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Episode 102 - The Fellowship of the Ring vs. The Return of the King (w/ Joanna Robinson & David Chen)

Episode 102 - Fellowship of the Ring vs. Return of the King  

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  1. 1. The Fellowship of the Ring vs. The Return of the King

    • It shall be...The Fellowship of the Ring!
    • You cannot deny...The Return of the King!


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Joanna Robinson (Vanity Fair) and David Chen (/Film) join Amy this week to pit the bookends of The Lord of the Rings trilogy against one another in the ultimate battle for Middle-Earth canonization. They discuss and debate the relative technological strides each film achieved, the narrative significance of central character arcs, and Peter Jackson’s masterful (and sometimes questionable) retooling of key scenes from the books.

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Haven't listened to the episode yet, but considering Two Towers or the trilogy as a whole isn't included- this may be a bizarre Beginning VS ending battle, or even worse; which movie has the better 'scenes'.

 

I suspect this ep will be a battle of semantics honestly.

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Joanna almost won me over with her Arrested Development shoutout, when discussing the one quote from TheReturn of the King, but alas, I have to go with Tangerine.

 

In all seriousness, I'm going The Return of the King. The Fellowship of the Ring may have better moments, but the film is so goddamned uneven. It takes forever for the film to get going, the film stalls between the time they leave the Shire and when they get to Rivendell, and they don't even form the actual fellowship until halfway in, right after we've barely met our characters, and after one of the worst scenes in the series--with the council at Rivendell. Most of what Amy describes comes near the beginning, or in the back half of the film. As a whole, this is barely watchable.

 

The Return of the King, on the other hand, is consistently thrilling from top to bottom, and opens with might be the best scene in the series. Jackson's ability to turn a warm, joyous outing into something so chilling and disturbing. That's why Jackson won a Best Director Oscar for The Return of the King. I would also argue that Aragorn showing up with the ghosts is not a deus ex machina, but the logical conclusion to his arc. Aragorn's whole journey is that he doesn't want to accept his kingship. He doesn't really want this legacy that he, much like Frodo, didn't choose. Those ghosts are personification of that forsaken inheritance. Once he stops running away from his past, and stops running away from who he is--and what he's destined to be, given these ghosts--he proves himself as the leader everyone needs. And yeah, maybe that's big and on the nose, but The Lord of the Rings is, by no means, a subtle story. It's a sweeping epic with broad ideas, and Aragorn's works all the way to the end. Anyway, the Raising of the Shire is a bummer of an omission, but it works for the film, so who cares? Also, re-watching the end of The Return of the King--yeah, there are many conclusions, but they're all terrific, and they all work together. It's not ideal filmmaking, but it's at least functional. Even the ensemble is better in The Return of the King. They understand their characters better, and have lived with them for so long--Sean Astin, in particular--that the hit those emotional beats and character moments with greater effect that only works because it pays off here.

 

Really, we should be inducting the series as a whole. The books were written as one. The films were made together. And, frankly, the one that deserves to be in the canon the most, The Two Towers, isn't even in the discussion. If forced, to me, The Return of the King is the picture where Peter Jackson irons out the directional/storytelling kinks of The Fellowship of the Ring, and really arrives with his most fully-formed iteration of Tolkien's story.

 

The Return of the King.

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Honestly it's kind of impossible for me to separate the individual parts of the trilogy from the whole. I'm just going to vote for Return of the King and will just pretend that the whole trilogy is in whichever one wins

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Honestly, the trilogy was written as one novel, and shot as one film (even if PJ came back to fill in bits and pieces). And I think even the editing of each individual part was done with that in mind - it's one movie. I hate how they don't mention that in the podcast.

 

 

Also, "Run Shadowfax, show us the meaning of haste," is probably the best quote of the entire franchise and it's on the third movie.

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The story about Ian McKellen breaking down crying on a green screen set is absolutely true, and it was documented in the special features on the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Because Jackson was shooting in 3-D, the couldn't use the same forced perspective camera tricks because they relied upon being seen in 2-D. The solution was to shoot the larger characters separately from the smaller characters and composite them together in post. Since, the main cast was almost entirely dwarves (and a hobbit), that meant McKellen spent long portions of shooting completely by himself. Also, since most of the actors would be on the set scaled for the smaller characters, they all received the real things with which to interact, whereas McKellen was entirely on a green screen pretending to interact with the set, props, and other actors. It got to be too isolating for him, and it made him very depressed. The documentary on the above-mentioned Blu-Ray shows the moment where he was at his lowest point.

