By Art Schmidt
Last Tuesday, June 21st, The Two Towers showed in limited distribution across the country, to grand applause. The Extended Edition of the film clocked in at three hours and forty-two minutes, and was a treat to behold on the big screen. Tomorrow evening is the Grand Finale, the limited release of The Return of the King in select theatres in its Extended form.
Bringing the Lord of the Rings movies back to the screen for a single showing in their extended form is a wonderful treat for fans of the trilogy and of Tolkien’s grand work. As a further treat, before The Two Towers was shown, a small piece was run of Jackson talking about the making of the film and how it was in many ways the most difficult to make.
“The Two Towers was in some respects the biggest challenge of The Lord of the Rings trilogy,” Jackson told the audience, “because you can film the beginning, and you can film the end, but filming a movie which is really ‘the middle’ is a challenge indeed. And so we worked very hard on the screenplay to try to give it a story of its own.”
He went on to explain his excitement with The Two Towers and specifically with the battle of Helm’s Deep. Though the battle is a very small portion of Tolkien’s novel (less than ten pages are devoted to it) Jackson and his writing partner Fran Walsh pushed Frodo and Sam’s encounter with Shelob to the third movie and expanded Helm’s Deep into the spectacular climax of the second movie.
“I’d always wanted to film a huge battle scene, since I was a little kid,” Jackson said, reminiscing during his pre-recorded intro. “It was a fun battle, it took us months and months to shoot. It was night shoots, it was the middle of winter, there were rain towers and dunk tanks and it was a long, cold shoot to get Helm’s Deep in the can.”
“But you know, looking back on it now, you just remember the good times… Well, there weren’t really that many good times actually” Jackson quipped, eliciting a theatre full of laughs.
He also talked about filming Gollum and the effect that Andy Serkis had on changing the character and bringing him to life. One interesting story he relayed concerned the origin of the now classic camp scene with Gollum talking to himself while Frodo and Sam are sleeping on their way to the Stairs of Cirith Ungol at the end of the movie.
“We were able to look at the film coming together,” Jackson explained, “there was some aspect of [Gollum’s] character that just wasn’t gelling, and we weren’t sure audiences would be able to the nature of his unique personality.” So his partner Fran Walsh wrote the camp scene, and Jackson said he was absolutely thrilled with it but he had no time left in the schedule to film it. So he sent Walsh off with a tiny crew to film it herself. Actors Elijah Wood and Sean Astin were filming other scenes, and are not actually in the scene at all; there are stand-ins huddled up under the blankets pretending to be asleep, and the only character with lines is Gollum.
“It’s subsequently become one of the most famous scenes in the film,” Jackson told the audience with a wide grin, “It’s the split-personality scene.” He goes on to joke “So, ironically, one of the most famous scenes in the film, I didn’t actually direct. But that’s just the nature of this crazy [business].”
And now we gear up for the final film, The Return of the King, which in its shorter theatrical version is tied with Ben Hur and Titanic for the most Academy Awards ever earned. Not bad company. And in its extended version, it’s arguably the best picture ever made. Go ahead, argue. Citizen Kane? Maybe if Rosebud turned out to be his long lost claymore. Gone with the Wind? Vivian Leigh was an amazing actress, but she was no elven princess. Casablanca? Let’s see how Bogey would have fared had the Nine been gunnin’ for him. Star Wars? Okay… if The Hobbit turns out to be another Phantom Menace, we’ll call it a draw. 🙂 Yeah, I’m a fan.
Watching the extended scenes of Saruman’s demise, the journey of Aragorn and his Army of Undead upriver to Osgiliath, and especially the well-conceived character of the Mouth of Sauron up on the big screen is sure to be a delight. My one (minor) complaint of the first two screenings of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers is that they did not build in an intermission. And at just over four hours running time, I’ll probably be needing one about the time the orcs show up at the gates of Minas Tirith.
Of course, June 28th is also date that the EE set of LOTR comes out in Blu-Ray, no mere coincidence that. I’ll be in line to get my copy, and then planning a weekend in my man cave to devour it all over again.