Monday, 12 May 2014

The Lord of the Rings: The Ultimate Critical Review - A Review

A couple of years ago Mr Click spotted a book in a charity shop and immediately picked it up for me, mainly because it said The Lord of the Rings on the cover and he didn't think I had it. He was right. I reviewed it way back in March, 2012, here.

Included with the book was a set of two DVDs which covered the topics in the book in greater detail. Once I'd read the book I moved the set from my book bookcase to the DVD bookcase (along with my other collection of Tolkien/The Lord of the Rings DVDs) but never actually got around to watching it. Until around ten days ago, when I'd finished reading The Lord of the Rings and wanted to watch something in the same sort of vein. The Ultimate Critical Review seemed like a good choice.

Imagine my surprise when I popped it into the DVD player and found Graham McTavish narrating the thing.

Now, I'm more familiar with him looking like this:

And had it not been for the fact we'd been watching the special features on the Hobbit blu-ray the week before I probably wouldn't have recognised him!

His role in the set is basically to narrate the story of The Lord of the Rings, giving a fairly comprehensive summary of the events of the book. He's helped along by a beautifully animated map which shows the route that the characters took on their journey.

The main bulk of the material is a series of interviews with various people talking about both possible and known influences in Tolkien's writing. I particularly enjoyed the little interview snippets with two of Tolkien's children, Father John Tolkien and Priscilla Tolkien. It was nice to hear things from their perspective; how bemused their father was by his celebrity status, how Priscilla wasn't quite so involved in the stories because she was that much younger than her brothers.

There were also interviews with other people who knew Tolkien, such as Rayner Unwin and Humphrey Carpenter, discussing his approach to publishing and the way that he worked. I particularly liked Carpenter's summary of Tolkien's writing; he basically said that it was a hobby, the way that other people would build model railways in their attics, Tolkien created Middle-earth. He also suggests that he never really wanted to finish The Silmarillion because then he wouldn't have anything to work on.

It also includes some re-enactments which are heavily edited so you don't get a distinctive look at what the people playing the characters actually look like (it also amused me that one of the actors' surnames is 'Underhill'), as well as music inspired by The Lord of the Rings and artwork by the Brothers Hildebrandt. There are also a couple of interviews with them talking about the way it influenced their art.

The two DVDs total almost 220 minutes of viewing material. On the first disc are the episodes about The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, the second has The Return of the King and some bonus material. The bonus material comprises of three interviews with the Brothers Hildebrandt discussing their art in more detail, a short biography of Tolkien and three songs by Mostly Autumn (which is really good music). I'm seriously tempted to look out for the album it was taken from.

On the whole I really enjoyed watching this set. When I read the book I found it was interesting but lacking in something, the DVDs comprise of all the things I thought the book was lacking. It's definitely a set which needs to be considered in its entirely rather than as two separate things. I'll almost certainly return to it in the future, particularly when I next reread The Lord of the Rings.

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