11 Hours in Middle-Earth: The Lord of the Rings marathon

Watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in one sitting is something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while, almost since the third movie came out. It makes sense because it is basically one epic, split into three parts due to length, so putting them back together again seems like the best way to appreciate the trilogy as a whole. However, the gap between theory and practice proved difficult to bridge, for a number of reasons. I almost did get there at Thanksgiving 2009, but technical issues involving our new Blu-Ray DVD player meant it had to wait until we got a new TV set too. However, on Boxing Day, the stars aligned, the decks were cleared, and an intravenous drip of caffeinated beverages installed.

I must confess to wondering  how I’d cope. Even though we had skipped the extended version of The Two Towers, we were still looking at 640 minutes from one source in a single day, which would easily smash the previous record of about 350 minutes [set back in Christmas 2002, when we watched eight episodes of 24, for three consecutive days]. However, I hoped that the unarguable quality of the works in question would ease their consumption – it should be easier to watch eleven hours of the greatest trilogy ever than, say, 11 hours of American Idol. Well, so went the theory, anyway.

This is therefore no so much a review as a live blogging of the event. If you want “reviews”, you should go here, here and here for the three parts respectively. This will be more of a stream of consciousness, and will likely not make a great deal of sense, unless you have already seen the films. [And if not, how was Mars?] Because of this, I will not be exercising any caution in the spoiler area. Time stamps given are straight off the DVD timer, and as noted, are based on the extended editions, except for Part Two – we’ll get into the reasons for this in due course. And with that…

The Fellowship of the Ring
Disk One

  • 0:00 Rated PG-13 for epic battle scenes and some scary images. They should have used that on the poster: “Epic battle scenes! Scary images!” — MPAA
  • 0:01 So, there were actually twenty rings in total. The other 19 are kinda irrelevant, given the whole “One ring to bind them” thing
  • 0:02 I’m with the MPAA. Epic battle scene #1. This one features Mr. Anderson. How many people have been in *two* trilogies to gross more than $1.5 billion?
  • 0:05 Oh, Prince Isildur. If only you hadn’t been such a plonker. It’d have saved me about 10 1/2 hours.
  • 0:07 That’s enough voice-over, I was beginning to wonder if I was watching the DVD with a commentary-track by Galadriel.
  • 0:09 “Pipeweed”. Yeah, sure… Explains the hobbit apathy and apparently-perpetual munchies, shall we say.
  • 0:22 Elijah Wood Looks Concerned. #1 in a series of… quite a lot. Collect the set!
  • 0:31 Wikipedia can be so distracting. I thought I recognized Andy Serkis playing a hobbit, and somehow ended up reading about the Moors Murderers.
  • 0:35 “Is it safe?” demands Gandalf. Laurence Olivier’s estate gets a shiny new penny.
  • 0:39 Asks Frodo, “No-one knows it’s here, do they?” Gandalf’s stunned silence is very reassuring.
  • 0:44 Come to Beautiful New Zealand and See Our Lovely Landscapes.
  • 0:45 There go the elves. Splitters!
  • 0:47 Remember I asked “How many people have been in *two* trilogies to gross more than $1.5 billion?” Well, here’s Christopher Lee of LotR and the Star Wars prequels.
  • 0:48 He and Ian McKellen have a Facial Hair Face-Off for the ages.
  • 0:50 And then fight. Their combined age is more than 140, but it still works.
  • 0:53 Hobbits entranced by mushrooms. Yep, I see why hippies like the book.
  • 0:58 Peter Jackson cameo!
  • 1:01 And one ring to fit them all, it appears – Sauron, Isildur, Gollum and now Frodo’s little stubby finger.
  • 1:04 The Nazgul are loaded with mystical power, but apparently unable to tell the difference between a Hobbit and a pillow.
  • 1:10 Orcs are ugly.
  • 1:14 Aragorn proves Ring Wraiths are vastly over-rated.
  • 1:17 Uruk-hai are even uglier. This seems to be the way Middle-earth works. Ugly = bad. Pretty = good.
  • 1:23 Arwen tells the Ring Wraiths to come and have a go, if they think they’re hard enough. Elf-powered tidal wave 1, Ring Wraiths 0.
  • 1:27 Come to Beautiful Rivendell and See Our Lovely Landscapes.
  • 1:30 Ah, turns out Ian McKellen joins Weaving and Lee in the $1.5 billion club, for LotR and X-Men.
  • 1:34 The Arwen-Aragorn romance kicks into gear. “I would rather share one lifetime with you, than face all the ages of this world alone.” Sniff.
  • 1:40 OMG! Strider is Aragorn! This revelation might have had more effect if a) I knew they explained why that was important, and b) if I hadn’t been calling him that for the past 1:40.

