Waltzing backward through The Lord of the Rings, this week we highlight the middle section: The Two Towers. This was always going to be the most difficult film in the trilogy if, for no other reason, the source material was going to have to be completely rearranged. In The Two Towers, there are two very distinct books: one follows the hobbits and Gollum; the other follows the rest of the Fellowship to Rohan and Helm’s Deep. Weaving those two together as masterfully as they did was one of the most impressive aspects of the adaptation.
The Two Towers also really introduced Gollum. Previous experience with all-GCI characters at the time was pretty much Jar Jar Binks so people (and by people I mean me….bugger you all, it’s MY favorite book) were nervous. Andy Serkis should have been nominated for an Oscar for giving a digital creation the movement and emotional weight of a living being. What really sold Gollum has always been the nuance of his face, especially his eyes, which animators take whole from video tapes of Serkis’ performance. This scene is actually not in the books, but it’s an example of how to take information parceled out over different books in bits and pieces and bring it together into a scene of showing not telling the audience who this bug-eyed crawler is. In the middle of the night, Gollum and Smeagol have a full on schizoid episode, arguing with each other about the hobbits and the fate of the Ring. It’s hysterical and haunting and my favorite scene from The Two Towers.
I wasn’t planning on doing Lord of the Rings yet, but I’ve been thinking of a scene from the third film most of the week and couldn’t go with anything else. I’ll talk about the trilogy perhaps next week, but suffice it to say that Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings is both my favorite book and movie. To pick favorite scenes is going to be much tougher in the other films, but there is a scene in ROTK that is my favorite of the trilogy and one of my favorite in film. It’s a scene about death.
There’s a time when we’re not aware of death; when it’s not a part of our thought process. At what age that changes for you depends entirely on your circumstances and your luck. After that, it’s always there to some degree; hovering at the edges of thought. I probably think about it more than is healthy. This week, a friend of mine lost her mother so that’s likely what triggered it. When I do think of it; I find immense comfort in this tiny scene buried in the Seige of Minas Tirith. Gandalf and Pippin lay in wait with soldiers, about to be overwhelmed by the enemy and slain. Pippin says that he didn’t expect it to end like this, and Gandalf (who has by this point journeyed through death and back) describes what happens next in a way that’s resonated with me more than any other description. It’s powerful and simple; elegant and profound; and it’s my favorite scene from my favorite movie.
This will undoubtedly win the award for Shortest Favorite Scene Ever. I know there’s drama around it, what with the running and the helicoptering and Jeff Goldblum staring at his laptop, but this is probably the best explosion in movie history that doesn’t involve a Death Star. I remember in summer 1995, my best friend and I went to see Apollo 13 and they played the teaser trailer for ID4 and it was pretty much just this. That’s how you do a teaser trailer. We’re going to blow up the White House. Wanna come see? BOOM. ID4 coming Summer 1996.
This was before Roland Emmerich went on to make a career out of blowing up any landmark of significance worldwide. If there’s something left he hasn’t blown up, it’s not significant. It’s like the cool kids table for monuments. Has Emmerich blown you up? Pssht, go sit with the national parks.
There is a sequel to Independence Day coming in 2015 (the year of all movies ever being released). There’s no Will Smith, but Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman are on-board, so we definitely still have the star power necessary to repel another attack. I’m guessing it took 20 years, but the alien race noticed that all those frisbee ships they sent Earthward never checked back in, so they’re back. If there’s a shot of a carpenter satisfyingly hammering in the last nail into the reconstructed White House right before they reduce it to splinters again, I will have a new favorite movie explosion.
Also, depending on the inhabitant of the real White House, I sometimes find this cathartic to bring up and watch several times alongside the news. My dad does the same thing with Die Hard after a bad day at work. It’s how we could all tell it was a bad one. “Dad’s going for Die Hard,” stay out of his way. Thank you, movies, for helping us “cope”.
To cleanse our mental palates of After Earth, in which M. Night Shaymalan managed to leech the personality out of two of the most charismatic people on Earth: Will & Jaden Smith, let’s look back at Jaden’s debut in The Pursuit of Happyness. I don’t think this film gets enough recognition on Smith’s resume (possibly because three of his last four films have been notorious bombs and this was just before that string began. It’s one of the best turns of his career and from the moment you see Jaden, you know this kid is going to be something special, which he went on to prove when he carried a movie in The Karate Kid.
There’s a scene in this that destroys me. At their very lowest, when father and son are living on the street, they spend the night in a public restroom in a subway station and Will Smith is bracing himself against the door against thugs trying to bust in, giving everything he has to try to carve out just this little space of safety for his son. It’s heartbreaking. This is one of the best dads in film history. My favorite scene though, it one of the streaks of levity that pepper the film making it inspirational and not a dolorous slog. Will Smith is painting a house, covered with paint, and gets arrested for delinquent parking tickets. He’s released just in time for the interview that will literally make or break his life and he sprints from the police station just in time to walk into a Wall Street conference room, filthy and covered in paint. It’s earnest and funny, but desperate. Will Smith needs to stop doing Men in Blacks and start acting again, because when he tries, he’s about the best there is.
It’s dumbfounding that a movie that contains as much life wisdom as Good Will Hunting was written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck when they were in their early to mid twenties. One of the best Oscar acceptances ever is when they got Best Original Screenplay (giving us a break from the Titanic coronation of the night, ugh) and just went wild with joy. There are a few scenes in this movie that mean a lot to me. I think the funniest scene is Will’s response to the NSA when they try to recruit him. I think any scene between Damon and Robin Williams is electric. Williams deserved his Oscar for this role and I wish he hadn’t stopped dramatic acting for the most part after he’d gotten it. He’s so much better than what he’s been doing. The scene that resonates with me most these days is the park bench. If you haven’t seen the film (seriously?) you don’t need a lot of context. Will has been court appointed to do therapy with Robin Williams and Will is a genius off-the-charts. At their first session he saw a painting in Williams’ office and proceeded to tell him his whole life story from what he deduced from that. This is the “Come to Jesus” talk he gets from Williams in response. It’s wise and as I get older, the more and more I see how true it is.