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The Lord of the Rings: Moments Out of Time

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The Lord of the Rings: Moments Out of Time

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy has earned wide recognition as one of the most significant accomplishments in the modern age of cinema. The films translate J.R.R. Tolkien’s prose through popular filmmaking tropes and cutting-edge technology into a stunningly visceral travelogue of brotherhood, grief, sacrifice, and storytelling itself, enlivened by the panoramic vistas of New Zealand where they were shot. However, there’s a caveat to the retrospective glow that has steadily amassed around the trilogy since The Return of the King swept the Oscars in 2004. Perhaps due to the epic scope of the project, which forms an almost 10-hour opus when connected together, the long view of director Peter Jackson’s accomplishment deemphasizes the minutia tantamount to its success.

Therefore, as we await Jackson’s latest foray into Middle-earth with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the time appears ripe for a fresh look at The Lord of the Rings films. However, rather than focusing on where and how the pieces fit into a broader mosaic of the trilogy, an inside-out approach to these movies would make for a more worthwhile account of their riches.

For this piece, I’ve appropriated the concept of Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy’s “Moments Out of Time” annual look-back at a given year’s cinematic offerings. My hope is to highlight individual moments, disconnected not just from the trilogy’s story, but also from the generally accepted account of its collective achievement. Thus, the “Moments Out of Time” concept applies beyond merely the format of highlighting specific excerpts from the movies. These moments—some of which are individual shots, others extended sequences—aren’t necessarily the best or most pivotal within a certain context for evaluating the films.

Each of the following 10 moments illustrates a slightly different shade of the films’ fluid realization of a complex visual, thematic, and emotional spectrum. They encompass moments large and small, every one offering a distinct flavor of Jackson’s interpretation of Middle-earth, and all magnifying the larger accomplishments of the trilogy as a whole. I’ve limited my list to 10, though dozens more could arguably have been featured.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Elrond’s Prophecy (The Two Towers). Although Jackson is on record as saying that fantasy should be real and accessible, he tends to excel most at dreamlike ambiances, particularly those personified by despair. A flash-forward sequence presenting a glimpse into Arwen’s (Liv Tyler) future is a poignant expression of this. Rendered in gray tones, the sequence portrays the immortal elf standing beside Aragorn’s (Viggo Mortensen) tomb. Brittle leaves fall around her as she’s suspended in stillness through time’s passage. “He will come to death, an image of the splendor of the kings of men, in glory and undimmed before the breaking of the world,” Elrond (Hugo Weaving) imparts. “But you, my daughter, will linger on, in darkness and in doubt.” It’s an instance of sustained lyricism, and it may also be the darkest iteration of the films’ fixation with death and loss.

The Lord of the Rings: The<br />
Fellowship of the Ring

Concerning Hobbits (The Fellowship of the Ring). For The Lord of the Rings movies to work, getting the Shire right was a critical step. The embodiment of paradise for Tolkien, the Shire is also where much of the story transpires before the primary conflict gets going. For Jackson, the task was not only to establish endearing characters, but also to create a world that you could swept up into—all based on mood rather than any specific story point, no less. Alas, the rolling countryside populated by pipe-smoking, ale-drinking hobbits carries the same whimsical charm as a certain wizard on his way for a visit. In the film’s opening scenes, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) ride on a horse and carriage through the hills and meadows, bantering about dragons and adventure. Jackson economically intersperses this with vignettes of life in the Shire; the lasting image out of this is when Gandalf sets fireworks off the back of the cart to the jubilation of the children behind. Taken in whole, the scenes in the Shire are inviting enough to make you forget the problems of the outside world that will soon beckon these folks into action. And though the story does not return to these green pastures until the end of the third film, the peaceful rhythms of the Shire resound profoundly over the journey.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

“To War!” (The Two Towers). The Lord of the Rings movies are famous for sweeping images of destruction and ruin. No single shot is more potent in this regard than the revelation of Saruman’s (Christopher Lee) army in the series’s second entry. The story informs us back in the first film that that villainous wizard has been breeding an army, but no less astounding is the reverberating effect of seeing thousands of rabid orc soldiers assembled at Isengard. This is due in part to how Jackson stages the moment, with the camera following behind Saruman as he steps out on the balcony without a break in the shot. The next shot pulls back from the balcony over the endless spears and roaring bellows of the army, in one of the signature moments of the series. It has technical bravura, but more importantly it possesses an arresting simplicity.

The Lord of the Rings: The<br />
Return of the King

The Witch King Revealed (The Return of the King). Although it gets lost amid the frenetic pace of The Return of the King’s first act, a scene with Frodo, Sam (Sean Astin), and Gollum (Andy Serkis) outside what appears to be an enemy stronghold on the fringe of Mordor is brilliantly atmospheric, with Jackson exerting all the tools at his disposal to a chilling effect. The fortress emits a hazy green hue that makes for a cogent backdrop for the Witch King to rise up out of the city on a massive winged beast to call on Sauron’s forces. A nightmarish vision and an ominous prelude to war, the moment builds an understated contrast between the two primary parties involved. Frodo and Sam never encounter the army pouring out slowly from the fortress, but even as they climb further out of harm’s way, Jackson, never releasing the close visual proximity between Frodo and the endless line of orcs, sublimely underlines the anxieties materializing across a span of narrative threads.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