Disk Two

  • 0:00 I thought changing discs in the middle of a movie went out with LD. Apparently not.
  • 0:05 Come to Beautiful New Zealand and See Our Lovely (360-degree) Landscapes.
  • 0:07 You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you? You know, for a second there, yeah, I kinda did.
  • 0:16 I have to say, the way of getting into the mines of Moria appears to come from a poor D&D adventure.
  • 0:17 A tentacle not-so languidly breaks the surface.
  • 0:26 Nice city. Shame about the dead dwarfs littering it.
  • 0:27 “We have barred the gates…but cannot hold them for long. The ground shakes. Drums…drums…in the deep. We cannot get out. A shadow moves in the dark.” Never a good sign.
  • 0:31 Legolas running up the troll’s chain onto its head, and firing an arrow down into the skull. Cool.
  • 0:32 But otherwise, the troll does look a bit Playstation-y. There’s no doubt WETA’s work improved as the series went on.
  • 0:37 Now, that’s what I call a yawning chasm.
  • 0:38 “Nobody tosses a dwarf.”
  • 0:39 Ah, that’s why the orcs ran. Don’t blame them.
  • 0:42 And “Fly” is only a 3rd-level AD&D spell too. Guess Gandalf must have gone with “Fireball” instead.
  • 0:51 I imagine when you’re an elf and so near-immortal, you don’t… need… to… speak… with… any… urgency.
  • 0:57 Or blink, apparently.
  • 1:04 Galadriel turns into Santa Claus, handing out gifts like Halloween candy.
  • 1:07 Gimli the hair-fetishist. Who knew?
  • 1:11 Come to Beautiful New Zealand and See Our Lovely Rivers [But not our giant statues, for they are CGI]
  • 1:15 Chris adds Orlando Bloom to the $1.5 billion club: LotR and Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • 1:21 Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Legolas unleashes the semi-automatic bow and arrow.
  • 1:25 Uruk-hai decapitation. PG-13 rating. Hmmm. Lack of resulting arterial spray, I assume.
  • 1:32 Hobbits hugging. The film must almost be over.
  • 1:34 “I don’t suppose we’ll ever see them again,” says Frodo. Not for about another eight hours, no.
  • 1:42 The official fan club credits start.
  • 2:02 The official fan club credits end. I notice the list include Sir Ian McKellen, plus an Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd and Christopher Lee, but not Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom or Liv Tyler.

The Two Towers

  • 0:00 What? No ‘Previously, on Lord of the Rings“?
  • 0:01 Come to Beautiful New Zealand and See Our Lovely Snowy Mountainscapes
  • 0:03 Now, that’s “falling with style”
  • 0:07 Gollum! Hooray! A great gift to celebrity impersonators everywhere, just like Christopher Walken.
  • 0:08 I hope Sam had his rabies shots.
  • 0:10 Andy Serkis should have won the Oscar.
  • 0:13 Come to Beautiful New Zealand and See Our Lovely Expanses of Plains
  • 0:15 Saruman: “The old world will burn in the fires of industry. The forests will fall. A new order will rise. We will drive the machine of war with the sword and the spear and the iron fists of the Orc. We have only to remove those who oppose us.” I imagine Lee’s operatic version of Tomorrow Belongs to Me is in the extended version.
  • 0:23 Rated PG-13 for brief scenes of orcish cannibalism, I suppose.
  • 0:25 Why, yes, Chris – that is Dr. McCoy from the new Star Trek playing Eomer..
  • 0:28 Orc head on a stick! Get your orc head on a stick!
  • 0:32 Here comes the talking tree. Well, that’s ent-ertainment.
  • 0:35 Come to Beautiful New Zealand and See Our Not-so Lovely Bogs, Marshes and Swamps.
  • 0:38 Elijah Wood has been biting his nails. Maybe that’s method acting.
  • 0:44 Gandalf 1, Balrog 0.
  • 0:46 Shadowfax arrives. The extended cut also includes his younger brothers, Shadowemail and Shadowtwitter.
  • 0:47 Now this is what I call an evil fortress.
  • 0:54 Personally, I would think twice before appointing any adviser called Grima Wormtongue.
  • 1:00 Another great facial-hair face-off, this time between Gandalf and Theoden.
  • 1:09 Eowyn – clearly not just a wallflower princess, who replies to the question “What do you fear?” with “To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.” You go girl…

