Alex Casey goes on a noble, stupid quest.
I’ll never forget the sunny afternoon that I spotted Andy Serkis on the imaginatively named “Main” street of “Grey” town during the height of The Lord of the Rings madness. I would’ve been about 11, and he was wandering quietly through the shops. It was him! Smeagol. Gollum. A man from the movies, plodding through my own little comfortable Shire where I had carefully mapped out the boundaries of my world from the town pools, to the school playground, to the chicken and chips shop.
Try as I might, I can’t deny the impact that The Lord of the Rings had on my childhood spent in the South Wairarapa, the frequent stomping ground for Middle Earth’s finest celebrities. Andy Serkis was kind and obliging when I ran up to him, even recording the Voicemail message on my Nokia 3315 as Gollum. You’d constantly hear whisperings of Sean Astin and Elijah Wood hitchhiking in gumboots, or Orlando Bloom sipping coffee outside a dinky cafe. Every weekend, driving over the Rimutaka Hill to Mum’s house, I’d peep into the Hutt Valley and see glimpses of Isengard and Helm’s Deep.
I’ll be honest, it was all pretty bloody magical.
But then came age and cynicism and the big embarrassing statues at the airport and weird news stories about Andy Serkis being a sex demon. I coolly distanced myself, opting for the occasional drunken university LOTR marathon and trudging into the Hobbit films like it was out of national obligation rather than personal choice. I wasn’t a fan because I wasn’t a NERD. Sure, I did the Tongariro Crossing and posed like a hobbit next to Mount Doom, but wouldn’t you? Sure, I did a solo tour through Weta just last year, but haven’t you? Sure, I’m going to Hobbiton in two weeks time, but aren’t you?
With all this in mind I decided to dive right back in and rent every single movie from Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth.
Here’s my chronicled journey, there and back again.
SATURDAY MORNING: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (3hrs and 2mins)
“And where sickness thrives, bad things will follow.” Aka, it’s Saturday morning and I’m, naturally, extremely hungover. I want to think I look like radiant Galadriel, but I truly, madly, deeply, look like the boil-covered Goblin King and there are no two ways about it. There’s mould on the ceiling and we have a house inspection on Monday, but I’m in denial about having to clean it. I put on the first Hobbit and get reacquainted with my old friends Oin, Gloin, Tenderloin and Bitcoin. And Smeagol! And the wizard with bird poo in his hair!
More reasons to watch: Two rock monsters have a massive fight next to a treacherous cliff face. Bret MacKenzie returns as FIGWIT and it’s about as jarring as Ed Sheeran in Game of Thrones but it’s still good. The dwarves sing one song that is absolute tunage and one song which would get you kicked out of a dinner party. Lee Pace is extremely, extraordinarily attractive as a blonde elf. Bilbo’s kitchen looks like Amano decor and that’s just the cold hard trews.
What to eat: Whatever it is, it can’t be green (I had a pie and a Fanta for breakfast)
SATURDAY AFTERNOON: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (3hrs and 7mins)
The mould isn’t entirely gone, but I’ve managed to find my extremely rare gold coin from Smaug’s actual lair and eaten a whole bag of chips. Look, this movie is all about Smaug. Gorgeous Smaug. Opulent Smaug. Smoking hot Smaug. As Bilbo darts around the golden lair trying not to get burned to a crisp, a fierce debate arises on our couch about how best to kill a dragon. I think I would look at Smaug and say “freeze” and then “blink if you love me.” Smaug would have to keep his eyes open and then I would spear him through the brain. If he blinks, then I guess we fall in love and it would be like the happy ending of Shrek. I’d be rich too. A win-win, really.
More reasons to watch: Benedict Cumberbatch doing the absolute most. The bit where the dwarves jump in barrels and go down lazy, orc-filled log flume. Evangeline Lilly being more beautiful than Cinderella. The first utterance of “man flesh”. Stephen Fry’s dramatic facial hair.
What to eat: A bag of chocolate coins and a barrel of wine.
