A recent internal poll of Polygon employees found a split editorial edifice: The office was deeply divided on whether Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was best watched as a Thanksgiving movie marathon or a Christmas movie marathon.
The Lord of the Rings’ 20th Anniversary is 2021. It’s hard to imagine the three-part story that would be enough. Each Wednesday, throughout 2019, we will go back and forth between the two locations, looking at how and why these films are still considered classics. This year, Polygon is celebrating the Year of the Ring.
It was necessary to dig into the facts, consider all the points, then make a decision in our hearts about which last-year celebration was in the Lord of the Rings’ spirit. Is it the trilogy’s themes of fellowship and cooperation that speak to your turkey-loving heart? Are the trees and elves that capture your Christmas spirit more important than the bearded men, elves, or both?
Oder is there an alternative, a galaxy brain solution that blows out the first two and frustrates all who read it?
Polygon assembled a group of experts to help resolve the problem once and for everyone.
[Ed. note: The findings of Polygon’s experts are non-binding on any person reading this now and on all future holiday seasons. If you really have a dog in this fight we encourage you to share it politely in the comments or on Twitter, although you should log off and watch the Lord of the Rings movies at some point.]
Caution #1: The Lord of the Rings films are Thanksgiving movies
Presented by Jeremy Gordon
There are many perks to attending an elite magnet high school. Every Thursday my usual class was replaced by two 90-minute seminar covering a range of special subjects. The seminars were led by passionate teachers, who will happily put aside any pedantry about standardized test preparation and get down to the heart of something they truly care about. J.R.R. Seminar was my first semester. Tolkien.
The Fellowship of the Ring had hit theaters just before last Christmas, and though I hadn’t read the books, the saga — of good and evil, of men and elves and orcs, of Magneto recast as my wise wizard grandpa — immediately sucked me in. This seminar seemed like an excellent way to accentuate the knowhow I’d picked up from the original text (a last-minute Christmas gift, wolfed down in a few days) and message board forums.
Only the middle-aged teacher dressed up as Stevie Nicks librarian Stevie Nicks to entertain us with her knowledge and experience did she want. The adventure. Instead, we made our way through. The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s dense collection of stories about the greater Middle Earth mythology stuffed with proper nouns and plotless exposition. I once owned all the Star Wars action figures that were not necessary, and this made me a nerd.
This kind of lore is a real treasure for Tolkienites, like me and my teacher. The Lord of the Rings — an epic and rich tapestry upon which Tolkien’s explorations into invented language and allegorical religious conflict unfurled. I am a newcomer, as are the many others. The Lord of the RingsThis was all irrelevant and the movie continued to be shown in theatres for the next several years. Not that the concept of Ents isn’t awesome; I would love to talk to you about the Ents. The appeal of the trilogy was not due to the fleshing of Middle Earth. That is why we have the Hobbit. Trilogy was an insignificant failure.
Because we loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the relationships between them as they traveled along their journey to end evil, we were invested in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Lord of the Rings wasn’t the only 21st century action blockbuster adapted from a series of popular novels — there’s Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hunger Games, to name a few — but it offered the most poignant demonstrations of how this action actually changes people. Although this is nothing more than storytelling, success often comes from the perfect execution of a proven formula.
Not surprisingly, the change is focused on friendship and loyalty. These relationships are familiar, even though we’re ostensibly watching a movie about the fictional races of hobbits and elves and dwarves. Sam and Frodo are best friends. Pippin and Merry are Frodo’s cousins, and also best friends. Gandalf is Frodo’s uncle, basically. Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli are some guys they all meet, and while they don’t get along at first, they learn to. Their brotherhood is invented, but it’s no less meaningful for that. Aragorn (Legolas), Gimli, and Legolas appear at the end of the original movie. should join the war efforts against Sauron … only they have to find their homies first. “We will not abandon Merry and Pippin to torment and death,” Aragorn declares, and have you ever been more roused to the cause of friendship in a franchise film? NO!!!!!!!