  • 1:13 Sam and Frodo bickering like a married couple. I wonder if there’s LotR slash ficton?
  • 1:14 Oh, god. “Results 1 – 20 of about 469,000 for lord of the rings slash”
  • 1:15 Yep: Andy Serkis really should have won the Oscar.
  • 1:19 Those oliphaunts are quite large. They are, however, not as big as the F-sized ones in Return.
  • 1:25 Eowyn vs. Arwen. Now that’s the kind of slash fiction I could cope with.
  • 1:28 Legolas swings from the ground to a galloping horse. Never mind Aragorn, I think Legolas may be even cooler in battle.
  • 1:35 I guess Grima somehow missed the forces of darkness massing outside the tower in their tens of thousands, on his way in.
  • 1:36 More than an hour since we last heard from Pippin and Merry. Still with the ent. No change there, then.
  • 1:43 It’s not exactly looking good for the forces of light, is it?
  • 1:48 David Wenham does look like he could be Sean Bean’s brother.
  • 1:52 Serkis chews the scenery to great effect: “MY PRECIOUSSSSSS!” Marvellous.
  • 1:56 Come to Beautiful New Zealand and See Our Lovely Lands… What? Did we do that already?
  • 2:01 Pippin and Merry. Still with the ent.
  • 2:09 The elves show up. Must be part of the National Elf Service. Thank you: I’ll be here all week.
  • 2:11 The enemy shows up. There’s a lot of them.
  • 2:12 And they appear to be upset.
  • 2:15 One of those shots, panning along the battlements of Helm’s Deep, that still makes you go “Wow.”
  • 2:16 The ents continue to debate. This would be a good part of why we decided an extended version of this one was not worthwhile.
  • 2:18 Is that Uruk-Hai carrying an Olympic Torch?
  • 2:21 After careful consideration, the ents decide to…do absolutely nothing,
  • 2:24 I think there was a Peter Jackson cameo here, third spear-chucker from the left or something.
  • 2:26 Somehow, the words “epic battle scenes” don’t quite do this justice.
  • 2:31 The ents experiences a change of…sap, or something, I guess, and charge into battle. Run, forest, run!
  • 2:40 I’m sorry. My jaw has just been slack for the past ten minutes.
  • 2:42 Had to laugh at the ent, its head on fire, running into the advancing waters to put it out.
  • 2:49 “Samwise the Brave” – “Samwise the Gay, more like” snorts Chris.