 

Anyway, if I must vote for only one film, I think I'll go with Fellowship. Despite the fact that it lacks Gollum almost completely, it does set the tone for whole series, and it made a mark on the landscape of film that is pretty undeniable. I wish I could articulate my feelings better, but unfortunately I can't.

 

For the most part, I prefer the extended editions of all three films, but Return of the King's has possibly one of the most egregious bits of invention by Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens. Toward the end of the Battle of Pelennor Fields, we see a crippled Eowyn being menaced by a slightly less crippled Gothmog, the orc commander. Rather than mustering the strength to save herself, she is rescued by Aragorn who, in an even more insulting turn of events, casually kills Gothmog practically without noticing while riding into the main part of the battle. It's like Jackson and co. decided to toss out all of the character building they'd done with Eowyn up to that point. It would have been marginally more forgivable if it was something from Tolkien, but it wasn't. I hate it so much.

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I'm abstaining from voting this week. Both of these movies are boring AF (as the kids today would say) and neither deserves to be in the canon.

 

These movies are basically the Star Wars prequels with swords and orcs instead of lightsabers and clones. Yeah, I said it. Fight me, nerds.

 

There's a single story stretched across three four-hour films, and it would be much better, more exciting, and actually watchable if someone cut all three into a single, lean, mean, 2-hour film. Where's Topher Grace when you need him?

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I am naturally inclined to enjoy the introduction to a series more so than the conclusion, and The Lord of the Rings is no exception, though I do agree with those who say it is really one long film (all done as part of one production) and are not inclined to split them up as achievements. So I do generally prefer watching Fellowship over Return, though on an absolute scale there isn't a lot of difference between them. On an emotional level, it's hard for the later entries to overcome the exhilaration and sense of discovery I got from seeing the first movie in the theater (Two Towers does give me something with an escalation of the action, after which ROTK feels a bit like more of the same). I was never a big Tolkien nerd (I'd read The Hobbit and could never finish the LOTR books), but Fellowship demonstrated in the clearest way possible why this was such a fascinating mythology.

 

So it was up to David to potentially convince me to vote for the latter. His argument was fairly weak, leaning heavily on the Oscar wins (which even he admits were probably aimed at the whole trilogy and not just the final entry) and citing "cool moments" in the battles. So my vote goes to Fellowship.

 

I'm also super glad that Amy cited the passage that has held the most resonance for me in our current political moment, and yes, this is something that pushes the first film over the top IMO:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjAAC13al9s

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I don't honestly think either (or any) of these films hold up very well fifteen years later. My wife and I re-watched them over this past holiday season and found them good for a laugh, but not much else. That being said, Fellowship of the Ring, in my opinion, is the most watchable of the three. I find Return of the King's glut of special effects nonsense a non-stop insult to the art of movie-making. I absolutely cannot stand the pressure filmmakers seem to feel to continuously outdo themselves. A good example of this within this trilogy is Legolas doing battle at the end of Fellowship, which is still really entertaining, but becomes a little silly in the Two Towers, and is so ridiculously overblown by the Return of the King that the scenes have nothing with which viewers can connect to. This pattern repeats itself over and over again throughout the trilogy, so that is why in the absence of a None of the Above option, I will go with the Fellowship of the Ring.

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Huh. Looks like the Lord of the Rings movies have entered the phase in their life cycle where it's hip to dis them.

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Huh. Looks like the Lord of the Rings movies have entered the phase in their life cycle where it's hip to dis them.

 

Not only that, but to sign up for this forum and make it your first post.

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I was so jazzed when I saw this episode but pretty disappointed with the caliber of discussion, particularly from David. Entirely too much time was devoted to shouting out particular scenes without getting into the meat of what makes them tick. This felt like a very amateur episode despite Amy's best efforts to redirect the conversation into more analytical territory.

 

As an individual film I definitely prefer Fellowship. It has the most resonant character work, the special effects weren't out of hand, and it wasn't one gigantic battle scene after another. There are numerous beats that happen very naturally in Fellowship that then get supercharged and overdone in both the latter films. Someone's already pointed out the escalation of Legolas from being plain awesome, to shield surfing, to slaying an oliphant and all its passengers. Off the top of my head I'd add in Gimli's characterization and poignant death scenes.

 

The first film sees Gimli at his most well rounded. He's funny, sure, but he also gets real pathos, particularly in the mines of Moria. He bawls in grief at the tomb, and then he gets fired up with vengeful rage. In Two Towers and Return of the King, barring a friendship moment with Legolas, he's reduced to never ending dwarf jokes. He gets pegged exclusively as a comic relief character, and he becomes much flatter as a result.

