Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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Lord of the Pings

As should be apparent from my "Now Playing" field, I've been listening to The Two Towers Complete Recordings quite a bit. Now, I'm working a review as a follow-up to the one that I wrote for the Fellowship of the Ring Complete Recordings set, so I'm not going to get into much detail about the score itself before I submit that, as one of the hardest things about writing the first one was finding new ways to describe a score that I discussed ad nauseum here.

On the other hand, I also re-watched the films over the course of the past few weeks in order to put the score into context, and I have a few reflections on them. Now, it has been pointed out to me that these films are discussed to death. I have somehow thus managed to avoid the gushing crowds of (other) Lord of the Rings fanatics and have no idea beyond a few websites I came across once or twice that were offended by the very concept of changes to the original text to make a film adaptation. So I thus can only say that while I have little excuses for why I'm adding to the enormous amount of drek composed about the topic other than that it is in my own little world for the most part oblivious to what anybody else is discussing, I hereby plow ahead and litter the internet with even more useless reflections.

I actually had not seen the films for a bit of time before I revisited them this time. I will admit that the Fellowship Complete Recordings was never far from my players, however. But this made the return to the films that much more interesting, as I was very concious of how the music was creating its own counterpoint to the filmic action. It doesn't so much score the film as it does co-exist with it, telling the story in its own way. While there may be quibbling about whether the retracked music in The Two Towers and The Return of the King may harm some of the effect of those scores, for the most part, the overall shape of them remains Shore's (much more so than the complete patchwork quilt of music from the previous two Star Wars films that ended up in Revenge of the Sith) and in general they had a pretty good chance to really stand out in the films. They buttressed the films, bringing an operatic quality to them that gradually gets grander as the scope of the stories open out.

While I've generally held that the films must be seen as parts of a whole, I think that they do have different tones and genres. I must admit that The Fellowship of the Ring is my favorite for sentimental reasons - it was the entry into that movieverse, it was a great movie-going experience, it was the first time I'd seen that subgenre done right, it was a great time in my life - and while I think that there are some elements of The Two Towers that bring it above Fellowship, I have to say that I was rarely as satisfied in a movie theater as I was the third time I saw the first film. I loved the darkness, the dirtiness, the way it managed to keep a momentum building all the way up until the end of Moria.

I also have to point out that there is an element exclusive to this entry: Gandalf the Grey. Yes, he returns as Gandalf the White, but this Gandalf is quite different, an element of Ian McKellen's performance that is heavily reflected in the music, which previously aligned Gandalf the Grey with the Fellowship but ties Gandalf the White more closely to the forces of nature. Gandalf's transition is more than just a change in his costume, hair color and staff. His formerly dishevelled appearance is replaced with an extremely cultivated aspect, and he is in the latter two films a driven character. This is quite a contrast to Gandalf the Grey, which McKellen plays as a stoned old crazy hippie that likes to putter about Middle Earth getting himself into trouble who suddenly finds himself caught up in apocalyptic events the shape of which only he manages to catch just in time.

After Gandalf fought the Balrog, he experienced an acid flashback
that turned his hair white and caused him to swear off the shit.

The Two Towers is interesting in that it has several separate storylines developing. Two of them are primaries; Frodo, Sam and Gollum's trek and the Fellowship in Rohan. While the others are dealt with more sparingly, huge chunks of the two primary storylines are advanced at a time. This is one of the reasons why I think that the narrative is much clearer in this film than it is in Return of the King; each one is given a chance to develop at their own pace in Two Towers, while the stories shift from one place to another in Return of the King in a strictly chronological manner. It also in some ways pays hommage to Tolkien himself, who wrote the storylines in completely separate 'books' within the larger body that was The Lord of the Rings.

Now, while Return of the King is the film that won the big Oscars, I have to admit that I think that it is the weakest film of the three. Now, that's not really saying much, as the film still has the most impressive battle sequences since... well, since The Two Towers, actually... and Frodo and Sam are guaranteed to cause Niagara Falls*, but as I mentioned before, the discourse isn't as effective in Return of the King as it is in The Two Towers, and this recent viewing made that much clearer to me. It actually works out that if you take any three cuts from the different storylines and put them together, you'd have a much more cohesive film.

It was perhaps inevitable that Aragorn would be sidelined somewhat by the time we got to this book given that he has to be absent for most of it, but it is annoying that here he is reduced to "the considered pause before taking his drink" kind of hero. It is effective for what it is, but it is disappointing after the development and colorful motivations of the first two movies.

Interestingly, in a film that features wizards, giant war elephants, a burning man throwing himself off a building and wraiths flying rocs, one of the areas that strains the most disbelief is the orc who discovers Frodo's trussed-up body explaining the exact chemical breakdown of Shelob's venom and its effects on a system of Frodo's approximate weight class. Of course, this is not Jackson's bit of dramatic convenience, but Tolkien's.

While Gollum talks to himself for way too long at the beginning of it, I think that the Frodo/Sam/Gollum storyline is the best in the film, and the one that makes the strongest impression. While the battles are most impressive, I have to admit that I really loved checking out the audience when Sam picks up Frodo. It was fun to watch the guidos pretending that they weren't crying lest their girlfriends see them (or worse, their male friends). This is, after all, the quest of the first film finally nearing completion, and it is where the film, while admittedly taking liberties with the exact text, best evoke the feel of the book. Frodo and Sam's journey is the hardest of anyone else's; for example, everyone else gets a few more chances to bathe after leaving Lóthlórien.

The development of Shore's "The Journey There" theme plays an extremely large role in the score during these segments, and the fugue version heard of it as Frodo and Sam first enter Mordor proper is rather impressive. I am curious as to what the Complete Recordings edition of the score will reveal about the scene where Frodo is about to cast the Ring into the lava... one can hear a bit of "The Seduction of the Ring" looped over itself in the film mix; I'm curious as to what Shore intended to go there.

I have to admit that I really am wondering why Peter Jackson and company tracked in choral portion of "The Last March of the Ents" over the beginning of the "Forth Eorlingas" scene in The Two Towers after hearing what was originally supposed to go there (yes, I know a softer version of it appeared on the original album, but not knowing any better, I thought it was from Gandalf the White's first appearance). As much as I love "Nature's Reclamation," Shore's use of the "Gandalf the White (in nature)" theme would have been a much more powerful choice.

All right. Enough for now. I'm sure I'll have a few more random thoughts on the topic before the end of the week.

* I'll just save anybody from having to say it: "slowly I turned... step by step..."

I found Eddie Murphy's Delirious on laserdisc for a very good price. I ordered it weeks ago, but it never got here. The guy sent it, the post office lost it for a month and change. I went to the post office to ask about it a few weeks ago, then all this other stuff started. I went to the post office again yesterday to follow up. They told me they had no idea where it was... and then it miraculously appeared in my mailbox this morning. When I say "this morning," I mean way earlier than the mail gets delivered in my neighborhood. I have no idea what happened. But at least I have the damn thing at last.
Tags: cinema, film music, howard shore, lord of the rings
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