Saturday, June 9, 2012

Lord of the Rings Geekout, pt. 1: Top 10 Deleted Scenes

I just rewatched the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Extended Edition, of course. Once you’ve seen the Extended Edition, you can never go back, much like the One Ring itself. The sheer volume of deleted and expanded scenes is such that they could practically be edited together into their own, very confusing movie. Some of them are engaging and some are irrelevant, but there’s a few that, I firmly believe, never should have been deleted from the theatrical cut in the first place. Time to seriously flex my nerd muscles (not that I don’t do that all the time anyway) and rhapsodize about everyone’s favorite ginormous fantasy epic! Here, in order of my irritation that they were left on the cutting room floor, are...

DANG-BLASTED’S TOP TEN DELETED SCENES FROM THE LORD OF THE RINGS FILMS

(I’ll indicate whether each scene comes from The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, or The Return of the King. I’ll also use “EE” and “TC” to mean “Extended Edition” and “Theatrical Cut.”)


10. Avalanche of Skulls (RotK)
Heh. This one’s at the bottom because it’s really silly -- a bit of the ghoulish excess that Peter Jackson has relished since his Z-level horror film days. If you recall, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas go into the underground Kingdom of the Dead to recruit the cursed souls therein to fight on their side. Which they do, because Aragorn is badass. But in the EE, there’s a goofy/ghastly coda to the scene in which the dead city cracks open to release hundreds of thousands of skulls, which cascade over our heroes and threaten to sweep them away. It makes no fucking sense, and it’s awesome. Fun fact: they actually made thousands of tiny fake skulls for the scene, many of which wound up as illicit souvenirs. Check the free box at your local yard sale!


9. Gandalf vs. Witch King (RotK)
In a scene that closely follows the book, Gandalf and Pippin run smack dab into the evil Witch King (that’s the black-robed creep with the spiky helmet) during the attack on the city of Minas Tirith. Our beloved grumpy wizard confronts the vile wraith, who draws a flaming sword and shatters Gandalf’s staff, leaving him helpless. Holy shit! Gandalf is supposed to be fucking impossible to beat! It’s meant to be the moment of ultimate despair before the swelling of hope, and it works damn well. Yes, it has a lame resolution (in the book, too) when the Witch King refrains from killing Gandalf because he hears the horns of the approaching Rohan army. Uh, wow, you can’t spare five extra seconds to kill one of your greatest foes? Whatever. It’s still a great scene.


8. The Elves Are Leaving (FotR)
This one’s just a quiet little moment from early in the story, and it’s mainly there for the sake of exposition and foreshadowing. But it’s lovely nonetheless. Shortly after they leave home, Frodo and Sam witness a dreamy procession of Elves drifting through the forest, and comment on how the Elves are leaving Middle Earth forever and sailing away to the West, aka, Tolkien’s metaphor for the Afterlife. In the book, as I recall, the Hobbits actually get to hang out with these Elves, who are pretty cool. The movie only gives them a moment, but it’s a nice moment. A bit of calm mystery before all the action and bloodshed and ballyhoo. And it helps define the Elves and their motivations...not that the Elves don’t constantly reference their own fate every time they open their damn mouths.


7. Éomer Actually Gets To Do Shit (TT and RotK)
If you’ve only seen the TC, you may remember Éomer (played by Karl Urban) as the bland, sexy brother of Éowyn who spends the second and third movie just kind of being there without much to contribute, except for that one time he helps Gandalf save the day. Well, the poor guy got fucked over in the TC, that’s for sure. The EE gives us considerably more of Éomer, and while he’s still not the most compelling character, at least he gets to show genuine emotion! We see him find his mortally wounded cousin, Prince Théodred. We see him as a more active participant in commanding the Riders of Rohan. And we get his best scene in the entire story: his discovery of Éowyn, whom he thought was safe at home, badly wounded on the battlefield. Watching Éomer clutching his sister and howling in anguish, one recalls that Karl Urban has proven to be a damn compelling actor. I hope Star Trek leads him to a better career!


6. Aragorn is How Old? (TT)
This scene’s a little peculiar, but incredibly cute. During the journey to Helm’s Deep, Éowyn tries doing something nice for Aragorn, whom she has a giant, raging crush on. She makes him some soup! And...uh...well...in polite terms, she should leave cooking to the serving wenches. Viggo Mortensen gets to have a rare moment of comedy as he makes a valiant attempt to choke down the lumpy, greasy meal while Éowyn beams. And then, in an unexpected reference to the source material, Éowyn is gobsmacked to learn that Aragorn is eighty-seven freaking years old. Elf DNA has its benefits! I’m guessing they took that bit out because they figured it’d just confuse the dopey moviegoing public. And they’re right. But for us nerds, it’s a tasty treat. Way tastier than Éowyn’s nasty-ass soup.