“I will take the ring to Mordor.” (The Fellowship of the Ring). For all its accomplishments, the trilogy couldn’t have worked without McKellen’s brilliant turn as the wizard Gandalf. He lends an aura of believability to the whole affair and makes the world of Middle-earth something palpable. An arguably greater accomplishment is how he steps into the role of one of 20th-century fiction’s most memorable characters, effortlessly imbuing the wise old wizard with curmudgeonly wit. But McKellen’s ultimate mark on the character may be the gentle gravitas that he commands in the quieter moments. Gandalf is a flawed and feeling wizard, thanks to the actor’s startling range of movements and voice tones. Just take a look at his reaction to Frodo’s volunteering to take the ring to Mordor, wherein he conveys relief, grief, and even perhaps regret in a single, beautifully realized close-up.

The Lord of the Rings: The<br />
Return of the King

Rohan to the Rescue (The Return of the King). The battle sequences in The Lord of the Rings fuse an epic scope with formal prowess and innovative visual effects. But the best of them stir deeper passions of the characters and amplify the allegorical weight of the narrative. Perhaps that’s why the emotional apex of the trilogy arrives not with destruction of the ring, but during a prelude to combat midway. I’m referring to when the armies of Rohan arrive at Gondor, where a swelling legion of orcs bears down on the White City. King Theoden (Bernard Hill) bawls out words of inspiration, but Jackson’s focus is squarely on the terror awaiting him and his troops. The pounding brass chords of Howard Shore’s score echo the fear so evident in the eyes of Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Eowyn (Miranda Otto), before giving way to wailing fiddles as the Rohan soldiers charge through a fusillade of arrows. The scene is further evidence that Jackson may be most effective as both a storyteller and a director when he is channeling simple feelings into vastly orchestrated movement.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

A View of Mordor (The Two Towers). Eschewing the largely relatable landscapes of the rest of Middle-earth, Jackson’s vision of Mordor is an endless realm of fire and ash. The films offer quick peaks of this throughout the first two installments (before taking us there in the third), the most memorable of which comes at the end of the second film. The camera pans above the trees and over a mountain to reveal a fleeting full sight of the enemy’s territory. The Great Eye singes at the top of a tower as serpentine creatures glide about the land, in what’s ultimately an understated closing shot to the movie, with the music and sound effects toned down. And yet, short-lived though it may be, it recapitulates why Jackson’s vision is monumental within the scope of fantasy storytelling and commercial filmmaking. Jackson has a reputation for bloated storytelling, but when he keeps it simple the images speak for themselves.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

“Fly, You Fools!” (The Fellowship of the Ring). Most of us are familiar with the now-indelible image of Gandalf hanging on the edge of the bridge, scraping the dusty rock before submitting to the darkness below. Yet, the events directly following this are arguably more pivotal in terms of how the trilogy resonated with audiences. Jackson notably grinds the action to a halt and uses extreme slow motion (complete with the obligatory voice echoing) to depict the anguish of the remaining members of the fellowship as they flee the mines. Arrows whiz by their faces, but all other sounds are drowned out and replaced by the solo soprano and humming choir of the musical score. “Give them a moment for pity’s sake,” Boromir (Sean Bean) pleads after they’ve escaped, but Aragorn insists that they press forward. And press forward they do, but these brief moments we spend in their grief are a revealing look into the soul of these films.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Gollum Taunts Smeagol (The Two Towers). The character of Gollum represents the greatest accomplishment of the films, both from the standpoint of effects innovation and narrative heft. In The Two Towers, Gollum is a tragic figure quite literally at war with himself. The many years he’s spent a slave to the ring manifest physically through his leathery skin and corroding appearance, but it’s the piteous internal struggle that lends depth to both the character and the trilogy of films together. In the scene where we finally see the extent of his psychosis, Jackson cleverly frames the “conversation” first by moving the camera from one side of Gollum to the other, before upping the intensity and rapidly cutting between Smeagol and Gollum, as the latter torments and exploits the other’s weakness. At the moment Smeagol presses his finger against his temple, squints his eyes and dejectedly utters, “I hate you,” the scene becomes more than a virtuoso display of digital effects. It transforms into a vivid and devastating portrait of addiction and mental illness.

The Lord of the Rings: The<br />
Return of the King

The End of All Things (The Return of the King). Ever the loyal companion, Sam gets his heroic moment when he hoists Frodo up on his shoulders and carries him up the slope of Mount Doom. But it isn’t until after the Ring has been destroyed, when he and Frodo are stranded on a rock surrounded by lava, that Sam’s arc comes to fruition. He speaks longingly of a woman from the Shire and how he would have married her had he the chance. In this one moment, the film becomes about Sam, a shift that allows it to more freshly channel the story’s emotional underpinnings. If the numerous other slow-motion-heavy scenes at the end of The Return of the King ring somewhat hollow, this exchange, in its lament of lost dreams, strikes to the core of what these movies are about.

Ted Pigeon is author of the blog The Cinematic Art. He also contributed to the book Cinephilia in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Film, Pleasure and Digital Culture, Vol. 2. Follow his updates on Twitter.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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