books, for his piercing knowledge of all things that move on Middle-earth.

Thank you, Inner Purist, for making that clear.

Moving on. Many miles away from Frodo, his other friends are busy fighting Sauron’s vast armies of Orcs, Ringwraiths and Haradrim. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) is the reluctant King of Gondor who must rally his people to stand in defiance of the shadow. Gandalf the White (Sir Ian McKellen) is the good wizard entrusted with helping all the Free Folk of Middle-earth. Arwen Evenstar (Liv Tyler) is the Elven princess in love with Aragorn, who must choose between an immortal existence with her family, or a mortal life with the man she loves.

But, the fight for victory will not be easy. Sauron has unleashed all of his forces, and they are heading straight for the greatest city in Middle-earth: Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor. Will Gandalf be able to keep the city’s defenses firm against such reckless hate? Will Aragorn reach the city in time to save it? Will Arwen choose love over the promise of immortality? The stakes are so high, they’re incredible.

Purist’s Note: in the books, Arwen had already chosen love over immortality, many years before the events of The Lord of the Rings. She and Aragorn had been betrothed on the hill of Cerin Amroth, and they had rejected both the Shadow of Sauron and the Twilight of the West.

Yeah, well, that’s not the case here. Here, we have a cast of incredible characters – played by an extraordinary cast – who collide with each other in the most brilliant ways. When the hobbit Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan) meets Éowyn, shieldmaiden of Rohan (Miranda Otto), will they overcome prejudice to fight in the war for Middle-earth? When Pippin Took (Billy Boyd) swears loyalty to the Steward Denethor (John Noble) will this choice come with a terrible responsibility – to watch as the Steward goes mad and tries to burn his own son alive?

Purist’s Note: well, no, apparently not, because in the movies Denethor releases Pippin from his service – whereas, in the books, Pippin remains in allegiance to Gondor.

This purist is getting on my nerves. You know what, Inner Purist, how about that scene where the Riders of Rohan appear over the hills at dawn and ride down to meet the orcs of Mordor in battle on the Pelennor Fields? Hmm, how about that? Was that not exactly as in the books?

Purist’s Note: well…well, I mean, no, because…

And what about the scene where Gandalf and Pippin discuss the prospect of death, using words directly from the book?

Purist’s Note: okay, that was touching, but the scene itself wasn’t in the books…

How about the scene on Mount Doom? Where Frodo finally stands above the consuming fires, unable to throw the Ring to its destruction? How about when Gollum takes the Ring from him in their last desperate struggle, biting off Frodo’s finger to get the corrupting treasure, dancing madly for joy on the brink of the fire – and falling, to his death? How about that terrifying scene where the Ring sits, motionless, on the surface of the lava, unwilling to be destroyed? And Frodo hangs from the cliff far above, staring down at it, contemplating with himself in those final moments whether he should leap into the fires after the Ring, or if he should take Sam’s hand and be carried to safety? How about that scene?

Purist’s Note: ooh, and how about that tortured look that Frodo gives to Sam as he makes his choice – but then, he reaches for Sam’s hand! And Sam pulls him up! And…uh, I mean, yeah, that scene is fine.

What about the final scene, at the Grey Havens, where Frodo goes off with the Elves to sail across the seas into the West? That emotional goodbye to his friends that has me in tears every time I watch it? That smile he gives as he boards the boat, and you know in your heart that he’s finally going to be healed of all his pain and hurt.

Purist’s Note: and when Sam says “well, I’m back” as he returns to his home, just like in the book…

Well, not just like in the book. If it had been just like in the book, he would have gone home to Bag-end, since in the book he inherited it from Frodo. Also, he should have only had one child at that time, but he had, like, five.

Purist’s Note: well, yeah, but, come on, the emotional heart of Tolkien’s work was all there. Director Peter Jackson could easily have gone for a more traditional route and had them all live happily ever after, but he didn’t. He showed the incredible pain that Frodo went through, and how it could never be healed – unless he left Middle-earth.

Yeah, I know, but Peter Jackson got a lot of things incorrect too. Let’s not forget the infamous scene where Frodo tells Sam to “go home”, which goes against everything in the books. That scene is painful to watch, it’s just so annoying.

