Lord of the Rings (1978) [Retro Viewing]

When I plunked this DVD down on the sales counter and prepared to part with $11.99 of my hard-earned cash, I was spoiling for a fight. I almost wanted the clerk to say something like “You know that’s the old animated movie, not the newer ones, right?” or “Why in the name of Michael Jackson would you even think of buying such trash? Why, I ought to eject you from the premises right here and now, mister!” I had many retorts and witty excuses hovering on the edge of speech, when the clerk merely meekly scanned the item, threw it in a bag, and asked if I wanted to sign up for eight free issues of Entertainment Weekly, because every store in the universe now is required to pimp the magazine. Sadly, my furor was not to be.

Partially out of the sadistic side of me that both loves the new LOTR films yet is appalled at the rabid fan base of “We’ve been life-long fantasy fans since 2001” people that grabbed on to these movies after mocking geeks for years, and partially because I really enjoyed doing the mutant viewing of Dungeons and Dragons, do I now inject myself with the most foul cinematic liquid that animation director Ralph Bakshi could whip up in his demented underground lab.

If you’re not familiar with this 1978 version of Lord of the Rings, let me point you to our review, and if you’re too lazy to read that, here’s a brief summary. This appalling piece of film had a promising start: it was the first movie to really capitalize on the whole Tolkien craze, and its medium of animation was really the only option at the time to do the books justice. However, the end result speared most fans straight in the heart (except the blind and fanatical ones that clung to this flick for years, long after it rotted into dust) with a severely chopped-up version of only the first two books of Lord of the Rings (the end of the film becoming a weird cliffhanger that only another director would finish in the animated Return of the King). Not only that, but the film is wildly bad, from its decision to use rotoscoping (where live actors were filmed, then drawn over to make into animation), to blatantly change, rearrange and ignore large chunks of the LOTR books, and general campy weirdness that permeates this film through and through. It’s not a very good movie, and positively jarring when you compare it to the Peter Jackson version.

It’s a perfect candidate for a mutant viewing, in other words. So strap yourselves in, and let’s go for one extremely bumpy ride!

The first and most unavoidable thing we encounter in Lord of the Rings is the musical score. I won’t say much about it

For our podophobias out there!

past this paragraph, but the score can only be described with two words: “bombastic” and “loud”. I’m definitely not a fan of these older movies that rented orchestras by the hour and demanded that every instrument play all the time, to get their best money’s worth. It turns out to be overwhelming and almost claustrophobic, causing the audience to want to scootch back from the noise and avoid any further contact with the audio homicide that’s taking place. Although I really thank my fortune that Bakshi had no intention of making this into a Tolkien musical, unlike the other animated movies. 0:13

The introduction scene of LOTR is done as… shadow acting. Yup. Actors doing shadow acting against a red cloth of some kind, while the narrator haughtily explains about the forging of the sparkly rings and the “Dark Lord” who made his one ring to rule them all. At this point, the actors get into a shadow battle, not just content to wave swords around and pretend to get run through, but to do so in SLOW MOTION. You’ve really never lived until you’ve seen shadow actors fighting in slow motion, and once you do, you’ll wish you hadn’t (with apologies to Fletch Lives). And with any introduction into Tolkien’s massive fantasy world, this scene practically bottoms out with the weight of the exposition and names and facts that make no sense to non-Tolkien readers, because we’re not really given anything yet to care about. Just them wacky shadows.

"Let's ditch this movie and get a drink!"

There is a smidgen of cel animation here, as the two hobbits are fishing and one (maybe our friend Smeagol?) gets pulled in and grabs the ring. Golly but I wish they had gone with cel animation for theventire film. The two shadow actors do their worst impression of novice stage performers, with exaggerated motions and silly voices. Sadly, not the worst we’ll see in the film.

I just want to point out that it’s been over four minutes of watching nothing but shadows. My life has no validation any more. 4:14

Holy crap, I forgot how bad the rotoscoping animation could be. As the movie finally begins in Hobbiton, we’re treated to a pan of Bilbo’s birthday party. This scene features dozens of characters, each and every one doing something – moving, wiggling, jerking, slithering… it’s enough to make you seasick. The overanimation of gestures and movement turns this flick into a twitch-fest.

But hey, Gandalf! And Gandalf’s mountain of hair! The movie doesn’t bother with introductions (no time, no time), so Bilbo’s giving his birthday speech and Gandalf’s off in the corner getting drunk with Frodo, who’s doing his best to imitate Han Solo’s look and fashion (only with, of course, far more hair). There’s a bizarre moment where the camera is on Frodo and – because of the constant overanimation – his mouth is opening and closing (chewing, I suppose), BUT Bilbo’s voice is continuing, so it

Frodo, happy.

looks like Frodo is doing some sort of bizarre ventriloquist act.

The panorama of Hobbits looks like a cross between the Cabbage Patch Kids and the Trolls toy lines. 5:20

Bilbo disappears with the ring in a flash of sparkly magic™, only to reappear in his home with a goofy smile. Bilbo actually looks fairly spot-on for his character, even with the off-mannerisms. Gandalf comes in to remind Bilbo about leaving the ring for Frodo, taking every opportunity to trill his R’s. Bilbo spazzes out, jerking ten ways from Sunday, and even draws a knife on Gandalf, who ends up scaring the jeebers out of the little guy. He finally agrees to let Gandalf pass the envelope on to Frodo, making the wizard the first Middle Earth Postal Carrier.

Now, if you’ve read the books or seen the Jackson trilogy, you’re not going to be too lost here. Put off and feeling slightly dirty, perhaps, but not lost.

Frodo, mildly upset

However, I have to feel incredibly bad for anyone who was introduced into the Tolkien world with this movie, because its sole purpose is to rush along, confusing its audience at every turn. Six minutes into the film and we’ve already had the equivalent of a history

textbook crammed down our throats, along with abbreviated scenes that don’t let us get to know who the heck these people are, what they’re doing, or why. Why is Bilbo passing along the ring? Why is he leaving? Why is Gandalf such a grouch? Silly rabbit, don’t be asking questions. You’ll just end up frustrated. 6:20

If these are our heroes, maybe the world doesn't WANT to be saved.

Hilariously bad moment #1: As Bilbo jets off (Why? Where’s he going? Why didn’t he tell Frodo goodbye?), the narrator returns to tell us that “seventeen years passed in The Shire”. The screen shows a still painting of Hobbiton that changes from summer, to fall, to winter, to spring. Okay. And then, rapidly, it flickers through those four seasons about ten more times, which is (getting out my thesaurus and looking up alternate words for “strange”) aberrant. It’s a hefty dose of “HUH?” for your pleasure.

And no, the score hasn’t quit yet. It’s omnipresent.

Animation? What animation?

Gandalf returns to visit Frodo. Where’s Gandalf been for 17 years? We’ll never know. Frodo freaks out in his own kooky way, clapping his hands his ears (hur?) and jumping in circles. I’m refraining from making a “booty call” comment here, but it’s quite hard to resist. “It’s been SO LONG!” Frodo yelps. “Seventeen years, since Biblo left,” says Gandalf, oblivious to the facts that (a) the narrator just… said… that, and (b) for us, it was roughly ten seconds ago.

