Dry eyes, wet eyes

It's time for us to print up that T-shirt: The Lord of the Rings trilogy --- December 17, 2003 --- one marathon to watch them all.

It wasn't as hard as I'd feared. The last time I did trilogy screenings, it was the original Star Wars trilogy in the basement of a friend's house in Milwaukee or the A&O Indiana Jones trilogy at university in the Tech auditorium. Those were pretty tiring, mostly because I'd seen all those movies ad nauseam before, still loved them, still wanted to make it through all three at one go --- but eventually the brain gave out and by the third was always begging for mercy and sleep.

Not so for yesterday's marathon.

Reason No. 1 it worked: It was the first time the Extended versions of the first two movies were being shown on the big screen. Even though I've seen them many times on my own loyal TV set, from the moment I sat down and looked up to see Isildur slice off Sauron's finger (ironically, we got to our seats about ten minutes late, even though we'd been the first ones in our group to arrive at the cinema yesterday morning), I knew it would be a whole new experience seeing them in a cinema. So that kept me awake.

Reason No. 2 it worked: Having heard the director/writer/cast commentaries to the first two films, my brain was actively engaged at all times with either (a) the actual plot proceeding onscreen, (b) checking out whether the scene was a "real" New Zealand scene or a miniature or CGI or some combination of the above, (c) admiring camera tricks and special effects to get the Hobbit actors to look small compared to everyone else, and/or (d) snickering at some bit of trivia about a particular scene during the commentaries. For example, when Viggo Mortensen bellowed after kicking a helment by the pile of smoking Orcs, I was thinking, "Yup, sounds like he broke his toe all right." Oh, and spotting Peter Jackson's kids in the movies, including their brief appearance in the third installment.

Reason No. 3 it worked: Well, duh, I hadn't seen The Return of the King before.

Which then brings me to the realization of what was wrong with yesterday's marathon. To put it simply: it is not possible for a non-extended version of a Lord of the Rings movie to match up against the extended versions. And while the extended, big-screen viewings of the first two movies did a hell of a job getting me all stoked up for the final film, they also raised the bar a little too high for their third sibling, a mere commercial/theatrical release, to have any hope of living up to.

So while the marathon as a whole was fun, and The Return of the King is still an excellent movie, I get the feeling I'm not going to be able to judge this theatrical release too clearly until I see it again, without any extended versions to precede it. And while I woke up with a dull sense of disappointment this morning, I'm also remembering how uncomfortable I felt after watching The Two Towers last year, after having only the extended Fellowship to sustain me in the interim, and I'm thinking: I'm much more a fan of the extended versions' sensibilities than I ever was impressed with the theatrical releases (except maybe for the theatrical release of Fellowship, because that really broke ground and set the bar --- sorry to reuse metaphors --- for all three films), so maybe I'll only feel whole again when the extended Return is out next year.

Here's my wishlist to Peter Jackson: Give us another excellent extended DVD version and get the big cinema guys to hold another trilogy marathon, with all three extended versions.

I'll go send him an email right after this.

To refer back to the title of this post, the dry eyes refer to the inevitable aftereffect of staring at a big screen for 11½ hours, with only brief breaks every 3½ hours or so. The wet eyes refer to all the shamelessly manipulative heartstring-tugging moments in the third film that I totally fell for and loved anyway (I confess to also tearing up during the bit in The Two Towers when Faramir decides to take the two hobbits to Gondor and Sam's begging him not to, while Frodo has a mini-Gollumesque curl-up-into-the-rock moment behind him.)

At least I'm consistent: I tear up when I'm reading the last book, and I teared up at approximately the same moments when I was watching this final film. But it's also more than that. When I got to the end of the book Return of the King last year, I read through the Appendices (because, well, they were there) and got to the end of Appendix B, and I was so sad. Because the thing about reaching the end of a book, is that you know the adventure's over and the heroes have won and gone on to happily ever after --- but you don't think about them growing old and dying, the inevitable end of all mortal protagonists. You don't think about the characters ending. In the Appendices, Tolkien tells you what happened, every last detail till he can wrap up with, "And when that ship passed an end was come to Middle-Earth of the Fellowship of the Ring."

Even looking it up in the book right now makes me sad.

The film doesn't quite go that far. (Color me a Tolkien amateur but it was only upon checking our books when we got home that I realized, and was amazed to discover, that the film stayed almost exactly true to the end of the novels.) But the film didn't have to, either. To quote two movie reviews I read this morning:

"Yes, these movies, like Tolkien's books, will be with us forever -- and the DVD versions may last forever -- but the vast popular audience that has embraced this amazing series will now share that Baggins-like bittersweet sensation of travelers who have ventured to the edge of the world and find themselves with no new lands to conquer. " --- Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com

"Audiences must now learn to cope with not having a LotR film in their future, and learn how to fill the void left by the trilogy's slipstream. When there were Rings movies in our future, we always knew something of quality was coming our way at the end of the year. We can't speak with the same certainty about Star Wars, Star Trek, or James Bond. Being a moviegoer – and how we look at movies – will never be the same." --- Glen Oliver, IGN.com

At the end of reading The Lord of the Rings, I was sad because there were no more adventures of Frodo Baggins and his friends. As the end of the film Return of the King drew nigh yesterday evening, I was sad because this was it. Sure, there'll be an extended DVD next year (and I can't wait), but there won't be the same cast and crew won't be assembled for another such project.

All of which leaves me feeling a bit hungover this morning (but without the alcohol). I think I'll go page through the books again some more ...


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