Purist’s Note: okay, sure, but don’t forget that that scene was shot really early on, before the actors had any clear idea of the emotional journeys their characters were going on – before Andy Serkis had been cast as Gollum, in fact.

Good point. But how do you explain that scene with the skull avalanche in the Paths of the Dead?

Purist’s Note: wait, I thought you liked that!

I do! But…wait, aren’t you the purist? I feel like things got switched around here. I’m not supposed to be grilling you, it should be the other way round!

Purist’s Note: well, this is pretty normal when dealing with the movies. They’re conflicting, but in the end…they are pretty good movies, even when they’re not great adaptations. And, for the most part, they are great adaptations. Except for…a handful of things.

More than a handful. But, you’re right. No matter how many things might be wrong with the movies, I’m always going to love them. I’m always going to cry when Frodo sets sail into the West, or when Annie Lennox’s beautiful song starts playing over the credits…I’m always going to cheer when Sauron is cast down, and the Eagles rescue Frodo and Sam. I’m always going to feel completely heartbroken after the credits roll, when I realize that the story has finally come to its end. It’s the magic of this movie that makes that possible: you can overlook or even ignore every minor change to a character’s appearance, every faulty line of dialogue, every blunder or misstep. Because the magic is still there.

Purist’s Note: you’re going to tell me what the magic is now, aren’t you?

Yes, I am! It’s the magic of Frodo struggling through pain and torture to do the job that needs doing. It’s the magic of Sam carrying Frodo up Mount Doom, even when all seems lost. It’s the magic of Aragorn going to what seems like certain death so that he can buy Frodo just a little time. It’s the magic of Merry and Éowyn standing up against the Witch-King. It’s the magic of Pippin leaping into the flames to rescue Faramir. It’s the-

Purist’s Note: you’ve gone on long enough. I get it. It’s magic.

It is, and it’s the sort of magic that doesn’t go away, even after multiple viewings.

 

So there you have it: my thoughts on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. No movie quite compares to it, honestly. It is everything I love about cinema, all rolled into one beautiful movie. From the opening sequence to the moment the screen fades to black, I am entranced, brought into another world, a world that I know and love from the books: not everything from those books made it onto the screen, but that’s okay. This sort of magic is rare. Enjoy it as it is.

Movie Rating: 10/10

Unicorn Store Trailer Review!

Can every movie just be about the beautiful chemistry between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson?

Seriously, these two are just incredible onscreen. Here, in the trailer for Brie Larson’s directorial debut, Unicorn Store, they are blurring the distinctions between reality and fantasy in an abstract fashion that’s a delight to watch.

Larson plays Kit, a struggling artist who is trying to get along with her family and make a living – and has had to put aside childhood dreams. Jackson plays “The Salesman”, who runs “The Store” – his motto is simply “we sell what you need.”

When The Salesman invites Kit to come to The Store, she finds out that what she needs is…a unicorn. No kidding, a unicorn. Her family objects, as might be expected, and what ensues is not only brilliant hilarity and humor, but also a touching exploration of what it means to embrace your dreams and find your way in life, as Kit tries to make her dream of owning a unicorn become a reality. People call her crazy, and ask her if maybe she just wants a dog instead, but nothing can stop her from being the person she wants to be.

“Everybody needs some magic in their lives, even if they’re all grown-up,” Kit states in the trailer, and that’s pretty true. But nothing – and I mean nothing – is as magical as seeing Samuel L. Jackson in a very snazzy pink suit, with a glittery afro and large pink glasses. It’s an artist’s dream come to life, and I’m so here for it.

Unicorn Store will debut on Netflix, April 5th.

Toy Story 4 Trailer Review!

Deeply conflicting though this whole endeavor might be, I know I’m still interested to see how the Toy Story saga comes to a close. I love the first two Toy Story movies to infinity and beyond, but the third was a massive letdown, and I still don’t want to get my hopes up for the fourth – the final installment in this series that is so deeply ingrained in the public conscious, and in the hearts of so many people.