Let me pause for another second to comment on another animation decision. Even a child knows that most animation consists of layers; there is the static background layer (usually far more detailed) and then the moving elements that are placed on top of it, like Colorforms (the characters and whatnot). A good animated show or movie will try its hardest not to make the contrast between the background and foreground too noticeable, because it just looks sloppy. Guess how LOTR looks? There’s another funky scene here where Frodo and Gandalf walk from the door into the house, but because the background is static, the camera doesn’t move. So the characters just get larger and larger, walking toward the camera, until we’re just looking at their knees while they’re talking.

Aragorn, king of the gophers.

Gandalf asks for the “funny ring, the one that makes you invisible”, and Frodo pulls it out of his pockets, suggesting that he’s been playing with it and using it often enough. Okidoki. Gandalf asks Frodo to look for markings – there are none – and then casually tosses the ring into the fire. Frodo just flips and his eyes bulge out grotesquely. I think Gandalf loves jerking Hobbits around. With the ring burning in the fire, the characters ignore it while Gandalf goes on a monologue about the ring’s evil nature, his hands milking the giant cow and his pupils growing and shrinking (I’m sure, unintentional on the animator’s behalf, but it makes him look stoned). Here Gandalf’s going all out to scare the living crap out of Frodo, telling him how the ring is connected to Sauron, then pointing at Frodo with an eerie expression and saying “Youuuu have the ring nowwwww.” Frodo, I’m sure, wets himself at this point. Oh, and then Gandalf picks up the ring and they promptly don’t look for markings on it. So why toss it into the fire?

The scene ends with Gandalf stalking around, arms flailing about, doing the whole “One ring to rule them all” speech, while Frodo revolves around him. Gandalf must’ve been practicing that whole speech for years (17 of them) to get it just right. 9:15

"Sam, you're such a tool."

Walking outside, Gandalf continues to lower the boom on Frodo’s shoulders: Sauron knows the ring is found, he’s coming, it’ll mean the end of the Shire, and you’re pretty much screwed because I’m not going to help you much after this point. Frodo, done freaking out over Gandalf’s return and the ring being thrown into the fireplace, responds to this apocalyptic news by looking bored and kicking at a rock. Seriously. Frodo tries to give the ring to Gandalf, but there’s none of that to be found. Gandalf’s got a speech prepared for that, too, and overacts admirably to counter the sane suggestion. Frodo reacts to this, really, by looking at Gandalf and scrunching up his nose like he smelled poop somewhere.

While Gandalf continues to pontificate on how Frodo’s life is ruined and what he’s going to have to do now, he spontaneously reaches into a bush and pulls out Samwise. Now keep in mind that the scene is set at night, in the woods away from the village… so what’s Sam doing in a bush? Is he homeless or something? Married to a gopher? Sam’s character design looks a bit like Sloth from The Goonies and he talks in the manner of someone with severe brain damage. Gandalf, not missing an opportunity to screw someone else’s life up, throws Sam’s lot in with Frodo, and both of them don’t protest that they’re being told to effectively leave their lives and go somewhere to do something vague.

Gandalf leaves to go visit “Aruman” (a name change from Saruman, I suppose) and does a funny fake-out hand gesture that sends Sam skittering back. Gandalf is a big jerk, no kidding. Sam goes into full-fledged birdbrained mode: “ME? Me go see the elves? Oh MY! Oh hurray!” Yeah buddy, I bet the elves can’t wait to see you too. Bet they’re reading from a book called “How To Serve Hobbits” right now. 12:50

Let the snuggling BEGIN!

Gandalf rides and hobbles his way to see Aruman. “I have come for your aid, Saruman!” he says, forgetting the name change immediately. S/Aruman looks almost identical to Gandalf – a virtual garbage heap of white hair, red robes instead of grey, a grumpy expression. “Darkness approaches,” Gandalf screeches. “Black rrrrrrrrrriders!” S/Aruman looks Chinese and then reveals himself to be “Saruman of Many Colors!” Joseph is suing for name infringement. Shiny lights and glowy special effects burst out of S/Aruman’s beard. What does he keep in there? There’s no real fight after the betrayal, Gandalf just starts yelling at the other wizard and then magically™ ends up on a very high ledge. 15:36

Going back to Frodo’s hellacious journey, he’s now walking on a path with Sam, Merry and Pippin. What, you surely remember the scene where Merry and Pippin join him, right? Frodo exposits their addition to the quest quickly, and the hobbits prance around, singing (“La la la la la”) and playing ukalales. Now, I’m not here to make any sexual orientation jokes, but I just want to point out that we really haven’t seen any female hobbits, and there might be a good, perhaps Smurfy reason for that.

“There’s someone coming up ahead!” Sam says. “Good!” Merry replies. “I’m tired of looking at my cousins all day.” Well, Merry (I’ll freely interchange Merry with Pippin because it’s impossible to tell the two apart), there ARE other things to be looking at than your cousins. Just saying.

Gosh, it's like watching two teens at the prom, ain't it?

The Nazgul shows up, and this scene is actually very similar to the Jackson version, with our heroes hiding under a tree root and the Nazgul shuffling like a zombie behind them. The movie went from a goofy road trip to a creepy horror fest in under a minute, which I admire, if nothing else than for its ability to adapt to stupidity.

Merry and Pippin then reveal they pretty much know all about the ring – some secret! – as they‘ve gotten info from Bilbo, Sam and Gandalf. Maybe their knitting circle, too. Frodo allows them to join him on his journey (but didn’t they already join him? Never mind.) causing them all to jump up and shout “Hooray!” Mordor doesn’t stand a chance with these crackerjacks coming its way. 19.59

The hobbits arrive at Bree, which is a still matte painting that the camera lovingly swoops and zooms all over on. The inn here showcases some of the worst examples of rotoscoping in this film, as it’s quite obvious that these are nothing more than live actors that someone doodled on with color pencils. All of the people are acting like complete buffoons trying to mimic a party scene – forced laughter, gratuitous hugging, fake drunkenness. Going over to the hobbits, I notice that the animators are so frisky, even their leg hair is constantly in motion, as if a small yet determined breeze is happening somewhere one foot off the floor.

Legolas, bane of my nightmares.

Unlike the other two animated movies based on LOTR, Bakshi had little intention of making his epic masterpiece into a musical. However, some semblance of control slipped from him for a moment, because the second Frodo is approached to sing in the inn, he leaps up on the table and starts clapping and yammering out a ridiculous bar tune. Everyone’s fake-drunk enough to act like they’re enjoying it.

Merry – Idiot Merry – leaves the inn and promptly gets ambushed by two Nazgul who knock him out with sleeping gas. Or maybe that’s their odor. Who knows. But enough of that important plot development, back to Frodo singing! After spinning around enough times to completely throw off his balance, he falls off the table… and disappears. Now, I’d like to point out that upon slow-motion replay, Frodo’s hands are spread out and nowhere near his pocket and the ring. So unless the ring slipped on some other part of his anatomy I’d really not care to hear about, Frodo has the ability to turn invisible from his will alone. This sends the place into an uproar, as the barflies’ sensitive natures are delicate to this sort of supernatural turn. You’d think they’d never lived in a world with magic or anything. 23:50

Frodo's own personal hell.

The three hobbits skeedaddle off to their room and encounter the hooded Strider/Aragorn, who for the life of me looks like a gopher and probably nowhere near as mysterious as the filmmakers tried to make him. Unhooded, Aragorn looks pretty much like any stock movie version of a Native American, but talks with the low and sultry voice of John Hurt. Aragorn has a mammoth belt buckle, a four-foot sword, and a rather delicate skirt. Just so you can get that image going in your mind. Sam’s mistrustful of Aragorn, but Frodo’s all “what the heck, why not?” Merry bursts back in the room, followed by the innkeeper, who Frodo can’t resist telling all of their forbidden secrets to. Gandalf didn’t exactly pick a ringbearer who could keep his yap shut, that’s for sure.

