Words by Molly Forsyth / Pics by Paul Reynolds
I am a self-confessed sceptic regarding the phenomenon of The Lord of the Rings. I never quite ‘got it’ as a precocious 8 year old, preferring to allocate my mum’s spare five pounds to a cinema ticket for the latest Harry Potter installment.
Admittedly, my first eventual viewing of Peter Jackson’s trilogy in 2012 – a night in with friends and all three extended editions back to back – was not the best choice. As someone who had dismissed the films as ‘lots of walking on camera’, I should have eased myself in…
Now I am sat in Moseley Park on a camping chair, with a mild dripping of the nose and a strategically draped Lee shirt on my legs trying to survive the country’s changing fortunes with the weather. The trilogy’s epic conclusion, The Return of the King, is a blur of flurrying arrows, decapitated dragons and one mad king throwing himself off a building in an act of self-immolation that I can just about see through the rain. But I am genuinely enjoying the film, and strangely enough that is the only thing I am enjoying.
Moseley Folk Festival had run on this site the weekend prior and I cannot help but feel that minimal effort has been put into demarcating the screening of this trilogy, which is in collaboration with Ice House Pictures, from the previous festivities. The shroom placards, sad looking bunting and quasi-medieval statuettes I suspect are remnants from the week before and have been deemed ‘Tolkien enough’ rather than ‘Tolkien to a tee’.
This is even more disappointing when you consider that the geography of Middle Earth was heavily based on Tolkien’s childhood in Birmingham; more should have been made by the organisers of the trilogy’s connection to Moseley Park. A beautiful and serene spot within an industrialised part of the city, Moseley is a clear mirror of areas such as The Shire and the Old Forest. Indeed, a half-hearted show reel (which is displayed on screen before the film and in the interval) explains how the park was the direct inspiration for the Ent race within the Middle Earth universe. It begs the question, if Treebeard would not exist without the park why is there not a single tree in the park decorated to resemble him?
Ambience aside, organisation leaves a lot to be desired regarding weather conditions also. My fellow members of the audience have come as prepared as they possibly can for the forecast, but perhaps the organisers of three outdoor screenings could have done more to mitigate the challenging conditions. The size of the seating area means they could have easily erected some form of shelter, or perhaps had nearby heaters and ponchos to lend; many open air cinema events across the country make these arrangements, even those operating on a larger scale, but such considerations have not been made here.
Audio wise, the mic ups of the Twilight orchestral performance from the Central England Camerata before the screening suffer in the winds, meaning many of their renditions of the film score and other classical pieces are hard to pass judgment on. The headset connections are subject to a few interruptions during the film as well. No event can run smoothly and without issue, but tonight’s screening seems to endure more hiccups than necessary.
Surviving the 4hrs 10mins running time of The Return of the King (extended version) proves to be an endurance test, but I am pleasantly surprised by how well the film has aged; I suspect Jackson’s commitment to utilising as many practical special effects as possible has helped its case. Many films of the same era have suffered from their dependence on what was still developing technology at the time, but The Return of the King is a masterclass in set design, makeup and cinematography. It is little wonder that the film remains the most successful film at the Academy Awards.
It is not just the visuals that impress either; out of the three Jackson films, I feel The Return of the King maintains the best balance of scenes and characters. Tender moments and quiet reflections are expertly sequenced with tense battle scenes and climactic conflicts, which helps the long running time feel like less of a chore than it could be. One gripe I have with Hollywood is that the cast were not rewarded more for their acting. The talents of Sean Astin (Samwise ‘Sam’ Gamgee, and my favourite in The Goonies), Andy Serkis (Gollum/Smeagol) and Billy Boyd (Peregrin ‘Pippin’ Took) shine brightly throughout the film, and the slew of ensemble awards that were bestowed upon the cast are not enough recognition for the individual performances of these three actors.
Tonight has proven to be an unusual experience compared to previous open air screenings I have attended. Logistical failings aside, I leave Moseley Park changed in many ways more than in my body temperature. I can recognise The Lord of the Rings as deserving of the cultural phenomenon it caused, and I am heartened to see that the literary legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien and its connection to the West Midlands is still rightly honoured.
For more from Moseley Folk/Ice House Pictures, visit www.moseleyfolk.co.uk
For more information about Moseley Park, including full event listings, visit www.moseleypark.co.uk