I had a week off work some time ago, so I decided to rewatch all three extended editions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy back-to-back. Much like the movies themselves, it was an epic undertaking that started at around 9am and, with various breaks, came to the conclusion at almost midnight. I’m happy to say that they are still marvellous films and crème de la crème of the fantasy genre. I thought it would be fun to do a personal Top 10 moments from the trilogy and talk about the scenes or moments that, for various reasons, stayed with me the most. I also realised, when doing the list, what a huge part Howard Shore’s incredible score played in making many of them memorable.
Overall, I can’t say that Aragorn and Arwen’s romance is one of the most memorable things about the movies: I think that Aragorn’s character would be poorer without it but it’s not really a love story for the ages. However I absolutely adore this sequence from The Two Towers where Arwen’s father predicts the fate that would befall her if she chose to bind herself to a mortal, presenting her with an agonising dilemma. Beautiful visuals, haunting score, and a real sense of the brevity of happiness.
Shelob Stalks Frodo
I watched The Return of the King 11 times at the cinema and the nerve-wracking scene where Shelob finally stings her prey is one of the most fun audience reactions I’ve witnessed. The initial chase through the cobweb-filled caves is enough to give you creepy-crawlies, but then the giant spider re-appears just when you think that Frodo is safe. Cue the gasps all over the theatre.
Sean Bean has a couple of gut-wrenching, memorable death scenes to his name, but for my money this is the best one. It’s tragic and satisfying at the same time, giving Boromir a chance to redeem himself after his attempt to take the ring from Frodo, and the final words between him and Aragorn get me well and truly choked up. Every time. Something’s in my eye, I swear.
Sometimes I can’t decide which of the trilogy’s two epic battles – Helm’s Deep and Pelennor Fields – is my favourite. But this magnificent climatic ending, with the remaining defenders riding out to their deaths, the Uruk-hai getting struck by the rising sun and the Rohirrim riding down the mountain slope, makes me give a slight preference to the former. It’s a rousing, pristine moment that gives me chills, no small thanks to Shore’s score and the genius addition of Ben Del Maestro’s soaring vocals. Pelennor Fields is great, but as far as last-minute help goes, the invincible undead army that looks like green bubbles from the distance is pretty damn boring, in my opinion.
Gollum vs Smeagol
Upon the rewatch, I found that I maybe wasn’t quite as impressed with the CGI work for Gollum as I once was, and thought that the strange weightlessness of the special effects was more obvious this time around. In the end though it didn’t matter because Gollum is such a fully realised character and is given a true soul through the efforts of the animators and brilliant work by Andy Serkis. This scene where the meek Smeagol temporarily overcomes the vindictive Gollum captures the tragedy and duality of the character in an unforgettable fashion.
The Lighting of the Beacons
Another sequence that for me is one of the most powerful marriages of visuals and music in the trilogy. There’s something deeply moving about this chain of lit beacons between Gondor and Rohan – the idea of connection and relit hope perhaps? It’s also glorious New Zealand mountain porn of the highest order. And spare a thought for the poor beacon watchmen who spent years at their desolate posts, freezing their asses off. At last, our lives have meaning!
Some people absolutely adore The Shire and its bucolic delights, whereas I always preferred the trilogy’s grittier settings, but I can’t deny that Bilbo’s warm, affectionate introduction of his home and fellow Hobbits is absolutely gorgeous and delightful. Especially when compared to the boring, rushed, mechanical exposition seen in so many modern blockbusters.
Eowyn vs the Witch King
The trilogy has a few David vs Goliath moments but the scene where Eowyn bravely confronts the Witch King and his ridiculously oversized flail is easily my favourite. I don’t know if, realistically, she’d have time to remove her helmet and deliver the I’m no man phrase, but that’s movie battles for you. Poor Witch King, running into the only woman on the battlefield.
The Charge of the Rohirrim
Though the battle of Helm’s Deep has a better build-up and resolution, the scale and action of the Pelennor Fields is truly awe-inspiring. And yes this is the second Rohirrim charge on the list, but it’s safe to say they’re my favourite people in the series. From King Theoden’s speech to the ride of the cavalry, this is epic filmmaking at its finest.
This one is rather random, but Sam’s ode to potatoes is the single most quoted piece of dialogue from the trilogy between my brother and I. To the point where, whenever I hear the word potatoes my brain goes on, boil’em, mash’em, stick’em in a stew. It’s up there with tea, Earl Grey, hot. I love the lightness of the scene and for once Gollum and Sam’s tense dynamic is used for humour. Also, Sam’s down-to-earth appreciation of the humble potato chips is a nice counterbalance to all the high-fantasy epic stuff.