The Return of the King
Disk One

  • 0:04 Hobbiticide! I’d forgotten Gollum was a hobbit, before the ring got to him.
  • 0:05 No fish were harme… Oh, well – never mind.
  • 0:09 Do you think they are actually barefoot, or just wearing shoes that look like hairy hobbit feet?
  • 0:15 Saruman does some very good taunting for altitude, like the French castle on Holy Grail.
  • 0:16 Saruman and his Magic 8-Ball (TM) fall from grace onto a conveniently-pointy waterwheel.
  • 0:21 Dwarf flatulence. Oh, hold my aching sides.
  • 0:23 Serkis vs. Serkis again. In a film of great performances, I’m ever more convinced this one was the best.
  • 0:29 Wizards sleep with their eyes open. Which makes sense, when you think about it.
  • 0:41 It’s gone a bit low-key for the moment. I get the sense of pieces being moved into place for the final battle.
  • 0:42 Minas Tirith. Ok. I’m impressed. But why does it need a helipad on the roof?
  • 0:44 It’s Dr. Walter Bishop! Ok, it’s John Noble, but I’m so used to seeing him spout non sequiturs on Fringe, that seeing him as a broken steward of a kingdom is… interesting.
  • 0:52 Nice to see Billy Boyd actually get to do a scene with some dramatic oomph to it, and he does quite well.
  • 0:58 The Witch-King is deeply peeved. I know I said the Uruk-Hai were, but they barely count as miffed. Which isn’t bad given he doesn’t actually have a face.
  • 1:03 Is it just me, or does the subplot involving Osgliath and Faramir, not add much to the storyline overall.
  • 1:05 Oh, wicked, bad, naughty Pippin! He has been setting alight to our beacon, which, I just remembered, is grail-shaped.  It’s not the first time we’ve had this problem.
  • 1:06 Come to Beautiful New Zealand and See Our Lovely Lines of Beacons
  • 1:15 No, I’m sorry – I’m still seeing Dr. Bishop
  • 1:19 “I will break him”, mutters the Witch King about Gandalf. Didn’t realize Dolph Lundgren was in the series.
  • 1:30 “Your father’s will has turned to madness!” says Gandalf of Denethor. Well, he does have something in common with Dr. Noble then.
  • 1:32 I’m sure charging headlong into the forces of darkness seemed like a good idea at the time.
  • 1:33 Come to Beautiful New Zealand and See Our Lovely War-Machines Being Pushed by Hideous Trolls.
  • 1:40 “You ride to war, but not to victory.” Aren’t you a little bundle of joy, Elron?
  • 1:46 Yeah, it’s all turning into a bit of a gloomfest at the moment.
  • 1:47 If I recall correctly, these chasms are the same ones used at the start of Brain Dead.
  • 1:50 Eowyn gets a dashboard ornament for her war-horse, in the shape of Merry.
  • 1:56 Skullvalanche! In a movie of Very Cool Things, that has to be one of the coolest.
  • 1:59 “Release the prisoners.” And who said monsters had no sense of humour?
  • 2:02 Duelling catapults. And let battle commence.
  • 2:06 It’s a good job no-one thought to get the gunpowder recipe off Saruman.

Disk Two

  • 0:00 Peter Jackson cameo. And possibly the best reponse to “You and whose army?” ever.
  • 0:07 In which Frodo gets coated in white, sticky stuff. Slash fiction hysteria ensues.
  • 0:12 Gandalf looks all surprised when the Wolf’s Head battering ram begins to assault the gates. Guess he missed it rolling up to the main entrance. And it wasn’t quick – they started moving it in broad daylight, and it’s now after dark.
  • 0:16 In which Frodo gets all bukkaked by Shelob. Slash fiction meltdown ensues.
  • 0:25 and twenty seconds And THAT is the money shot.
  • 0:29 and zero seconds No, that is.
  • 0:31 Crap. I’ve just remembered this battle isn’t even close to the climax.
  • 0:32 For example, here come the F-size mumakil.
  • 0:40 Witch King: “You fool, No man can kill me. Die now.” Eowyn (removing her helmet): “I am no man.” Loud, sustained applause.
  • 0:42 Legolas enters ultimate cool mode, taking down a mumakil and its passengers. “That still only counts as one,” grumbles Gimli.
  • 0:43 Eowyn says goodbye to her dying father. For me, the most emotionally-intense moment of the whole trilogy.
  • 0:55 Sam and Frodo escape. I must confess to not having really paid attention.
  • 1:03 Orc brawl. And am increasingly convinced that Frodo is a wuss.
  • 1:11 Decapitation of the Mouth of Sauron. I will say this, the agents of evil lose their heads quite easily. Hohoho.
  • 1:20 One last epic battle scene? Oh, go on then…
  • 1:24 Frodo gives Gollum the finger.
  • 1:27 Now, why exactly does the destruction of the Ring cause Mordor to collapse into a gaping chasm?
  • 1:33 And now the hobbit-hugging starts in earnest.
  • 1:39 “My friends. You bow to no-one,” And that’s where the film should have ended, but noooooooo…
  • 1:46 Still going. Elves shipping off and taking Bilbo.
  • 1:50 Chris think Billy Boyd could be a future Doctor Who.
  • 1:51 Elijah Wood looks concerned, for the last time, and sails off with the elves. Surely that’s the end now?
  • 1:52 No. Not yet.
  • 1:54 The End. Finally.

Conclusion? It’s only when you watch all three movies back to back, that you can appreciate how Jackson managed to tell so many interweaving stories. I felt that the trilogy was more even in quality on this viewing: Towers didn’t drag as much as I felt it did originally, while Return wasn’t quite as astonishingly good. All told, it stands as an epic (there’s that word again!) feat of imagination, one that is certainly worthy of its position on top of the decade’s movies.