They are blessed to have one another, as no two people come back exactly the same. Boromir — a gigantic prick, at first — sacrifices himself for the gang. Legolas and Gimli, who initially can’t stop being racist towards each other, realize they have more in common than not. Aragorn, a generational shirker of responsibility — suck it up and be the king, man! — accepts his role as everyone’s big brother, and also the king. Sam gives up his personhood in order to ensure Frodo gets to Mordor. However, he is now his own man. (He’s the only character we see as a parent, which is to say that canonically, Sam Fucks.) Merry and Pippin have cut the fat and discovered meaning in their twin cities, Gondor, and Rohan. Frodo is an uncommon hero whose entire life has been destroyed by his heroism. He can’t shake the memories of the events that have happened, regardless how many years pass.
Answer the prompt “Yes” Lord of the RingsThis is a Thanksgiving film. I’ll point out the fact that it takes place in autumn climates, the food is delicious and some cousins are stoned. However, Thanksgiving allows you to look back on your life and reflect upon the people and things that make you happy. It is a constant process of change in life. people. Life changes Please enter your email address. We can all use a moment to pause and breathe and note the passage of time and all its breathtaking and quiet revelations — preferably in the fall, the season of change, surrounded by good food and potentially some weed breaks with the cousins. The dynamic dynamics described above are what make The Lord of the Rings actually a Thanksgiving Movie so I’m going to resist the temptation to create a silly argument about why it is. (Even if I do also watch the movies around Christmas, when there’s more free time, because I always go for the Extended Editions.)
Case 2: Christmas movies in the Lord of the Rings films
Daniel Dockery presenting
When picking out Christmas movies, there’s the obvious family friendly fare (Christmas as The Grinch Made It, Elf, It’s A Wonderful Life,) the “This is actually a great Christmas movie” internet darlings (Die Hard, Batman ReturnsThe stuff that seems to work for some reason. More than one person has told me that, around the holidays, they like to nestle in and put on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which definitely slots nicely into that last category. It’s true, I know because in the weeks leading up Christmas, I also enjoy the extended editions for close to twelve hours.
The method in which I engorge myself on these films has changed, but for over five years, the base tradition hasn’t. Once a marathon to get them all in for Christmas Day (adjusted to avoid exposing my 2-year-old son to the delightfully creepy Mines of Moria or Shelob sequences, which would land me in jail in many states), has become a Six Days of Christmas event where my wife and I watch half of each of the movies.
This is made extremely easy because even with the magic of technology, Jackson’s films are so long that they’re split over two discs. This may seem like an homage to J.R.R. Tolkien’s splitting each book into two sections, but the timing doesn’t quite line up. With little exception, all provide a satisfactory little end to the evening (the only exception being “The Night of the Living Dead”). The Return of the King, which ends with the introduction of Grond, the giant, flaming battering ram that’s certainly rad, but “Oh, man. GROND’S HERE” just doesn’t carry the weight of, say, the conclusion of the Council of Elrond.)
What makes these Christmas movies work? They’re obviously feel-good movies, but I think the warm satisfaction you get from them is particularly of the Christmas variety, one where the power of the spirit overcomes that of greed or malicious decadence. Elf ends when James Caan decides that he shouldn’t be so cutthroat in the world of, umm, children’s book publishing, and accepts the magic of Santa and/or family. It’s A Wonderful LifeJimmy Stewart realizes it is quite solid that he was so kind all the time. These moments of triumph are littered throughout LOTR, whether it’s Frodo deciding that he has to be the one to take the ring to Mordor, or something as grand as the tree-like Ents marching on Isengard, a stronghold of industrial terror and natural demise.
It also doesn’t hurt that there’s something inherently communal about Lord of the Rings. You get the sense that when Saruman falls, it isn’t just because he’s a conniving old weirdo, but because he’s a conniving old weirdo who has no friends. Christmas, or at least most Christmas movies, tend to be about that feeling of family, and how special it is that, even if it’s just once a year, you can gather together with people you love and kinda wallow in it all. It’s a reason that they form a FellowshipTo take Aragorn, the Ring and a group of drunk dudes. And when Aragorn kisses Boromir’s forehead or Frodo and Sam hold one another on the lava-drenched side of Mount Doom, there’s real love and open admiration untethered to any self-aware sense of masculinity. It’s easy to feel at ease in the company of someone you adore.