Just so you know, Aragorn calls the innkeeper “fat”. Frodo puts both of his hands to his mouth, Japanese girl-style, and giggles. It’s high humor country, here!

Sam, broken teeth and all, is still mistrustful and afraid of Aragorn. Aragorn puts his fears to rest by drawing out his broken sword and telling Sam that if he wanted the ring, he could have it, right then and there. Good pep talk! That’ll build up trust! 27:42

It's the Pasadena Star Trek convention all over again!

Nighttime. The Nazgul enter Bree, even though it’s been previously established that they’re already in town. In another scene quite similar to the Jackson films (which must’ve used this for some mild inspiration), the Nazgul enter the hobbits room, fail to check the beds for actual hobbits, and drive their swords down into the lumps. It’s an effective enough scene to understand why Jackson cribbed it. Meanwhile, the hobbits are in another building, cuddled up in a sleepover. 30:32

The hobbits trek through a swamp, and complain. Sam continues to talk in his mentally slow British way. Frodo spies the Black Riders on the second day, points them out to Aragorn, then snuggles up to the mighty warrior’s chest while the Black Riders – perhaps 500 yards away and on horseback – do nothing.

Fade to night. Aragorn is telling the story of a woman who gave up immortality to be with the guy she loved. The story sends the hobbits into romantic swoons, and Sam and Frodo tenderly touch foreheads afterwards. Um. Okay. Look at me. I am NOT saying anything here.

Although they’re just camping in the woods and not on Weathertop, this is where the Nazgul attack Aragorn and the hobbits. The camera does a cool circling pan of the hobbits standing defense and Frodo putting on the ring, the moron he is. The “ring on” effect here is to visually isolate Frodo and the Nazgul from everyone else, and the Nazgul become obvious rotoscoped animation. This whole part plays out with minimal sounds and (surprise, surprise) no music: the Nazgul draw their swords in slow motion, Frodo draws his sword in slow motion, and they fight in slow motion. Frodo gets some brutal deep stabbing but takes off the ring. Funky! 34:56

Now, everyone talk at once!

Frodo, in pain and delirious, finds out from Aragorn what just happened and why he’s in for a world of hurt. Concerned and loyal as always, Sam sputters, “What’s wrong with him? It was only a little wound!” Sam, from my vantage point, that Nazgul sunk in about three feet of sword into Frodo’s chest, so if you’re calling that a “little wound” I’d hate to see how you shave in the morning.

As they’re pushing on toward Rivendell, a chick on a horse gallops out from the forest. Oh, my bad, it’s just Legolas. Voiced by C3PO’s Anthony Daniels, Legolas is about the most disturbing and flamboyant representation of an elf ever seen in movie form. Not only is his color palette obscenely bright compared to everyone else’s (elves have track lighting installed around their persons), but his eyes are cat-shaped and slanted in a way that I’m sure the animators were thinking “Asian”, but the audience is thinking “genetic failure”. Aragorn and Legolas get in some prime hugging time, and Frodo takes a moment out of his busy schedule of dying to say, “Yes, Sam, that’s an elf.” Sam has a stroke. 36:37

Remember the Peter Jackson Fellowship of the Ring, where Frodo is dying from his wound and his friends are rushing him along at all cost to the nearest elf hospital? Well, Bakshi doesn’t seem to be in a hurry at all – the party’s been slowly plodding along for a couple scenes now, and Legolas takes a smoke break to deliver some crucial exposition to Aragorn while Frodo’s brains slowly dribble out of his nose. Sam pitches a fit that they need to stop and let Frodo rest, and Legolas STOPS the party to explain that stopping wouldn’t help Frodo in the least, and they need to get him to Rivendell, Black Riders close behind them, etc etc. Maybe they’ll start walking backwards soon, with all the progress they’ve been making. 37:20

I think Sam has some sort of flesh-eating virus here.

They reach the ford of Rivendell, but the camera does a bit of horse POV from the forest to let us know that the Black Riders have finally made up those 500 yards and are closing in. Aragorn leaps into action! By jumping in front of a Nazgul horse and letting it trample him! I knew the boy was good for something. But the Nazgul aren’t that interested in catching Frodo, apparently, as the movie shifts into the dream landscape and inexplicably has one Nazgul forcing his horse to trot sideways for a minute or so. I’m sure this was done to confuse the ringbearer. Good show. “Come back, to Mordor we will take you,” says the sideways-moving Nazgul. Frodo wakes up enough to remember he’s the action star in this piece, spurs his horse into action and gets the boogie out of there. The Nazgul quickly forces his horse to trot sideways, THEN makes it turn around in a circle. They really needed to shell out a bit more to the actors for horse riding lessons, I suspect. Proving that you don’t know much about Lord of the Rings, the Nazgul clenches his fist and does a Force Choke on Frodo and his horse, causing them both to fall (huh?). More Nazgul show up. This scene goes on, and on, and on. Pretty violent lights flash behind them. Frodo rides away. The Nazgul turn their horses in circles, then ride after him. Long and boring chase scene. The Nazgul keep stopping for no good reason. The whole scene culminates in a riveting standoff between the Nazgul on one side of the river (“Come back!” they say) and Frodo on the other side (“Go back!” he says). That’s gooooood drama! The Nazgul cross the Red Sea, and Moses… I mean Elrond, makes the waters flood them down about fifty feet downriver. 43:40

Frodo comes to with Gandalf’s bushy eyebrows standing guard over him. The two of them, acutely aware that there’s a lot more ground to cover in this movie, spend a few pointless minutes recapping what just happened. “The river! It rose up!” Frodo says.

When squid attack!

YES, Frodo, we KNOW. We were THERE. Ever the bearer of happy news, Gandalf squashes Frodo’s parade by telling him that the Nazgul will indeed return, that S/Aruman turned against them, and that the war of the ring had begun. “So rest now,” Gandalf tells the shivering, brutalized hobbit. Frodo turns to stare directly into the camera as if to say, “Help me, the man’s out of his gourd!” 46:22

The council of Elrond scene. Frodo and his hobbity entourage walk in to what appears to be a low budget renaissance fair. There’s far too many elves looking daft and playing dollar store harps, for one. Frodo spies Bilbo, and hurredly runs over to belt him in the face for getting him into this mess. At least, that’s what I would’ve done. But this movie can’t resist its hugs, so a-hugging we will go!

I did notice a detail the filmmakers got right: Frodo is definitely taller than the rest of the hobbits, a fact that Tolkien made clear in the books.

Bilbo asks to see the ring and near freaks out when he sees it, fluttering his hands around. Frodo actually raises his hand and forms a fist – you go, hobbit-boy!

