Some Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings (2001 – 2003)

I don’t think I need to do a proper review of the The Lord of the Rings. Too much has been written about it already and I assume the story is well-known but I’m still in the mood to write about a few of the aspects.

The Blu-Ray version

Never has Blu-Ray made more sense than with this movie. I’ve seen it before but watching it on Blu-Ray is really something. It has an amazing 3D effect that stunned me. The colors are amazingly intensive and all the creatures come to life much better. It’s like another movie almost. I’m not sure that if I ever watch it again I will always watch it in Blu-Ray as it’s occasionally almost too impressive and very surreal. The Blu-Ray I watched was the extended version.

The three parts

The way this movie is constructed is pure genius. While all the main characters get together in part I The Fellowship of the Ring, they are going different ways in part II The Return of the King and three The Two Towers and we have up to 4 parallel story lines. If you are like me, and have your favourite bits, then every time the story moves away from them, you eagerly await until it returns to you favourite characters.

The characters

The Lord of the Rings is action-driven but without those great characters and the “Band of Brothers” feel, it would never have been the success it is. I always liked the idea that the fellowship included not only humans but also Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves and a magician. It’s typical that of the initial group only the second human dies.

While Orcs and Uruk Hai are creatures of the dark forces, hobbits, elves and dwarves are good, only humans can choose and their decisions can be fatal for the world or – as can be seen in Gollum’s case – for themselves.

I’m not sure which was my favourite character the first time I watched it but I think – the elves in general. This time the four characters I liked best were Aragorn, Boromir, Haldir and Legolas. I’m not saying they are the most important, they are the ones I like best.

Pairing Legolas, the elf, with Gimli, the dwarf was another strike of genius and adds humour to the movie, just like the pair of silly hobbits Pippin and Merry. Pippin is particularly important as his foolish actions are the motor behind many important scenes. He triggers more than one major fight or battle.

The actors

I can’t think of any movie like The Lord of the Rings in which the actors are so well-chosen. I wouldn’t change one of them. Readers of this blog know that I’m no Orlando Bloom fan but that wasn’t always the case. The first time I saw him was as Legolas and he is amazing in this role, he is cut out for it.

My two favourite actors in the movie are Viggo Mortensen and Sean Bean. I like many of their other movies as well. Sean Bean is an actor who is famous for his dying scenes. There aren’t many movies with him in which he doesn’t die. I can’t remember that any of the scenes is as dramatic as this one here.

Another incredibly great choice was Liv Tyler as Arwen.

The special effects

I’m not too fond of special effects and CGI in war movies in general but there wouldn’t be any believable fantasy or sci-fi movies without them. The Lord of the Rings raises the bar extremely high. I didn’t even notice how high in my previous viewings. What the Blu-Ray disc manages to convey particularly well are the buildings and cities. They are stunning. The two abodes of the elves as well as Minas Tirith make you sit in front of the TV like children in front of their christmas presents.

War

I have included Lord of the Rings on this blog for a few reasons. Without the topic of “war” there would be no Lord of the Rings. The movie offers so many incredible fight and battle scenes which justify including it. The most famous and longest one The Battle of Helms Deep is usually mentioned in Top 10 battle scenes, right along battles in real wars. It is an amzing scene and I found it quite scary when I saw it for the first time. And particularly one of the deaths got to me a lot (if you’ve seen it you know who).

The message of course is clear as well. War isn’t good. The dark forces bring war and it is a battle of good versus evil. I think this also is part of the appeal. In real life, in history, it’s so rare, especially in the last decades, that good and bad can been named so easily, that a war is nothing else than the good forces fighting the bad.

What I like as well is that it is a fight for the good, mankind and other positive forces but most of all also a fight for the survival of nature. This reminds me that whenever people fight for trees in our world, they are made fun of.

Book versus Movie

It’s been a long time since I’ve read the book and I loved it at the time. I even remember that I was disappointed when I saw the movie for the first time because two scenes were more impressive in my mind but by now the movie has completely eradicated the book and I’m not even sure I could read and enjoy it again without seeing the people from the movie.

I could write much more but I’m going to leave it at that as anything else would contain too many spoilers. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t waste anymore time. You could alos re-watch it as a warm-up for the upcoming The Hobbit.

On the Tolkien Gateway  you can find more info, on the upcoming Hobbit movies as well.

How about you? Is it one of your favourites as well? Do you prefer the book?

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The Thin Red Line (1998) Part II On Death and Dying

Sergeant Storm: It makes no difference who you are, no matter how much training you got and the tougher guy you might be. When you’re at the wrong spot at the wrong time, you gonna get it.

You are going to die. I am going to die. We are all going to die. It is inevitable. The difference lies just in whether we want and allow to be reminded of the fact or not. Whether it makes us feel uncomfortable or not and to what degree.

