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Vegas reviews The LORD OF THE RINGS - BNAT Experience!

Hey folks, Harry here... Here's a look at Vegas' look and very frank take on THE LORD OF THE RINGS and how RETURN OF THE KING completely changed the direction of his opinion upon the entire story. I'd also like to correct something... The number one reason that everybody is writing about THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST instead of RETURN OF THE KING is... They'd seen ROTK nearly 20 hours prior to this film, and as a programmer of a slate of films it was my astonishingly tough duty of having to create a program of films that could possibly be fair to the rest of the films... ROTK hits one like a sledgehammer to the forehead... Personally, I'm seeing it again on December 11th at a press screening and I'm holding my review till then, simply because... BNAT was so constantly dazzling, that all I seem to remember was that I was so utterly moved by the film, that I completely "Saffy-ed" out when I got the microphone afterwards... RETURN OF THE KING is the best film I've seen in 2003, a work of masterful storytelling, direction and power. So much so, that it completely reverse a long time critic of the series... Here's Vegas to take you through his LORD OF THE RINGS experiences and feelings at BNAT 3,4 and 5!

I guess I didn’t realize how much of my thoughts had turned until I saw those big rocks flying through the air. But that’s further down.

I saw Fellowship of the Ring with my wife and my best friend. My best friend immediately proclaimed it the best film ever made. My wife felt like she was in the wrong theater. Hated it.

I was somewhere in the middle. I was never a Tolkien fan, and the film did not convert me, though it did get me to read the book. I admired the art direction, and the dedication that everyone put into it, but it all rang hollow to me. I liked it the same way I’d like a movie like Blade II. Neat, but nothing special.

I read the book. It felt like homework. It was very well-written, with a sense of detail that I could never begin to approximate, but the fantasy genre just never appealed to me. Elves, goblins, magic jewelry…it was all to Dungeons and Dragons to me.

I liked one character in the book though, and looked forward to seeing more of him in the Two Towers. But Gollum didn’t have much to do in Fellowship of the Ring, so when I gave the film another try, it still felt distant, emotionless, and hollow. Pretty, but not very substantial.

I got the Extended Edition dvd of Fellowship of the Ring, mainly because the packaging intrigued me. Everyone was proclaiming it the greatest dvd ever made, so it seemed worth a shot.

I learned three things from it:

1) John Howe is a scary nerd.

2) Alan Lee is a nerd with scary teeth.

3) I really liked Gimli and Legolas.

And that surprised me. Two characters who didn’t even register with me in the theatrical edition found a place in my heart with four simple words: “She gave me three.” For all the documentaries and commentaries on that disc, those four words were what made the thing worth the money I spent on it. But I had to watch the DVD in secret to enjoy it: away from the loathing my wife held for it, and away from the hype and zeal that flew forth from the mouths of fanboys on the net.

Alone, I enjoyed Fellowship of the Ring. So alone, I saw The Two Towers.

I loved Gollum immediately. Everything about him was perfect, and I thought for an hour that it was nice to finally have a character in this story to relate to. But halfway through the film, I had two. My wife was pregnant at the time, and seeing Theoden grieving over the loss of his son really touched me. For the first time in seeing this story on film, I was genuinely moved. Then Gollum talked to himself, and I thought he deserved an Oscar nomination, though he’d not have been my choice for the win. Then everyone fought for an hour, and some trees fucked up Dracula at Fraggle Rock. It was getting kinda late, and I was ready to go home.

My wife never saw The Two Towers in theaters. What could I say to convince her, when she hated the first one so vehemently? But I picked up the Extended Edition on DVD again, and convinced her to sit down and watch it with me.

Gandalf fought the Balrog, and my wife snickered. I wanted her to enjoy herself, so I told her to think of it as the Greatest Tenacious D Video of All Time. I could see this would be an uphill battle, especially given that I was no fanatic myself. Why was I trying to persuade the woman I loved into enjoying a movie I still had mixed feelings about?

But then Legolas came on screen, and my wife had some eye-candy. As jealousy reared its green-eyed head, my wife agreed to watch the rest of the movie.

She too liked Gollum immediately.

Things were going well. She was admiring the art direction, the production design, the costumes, and consequently I found myself enjoying the film more. Feeling less guarded about it, I was able to just enjoy a well-made action epic. I told myself it didn’t have to be deeply satisfying on an emotional level, because it was pretty to look at, and sometimes that’s enough.

Gollum talked to himself, and my wife felt sorry for him. She was finally getting invested.