The council actually begins. The narrator happily leaps back into the fray, trying to speed things along while the “action” happens in the background. The events at the table happen as fast as the narrator can get them out of his mouth, so for instance, when he says that “Gandalf told them about Saruman the traitor”, Gandalf stands up and waves his hands around for only as long as it takes for the narrator to say this, then sits down. Boromir, looking for all the world like a stereotypical Viking (bushy beard, helmet with horns), explains to the council that his people are already under attack. Elrond listens impassively, looking like a cheap drawing of Sulu from Star Trek. Exposition zooms around and crashes faster than any NASCAR race. We sort of discover that Aragorn is a king of something or another. Elrond says they must throw the ring into Mt. Doom, which prompts Boromir to protest, “Why do you speak of hiding and destroying?” Um, buddy, nobody said anything about hiding. That’s okay. Have a seat. Elrond talks in a deep, mushy tone, uncannily like Patrick Stewart (sorry for all the Star Trek references), and Gandalf goes out of his way to once again throw all of the responsibility for the ring squarely on the hobbits’ shoulders, the cruel taskmaster that he is. Bilbo volunteers, but Gandalf physically shoves him back down into his chair. Seriously. Frodo gets the shaft, and Sam volunteers to join him. The director yet again decides to portray Sam as a sulky, thick-headed nincompoop who’s more of a mascot than a loyal companion. Call me crazy, but it works! 52:12

Bill bites it! Hooray!

Bilbo bequeaths his mithril shirt and Sting to Frodo, perhaps not realizing that his last gift to Frodo pretty much messed up the young hobbit’s life. Maybe Bilbo shouldn’t be the village Santa, after all. “Young Gertrude, I give you… the Evil Necromonicon, cast in the shadowy depths of the underworld, bound in the flesh of angsty college students, and cursed to whomever owns it! Now, be off to experience a world of horrors beyond imagination. Go, go.” This is a pretty melancholy and short scene (short, I can live with). 53:23

The Fellowship takes off, while Elrond’s voice catches up to them to explain what, exactly, the Fellowship is and who’s in it. Guess they’re starting to run short on time already. The party struggles onward, snow obscuring not only their vision, but also the viewers who are trying to look at the characters. They argue about using the Mines of Moria, and Gandalf forgets his notes and calls his enemy “Aruman”. Stick with one or the other, people! Most of the party doesn’t want to go (Sam raises his hand to agree with this statement, and here the movie does a closeup on his plague-ridden visage, lumpy and misshapen). But we’re forgetting that Gandalf is a big bully, and he verbally pushes the Fellowship around to get his way. 56:08

This is no time for farting, Frodo.

Entrance at the Mines of Moria. Gandalf’s off in the background, failing to open a door, and the rest of the cast is sitting around and toking off a hobbit pipe or something. Frodo talks about Gandalf’s “fireworks”, which, by the way, we haven’t seen in this movie at all. Gandalf’s shown no magical properties greater so far than you normally see from a lump of Silly Putty. Gandalf continues to make a horse’s ass out of himself, saying foreign words all dramatically while the rest of the party doesn’t even watch. Just a small mention that Gandalf’s staff really looks like a small intestine stretched out and hardened. I thought you’d like to know that. Legolas asks Gimli why the dwarves are so secretive and why the door won’t open, but Gimli just — I swear — shrugs and remains mute. Dude, this is the only dwarf-related thing in all three books, you’d think he’d be a bit more excited to show off some dwarven knowledge of sorts. But hey, shrug. I think he’d really rather be home in bed. Boromir pitches another hissy fit about Gandalf (Boromir is here only to be a thorn in everyone’s side), but Gandalf finally realizes the simple riddle and opens the doors by speaking the elvish word for “friend”. Time for Gandalf to lead his pitiful followers into certain doom! Then, we get the following exchange between elf and dwarf:

    Legolas: So, all you did have to say was “friend”… and enter.
    Gimli: Those were happier times.

Guh? Maybe I’m really reading too much into this, but shouldn’t Legolas have figured out the riddle before Gandalf, being an elf and all? And does Gimli’s attitude here mean he knew the answer all along, but was staying quiet for some unknown reason?

Where are the Mithril defenders now, huh? HUH?

Anyway.

The Lake Octopus attacks at this point, grabbing Frodo’s leg. Sam takes about three whacks with his sword at it, but the film shows each blow glancing off and the blade repeatedly bending. Is it rubber? Were Sam’s friends concerned that he might hurt himself with a real sword? Makes sense. Boromir rushes over and delivers a deadlier blow that appears to not only hack into the tentacle, but also Frodo’s foot. Whoops! He keeps chopping away, green blood splattering everywhere. This movie just got gory! The party runs into the mine, as a tentacle reaches out of the water and prepares to envelop Bill the pony. The film cuts away just as the tentacle starts to grab, but Sam’s voice goes “Poor old Bill… poor old Bill”, suggesting that Bill is now dining with the fishes. Aw. Then the tentacles courteously close the doors behind the adventurers. 58:49

Exploring the mine. They talk about the lake creature, and Pippin remarks, “It grabbed Frodo first out of all of us.” Not missing an opportunity to be mean, Gandalf GROWLS “Quiet, Pippin!” More horrible rotoscoping animation, actors shuffling along in the dark. The mines are well-done, as far as dark caverns and stairways go (helpful Middle Earth tip: dwarves don’t believe in stair rails, so be careful!). Frodo spots Gollum’s eyes, all of five feet away in the dark. It’s really, really dark in these scenes. They do a lot of stopping and resting. Legolas and Gimli start to talk about how wonderful and cheery the mine used to be, but Gandalf yet again barks out, “Be STILL, both of you!” What crawled up his sphincter that morning? I have no idea why the filmmakers started making Gandalf go off the deep end here — probably knowing that his screen time was coming to a close — but he’s uncharacteristically snappish. Pippin throws in a rock into the well, where it makes a tiny splash, but this is all that Gandalf needs to send him into a rage, hands flying about like a madman. Gandalf is also walking with a severe limp. No, I don’t know why.

Is this even the same movie? Who is this bearded freak? Where's my mom? What's gonig on here?

More walking. They find Balin’s tomb. Gandalf opens a book, which scatters dust in Sam’s eye. Gandalf reads that terribly scary diary left behind. The bad guys come, running in all their rotoscoped glory! One tries to get through the door, but Boromir slices at him, and Frodo (I think) dives on its foot and stabs it in a particularly bloody fashion. They close the doors, but the orcs have their patented Door Exploder™, a device used in cartoons to make a door literally burst open in flying chunks. The battle ensues, which is to say that each orc chivalrously pairs off with one good guy. Gandalf tells them to run for it, his bushy eyebrows flying away on their own accord.

Then we get another Hilariously Bad Moment: Frodo turns around to see a solitary black orc running toward him. Running in, of course, slow-motion. The movie suddenly becomes a bizarre football game, with both Boromir and Aragorn running up to the orc like tacklers, only to get pushed aside. The orc throws his football (er, spear) and Frodo makes a spectacular catch right against his chest. All in slow-mo, remember. The spear goes in maybe an inch, and that’d be giving it too much credit as it is, but Frodo is hamming it up like nobody’s business. With bad animation techniques, Aragorn defeats the orc and runs over to Frodo, who’s precious life blood is wasting…

Oh! Hey! He’s okay! The spear is nowhere in sight, and Frodo is all the pluckier for it. “I thought you were dead,” Aragorn gasps in amazement. “And then I’d be able to get my own starring role in this series… maybe even have a book named after my legendary return or something!” 1:05:44

More action-packed fleeing. I guess it’s becoming redundant to say that the animation is all over the place, but in this point it’s particularly bad. Rotoscoping changes to reverse negative live action and back depending on the shot. I want to quote from Roger Ebert’s 1978 review of this movie: “Working from a live action film shot before the first drawing was made, Bakshi and his crew of artists — 150 strong — have imbued the cartoon form with vital signs never seen in animation before. Bodies move in realistic concerts of sinew and bone, faces show expression previously reserved for live actors, and, most impressively, we begin to forget, after a while, that we are watching animation at all. The reality-fantasy gap begins to shrink before our eyes.” Yes. Impressive.

