Onward to Mount Doom, the perilous journey continues from where it left off. Still in familiar territory with this sequel as the 78 Bakshi film also covered most of what happens here, just about, so yes I can still compare to a degree hurrah!.
So as we crack on with the story its not long before you discover there's a lot of dialog, quite a lot, in fact bloody hell what have I gotten myself into!. Yes the first like two hours of the film is much dialog and not really very much else. Now if you're a Tolkien fanboy this will be music to your ears as Jackson does cover a whole heap of plot, although there are variations and changes still as there were with the first film.
I should point out quickly that all visuals, details, location work and performances are of course as you would expect and still on par with the first entry. There isn't too much need to go into all that as the quality is still just as high all round and I explained those standards in my first review.
This is of course the film where we meet 'Gollum' properly as a full fledged character. Now in my humble little opinion you either like this guy or you don't, personally I can't stand this character even back in the Bakshi film. I realise he is suppose to be a wretched creature but jesus christ he's annoying, annoying on the same level as 'Jar Jar Binks'. His voice just pisses me off and his design with those big eyes looks completely ridiculous, the guy has 'Disney' eyes for gods sake!.
Again upon release this character got huge raving reviews about the CGI and all round rendering against the live action. Again I simply don't understand what the hell everyone was on about as I saw shoddy CGI abundantly with some awful rendering against live action characters in places. Its not all bad for sure, a scene with 'Gollum' sat on a rock next to some open water eating a fish shows how good SOME of the CGI could be. In general I was never impressed with this effect and his quite childish and basic looking features, the only aspect that looked real was his eyes, kinda.
So to be honest most of the film is really rather dull and slow for the most part. There are bits of interest within the plot that spring up to keep you awake ('Merry' and 'Pippin' with the orcs) and of course the odd eye popping moment of real scenery ('Edoras'). But lets be honest here, it all gets into gear when 'King Théoden of Rohan' decides to move his people of 'Edoras' to 'Helm's Deep' and everybody starts to suit up for war...WAR!!!.
Before we get there you have the intriguing sub plot with 'Merry' 'Pippin' and 'Treebeard'. Now this part of the plot I always liked and I loved the 'Ent' species, huge ancient old gnarly trees that could come alive, walk and talk. This was one area which never really saw the light of day in the Bakshi film.
I was happy to see that 'Fangorn forest' did live up to my expectations with its sweeping, mystical, magical appearance. I loved how light beams broke through the twisted huge trees, the gentle humming of insects in the background, the bold palette of greens, yellows and browns of the undergrowth, all together giving this harmonious fairytale utopia. Now this was never going to be an easy task creating living trees and to be honest I think the designs were pretty good for the 'Ent' species. Well the odd tree character looked a bit silly, the weeping willow type character didn't quite work if you ask me hehe why would that be in a forest? probably not a weeping willow I know but it looked like it.
Amazingly 'Treebeard' isn't fully CGI, he is actually a large puppet/model against bluescreen with the help of CGI later on naturally. To be brutally honest, the sequences with both 'Merry' and 'Pippin' riding around with 'Treebeard' are, well...pretty poor looking. The big problem with these films has been dreadful bluescreen effects which are hideously obvious to the point that the foreground is virtually a different brightness to the background. Hard to pull off yes but it does look very basic. The models are quite nice and better than the fully CGI 'Ents' but neither are exactly believable which I hate to say.
Anyway after a whole lot of plot development and slow slow character driven dialog blah blah blah we finally get to the meat of the film and what we've all been waiting for, THE BATTLE AT 'HELM'S DEEP'. 'Finally we are here', I know that's what I was thinking, I'm sure you were too, yes you were don't lie.
Now far from me to describe myself as a 'battle whore' but this huge huge finale certainly got my nipples tingling with excitement. As the massive army of orcs, Uruk-Hai and god knows what slowly lurch closer you can't help but get pumped. 'Aragorn' summons his army of men and elves to arms, walking up and down the vast stone fortified wall of 'Helm's Deep' invoking a warriors passion into the hearts of all that stand beside him. On the other side of the wall in the pouring rain the orcs and Uruk-Hai pound the ground with their spears, baiting their foes...oh yeah its full on kick ass!.
In short the battle doesn't disappoint in any way, Jackson milks every moment for as much heroic posturing as possible with plenty of good short 'suit up' sequences just to make sure you know there is gonna be some epic hacking n slashing. The good guys are holding firm but slowly succumb and you really do start thinking how the hell are they gonna turn this around!. Its a full rollercoaster of emotion as the goodies crumble along with their fortress and become overrun.
The epic splattering of orcs, men and elves is interspursed with silly moments I have to say. The orcs manage to get the explosives into the drainage, the weak spot of the 'Helm's Deep' walls. But then they have one big orc do some kind of Olympic torch bearing act and run across the battlefield holding the igniting flame aloft for all to see and shoot at...eh?. Why not just light it when they dumped it?.
I didn't like the odd moment of Hollywood where 'Legolas' slides down some stairs on a shield like a surfboard whilst shooting multiple arrows one after another. Does this elf ever run out of arrows by the way? his pouch is always chock full.
When 'Aragorn' throws 'Gimli' across a quite large drop onto the main bridge at the entrance of 'Helm's Deep'. He then proceeds to jump it himself and they both fight off quite literately hundreds of Uruk-Hai. And when all the heroes come charging out of the fortress on horseback they pretty much go through hundreds of big sturdy heavy Uruk-Hai as if they were made out of paper.
Finally, when 'Gandalf' shows up with 'Éomer' looking down on 'Helm's Deep', errr that near sheer downward gradient drop they all ride down on horseback!! excuse me!!. Yes its little quibbles but things like that detract from the sensible story and I always notice this stuff haha.
The effects are better than the first film yet still have the same problems in my opinion. One good example of some pretty terrible CGI action would be the attack of the 'Isengard wolves' or 'Warg riders'. This sequence really is jerky with nasty bluescreen and a whole load of fake looking action set pieces. There are also many little moments throughout which simply don't look right, one tiny sequence shows 'Legolas' mounting a horse as it trots past him which is quite literately absolutely awful looking haha.
On the plus side the orcs and Uruk-Hai seem to look much better this time, not quite as hokey. The 'Ringwraiths' look good on their flying dragon-like steeds and there seems to be a bit more blood on show methinks too, ever so slightly more gooey and gory.
Overall I thought this film was for the most part rather dull and not as good as the first film. The finale battle is obviously the best thing in the whole film and without it there would be problems. The film does feel much more like a serious historical drama for the most part up to the final big battle. From that point on it obviously becomes a much stronger fantasy action film which it really needed frankly.
Not that the rest of the film is bad, its just a wee slow and dull, filling in lots of plot before it all heats up. The thing is the dialog and slow building in the first film was much more interesting because you're getting to know the characters and their world. Here its just filler getting 'Frodo' and the gang to the next big step, but kudos for getting it all in there and staying true to the book.
To be continued.....