Then the Arabs marched on the Black Gate, and my wife was PISSED.

She’s Lebanese, and even though I told her they were Maori (or at least based on Maori culture), she saw Arabs being cast as the bad guys. I couldn’t say it didn’t bother me. Even if they were based on Maori warriors, to the uneducated eye (especially in my home country), they could be easily taken for Arabs, in a time when our own government seemed to be declaring war against an entire race that my wife was a part of.

We put it away for awhile, went out to eat, and she stewed over it. “Why do WE always get cast as the bad guys?” she vented. I tried to do damage control, but really, I was asking myself the same question.

A few hours later we put in the second disc, and we both loved it. Just viewing it alone, away from all the hype and talk of Oscar entitlement, away from the Potter and Lucas bashing, away from everyone telling us what we were “supposed” to like, we were finally able to just kick back and watch the spectacle of thousands of people killing each other. And killing each other well, I might add. I don’t know what was added from the theatrical cut to the extended cut, because the theatrical cut never registered with me the way it did with the diehard fans, but I do know that everything about Helm’s Deep played better the second time around.

And we found that, watching it together, we LOVED the Ents. What seemed silly in a film nominated for Best Picture, seemed fun cuddled up together on the couch, wishing we had some “pipeweed” of our own to enjoy with the wife’s new favorite characters, Merry and Pippin. In the first movie, they felt like a useless comedic addition to a film that felt too long. In The Two Towers, they felt like an invaluable comic addition to a film that was better when it was lengthened.

So we saw Return of the King together. And we saw it at BNAT, and we saw it with my friends who absolutely adore all things Tolkien. It started out of nowhere, taking us by surprise, but in retrospect that was the best thing for us. Seeing it without buildup, without hype, without expectation. Just unleashing it without warning.

Deagol was no innocent. There but for the grace of a stronger grip, goes Gollum.

Seeing Pippin again, especially the way he interacted with Gandalf, just made us smile. I can’t believe how much I was starting to love that little guy.

“In fact, maybe it’s best if you don’t open your mouth at all.”

Gollum got better with every scene. Seeing him resort to use everything but his “dead” grandma to get an edge dulled every bit of sympathy I had for him, and yet he still owned every minute of screen time he had. He’s a fucking MONSTER in this one, and I mean that both as a description and a complement.

That hand picking Merry up from behind. “Ride with me.” We all cheered.

And the single best money shot I’ve seen all year: a big fucking rock hurled hundreds of feet up in the air, flat out embarrassing Michael Bay for ever thinking that he could reduce Pearl Harbor to one shot of a bomb. Quite simply the most beautifully executed effects shot of the year. Awe.

Getting separated from Chunk really seems to have pissed Sloth off. Also, he really needs to get some Noxeema for that breakout on his shoulder.

If Hannibal had Oliphaunts, we’d all be speaking Carthaginian.

The Army of the Dead are everything you hope they will be, and they are more.

So many little moments, and all of them paying off things that just didn’t matter to me in the first two. Not only did I find myself enjoying Return of the King more than I could have ever anticipated, but I found it raising my esteem for Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers as well. Return of the King, to this unconverted viewer, made those two films finally matter. They were finally part of something I liked, as opposed to something I didn’t understand.

They were finally finished, and even though it took half a dozen endings to send it off, I wouldn’t have cut a single one of them. When that New Line logo first came up, I would never have guessed that in three hours I’d be missing Merry and Pippin, two characters I started off hating, but who now bow to no one.

Return of the King is one of my two favorite films of 2003. It is not my favorite of the year, and it doesn’t have to be. But it is a film that I will revisit, and it is a film that I would recommend even to those unmoved by the first two. It has made me, and my wife, a fan of not just one film, but of three. If it wins Best Picture, it’s not because Fellowship of the Ring or The Two Towers lost. It’s because Return of the King earned it on its own. And I think it is a mortal lock. My opinion expressed in earlier talkbacks has completely reversed. But even if it doesn’t win, it doesn’t matter.

Return of the King is a great film.

P.S. The Passion is one of the best films I’ve ever seen, and will almost certainly be the best film of 2004. It does not need any CGI additions whatsoever, because it is accomplished as it is. This, to me, is a film about one thing: there was a woman who saw her baby tortured, humiliated, and killed right before her very eyes, and she loved him. And nothing she could say could get him to end it, because he loved everyone else.

You don’t need any CGI to tell a story that pure, that beautiful.

I hope all of you enjoy your times at these films as much as I.


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