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Action Sequences in Peter Jackson’s Movies

 

            The
Lord of the Rings is a movie trilogy which was directed by Peter Jackson and serves
as a movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel of the same title. The trilogy
was considered a major success by movie critics and the general audience, and it
received praise and many Academy Awards for its storytelling and special and
visual effects. It is also noted for its epic battles and set pieces. The
battle which happens at the end of the second movie, The Two Towers, was also
hailed as one of the greatest movie action sequences.

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            In
this essay, I will try to analyse this action sequence from The Lord of the
Rings trilogy and contrast it with some sequences from Peter Jackson’s other
movie trilogy, The Hobbit. I will also try to show why the sequences from the
first trilogy are praised and resonate with the audience, compared to how The
Hobbit’s are ultimately meaningless. 

            I
will mainly be focusing on the battle in the second film, the battle of Helm’s
Deep where Saruman’s 10, 000 soldiers attack a fortress which is defended by
about 300 men. This particular action sequence lasts for almost 40 minutes and
because it is this long it has to carry some emotional weight and be
interesting and engaging for the viewer, so in order to hold our attention, the
director gave the battle its own story ark.

The
battle’s ark can be divided into 24 different scenes which provide rough guidelines
for its story and pacing. Those scenes carry the story of the battle, from the
beginning where there is silence and the anticipation of the upcoming war, the
loss and vulnerability of our heroes in the middle, and hope, joy and the
climactic victory when Gandalf arrives at dawn. The structure of the story of
the battle resembles the structure of the story of the whole trilogy itself.
The first shot that an old man fires is the incident that starts the war,
similarly how the incident that starts the trilogy is Frodo getting the One
ring. The battle has its own ups and downs, obstacles for the heroes to
overcome and also small victories along the way, including this battle itself, and
when everything seems as if it is going wrong, a giant victory in the end.

The
battle is mostly monochromatic, right up until the end, when they win at dawn.
It maintains the feel of a night battle in the storm, but it is also filmed in
an intelligible way, so that the viewer always knows what’s going on. This was
done by utilising the moon, giving the battle a strong blue light background
which draws out characters and their actions. In an action sequence that lasts
for almost 40 minutes, it is very important that the viewer sees clearly what’s
happening and knows exactly how the battle is playing out at every given
moment.

As
it was previously mentioned, the opening shot of the battle uses silence to
establish the tension and more importantly the contrast between the silence of
the night and the loudness of the battle, or perhaps the contrast between peace
and violence. There are a lot of themes that contrast in this sequence and that
makes this battle diverse and interesting. For example, it has lots of hand to
hand fighting contrasted with shots from the air. There are moments of humour
and jokes contrasted with moments of tragedy and death. The most prominent
theme that this sequence contrasts is the light versus the darkness.

The
battle itself is a self-contained movie within a movie, but moreover, it serves
as a crucial plot point in something much bigger. As it happens in the second
move, The Two Towers, the sequence can be seen as a small victory for our
heroes but it is also a major turning point when taking into consideration the
whole trilogy.

 A good action sequence cannot be removed from
the movie and should be used in such a way that it advances the plot and the
characters. This particular battle serves as a major plot point, but it is also
used to reveal certain character traits and teach our heroes a lesson.

On
the other hand, many action sequences in The Hobbit trilogy are mostly seen as
filler content and random scenes of fighting serve just as a spectacle for the
viewer. This is probably due to the Peter Jackson’s decision to split a
children’s 300 page novel into three prequel movies. But despite the fact that
a short novel was extended into three movies with each having a run time of
over three hours, action sequences suffer because of a different problem.
Although the trilogy is over nine hours long, it fails to advance or even make
the audience care for the main characters.

The
thirteen dwarves that are the main focus point of the trilogy are mostly
interchangeable and the viewer knows almost nothing about them. This undermines
the three movies and hinders every action scene and sequence that seems like it
should carry some impact or emotional weight. Still, the action sequences
themselves are boring, long and don’t seem to pose any real threat on the main
characters. Unlike the battles from The Lord of the Rings, especially the one
mentioned before, most of The Hobbit’s sequences do nothing to advance or
elevate the story and even less to advance its heroes.

Not
every action scene needs to advance the plot or the characters and sometimes
it’s just fun to see our heroes fighting, but the lack of threat or the sense
of imposing danger relives the audience of any tension. In the original
trilogy, tension is set by imposing and gradually layering problems for our
heroes to overcome and that’s done in such a way that the movie gives enough
time for the viewer to think about the problem and understand the consequences
of failure, but in The Hobbit there are no real problems that need solving. In
the first Hobbit movie, An Unexpected Journey, the heroes have to escape a cave
that’s swarming with goblins, and instead of setting up the tension and providing
a sense of danger, the movie just increases the number of enemies for the
heroes to fight. The sequence itself is unintelligible, cluttered with bad guys
and confusing to watch. The threat is virtually non-existent due to the ease
with which anyone can kill the enemy. There is no time to think about the actions
that our heroes perform, they are there just to look good and amuse the viewer.
 

To
conclude this essay, a good action sequence helps the whole movie progress the
story and the plot, while also advancing or showing new character traits and
behaviour. If a sequence can be completely left out of the movie then it is not
doing its part and it doesn’t have any weight on the plot. It can be fun just
to see characters fighting, but providing tension and real danger makes the
viewer engaged and interested. Having action sequences just for the sake of
spectacle can make the viewer bored and render them unmemorable and forgotten
by the time the next sequence comes.

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