Sword of Semi-Doom and Mild Rectal Itching

Gandalf runs like a girl. You heard it from me, first.

Then… well, you have to understand that there are just some sights in this world that defy all attempts at description. This is one of them. As the Fellowship attempts to bridge the chasm, Aragorn turns around to the pursuing orc horde and says, “Come no closer!” That’s it. No magical light shows, no demonstrations of superior sword skills, no mooning. Just a weak imperative, and the entire horde STOP in their tracks. Sure, they keep up with the bad acting motions of raising their weapons and yelling, but they form a nice straight line across the way as if they’re expecting the good guys to play Red Rover with them. For all I know, maybe they were supposed to. Nobody actually reads all of the parts of Lord of the Rings, especially the boring songs that go on for pages. So the orcs stop, and Aragorn runs away, and the orcs stay stopped. What a well-done scene.

The Balrog emerges from their ranks, to the horror of Gandalf but to the delight of young children who are attracted to cute and cuddly figures. Which the Balrog is. It’s a big pussy cat with moon boots and red wings. Definitely a Detroit fan (rimshot). It’s also the antithesis of “scary” and “pee-inducing terror” that Tolkien was probably going for. Never the one to overact in a situation, Gandalf flips out and tells everyone to “fly” and that “you can’t help me”. Because God knows that the only talent Gandalf has is to be overly dramatic and rude to his friends, and no other member of the Fellowship can match that. He shouts out “You cannot pass!” enough times to make you think it’s going out of style; the Balrog flies (in slow-motion, of course) onto the bridge. They sword fight, then both fall into the chasm. Guess the Balrog forgot he could fly. Good riddance to both.

Legolas, do the words "loose jeans" mean anything to you and your tights, there?

Aragorn does a little run-jump-reach to try to retrieve the Old Man, but nothing doing. Aragorn’s kind of batting one for three in this battle so far, I’ve noticed.

With Gandalf gone, Aragorn is free to be the Jerk King at last! He yanks Frodo away from the edge – twice! – and then keeps manhandling the party to get them to run, yelling “OBEY ME!” Dude, I thought Viggo was a nice guy, but I wouldn’t want him to be my king… so what chance do you think you have of obtaining my loyalty through a progressive policy of shoving?

Just a short mention: the orcs have no real defining features, except for red eyes and fangs. I think this film needs a Buffy. The party escapes the mines. 1:08:46

The Gandalf-is-dead, we’re-all-sort-of-bummed scene. Nobody’s really shedding tears though. Frodo doesn’t want medical treatment (for what, exactly?), but Aragorn pushes him a couple times until he relents. Frodo doesn’t see any hope in their situation, so Aragorn gives him this inspiring speech, written by the future king of Gondor:

“Then we must do without hope. There is always VENGEANCE!”

What a nice fellow, that Strider. He discovers Frodo’s mithril armor, slits the hobbit’s throat and keeps it for himself. Well, maybe not, but you just know he was thinking it!

Frodo hears Gollum’s footsteps again. The party goes to Yellow Alert, Boromir holding out a chipped and flimsy-looking sword. The conversation quickly shifts to a macho argument between Boromir, Aragorn and Elf-Boy about going to Lothlorean; Boromir takes the “con” side of the argument, denying Gimli any racist lines here. Literally before the scene even ends, an Elf chick is saying “Welcome to Lothlorean!” and the animators go “Oh crap!” and quickly change the view so we’re looking at the right person. Guess they’re there already! It’s too bad Boromir didn’t mention going to Mordor: “Man, I can’t wait until we get to Mor—“ “WELCOME TO MORDOR!” said the Dark Lord. “Grab some cookies and meet my wife, Betty!” 1:09:49

She's gonna eat the Earth!

Elves suck. I am quite prejudiced, but seeing as how they’re an imaginary race of creatures – despite what your Wiccan girlfriend told you – I don’t feel too bad about my undying hatred for anything tall and willowy with pointed ears and an insufferable sense of self-righteousness. The elf lord and lass invite the party to rest in their fair town until healed (again, from what wounds? I sure didn’t see any). The Fellowship doesn’t look overly thrilled, and even Legolas is seen looking at his watch and commenting that he really does need to get back and feed his cat. Elves always have cats, not dogs. That’s another reason why they suck.

The elves know of the quest of the ring. Of course. It’s the worst-kept “secret” quest in the world. I’m surprised Frodo isn’t constantly hounded by the media requesting interviews and bikini brief photo shoots. The elves say they’ll help. Goodie. Everyone mispronounces “Celeborn”. Then Galadriel weirdly calls out Frodo’s name, he does a bow, approaches her… and exits stage left. Sam comes forward and giggles pointlessly, hands flopping all over the place. Boromir blows by her without succumbing to her Playboy charms. What was the point of all that, anyway? 1:10:45

Frodo and Aragorn take in an elf concert – oh yes, singing! The elves are singing a song about Gandalf. Probably about what a raging turd he was. Frodo marvels over all the names Gandalf picked up over the years. I guess “Hey you!” and “Get out of my way, idiot!” are types of names.

More childish singing as a montage whisks us through the Fellowship’s Day Off. Really, they’re not even through the first book of the series, and the filmmakers felt it best to effectively grind the action to a halt? Okie. Frodo spars with Aragorn, Frodo and

Get your One Ring! Get 'em while they're hot! Fresh from Hell's ovens to your fingers!

Sam share a nap together (erm…), Legolas teaches Gimli how to shoot arrows (hey.. HEY!), Aragorn and Boromir spar, Sam desecrates elf lands by picking flowers and throwing them to the ground, and Boromir sharpens his sword against a rock. Foreshadowing, anyone? 1:11:48

“This is the Mirror of Galadriel,” says Galadriel to Frodo and Sam. I guess saying “This is my mirror” wouldn’t sound as pretentious, huh? Galardiel bends forward to reveal some cleavage (no, I was not looking! But now that you mention it, I’m getting tired of looking at my cousins all day…). Sam looks in the mirror and freaks out, telling (but not showing) us that all sorts of bad things are going on at home. “Do you wish to leave Frodo now and go home?” Galadriel asks. “No…,” Sam pouts and walks away. It was a small, funny moment that made me laugh. I’ll admit it.

Frodo looks in the mirror and for a long moment we merely watch him looking into it. Because the audience must get full value for their entertainment dollar! Galadriel tells Frodo he’s safe and shows him her magic ring, which instantly starts spitting out a miniature Aurora Borealis. I honestly lost track of what she was saying, because it’s so darn hypnotic to watch the ring’s magical effects dazzle us. At one point, it produces soap bubbles! Frodo offers Galadriel the ring for free – I think he’d even offer Sauron the ring for a buck if he was there – but Galadriel got the memo from Bilbo and tells Frodo that it’s all his responsibility, even though he’s not the actual birth father. 1:14:55

Aaaand off we go, in elfie boats! Elves can never make anything look cool in LOTR; it’s always willowy lines and tree-based aesthetics to give you the impression that this legendary race of creatures also run a part-time New Age store in the college quarter. Aragorn and Boromir stand (stand?) grandly in these little canoes, while the hobbits are best put to use as slave paddlers. No, not sexy paddling. B&A draw their swords and say grand things… for pretty much no reason. To show off in front of the easily-impressed hobbits, I suppose. Aragorn starts talking about how they’re soon going to have to choose between destroying the ring in Mordor or going to help out

Passing kidney stones HURTS!