This is the truth The Fellowship of the RingIt starts with a huge party, which is a great way to kick off Christmas. There’s something holiday-ish about Bilbo’s birthday party, with everyone eating and pouring ale and lighting fireworks. The Hobbits’ need for feasting while their clothing looks like something from a Charles Dickens adaptation gets me in the mood for copious amounts of eggnog, and sleeping after eggnog.
Meanwhile, the sheer amount of promise that, in the end, it’s all going to be okay, means that when Christmas begins to wrap up, hope for what lies ahead still remains. It seems that every few minutes, a character in Lord of the Rings pauses to basically affirm that life isn’t totally terrible, whether it’s Gandalf looking at Frodo in his little travel garb and smiling at his naive enthusiasm or later reminding Frodo that even when all seems dire in “the time that is given,” we still decide what to do. Sam is in two different moments. Two Towers where he speaks of the stories that will come through the characters just holding on and even Gandalf’s description of death and passing on in The Return of the KingFeels hopeful. A new year lies ahead.
Finally, but perhaps most important, Lord of the Rings contains elves. Santa has elves. That’s gotta be something, right?
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is easily applied to the constructs of Christmas flicks without constantly reminding us of Christmas itself, and that’s key for allowing it to remain fresh. Being alive during Christmas means that you are constantly bombarded with Christmas merchandise and movies. So by the time you pop in a Christmas movie, it can be a little tiring to pray at the red and green altar when you’ve just spent hours fighting your way out of the checkout line at Target. LOTR is devoid of this kind of hustle, and becomes the best choice for anyone that likes watching the good guys succeed without feeling like they’re trapped in a commercial.
Case #3: The Lord of the Rings movies are New Year’s Eve movies
To see the theatrical version, click on The Return of the King: The Lord of the RingsAnd you These areYou can see the theatre versions right? At exactly 9:13 PM and in 24 seconds the Eye of Sauron explodes. This was something I discovered last year while trying to figure out how we can usher in 2020.
Knowing I’d be spearheading Polygon’s Year of the Ring anniversary coverage through all of 2021, I thought a New Years marathon with a friend would be both fun and edifying. On a sort of whim, I thought I’d time the The Return of the King to put Sauron’s demise at midnight. All it took was pulling up the movie on HBO Max, scrubbing to the moment, checking the timestamp, and using an online calculator to work backwards through the films’ runtimes to make sure I got everything right. It would be in the late afternoon. There was enough time for an intermission to allow us to see each film twice. FellowshipAnd Two Towers.
While it was funny, it felt silly. Whimsical, perhaps. Last middle finger towards 2020. I didn’t expect it to be actually cathartic.
What I hadn’t realized was that the span of time, from the moment Gollum disappears beneath the lava of the Crack of Doom, to the moment the tower goes boom, is actually over two minutes of movie. Gollum drops after watching movies for a whole day, while snacking and relaxing. But it’s not here Yet.
Sam urges Frodo that he reach for his hands and decide that he would rather live with the Ring than the Ring’s tyranny. It feels as if an eternity has passed before the Ring sinks under the molten waters. Orcs and Trolls hesitate before fleeing to the Black Gate. Aragorn, Gandalf and the rest of our heroes look up in renewed hope, and they realize exactly what we’ve realized: This whole long fight is about to end, and here, in the darkest dark, a new era is starting in spite of all expectations.
The tower begins to shift and crumble, tears well up in Ian McKellen’s eyes and then … POWThe Eye of Sauron explodes taking with it the year.
I don’t think I’d do it every year — only on years that really, really deserved it. And I can’t say that the Lord of the Rings is MoreIt is much more difficult to run a New Years marathon then a Thanksgiving or Christmas marathon.
I will tell you. It deserves to be acknowledged as a challenger dark horse in the clash of holiday titans.
As of the time of publish, all three movies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy — theatrical and Extended Editions — are available on HBO Max.
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