The way death and dying are shown in The Thin Red Line will trigger three different ways of reacting:

  • We see it and allow to be reminded of our own death which will make us feel uneasy and sad to different degrees
  • We see it and look away or feel nothing
  • We see it and make fun of it

These three ways to react to someone’s dying can also be found as reactions in the movie.

I would argue that there is not one war movie out there that thematizes death, dying and killing like it is done in The Thin Red Line. I would also say that I think that this may be one of the reasons some people have a problem with it as the death scenes are very intimate, very intense. We have people who die screaming, people who die swearing, some pray, some mumble, some are quiet. This is quite usual in war movies but we have also an emphasis on those who watch them which is unusual. The importance of looks in The Thin Red Line would be worth a chapter on it’s own but I will only focus on the looks related to death and dying.

We have those who look away when someone is dying, no matter how close they are to the person. And we have those who acknowledge the others dying. Some are moved by it, some are not. Watching someone die is a very intimate act, if you think of it. Being with someone during his final moments is a privilege. Private Witt gives each and every single suffering man his full attention, looks at him unflinchingly but also unobtrusively and with compassion.

There are also the looks directed at the dying enemy. They are very different. They are indecent almost. Some make fun of them, stare, strip them off their dignity. Witt also looks at the enemy with the same intent attention and compassion.

In the movie there is equally a meditation about death’s randomness as expressed in the quote by Sgt Storm at the beginning of this post. Why does one man die while the other who is maybe a far lesser soldier survives unharmed? This is something that has been on my father’s mind a lot. When he was drafted he was heartbroken and hoping to get killed on the battlefield. While his friends and comrades died, he didn’t get one scratch. My father has not one tiny little scar, yet he eagerly awaited death. This is mysterious and the movie shows this exceptionally well.

Death is part of nature (which I will try to analyze in part III) but the dying on a battle field isn’t natural, it’s man-made.

Killing is also a theme. Although it is legally acceptable to kill someone on a battlefield, in a war, soldiers didn’t kill lightly. I use the past tense deliberately because movies – or series in this case – like Generation Kill – and also already some of the Vietnam movies – show that there are more and more soldiers who have no empathy for those they kill. Those who play war games may see a running person at a distance not like a human being but just like another target. And they certainly don’t feel guilty.

The soldiers in The Thin Red Line do not kill lightly. They do feel guilt and the term “enemy” doesn’t mean much anymore once they have shot him down with their own gun.

One of my earliest posts on this blog focused on the topics Death and Dying. You can find it here:  On Death and Dying or Why War Movies Teach Us a Buddhist Lesson. Nothing has changed in my perception since then. I still think that the way death and dying are treated in our society is very problematic. We have to accept the fact that they are part of life. All war movies deal with death and dying but not all involve the viewer as much as the The Thin Red Line. Like hardly any other movie it manages in a very subtle way to raise the awareness for our own mortality.

The following parts are upcoming:

Part III. Nature and Evil

Part IV. The Actors and the Characters

Part V. Saving Private Ryan versus The Thin Red Line

What if… A War Movie Related Distraction for Hot Summer Evenings

It’s hot and sultry outside and inside it isn’t much better. A little game might come in as a welcome distraction. I’ll ask a few questions which you may or may not answer. If you want to read my answers, you will find them after the questions.

1. What if all of the war movies would have to be destroyed but you could keep one, which one would you choose?

2. What if you could choose to make a war movie, which war would you choose for your film? 

3. What if you could replace one actor in a war movie, which actor in which movie would you replace?

4. What if you could wake up in a war movie, which one would you want to experience?

a) You can’t be harmed

b) You can be harmed

5. What if there would be no more new war movies, would you mind?

6. What if you could decide about a remake, which movie would you choose?

7. What if you could meet one war movie character in real life, who would you want to meet?

8. What if there was only one sub-genre of war movies, which one would you prefer?

9. What if you could have one book turned into a war movie, which one would you like to see on screen?

10. What if you could change one war movie, which one would you change and what would you change?

1. Black Hawk Down. There aren’t many better anti-war films out there and hardly any that will give you an idea of what combat might be like.

2. I really have a thing for the Napoleonic Wars and would probably make one of that period.

3. Nicolas Cage in Windtalkers. Maybe it would always be a shitty movie but it would certainly be much better without him.

4.a) Intimate Enemies but I don’t want to elaborate why.

4.b) Hope and Glory. I’m not romanticizing the Blitz but it’s a movie that has something very nostalgic.

5. No, I guess not. There are so many good movies out there and if there were no new ones, maybe it would mean that we do not have any wars anymore.

6. I’m not keen on remakes but if I really had to choose maybe The Longest Day as it would be a great opportunity for an all-star cast and a little bit of cutting would do it no harm.

7. Sgt. Elias (Platoon). Just love that character.

8. Infantry combat. It is the most harrowing.

9. One of the novels of Heinrich Böll, a post-war novel.

10. Yes, please, let me change We Were Soldiers. No more religious crap from the man with the double standard.