August 16, 2019 8:40:17 am
The ‘Struggle to make’ series reveals how a film or TV show was brought to the screen — what were the difficulties in the production, how the casting was done, and tidbits.
Previously in this series, I covered the first two films in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Despite being humongous productions, all the three films were shot simultaneously. The Return of the King was the most densely plotted and longest film in the trilogy.
And yet, it won every award of note. It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, and clinched them all, including Best Picture and Best Director.
The Two Towers, the second film in the trilogy, had featured the longest battle scene ever seen in cinema. The concluding film, The Return of the King, had to outdo it.
The writers thus put two gigantic battle sequences, which while not as long as the Helm’s Deep, were more epic and extraordinary mainly because of stunning cinematography and much higher stakes. These were the Battle of the Pelennor Fields before Minas Tirith and Battle of the Black Gate, the final major battle in the War of the Ring.
The film had Frodo and Sam continuing their journey to Mordor to destroy the One Ring with the treacherous Gollum and the rest of the Fellowship unites and sets off for Gondor to fight for the capital city, Minas Tirith. Later, they take the fight to Sauron himself so as to take the attention of the Dark Lord away from Frodo and Sam.
If The Two Towers felt like Peter Jackson and his team were holding back a little, in The Return of the King they went all out. The film was brimming with magnificently constructed set pieces and evocative dialogue. Jackson knew that he had made something special when he decided to go for a 200 minutes theatrical cut.
The film had that all-out feeling of thrills that no film, before or since, has managed to match. Due to some super-strong writing and acting in the first two films, the fans were intimately attached to the characters and their fate (which makes it all the more puzzling why Jackson could not manage even 10 per cent of it in The Hobbit trilogy, working with fewer characters).
The visual effects were even more improved. This was perhaps the first time in fantasy movies that no compromises were made in terms of visual conception of the scenes that occurred in books.
Gollum, perhaps the most famous CGI character, also seemed improved, with detailed textures that made it possible to see the veins beneath his translucent skin. This was done by creating a rubber mask of Gollum which was then used as a texture map for the final model, giving it sharper textures.
The battle scenes were mounted on an absolutely monumental scale. Most creatures like trolls, the giant spider called Shelob, the fell beasts (mounts of the Nazgul) were created entirely of CGI and yet their movements were buttery smooth.
The Return of the King features the most stunning live-action fantasy imagery ever seen on the screen. In probably the most goosebumpy moment of the entire trilogy (and isn’t that saying something), the Witch-king of Angmar is advancing towards a fallen Gandalf to finish him. A horn sounds to the east. It is the horn of Rohan’s King Theoden and Eomer’s Rohirrim, the horselords, and disguised as a man, Éowyn and Merry with her. The expressions, the colour scheme, the music, the light, the effects, everything is just the way it should be — probably better. A cinematic moment most filmmakers can only dream of.
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