If you’ve seen Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, you’ll know why they couldn’t include Emma Thompson’s ad-libbed performance as Professor Trelawney (it was all about Umbridge’s speech and the kids’ reactions to it). Thank goodness for DVD extras! If you’ve never seen it, take the time to watch Ms. Thompson’s brilliance in this 2-minute clip!
1. Gollum’s Dual Personality Scene. This was the easiest choice for me. I thought the scene was great in the movie and was amazed at how well the animators had captured both the Smeagol (good Gollum) and the Gollum (evil) sides of the villain’s character. Once the DVD came out and I got to see how motion capture was used and understood the animators were simply transforming Andy Serkis’ performance, I realized why there had been a push to nominate Mr. Serkis for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. His performance is phenomenal.
Of course, the scene is not merely a marvelous feat of motion capture/animation, but one of the most moving scenes in the entire trilogy. Smeagol’s victory over his evil persona is a satisfying triumph for the viewer, and sets up his tragic fall when Frodo fails to protect him. Without this scene, Gollum remains a pathetic, spiteful creature. With it, he becomes the empathetic villain Lord of the Rings otherwise lacks, and thus provides a far greater depth to the story.
Most interestingly, this scene–as it is written–exists only in the movie, not in the book. Tolkien certainly hinted at Gollum’s schizophrenia, but it took the writers, the animators, and especially Andy Serkis to bring it to life. This brief video shows a side-by-side clip.
For more on how Andy Serkis and Weta Digital created Gollum, watch this video.
2. “I am no man!” Even as a 14-year-old boy reading Lord of the Rings the first time, Eowyn’s cry as she delivers the death blow to the Witch King was my favorite line of the series. To see it recreated so well—especially Miranda Otto’s perfect delivery—made me cheer out loud in the theater. Tolkien loved the underdog (or understood how much readers identify with the underdog) and Eowyn’s side story as the princess who wanted to be a warrior is a great compliment to the little hobbit who overthrew a seemingly invincible tyrant.
The video includes the entire scene from the Witch King mortally wounding Theoden to Merry wounding the Witch King to Aragorn killing Gothmog. It does not include Theoden’s death scene.
Click to view video
3. Theoden and Gandalf leading the Rohirrim at Helm’s Deep. The two rides, as a pincer movement, are possibly my favorite war scene ever. Gandalf and Eomer’s appearance atop the crest just as the sun rises is The Two Tower’s most iconic moment, and their charge down the hill and leaping into the orcs’ spears is glorious. Just as impressive, although often overlooked, is Theoden and Aragorn’s charge out of the citadel and down the rampart, sweeping orcs aside. After the desperation of the previous night’s hopeless battle, one cannot help but cheer as sure defeat turns into unexpected victory.
5. Gandalf freeing Theoden from Saruman’s control. There are several things I love in this scene, but I especially love it first and foremost as a fantastic use of magic simply as a battle of minds between Gandalf and Saruman.
Other highlights include the reveal of Gandalf, as seen here, Wormtongue complaining about Gandalf having his staff (I find it darkly humorous), Wormtongue’s whispering in Theoden’s ear (actually, Brad Dourif is such an excellent actor, he can steal a scene even from Ian McKellan!), the look of shock and/or surprise on Christopher Lee’s face when Saruman is defeated, and Bernard Hill’s moments of regaining his sanity. This is one of those scenes I’ve watched three or four times in a row to relish both the story and the actors’ performances, much like hitting replay when I hear a song I really enjoy.
6. Killing the cave troll. What sets this fight apart from all the others in the trilogy is Peter Jackson’s decision to make the troll a sympathetic enemy. Even though you know the troll has to die, you feel sorry for it, knowing it’s no more than a slave the orcs have abused and forced to do their dirty work. The Foley techniques used for the troll’s howls both pre and post its mortal wounding are crucial to making this the highlight of the first film for me. The scene also features Legolas’s first acrobatic move (running up the chain), some well-delivered lines from Sean Bean (“They have a cave troll!”) and John Rhys-Davies (“Let them come. There is one Dwarf yet in Moria who still draws breath!”), and the hobbits realizing they have to fight and kill to stay alive.