Gondor. Um, excuse me? Why is this a choice? Did Elrond impress upon them that getting rid of this ring is by far the most important task in Middle Earth – EXCEPT if Gondor needed the meager assistance of some half-pints and two drunken louts with delusions of grandeur? Sam redundantly says, “I’m going with Mr. Frodo!” to which Aragorn wearily replies, “I know that, Sam.” Sam’s a bit of an idiot, if you haven’t noticed. More rowing through spooky river, then sight-seeing at the statues (at which Aragorn makes another pretty speech). 1:16:10

The party stops on a riverbank to discuss this “choice” some more. Aragorn brings up the painful subject of Gandalf’s death about twice a minute, here, watching as it causes daggers to twist in Frodo’s stomach. Sick SOB, that Aragorn. Frodo asks for an hour to make his decision, and an actually-photographed shot of the clouds and moon are shown. Boromir confronts Frodo by himself and tries to snatch the ring. Bad boy! Boromir starts talking about needing the strength to defend themselves, saying it in such a way and with overactive hands that I keep hearing, “I… have… the POWER!!!” from Masters of the Universe in the back of my head. Frodo uses the ring, jets away, leaving Boromir to screech to himself. 1:19:24

Boromir walks back to the party, his pants filled with stinky shame. He confesses his sins to Aragorn, who flips out and castrates him (with words, with words). The hobbits carefully organize a search party, which is to say they freak out and run every which direction, “Mr. Frodo! Mr. Frodo!” Aragorn has a nice little moment shaking Boromir around and charges him with the safety of the two less-annoying hobbits (nobody has to ask “But what about Sam?”). Aragorn then sprints at top speed, faster than the animators can compensate for, overshoots Sam at 50mph and tells him to catch up. This is such a stupidly great moment: Sam, having been told to keep up with the running Aragorn, stops. Stops. Then he recites some dumb limerick to himself, “WHOA Sam Gangee. Your legs are too short, so use your head!” Then Sam the Professor does some weird hand movements while thinking, snaps his fingers and cries out, “The boats!” He then runs in the opposite direction that Aragorn was headed. Sam spies a canoe floating by him, doesn’t find anything suspicious about it being on the move, and jumps into the water to get into it. Lo and behold, Frodo’s there cloaked in buttery invisibility! Holding onto the side of the boat, Sam cries out that’s he’s drowning – never mind that five seconds ago he was swimming just fine. Sam sucks. Frodo and Sam carry a conversation back and forth while they’re in the canoe, each one of them paddling in the opposite direction of the other. Just when you thought we got our full quota of stupidity… 1:21:50

Kiss and make up, boys.

Hey! It’s Gollum, floating down the river after the canoe! It’s our first glimpse of the lovable scamp, and it doesn’t disappoint. 1:21:55

Merry and Pippin run full-tilt into an orc camp, at which point the animators call it a day and the editors merely tint the film stock so that all of the live actors are red and black. Two out of 20 orcs attack them, but after many awkward seconds of maneuvering, they only manage to hit each other. The hobbits are finally surrounded, but then Boromir shows up and starts tapping away at the orcs’ backs with his sword, never quite cutting through but felling them still the same. Boromir is the only object in this scene that’s not live people tinted a red color, which only makes the comparison more jarring. We get an underneath view of Boromir crotch in all its glory. The three of them run away, just in time to get Boromir’s chest plugged with arrows from another group of orcs. Poor Boro. He had so little to live for. He gruesomely pulls the three arrows out of his heart – still standing, even – and shows them off to the hobbits. Plucky! Another doomed charge, and Boro takes out three more orcs and gets two new arrow-holes for his trouble. Just in case you were wondering, the armed hobbits do absolutely nothing. Another arrow, #6. The filmmakers really, really hated Boromir. This is like the Passion of the Christ for Tolkein fans. The hobbits charge and get knocked down. Boromir keeps yelling and scaring the nasty orcs back, finally blowing his horn to call on a little backup from the A-Team. Another arrow in the chest! Boromir slowly slides down the tree and dies in agony. Aragorn arrives, just in time for a death speech. Nobody’s really concerned about Sam’s absence, I note. In this sad and touching moment, I observe that Gimli’s hat looks a LOT like the ones the dwarves in Snow White wear. 1:25:41

Aaaand Boromir panty shot. You're welcome.

The A-Team – Aragorn, Gimli and Fancy Pants – throw Boromir into a burning canoe and talk about quitting and how many ways the hobbits could’ve died already and so forth. They decide to follow the orcs, possibly because Frodo stole one canoe and the other is full of burning corpse. Thus begins a merry running sequence, one filled with a playful Aragorn leading the way and Gimli’s cap disappearing and reappearing at will. At one point, they even run in slow motion. Did the director really feel the need to stretch things out at the 90-minute point here? Aragorn falls, probably the fault of the live actor playing him, and the animators draw it up anyway. More running. Gobs of running. 1:26:39

Intermission!

I have two things to say real quick. The first is that I’ve been working on this viewing for about a month now, watching and writing up a scene here and there, and I swear this is some sort of movie purgatory. It just never ends. And it’s very hard to seriously couple scenes at a time, for all of the soul-sucking it causes. The other thing is just a general announcement that I’m pretty much done with commenting on the animation decisions, particularly how a chunk of the movie is really live action barely disguised. Either you’ve seen it and know what I’m talking about, or else it’s pretty much fruitless to try to get you to imagine how bad this looks. Now, back to the show!

Here, the animated actors are replaced by their stunt doubles.

Nondescript, ugly hills. Crowds of people walking in a determined hurry, perhaps away from the film. Oh, they’re the orcs that are giving Merry and Pippin jolly piggy-back rides! Hooray! The Riders of Rohan swoop into action, because if they’re not getting a piggy-back ride, no one is. Because of the animation decisions — that I’m no longer discussing, thank you — this entire scene is so murky and dark as to give you little if any idea what’s going on. As the Riders charge the orcs, the bulk of the enemy keeps trotting away (thinking that perhaps they stand a good chance to outwalk a galloping horse), but three brave and foolhearty orcs turn around and charge the horses back in return. It’s a bit dark to tell for certain, but I don’t think they really come out on top for this decision. The orchestra invests heavily in its horn section at this point, sounding for all the world like the battle scenes from the old Star Trek show. Orcs get slaughtered by some well-placed arrows, but the rest keep double-timing on, lemming-like, as if the finish line is right up ahead. One orc gets an arrow in the buttocks, which is rewarded with a large geyser of blood. From the butt artery. You understand. At the middle of this crucial and tension-filled battle… 1:31:52