It’s been a harrowing adventure getting to this trailer – the first teasers were rather dull, and the first look at Bo Peep (Annie Potts) was so different, that I think a lot of people have been slightly concerned, or maybe just uncertain whether or not this film is worth going to see in theaters.

But come on, this is the end of Toy Story. Even if it is awful, are you really going to miss out on this movie?

Well, let’s take a look at the trailer that Disney/Pixar dropped today, and we’ll see.

So it starts out with Woody (Tom Hanks) introducing us to a new toy, Forky (Tony Hale) – who is, as the name suggests, a fork: or, rather, a spork, as one of the other toys says when they meet this pessimistic piece of plastic.

It soon becomes clear that Forky is no ordinary toy. He was created by the toys’ owner, Bonnie, and he clearly has no idea why he’s alive, or what it means to be a toy: in his own words, “I was made for soup, salad, maybe chili, and then the trash!”

So he tries to escape, by literally jumping out of a moving vehicle. And Woody, who has decided that nothing is more important than keeping Bonnie happy, jumps out after him, in a desperate attempt to rescue the spork, and bring him back.

The logistics would suggest that a spork that goes flying out of the back of a trailer would be lost forever on the highway, but Woody finds him and tries to remind him of his duties as a toy: he is there to “help create happy memories”. Forky doesn’t seem particularly interested, and you can’t blame him – I mean, the chances of them ever finding Bonnie and the other toys again is slim to none.

But…all is not lost.

The two lost toys stumble wearily into the town of Grand Basin, which hosts a large fair and a massive antique store. Woody glances through the grimy window of this store and happens to spot something quite unusual: a very familiar lamp. It’s a real gasp-out-loud moment, and I love it. This lamp, of course, is Little Bo Peep’s lamp.

So Woody enters the antique store, and goes looking for Bo Peep. Instead, he finds a collection of extraordinarily creepy antique toys, led by a frightening little doll named Gabby Gabby, who rides around in a perambulator with ventriloquist-dummy bodyguards. Woody and Forky look to be in a dangerous situation when they are suddenly rescued by the intervention of Little Bo Peep herself, who comes flying out of nowhere, wielding her shepherd’s crook with skill – she expertly nabs Gabby Gabby and tosses her off a shelf. Seeing Bo Peep as a crime-fighting superhero is rather odd, and takes some getting used to, but there’s still something natural about her, that makes her likable, and fun. Clearly, something has happened to Bo Peep that we’re only now going to learn about – the mild-mannered shepherdess has become tougher and wiser, and she’s decided to take risks and go solo: she tells Woody that toys don’t have to spend their entire lives making kids happy: they can have lives of their own, on their own.

What’s really surprising is that we see Woody beginning to agree. The roles are now reversed: Forky asks him if they’re going back to find Bonnie, and Woody doesn’t even seem to hear him.

But the other toys aren’t going to just let their friend go this easily: Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and Jessie (Joan Cusack) make a plan to go find Woody, and they end up at the fair too. There’s a clip of Bonnie searching desperately for Forky, and crying – Pixar’s going to have us all in tears by the end of this, of course.

Meanwhile, Woody is having the time of his life: in fact, he and Bo Peep are going to clubs and going on dates – “Change can be good,” Bo Peep tells him, and it seems she’s right.

Obviously, Woody will be having an existential crisis, as is normal for him, but this one seems more serious than anything he’s faced before. Something tells me that, at the end of this, the toys might all go their separate ways. Some might stay with Bonnie. Some might stay at this fair, where Bo Peep seems to be living. Some might just go off into the world. But nothing’s ever going back to the way things were: the trailer helpfully inserts a flashback of Andy, the toys’ original owner, playing with Buzz Lightyear and Jessie, to illustrate this point.

Except, it’s not Andy.

Anybody with even a cursory knowledge of Toy Story knows that Andy’s room had wallpaper decorated with clouds: it’s iconic. The cloud wallpaper is closely tied to the whole franchise, and was even featured in the first teaser for this movie. But here, where, supposedly, we are getting a flashback to the good old days when Andy owned the toys, there’s no cloud wallpaper: there’s large yellow stars on the walls, and they stand out like…like, large yellow stars. The kid clearly has Andy’s hat – so my best guess is that Buzz Lightyear and Jessie end up with Andy’s kid, somewhere down the line. I don’t want that to be true, but that’s my prediction.