SATURDAY EVENING: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2hrs and 24mins)
If you like battles, this film has heaps of them. If you like armies, this one has at least five. At a positively balmy two and a half hours, this is a beautiful digestif to finish off the first day of your marathon. “And if we die tonight, we’ll all die together,” I whisper to my beloved, as we press play on the third instalment. I’m particularly charmed by the dark twist on Disney on Ice, aka Thorin Fights Azog to the Death on Ice. A great, scary, chilly fight scene.
More reasons to watch: Billy Connolly is my dad and it’s rude to my family if you don’t acknowledge that. Christopher Lee (RIP) has very long fingernails in one scene and it’s disrespectful to his memory if you don’t. It’s the first time we see Mithril (must be said with a whisper) in the franchise and it’s disrespectful to all the mithril artisans of Middle Earth if you don’t.
What to eat: Shaved ice for hydration. Then sleep.
SUNDAY MORNING: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (3hrs, 28mins)
I feel like The Hobbit trilogy was the meat and potatoes part of the binge and LOTR is delicious dessert all the way down. Every time I watch The Fellowship, I see something new. Sure, it’s extremely hilarious when Gandalf hits his head on the ceiling of the small hobbit house, but have you ever noticed how cool he looks with half his hair tied up and half his hair down? Ever noticed how The Ring is like the goddamn size of a bangle at the start? Ever realised that the stone trolls the hobbits bump into were the LIVE trolls in The Hobbit???
More reasons to watch: Frodo’s face every time he nearly slips over to the shadow realm. Arwen and Aragorn being the love story of our times. The terrifying might of Lurtz and the endless wonder of this photo. “If you want him, come and claim him.” Boromir getting nailed with a bow and arrow 400 times. “Fly you fools.” Second breakfasts. Elevensies. “Fool of a took.” God, it’s good.
What to eat: An apple, thrown over a hedge by Aragorn, for second breakfast.
SUNDAY AFTERNOON: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (3hrs, 44mins)
I think this one might be the actual best of the franchise and it’s all because of the Ents. The enormous, magical, kinda pissed off trees are a glorious addition, least of which because I’ve written an entire, never-to-be-performed comedy special about them. What’s an Ent’s favourite sunglass brand? Oakleys. Why did the Ent get kicked out of the magic show? He was a plant. What did one Ent say to the other Ent? Stop throwing shade. If you don’t think any of that is funny, then you’ll at least get a kick out of the Rasta Ent who dips his flaming dreads in the burst dam.
More reasons to watch: Robyn Malcolm is back, baby. “Man flesh” pt. deux. Legolas skateboarding down the stairs on his shield. Seeing Smeagol properly for the first (in terms of release) time ever. Gandalf’s extreme glow-up. When Gimli gets Aragorn to toss him (problematic?). The unbridled joy of Merry and Pippin. The beautiful white horse. The bloody Oliphaunt.
What to eat: Potatoes: boil em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew.
SUNDAY EVENING: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (4hrs and 20mins)
I’ll admit that around the one hour mark of ROTK, I turned to my beloved and I said: “who is the king?” Partially, my brain was cooked because I’d been inside all weekend. Partially, I’d bleached my remaining brain cells cleaning the last of the mould. But mostly, I firmly believed that Éowyn is the real king. A feminist hero. A Joan of Arc. An Amanda Bynes in She’s the Man. At a whopping, hilarious, 4.20 duration for the extended version, Return of the King is the Oscar-winning, magnum opus of the franchise.
If you’ve ever drunkenly held up a lighter while slurring “Gondor calls for aid,” this film is like coming home. If you are yet to do that classic gag, you are very, very, welcome to use it. Nobody laughs and you singe your hair.
More reasons to watch: Sheelob is the most disgusting big spider I have ever seen with my own two eyes. The stink army of green ghouls is iconic. The avalanche of skulls gave me a nightmare immediately afterwards. Minas Tirith looks like a pure Melancholia pristine lawn perfection.
What to eat: A roast chicken with your bare hands in the style of Denethor. You’ve earned it.