…we abruptly change scene to focus on Frodo and Sam navigating some mountains. Frodo expresses his thanks for the elf rope they used to rappel down a cliff — a rope which they promptly leave behind them, used up somehow — and Sam falls down on his face. Because he’s Sam. Sam gets another gifted child moment, walking quite drunkenly into the camera, pointing at us (the audience) and remarking, “There’s that Mt. Doom again, Mr. Frodo, see?” Are we Mt. Doom? And if not, should Sam really be surprised he’s seeing this particular geographic point a lot, considering that it’s their final destination? Sam keeps talking into the camera like he’s Ferris Bueller. I need to stop referencing Ferris and Star Trek in this viewing, I really do. With their destination clearly in sight, Sam frets that they’re “lost”. Frodo advises that they camp for the night, so that “a path might show up tomorrow.” Magic paths! With yellow brick roads! The next day, Gollum appears, following the arm-in-arm hobbits. To the filmmakers’ credit, Gollum looks sort of freaky a ways away, but mostly like a radiation victim up close. Sam goes out to confront Gollum on his own, with Frodo waiting behind a big fat secure rock. Sam performs an admirable tackle, but Gollum easily gets the best of him and Frodo has to rush to the rescue. There’s a lot of struggling and overacting on the part of Gollum’s movements, which is probably why Frodo pities the gargoyle and doesn’t kill him. They attempt to enlist Gollum in being their new tour guide through the wild and wacky world of Middle Earth, but Gollum doesn’t want anything to do with that. Sam Tackle! Gollum Down! Frodo tells Sam to use the rope — yes, the rope they LEFT BEHIND — to tie the critter up. Gollum has a major freak-out over the rope (“It BURNS!”) as he has no wish to partake in kinky hobbit sex games. He’s learning that he really doesn’t want to know what Frodo’s “precious” is, after all. Ack. Sorry, sorry. Bad mindset. Purging, purging… clean. I note that Gollum’s loincloth is the exact same color as his skin, which is easy to see him as completely nude… sorry, purging, purging. They take the rope off for Gollum’s promises to play nice until the inevitable betrayal. Even in Middle Earth, they haven’t learned that you can’t entirely trust a drug addict to keep their word. 1:36:28

Gollum happy. Gollum nudist and proud of it.

Last week on Orc Attack! We left our friendly orcs being assaulted by the nasty Riders of Rhubarb, about to face their certain peril as they fought mounted riders without horses of their own. But lo! Because of the awkward scene change to the entrancing story of Frodo and Sam, the orcs and Riders lost interest and instead lined up considerately across from each other, trying once again to spark a game of Red Rover. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Urgh’lak on over!” Of course, the scene is dark. And murky. And let’s not even politely pretend anymore that there are animators anywhere in sight – it’s all tinted live action and nothing but. A long, long, long tracking shot of both groups standing about thirty feet from each other, doing nothing but looking studly. Inexplicably, one of the Riders breaks from his line and rides parallel between the two groups. Even more inexplicably, only the orcs cheer him on. A couple orcs finally fire a few arrows, but are (again, the word “inexplicable” comes to mind) stopped by their commander for wasting arrows on an enemy soldier. Because they were saving the arrows for Valentine’s Day, apparently. The commander runs back to Merry and Pippin, both courteously tied up in potato sacks, and gets into a minor tuff with another orc guy who says he’s going to tell on the commander once they get back to Mord— 1:37:40

"You darn Hobbits, keeping me from watching Matlock!"

Holy Quick Scene Transitions, Batman! Forget the orcs anyway, they are pretty pointless. We’re back with Aragorn and his Light Brigade. Everyone but Legolas is sleeping, but Aragorn mysteriously leaps to his feet to say, “They’re far… far away.” Aaaand that’s it for that scene. Maybe the screenwriters are trying to buy some time here. 1:37:55

Meanwhile, back at Stately Orc Manor, the same jerkhole Rider is prancing about, and Merry and Pippin struggle to get free while pretty much telling their captor about the Ring. That orc is, like, the only guy in Middle Earth who doesn’t know by now. The orc tries to search them, which causes one of the hobbits to double-entendre, “It’s no use groping about in the dark!” Merry tries to act like Gollum to get some leverage, talking about the “precious” and whatnot, which is beyond odd because he’s never even MET Gollum. They’re starting to invent whole new tiers in hell for stupidity, just because of this movie. The one prancing Rider is allowed a massively long bow shot to stick the orc with an arrow, although this doesn’t seem to concern any of the other orcs in the vicinity. The hobbits are freed. Another rider charges to the orc lines and is cut down viciously. This finally spurs the Riders to charge, and a big if completely incomprehensible battle scene breaks out. Loads of stabbings and very slow sword play. 1:39:57

Merry and Pippen, free of Orc slavery and badly lit battle scenes, stroll merrily up a matte painting of a forest. It looks spooky. “We don’t even know where we’re trying to get to!” one says. Yeah, but they’re making GREAT time. Random thought: if hobbits have that much leg hair, are their backs just as hairy? -shudder- Anyway, after a random statement about the forest, the hobbits hear a voice from overhead booming some such nonsense. In yet another jarring cutaway, they’re suddenly being carried by Treebeard through the forest. Treebeard looks mostly like a grumpy resident of a retirement home, slightly off his medications. The hobbits try to convince Treebeard to join the side of all that is good and way too effeminate. When Treebeard says that he’s not a friend of “tree-killing orcs” Merry and Pippen clap in that highly annoying way that they do. Loads of clapping. Sigh. 1:41:51

For the love of all that's holy...STOP STROKING EACH OTHER!

The Hobbit Rescue Squad – Captain Aragorn, Lt. Gimli, and Rookie Legolas – are examining tracks of the hobbits, by which I mean “a very large crater that’s supposed to tell them something.” A wizard walks out of the forest, and Gimli urges Legolas to shoot “Aruman”. Before any such nonsense can occur, Gandalf lights all their weapons on fire and casts off his incredibly poor disguise. Aragorn has the following speech:

“GANDALF! Beyond [pause] all [pause] hope! [William Shatner pause] GANDALF.”

Senile as he is, Gandalf vaguely remembers his name. Flashback to Gandalf fighting Moon Boots with a series of still pictures. Exciting! I like my battles static, don’t you? “Naked, I was sent back,” Gandalf narrates, as the movie shows a fully robed wizard stumbling along. Gandalf entreats them to join him to come to the “city of the Riders”, and before any of the Rescue Squad can say or do anything – perhaps mention that they’re trying to save a couple hobbits in peril – another jarring transition and the party is on horseback while the conversation still tries to catch up with where they’re going, and why. Honestly, I have no freaking idea. 1:43:58

Gandalf tries to explain why it’s so incredibly important to suddenly ride off to a town that the viewers haven’t heard of until now, to rescue people the viewers have no interest in, because some orcs are going to attack. I think he’s got an uphill battle for this argument, but okay. Gandalf explains that King Theodin is impotent and under the influence of a face-stroking Wormtongue. Gandalf ramps up the exposition machine gun, firing people and places and events at us, and we simply don’t care. 1:44:45

"What did I step in this time?"