Anyway, the trailer than packs a last little punch: there’s a scene with Woody and Bo Peep standing under a car in the rain, which looks like it’ll be incredibly emotional. “Kids lose their toys every day,” Bo Peep reminds Woody.

In the end, it’s Forky who, surprisingly, looks to be the moral compass of this movie: he tells Woody that “everything’s gonna be OK”, and then we see one last shot of Woody smiling, before the title appears, and the screen fades to black.

Now, in some ways, I really like this trailer: Pixar knows how to leave us sobbing in the theater, so I have no doubt it’ll be an emotional sledgehammer. But will it be a fitting conclusion to the story? Will we be given a chance to say goodbye to each and every one of these wonderful toys? Will Andy ever show up again? Where will Woody, Buzz and Bo end up spending the rest of their lives? There’s too many questions, and too little time to wrap up all the loose ends.

But yeah, the movie could be good, bad, or just middle-of-the-road, but it’s the last one. Let that sink in before you decide to skip this film in theaters.

Trailer Rating: 8/10

 

EDIT: I have learned that the star wallpaper is in fact in Toy Story 2, and I feel quite humiliated that I did not realize that – I guess my supposed knowledge is less than comprehensive. So, yeah, that probably is a flashback: I will, however, point out that the animation there does nothing to convince me of that, since the kid looks nothing like Andy from the original Toy Story movies.

Ezra Miller’s New “Flash” Script

It’s been common knowledge for months now that Warner Brothers is still working out what to do with the DCEU. They’ve experienced a pretty uneven string of hits, mild successes, and epic fails – from the peak of their creative genius, Wonder Woman, to the disastrous Justice League. But last year’s Aquaman proved to be a billion-dollar hurricane at the box-office, and paved the way for a new take on the DCEU – one that is light-hearted, cheesy, over-the-top, and…well, still completely discombobulated. The emphasis now was on making DC movies stand-alone adventures, without trying to tie them into some bigger universe. Gone was the grim-faced Henry Cavill; gone was the dour Ben Affleck; gone was Geoff Johns, the man behind Justice League: gone was the dark and serious tone of the prior DC movies.

And then, today, we learn that Ezra Miller is making one last effort to try and stop DC from going down this path.

Ezra Miller, the actor who has portrayed The Flash in Justice League and Batman vs Superman, is set to star in an origin movie titled The Flash, which should start production later this year. Just the other day, however, we got news that Miller is taking it upon himself to completely rewrite the script for the movie.

Yes, Miller has enlisted the help of author Grant Morrison, and is going against the wishes of Flash writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who currently have a very light-hearted, funny script written for the film, in keeping with Warner Brothers’ new approach to making DC movies. Miller, on the other hand, is writing a much darker, more serious screenplay, and is actually showing incredible bravery in doing so: the official writers don’t seem to be backing this idea, and Miller’s future in the DCEU could be at stake. His script could be submitted as early as next week, which means we will soon learn if a new Flash is coming onboard, and Ezra Miller will be joining the lengthy list of cast and crew members kicked out from the DC franchise.

My feelings are quite conflicted: I do not like this new approach to DC movies, where they all have to be completely stand-alone and ridiculously comical. It works for one or two, like Aquaman, but characters like Wonder Woman would not, in my opinion, benefit from a more humorous approach, and the Flash, even though we’ve only seen him as a funny character, certainly has the capability to be more serious. Ezra Miller has done a great job as the dark and brooding Credence Barebone in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what’s inspired him to rewrite the script – to complement his own expanding talents as much as to help out the DCEU.

So what will happen? I have an uneasy feeling that Ezra Miller’s script probably won’t ever see the light of day, and the Flash will be recast. But maybe…just maybe…there’s a chance that Miller’s script is too good to pass up on, and the movie will end up being a more serious installment in the DCEU. Maybe Miller can initiate a new tonal style for DC movies, who knows? Despite what Warner Brothers likes to claim, none of their “serious” films were all that serious, except Wonder Woman, so this would be a great opportunity to expand the brand.

We should find out next week.