As the Fellowship continues on their journey, the epic WTR rewatch goes on, and so does the writing. The best part about an annual rewatch, or really any repeat consumption of art, is how much it changes with each partaking. And as with any piece of art, the viewer also changes as time goes on. So, with this rewatch of my original favorite of the trilogy, I can’t help but notice all the tragedy littered throughout and its effect on the story as a whole. Perhaps it’s the year of 2020, where it seems like the world keeps getting darker. Maybe it’s just the element of the story I picked up on most due to personal matters. Probably some notion of both, but it’s truly outstanding just how impactful it was on this viewing. Because it’s as Sam said in the closing moments of The Two Towers, “How could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened”? In this never ending hellscape of a year, this question that plagues the people of Middle-earth rang incredibly true.
The tragic moment where the Ent, Treebeard, witnesses the forest burnt down at the hands of Christopher Lee’s Saruman. The grayed-out sun, the deafening silence, the slowly panning camera. It all builds to Treebeard letting out a roar of anger, but also one of sorrow and despair. The tragedy of Arwen and Aragorn, with Arwen distraught over whether to follow her heart or her family into everlasting life. The ethereal moments of this film play out beautifully, and serve as a more than welcome addition to the extended versions of this film that allow the emotion to cut that much deeper. One of my personal favorite sections of this film, and the trilogy as a whole, is the tragic breakdown of Théoden, king of Rohan. Serving as an excellent microcosm for the race of Men in Middle-earth, Théoden wondering “How did it come to this?”, is yet another that feels oddly prescient to the world this film exists within. But, as with most great stories, as Sam also says, with darkness and such tragedy, there’s light on the other side. The light always shines brightest on the darkest of days. So we better all start looking to the East at dawn.
As poetic as these films can be, make no mistake, they are absolute spectacles of filmmaking. On levels both grand and miniscule, Jackson’s deft direction makes for a grand epic full of incredible battles, dazzling dream sequences, and moments of pure tension or bliss. One example that must be noted is the brilliance that is the internal conflict of Gollum. As the camera pans and cuts back and forth, it’s a simple trick that shows his conflicting self and the demons he faces. And while on the topic of Gollum, it’s a true marvel how well his design holds up, and Serkis’ performance is still one to be taken by. Most films from last year don’t look as great as Gollum does, serving as a testament to how well these films have aged and the artistic achievement they serve as. And of course, where would we be if we didn’t devote a section of writing to one of the greatest sequences in film, rivaled only by its successor in Return of the King.
The Battle of Helm’s Deep is in its own league of awesome. The first time I saw it in theaters, my young mind couldn’t even comprehend. It was unlike anything I had seen up until that point, and for all intents and purposes, it still is if I forget about what’s coming up next. But it still hasn’t lost any of its luster. It’s the ultimate situation of “Our backs are against the wall”, yet it feels so full of hope even at its lowest point. From the arrival of the Elves, to Aragorn rallying the ride out of the keep, and of course, Gandalf’s incredibly clutch late game arrival with the Riders of Rohan, there’s always hope waiting around the corner. It’s another microcosm of the trilogy as a whole, and serves much more than a simply epic battle.
This film is certainly dark though. There’s plenty of moments that strike fear into the unassuming, and even after countless viewings, there are moments that are utterly haunting. The moments that are full of darkness and danger as Sam would say, still carry a weight with them, which attest to how strong Jackson’s second entry in the trilogy genuinely is. Frodo takes a bit of a backseat with all else that is going on in this one, but he still carries the greatest weight of it all. Still, it’s in his sparse moments where the darkness feels stronger than ever. Yet reliable Sam is always there to call upon. Because he said it best himself: “There’s some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for”. Even in 2020, there was a metric ton of darkness. But if this year has also shown anything else, it’s that there is plenty to fight for, and many who are willing to fight for it daily. And this concept is one we need to hold onto, and never let go, no matter the circumstances.
Our quest ends tomorrow…