So last night we went to a three and a half hour commercial and paid $12.50 for the privilege. Next week we are doing the same, and then a week after that we do it again. Why, you might ask. It could have something to do with being big geeks, but the real reason is that movies are made to be seen in a movie theater. I love that I can own a movie and watch it anytime I like. I have a thousand or so movies in my collection, but I cannot enjoy them in a theatrical experience, no matter how big the TV is. I am not going to get 300 people, who all want to see the same film, to crowd around my family room TV. I can make popcorn, but it will not taste the same. Seeing a movie in a theater is a tradition that I treasure and seeing a movie I love in a theater is a memory that embraces all of my senses.
“The Fellowship of the Ring” is the the opening chapter in the “Lord of the Rings Trilogy”. This movie series has been awarded, analyzed, worshiped and loved for almost ten years now. The DVD’s of the films have been available for almost as long, and the extended versions of the movies for just a little bit less than that. So why do we need it on the big screen? We need it there so that we can marvel at the full specter of Gandalf’s fireworks, so we can know how truly terrifying the Nazgul are when they attack. We need to jump at Bilbo’s two second possession. A Balrog can only be fully respected when it is forty feet high and everyone in the theater is in awe. I grew up in the seventies, before home video was available. We waited for movies to play on television, and you had to schedule your time to see them. You could not shift times, skip commercials, step out of the room or rewind. If you were lucky, a favorite film would play at the college or at a revival house, and you could see it again on the big screen. Some films were periodically re-released and you could catch up with a Disney movie or a James Bond triple feature. Today we are spoiled by the wonders of technology that allow us to carry a movie like “Avatar” around in our pockets and watch it on a three or four inch screen anywhere. Last night was an embrace and a rejection of that technology all at once.
Digital magic created the world we were watching, and the Blu-ray experience will preserve that vision for as long as the technology is around. However, by not waiting for the home version, I got to be thrilled once more to a movie screening of a film I’d dreamed of for thirty years before it showed up. I remember saying to my friend, Dan Hasegawa, after we saw “The Empire Strikes Back”, that the puppetry and set design in that movie were the way to go in putting Lord of the Rings on screen. Although that version might be wonderful, I doubt that it would stand up very well to the rigors of the story that Peter Jackson told over the course of three films, that when viewed in their extended editions total twelve hours of movie. I’m glad they waited and I’m glad I get a chance to talk about it.
In 2001, when The Fellowship first opened, I was not blogging and it never occurred to me that I could share my enthusiasm with anyone not right in front of me. Here we are ten years later and I hope that some of you that I don’t know, or at least don’t know personally will find my comments motivational. You should all look for a chance to see this movie on the big screen in whatever form you can. Most of you have probably done so already, but you need to go back, because it is just as inspiring again, even with the passage of time. “Fellowship” is my favorite of the three films. Most of the fanatics I know prefer “The Two Towers”, and of course “Return of the King” won a bucket-load of awards including Best Picture from the motion picture academy. The opening film though is a promise made and a promise kept. There is great fidelity to the original story created by Tolkien, and it showed us that the film makers were taking this project quite seriously. I have to admit, I sometimes still dream of Sean Connery as Gandalf, not because Ian McKellan had any fault but because that is the casting I had in my head since the late seventies. Once Sir Ian takes the screen, there is no doubt he is the wizard we want. Fellowship contains his most dramatic moment, his fall in the mines or Moria. When Amanda was in middle school, reading the books a year or so before the movie came out, she got to that part, and came out of her room crying and sat on my lap weeping at the tragedy. Last night, despite my having read the books a dozen times and seen the movies at least as much, I was moved almost as much. The other big emotional moment for me is the brief fall and sad but honorable resurrection of Boromir. Capping the end of the first film, we know that there is drama in these movies and not just action visualized for the masses.
Peter Jackson gave a nice three or four minute introduction to the film, and then the extended version played. There were probably differences in the prologue, but the first visual distinction I saw was that the titles come up not on the green fields of the Shire, but the warm interior of Bag End. Bilbo is working on his autobiographical adventure story and maps, notes and writing implements are scattered around the room. He becomes a more important character in the story by this earlier placement and it also reminds most of us geeks what we have to look forward to in December of 2012. The other changes add details that make events clearer for anyone who had not read the books. We understand Aragorn’s self imposed exile better, the treachery of Sauraman is more vivid, and the gifts of Galadriel are more clearly placed in the story. My favorite new inclusion is the stanza of verse that Sam adds to the lament for Gandalf. His character is deepened even more by this one or two minute scene. Sam is the heart of this movie, and it is the first glimpse we get of how deeply he feels about everything that is happening. It may decrease the emotional impact of the late scene as he and Frodo separate from the others, but it makes his heart seem not only stout but warm as well.
You all have seen the movies I’m sure, but you ought to see them this way to get the full measure of the story. The extended versions on the big screen, with an enthusiastic audience is a great way to spend an evening. I know that it is largely a promotional tool to sell Blu ray copies of a film most of you probably own. Well it works, and it comes by that effect honestly. Next week when we see Two Towers, I am sure there will be similar inspiring moments that remind me of the magic of Middle Earth but also the magic of the theatrical experience.