S/Aruman is giving his orc armies a pep talk, with Wormtongue – who looks like a New Jersey car mechanic with a wimpy moustache – at his side. The orcs seem stoked. As well they should be – at least they don’t look as stupid as some of the characters in this movie. 1:45:21

More exposition. More riding. More agonized looks by yours truly to the “time remaining” counter on the DVD player. Gandalf says that they have to take the Rohan people to Helm’s Deep, to buy time for some unknowable reason. None of the rescue squad have much of a chance to object, as the plot is now in hyperdrive. Gandalf confronts Theodin and Wormtongue, while the other party members – let’s be honest and call them glorified extras at this point, okay? – stand there, Gimli looking especially bald. After some words, Wormtongue attacks Gandalf, who uses happy MAGIC to force the twerp down. Great line: “Down, snake, down on your belly!” Wormtongue runs off. Good riddance. Eowyn is then introduced, with eyes the size of dinner plates. As a woman in this movie, she knows her place and remains silent. 1:49:27

Gandalf, the extras, Theodin and the Riders… um… ride out in force, which would be a stirring moment if the battle horn didn’t sound the weakest, squeakiest tune. Sounds like Legolas got ahold of a kazoo back there and is having some fun. Lots of riding. I’m so sick of horses by now. Random thought: King Theodin’s horse is obviously covered with chain mail armor, but it’s drawn on it sloppily, and honestly looks like the horse has a fine down covering of feathers. Gandalf leaves them, and Theodin chuckles, finding desertion an amusing pastime. Theodin then turns to Aragorn and asks, “Is there any hope for us?” Aragorn, realizing his time is come to fulfill his destiny as a future king and leader, just stares at Theodin and then rides off without saying a word. What…? 1:50:36

Sam and Frodo – Remember them? They used to be important! – awake from a snuggle and Sam starts slapping himself that they fell asleep. I think he punches himself every time he succumbs to the weakness of having to pee, too. Sam’s latest freakout is incredibly overanimated, and ends with Sam chewing on the end of his robe (?). Gollum is gone. Frodo’s not so worried, and Gollum returns with fish in tow. They go for a trek in the moonlight. A Ringwraith, flying overhead, spots them and Gollum shrieks. The three of them then execute the Standard Hobbit Defense Plan: fall on the ground and curl up together, hoping that the power of a good cuddle will ward off evil. And lo, it works. Smeagol makes a go for the ring, but Frodo threatens to put it on and order the creature to jump into a fire. Nice, Frodo. Gollum then kisses Frodo’s feet, which incenses Sam – that’s HIS job! Flash forward to a sleeping scene, where Gollum talks to himself about promises and the precious and whatnot. Do I even need to mention that Gollum can’t keep still through his monologue? Sam wakes up and accuses Gollum of sneaking; Gollum pitches a major fit; Sam apologizes; Frodo wakes up and asks what Gollum’s up to; Gollum says, “Sneakin’!” and puts his nose in the air. It’s actually kinda funny. 1:55:23

It's okay. Not even God knows what's going on in this scene.

Okay, now we’re at some sort of castle wall. This movie really and truly needs location subtitles. Apparently, it’s Helm’s Deep, if you couldn’t tell by all of the bricks and the very dark and washed out troops on the wall. “I like this place,” Gimli says. “There’s GOOD rock here!” Now, everyone, with me: “They built this city! They built this city on ROCK AND ROLL!” The attack begins by a handful of dogs running toward the wall – guess a rabbit got loose – and the air turns into a red mist. That does heaps of good for the animation, by the way. A fully-animated Aragorn stands next to a tinted-live actor (who I guess is the Rohan prince or possibly a groupie), both looking studly and easily targetable by orc arrows. The orc army comes, as we’ve been long anticipating since this threat was introduced, oh, six minutes ago. The Rohan warriors stand their ground, and if you want a good mental picture of them, imagine that they’re all a clone of one guy that you might find at a gym: long blonde hair, headband, sleeveless shirt, some muscles, and too much thigh in miniskirts.

Sam, raging jerk.

The orcs get a catchy little marching chant, which is really all I have to live for because the video is just atrocious. It’s red everywhere, with muddy dark shapes moving in the background – obviously tinted lie actors with them glowy eyes and fangs. Theorc choir gets really into it, even though the music doesn’t have a strict harmony of which to speak. The good guys fire arrows. Orcs go “urk” and die. The orcs fire back. Good guys go “urk” and die. The orcs seem to fire about a million arrows off, if you believe the animation. They charge and raise some ladders. Pesky walls. They’re also still singing, which says something about their spirit. Lots of top of the wall fighting. You can’t see crap for the fog and murky pictures, which is irksome beyond belief. Orcs try to batter the door down, but Legolas and Aragorn dual-handedly defeat them all. Aragorn then has a laughing fit about how fun death and gore is. 1:59:57

Sparkly lights! Not sure where they’re coming from or what they are, but they’re zooming around the screen nicely! I guess they’re from the bad guys, ‘cause they go over Helm Deep’s wall. The wall is breached with the power of animated explosions. Ever the hero, Aragorn is the first to call retreat to the caves. Gosh, I’m in love. Then follows three or four minutes of people running by the camera and my eyes just glazing over. I mean, I like watching people run as much as the next guy, but there is a stoppingpoint. My favorite moment is when an orc runs up to Aragorn, who holds out a sword three feet from the orc, and the orc’s chest bursts open in red gore. Wow. From this exciting battle scene, we go straight into the caves to find… everyone sitting around, looking bored! Theodin ain’t having this. He wants to ride out at dawn, and badgers Aragorn into joining him. 2:02:48

A tender moment of desperation between Frodo and Sam. Urgent to get to Mt. Doom and dispose of the ring, they’re just sort of sitting there, whining about how the food’s almost gone. Sam is more worried, because Frodo is looking at him and licking his lips, thinking that hobbit cannibalism can’t be all that bad. Frodo makes an embarrassing speech to Sam (pumping his fists and going “Just to get there! Just to get there!”), and then bends over with worry about the weight of the ring. Sam’s response to Frodo’s plight – a comforting hand? A word of encouragement? Nay, Sam just gets up, starts whistling, and skips away. Really. I need no further proof of Sam’s incapable mental state at this point. I can’t even imagine what it’d be like seeing this in the theaters back in the 1970’s, especially at this point where the film is unraveling and the sheer amount of idiocy already presented threatens to shut down the minds of anyone watching. Gollum gets them moving again. 2:04:49

I love that even the horse is happy.

Back to Helm’s Deep and the orcs hammering away at the wall. At least it’s lighter and we can see them. Horns sound! The movie might be over soon! Skittish about music that isn’t theirs, the orcs back up and do a full retreat from… what? Not sure. Hold on.Oh, it’s the riders from the cave, all 55 of them against the fleeing thousands of the orcs. Aragorn is in flavor country now, chopping away like a blender out of control. Horses, sword chopping, people falling over and pretending to die. Theodin’s feather horse looks happy. The Rohan dudes come up against the full strength of the orc army, which just sort of stands there waving spears, while the good guys stand there in turn. The orcs advance. The music swells like it’s a love scene. Well, I suppose it is, if you count Aragorn and Aragorn’s sword. Doom! Theodin calls out for Gandalf. Why? Silly hobbit, no asking why. But Gandalf comes anyway, leading sixteen more horses, which turns the tide. The music here sounds INCREDIBLY familiar to the theme for Star Trek IV, I kid you not (which makes sense, because composer Leonard Rosenman did both this flick and ST4). The orcs lose, and Gandalf gets a very bloody slow-motion kill or two against orcs, with their backs exploding in blood. Then, the narrator (narrator? I forgot about him!) comes on to say that Frodo’s friends won the day and that the movie’s over. Gandalf throws his sword away. End credits.2:10:44

WHAT?! I mean, no great surprise for someone who’s seen this movie a couple of times as I am, but that abrupt ending to well over two hours of animated horror is just… lame. It doesn’t tie up anything except a very late-developing storyline with Rohan vs. Orcs, and leaves the stories of the Ring, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Treebeard, Sauron, S/Aruman, Wormtongue and everyone else up in the air. I’m not complaining that the movie’s finally over – it’s taken me almost three months to complete this viewing– but it’s just. So. Stupid. At least it’s consistently stupid. Thank you, and good night.

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