What with so many of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord Of The Rings” movies flying around like drunken nazgul on a night out, it’s easy to become bewildered and to lose all hope and fall into shadow. After all, you don’t want to watch the entire 3 hours of the theatrical release version of “The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring” and then hear later on that the special extended edition is much, much better. That’s three hours of your life gone. You’re never going to get that back. And to add insult to injury, you’ve copped a resentment against the “Lord Of The Rings” movies. And you don’t want to be in a state of resentment against the “Lord Of The Rings” movies. It’s just not right.
What you need is a guide. You need your very own Gollum to guide you through the marshes of the multiple versions of “The Lord Of The Ringses”.
I could be that Gollum.
Please. Please, let me be your Gollum.
RATED FROM BEST TO LEAST-BEST
So, from best to not best:
- “The Return Of The King”, original theatrical release (201 mins) – no, it is not too long, it’s almost perfect – almost – and after the triumph of the previous films, it has earned the right for its long, steady, really quite sad wind-down at the end; still have no idea what’s going on with that Denethor-setting-Faramir-on-fire thing, though
- “The Fellowship Of The Ring”, special extended edition (208 mins) – the original theatrical release was a chase film, this extended version has more character moments and, as a result, is more engaging and so actually seems to run much faster than the theatrical release.
- “The Two Towers”, original theatrical release (179 mins) – a rock-solid Act II.
- “The Return Of The King”, special extended edition (251 mins) – yes, it’s too long – and my apologies to Christopher Lee, but those Saruman scenes really don’t work very well; on the other hand, the Emissary Of Sauron, the shattering of Gandalf’s staff, the fiery wolf’s-head battering ram, and other elements are extraordinary.
- “The Fellowship Of The Ring”, original theatrical release (178 mins) – good as it is, its story is fairly narrow – the only one of the films where you feel like you really want a little more; but as the first step in an unprecedentedly massive filmmaking enterprise, taking that cautious approach was probably a wise strategy.
- “The Two Towers”, special extended edition (223 mins) – much repetition of scenes which serve the same function – i.e., Gollum’s monologue, so effective in the theatrical release, is watered down by several other, less effective monologue scenes; on the other hand, extended swordplay at Helm’s Deep can never be a bad thing.
And watch the Ralph Bakshi animated movie, “The Lord Of The Rings” (1978) which covers “The Fellowship Of The Ring” and some of “The Two Towers”.
The film’s treatment of Gollum became the iconic image of the character until the Peter Jackson movies. It’s also a more somber take than the Jackson versions – exactly what you would expect from Mr. Bakshi.