5. The Mouth of Sauron (RotK)
Given how much Peter Jackson loves creeping us out, I’m surprised this fucked-up scene didn’t make the cut. Late in the game, when Aragorn and his army arrive at the Black Gate of Mordor, they are met by a sinister envoy known as the Mouth of Sauron. This eyeless, rotten-toothed guy is FUCKING SCARY, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s played by character actor Bruce Spence, also known as the gyro pilot from Mad Max, the Trainman from Matrix Revolutions, and many other things. He proceeds to demoralize our heroes by giving them Frodo’s chainmail shirt and claiming (falsely) that Frodo was captured and died a horrible death by torture. Even though we know he’s lying, the looks of horror and despair on everyone’s faces are hard to watch. Aragorn eventually gets sick of the Mouth’s snarling and cuts his fucking head off, thereby showing that Kings don’t need no stinkin’ diplomatic skills. An awesomely evil scene that should have stayed in.


4. Chillin’ in Lothlórien (FotR)
In the TC, the Fellowship’s time in the Elven forest kingdom of Lothlórien is pretty much just a glorified pit stop. Show up, mope, look in a magic birdbath, leave. But in the EE, way more time is spent among the towering, blue-lit trees, and it adds a ton! Every member of the Fellowship gets some character building. We see Boromir all haunted by guilt and dread. We see Sam make a tragicomic attempt to compose a rhyme about Gandalf’s fireworks. We see Gimli fall beard over boots in love with Queen Galadriel, who gives him three golden hairs from her head. We also see a bit more of the Elven King, Celeborn, and the warden, Haldir, aka, That Random Elf Dude Who Shows Up at Helm’s Deep and Gets Killed While We Try to Remember Who the Hell He Is. Lothlórien goes from being a gorgeous tourist attraction to a place of deep mystery, tragedy, and self-reflection...and the last peaceful place for our heroes before the final descent into peril. Oh, and the Elves give the Fellowship a bunch of bitching gifts, including their special cloaks, unbreakable rope for Sam, and that badass curvy knife Aragorn uses.


3. Boromir’s Dysfunctional Family (TT)
Cracked.com covered this in an article, but it cannot be emphasized enough. This scene is REALLY important and NEEDED to be in the film. It’s a flashback that Faramir has to happier times in the city of Osgiliath, which has just been liberated by the Men of Gondor, led by Boromir. It also pretty much defines everything about Boromir, Faramir, and their father, Denethor. The dynamic between the father and sons is all laid out: Denethor adores Boromir and thinks Faramir is useless, Faramir’s deeply hurt and determined to prove himself, and Boromir is torn between love for his brother and loyalty to his asshole dad. All of this makes their motivations down the road soooooo much clearer. And speaking of motivation...we get the rather crucial tidbit that Denethor knows about the One Ring, wants Gondor to have it, and sends Boromir to claim it. In other words, Boromir is planning to take the Ring throughout the entire first film. Wow, does that clear up a bunch of confusing things or what! Of all the supporting characters, this manly family unit is extra-compelling, and I wish the TC had taken the time to establish them better. Sigh.


2. Faramir and Éowyn Fall in Love (RotK)
Boy, does Éowyn get dicked over. In the TC, at least. She’s like the most lovable non-Hobbit character and we want her to live happily ever after, but her crush, Aragorn, has Friendzoned her in favor of a boring Elf chick. She kills the fucking Witch King, almost dies, and then what? Nothing! What a crock! Well...the EE only spends an additional minute or two on her fate, but it’s worth it, because we make the rather happy discovery that Éowyn and Faramir fall in love while healing from their wounds. And that’s why they’re standing together during Aragorn’s coronation. Awwwww! Now isn’t that nice? Nobody gets left out in the cold! Isn’t that a more fitting reward for both these characters than the non-resolution they got in theaters? And it’s damn symbolic, too, marking the reconciliation between Gondor and Rohan and presumably leading to an unbreakable new bloodline. Seeing it in the EE made me seriously pissed off that it was deleted in the first place. Oh, and Miranda Otto and David Wenham create a more convincing love story in one to two minutes than Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson do in five fucking movies. Just saying.


1. The Death of Saruman (RotK)
At least Éowyn and Faramir were still in the movie at the end. The same can’t be said of Saruman, who was a major baddie in the first two films, suffered a humiliating defeat at the climax of Two Towers, and then....vanished. No indication of his ultimate fate. No screen time in the final film. What the fuck, Peter Jackson. You cast Christopher Lee and then treat him like this? Have no fear, the Extended Edition is here to give Saruman the proper kiss-off and become my number one deleted scene. When Aragorn, Gandalf, Théoden, and the other good guys arrive at the flooded ruins of Isengard, they find Saruman waiting for them in full-on Sore Loser mode. They try to pump him for information, he acts like a gigantic asshole, dire threats are thrown back and forth -- and it’s all for naught, because Saruman is stabbed in the back by his own sidekick, Gríma Wormtongue, who receives an arrow in the heart from Legolas for his troubles. Saruman then falls off the tower of Orthanc and lands on a giant spiked wheel. SPLAT! It’s a tad over-the-top, but the entire scene is incredibly tense and well-acted, foreshadowing the depths of evil that our heroes are about to witness. We also see that the magic Seeing-Stone fell off the tower too, which is why it’s lying there for Pippin to find. I name this number one just because it was such a dick move to completely erase Saruman and Wormtongue from the third film. Thanks to the EE, all is well.

More Lord of the Rings geekery is forthcoming! Stay tuned!

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