 

Fellowship earns its sorrow. Gandalf and Boromir get tragic, resonant deaths, particularly the latter. The most glaring example I can recall of the following movies trying and failing to recapture this magic comes inthe middle of the battle for Helm's Deep. The elves bring reinforcements, led by that one random dude who has an excellent, imperious one-liner in Lothlorien and nothing else. Then the entire battle slams to a halt so he can die a beautiful death, and it's so cheap and superficial. No amount of slow-motion and Howard Shore music can cover up how shallow an attempt at emotional manipulation it is.

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Look the entire trilogy is incredible. A LOTR movie could have been so awful, and the fact that they pulled off a trilogy that worked so well is a wonderful achievement that we're really lucky to have. It's kind of just a conceit for the podcast to have to pick between two of them, but I do think Fellowship has a lot of the best moments in it.

 

There's a single story stretched across three four-hour films, and it would be much better, more exciting, and actually watchable if someone cut all three into a single, lean, mean, 2-hour film.

 

Considering how Netflix has made binge-watching a national passtime I think you're almost definitely wrong.

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Considering how Netflix has made binge-watching a national passtime I think you're almost definitely wrong.

There was one attempt, the Ralph Bakshi animated version. I haven't seen it, but it certainly didn't seem to capture the public's imagination the same way Jackson's trilogy did.

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There was one attempt, the Ralph Bakshi animated version. I haven't seen it, but it certainly didn't seem to capture the public's imagination the same way Jackson's trilogy did.

 

Even the Bakshi version doesn't adapt all three books. It pretty much ends where the Two Towers movie does (i.e., after the battle of Helm's Deep and before Frodo, Sam, and Gollum get to Shelob's lair). It's also pretty terrible.

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There was one attempt, the Ralph Bakshi animated version. I haven't seen it, but it certainly didn't seem to capture the public's imagination the same way Jackson's trilogy did.

 

 

Right, and I think that's the point really. Some stories are better told in two hours, and others need five times that to take shape.

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I feel really bad for saying this, but more than previous weeks, I really missed Devin in this episode. Yeah, I get why he's not around, but his contributions would've been really interesting.

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I've always thought Return of the King was a disappointment. There are good parts, to be sure, but many of the major storylines fell apart, and it was left needing to close out all the storylines, adding a lot of bloat.

 

The biggest mark against is the army of the dead… on its own that was a "jump the shark" moment for me. And it just reinforced how the fellowship had, at this time, become larger than the films that contained them. They were superheroes that were untouchable, never in danger, and knowing they were never in danger because they're the stars.

 

The Gondor storyline seemed like a waste of time, and everything between Aragon and (the vision of) Arwen was a snore.

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I feel really bad for saying this, but more than previous weeks, I really missed Devin in this episode. Yeah, I get why he's not around, but his contributions would've been really interesting.

 

Amy said he had an open invitation to return, so hopefully it does happen some day.

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Amy's bonkers obsession with La La Land has to be hashed out in an episode- bringing it up in a LOTR episode seems like a move when you've recently broken up with someone- where everything somehow relates back to the ex.

 

I think David Chen swayed me when he brought up the score- Howard Shore's score is great in all 3 films, but it almost becomes transcendent in Return of the King:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNN1zF9wldU

 

Overall: It should've been Individual LOTR film V The Trilogy; ah well.

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Amy's bonkers obsession with La La Land has to be hashed out in an episode- bringing it up in a LOTR episode seems like a move when you've recently broken up with someone- where everything somehow relates back to the ex.

*sigh* Yeah... I'm on her side with La La Land, but I didn't really understand that part.

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*sigh* Yeah... I'm on her side with La La Land, but I didn't really understand that part.

 

As I mentioned elsewhere, it's just a running gag at this point. Like South Park killing Kenny in every episode.

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I just wanted to say I looove how Amy found a way to work in a dig at La La Land for the 4th episode in a row, and in reference to films as disparate as Sign O' the Times and Fellowship of the Ring. I mean, I love La La Land too, but don't mind other takes, and this is getting to be like the Simpsons couch gag of Canon episodes. I'll be disappointed the first time it DOESN'T come up.

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And, whoa, somehow I overlooked the previous post that compared the La La Land bashing to South Park's Kenny gag (which also came to mind, and is more apt, but Simpsons seemed like easier shorthand.) Glad to see I'm not the only one who appreciates the consistency. What will be the first Canon episode to subvert the trope? How elaborate will it get? Will it earn its own column on the "Episodes of The Canon" Wikipedia table?

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