It didn’t quite work out that way this time around, since I teach an online class, but I did set aside time to watch the full extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring. Following are my thoughts:
1. Extended scenes–The extended scenes do add a lot. I think the beginning scene with Bilbo’s explanation of hobbits is far more effective than the original beginning although I can understand why it was cut.
The one editing choice I have never understood is in Moria. There’s an extra scene in there (it’s not in the book) with a collapsing bridge. It goes on for about five minutes, and it is completely unnecessary. Jackson left it in the release-to-theatre version and cut out almost all of the extra Lothlorian scenes.
I think that was a huge mistake. Most of the women I’ve talked to, both those who like Tolkien and those who got dragged to the theatre, wish there had been more Lothlorian stuff in the release-to-theatre version. It would have been very easy for Jackson to cut the completely unnecessary bridge scene and add a little more of Lothlorian.
Yes, I know the movie was probably aimed at young men, but studies show that most successful movies attract both sexes, and it would have been such an easy substitution to make.
2. Continuity–it’s all over the place, even with the extended scenes. There’s a scene at the very beginning when Gandalf rides to the White City to find out about the ring. I’ve never had any problem with the content (alright, so nobody else is doing ring research, but everybody, including Gandalf up till recently, thought the ring permanently lost), but the continuity really bugs me. There is absolutely no way to know where he is, e.g., that we have suddenly moved something like 3,000 miles to the south. The classic Tolkien map could have been used so easily here.
3. Lighting–Jackson’s lighting is the weirdest thing in the world. I actually like it; it has a staged/picture quality to it. But it is strange. One minute everything is dark with cool, glowing lights all over the place. The next minute everything is in full sunlight with everything glinting. The whole thing is like watching CSI episodes over and over and over. Cool. But startling.
4. Casting–I still consider the Lord of the Rings movies the best cast movies of, oh, the last 100 years or so. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but there are few book-to-movie films I’ve seen that completely and totally and without misstep catch the characters exactly the way I picture them. Except for Elrond, and I like Hugo Weaving so much, I don’t care.
Interesting note about Hugo Weaving. In earlier non-Jackson productions (and in the books), the elves are portrayed much the way the Vulcans used to be portrayed before Enterprise came along: good and pure and wise and wonderful. And then Hugo Weaving showed up, and suddenly the elves (like the Vulcans) got edgy and a little annoyed and somewhat sarcastic. Which is frankly more interesting.
About the hobbits, I know people confused Merry and Pippin. I never did. Partly, this is because I’d run across Dominic Monaghan before Fellowship came out (Hetty Wainthrop mysteries). He isn’t portrayed exactly as Merry is in the book, but he is given enough lines to make clear that he is the more perceptive and the more mature of the duo (Merry and Pippin).
Sean Astin and Elijah Wood are perfect. I happen to think Elijah Wood’s range of emotion was greater than Jackson pulled out of him. By the end of the first film, Frodo has been reduced to (1) scared and (2) more scared. If you watch the beginning of Fellowship, Wood displayed a much broader range. Frankly, I don’t think Frodo interested Jackson much, OR Frodo represented a type to Jackson. He gave all the ambiguity to Aragorn and Boromir.
I quite like Viggo Mortenson as Aragorn. The book makes clear that Aragorn is supposed to be completely unattractive at first glance–a rangy Ranger with absolutely no appeal to civilized folk like Butterbur, the Prancing Pony owner. I think Viggo pulled this off. He isn’t as fine an actor as either McClellan (hard competition) or Sean Bean, but like Keanu Reeves, he knows how to act physically (which is pretty important). The scene at the end of Fellowship where Mortensen walks down the hill towards the cast of thousands, De Mille crowd of orcs is very, very cool (more on this later).
McClellan of course occupies his own class of perfection. And Sean Bean is so phenomenal that I hold him personally responsible for the cohesiveness of the latter half of the movie.
Which brings us to subplots.
5. Subplots–This is the third or fourth time I’ve seen the movie; the second time I’ve watched the extended version. The subplot with Aragorn is a lot clearer after that many viewings, but I don’t think it was as clear as it could have been. The tension between him and Boromir, the (real) issue of Aragorn’s allegiance, Boromir’s (legitimate) concern for his people, and Aragorn’s reluctance to test his rights to leadership are great themes and could have been emphasized. Not expanded because, okay, the movie is really long, but pointed to more clearly. There’s lots and lots of implied dialog, delivered mostly by the masterly McClellan and Weaving, and the last scenes between Aragorn and Boromir are very effective, but the release-to-movie version really fell down here. (The extended version makes these themes much clearer. Even with the extended version, though, I think they could have been emphasized. I think Jackson, who I like, is rather like Shyamalan, who I also like: throw enough stuff at the screen, and you’ll get a good movie. Which is sort of true. But sort of not.)
6. Speaking of the final scene–First of all, I never thought the whole Boromir being shot full of arrows scene funny. I can see why some people rolled their eyes, but I’ve got a C.S. Lewis-medieval knights-Beowulf fan inside me, and I’ve always thought it utterly chivalrous and honourable and gosh darn heroic! I don’t think it improbable. The human body can take an amazing amount of damage before it shuts down, as one realizes when one watches Civil War documentaries.
In fact, that whole last scene is one of my absolute favorite battle scenes in all the trilogy. It’s exactly like a Civil War documentary, only with the added bonus of really old statues and much cooler armour.
And I love the chivalrous, heroic stuff. I don’t think anyone but Sean Bean could have pulled off that last scene, but he is Sean Bean, and he did. His confession to Aragorn and his plea for his people, Aragorn’s promise and his kiss on Boromir’s forehead all hit a note of high medieval romance (not in the boy loves girl sense, but in the knights owe loyalty to their king sense). It’s better than King Arthur because stupid Launcelot isn’t there to drip excuses all over the place.
In conclusion, tangent-time: Questions have been posed (many by my brother) about why teenage girls get into stuff like yaoi and vampire gangs and such–that is, why do teenage girls and women like me get into male to male dedication/loyalty/devotion? And I think the reason is that these types of relationships don’t imply subordination in the sense of weakness (Boromir is not weak for, finally, professing loyalty to Aragorn) and also because the relationship allows for objectivity. It isn’t oh-now-I’m-in-love-I-must-immediately-lose-my-ability-to reason (and therefore get together with a guy who will beat me because I luuuuuv him so much). Both parties are allowed to retain their dignity. I think this is possible for female/male relationships, by the way, there just isn’t a whole set of classical literature out there that deals with it. (Dorothy Sayers and Jane Austen all by themselves do not constitute a class; George Eliot wrote about the desire of women for this type of relationship, but she didn’t actually try to create one on paper: Dorothea marries a gasbag and then a self-promoting politician–a nice self-promoting politician but still–)