This week was the presentation of The Two Towers at Skywalker Ranch. Attendance was down from last week. I'm just going to go off of the assumption that that's because The Fellowship of the Ring is the best of the three movies. It also has the most significant addition of the extended cuts, so the other two don't necessarily have to be viewed that way, although I never choose to watch any of them in their theatrical release. I'm surprised at the number of people showing up that have never seen the extended cuts of these movies or, in some cases, the movies themselves. I guess there has to be a first time, though.
In many ways, I have the most difficulty with The Two Towers as a movie. There are things that are so good. Like the ents. They're perfect. The assault on Isengard is incredible. Faramir and his actor, David Wenham, are great. The return of Gandalf is excellent. And Gollum... well, I'm not sure they actually could have done a better job with Gollum. And, yet... and, yet... almost everything related to the Battle at Helm's Deep causes me to grit my teeth.
Let me put it like this:
You know that part where Legolas surfs down the stairs on the shield as he fires arrow after arrow at the orcs? I'm okay with that. Yes, I am. That bit of foolishness is fun, and, although completely wacky, it comes off as just believable enough. At least, it does for someone who would have actually tried doing that when he was 10 if he had had a shield and a long flight of stairs like that. I can get behind that.
However, the bit at the beginning of the battle when the orcs are charging and Aragorn is telling all the archers to hold their fire? I can't deal with that. It makes me cringe. It is so ridiculous. I get it. Jackson wants the suspense. But it just doesn't work for me.
Let me back up a bit.
There was a video introduction by Jackson. In it he talked about how he'd always wanted to film a big battle scene ever since he was a kid. The Battle at Helm's Deep was his first chance to do that. I suppose, at this point, you can go one of two ways: 1. You can film it like you always imagined it as a child. 2. You can research it and make it as true to life as possible. Jackson went with option 1. There is nothing strategically or tactically sound about this battle. Instead of modeling the battle after the Battle of Agincourt, which would have made emminent sense, he makes it "don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes." With bows and arrows. That not firing thing came from the time period where you had to hand load your gun before each shot, so you had to make your one shot count when the enemy was charging, because you wouldn't get another. When Jackson does it with the arrows, it makes me want to throw things at the screen.
Then there's the whole thing about how no one has ever breached the walls of Helm's Deep, yet the doors are like plywood. The orcs barely hit it with their battering ram, hand-held battering ram, and they just crash open. An impregnable fortress, and the doors just fall apart? Maybe they had dry rot since the last time they'd been there?
Oh, and there's a side door. Yeah, a side door that the orcs don't bother with, and Aragorn and Gimli can conveniently slip out of. What? Seriously?
And don't even get me started on the orc torch bearer with the one and only special torch that can light the bombs under the walls. There are torches everywhere. EVERYWHERE. But we suddenly need this one, special torch to light the bombs? And Legolas suddenly loses his ability to kill any orc he shoots with just one arrow?
The only good thing about the battle is when Gandalf shows up with Eomer. That part is actually perfect. The sun rising behind the charge and Gandalf shining like the point of a spear is an incredible sight. But that's it. The only good moment of the battle.
And there are so few orcs left when they flee into the forest of Fangorn that there's hardly a point. Wait a minute. The men of Rohan were just being slaughtered and, suddenly, there are just a smattering of orcs left to flee into the trees?
With the ranting about Helm's Deep, I may sound like I don't like the movie. That's not true. I do. It's still a great movie, and The Lord of the Rings is probably the best film adaptation ever made. It's just that Fellowship is the best of the three, and I have to try and not think about Helm's Deep.
Oh, and Jackson also revealed that the argument Gollum has with himself while Frodo is sleeping was entirely the responsibility of Fran Walsh. She wrote that scene and directed it, because they didn't have time to do it otherwise. He says he has envy.
But, now, on to the big news:
As I've stated, these are being shown at Skywalker Ranch. The Ranch is, of course, owned by George Lucas. I've been to number of Lucasfilm events at this point, but Lucas hasn't been at any of them. There were rumors that he was going to make an appearance (along with Spielberg and Ford) at the big premiere party they did for Crystal Skull (which I attended), actually, that they had plans to do so, but that didn't happen. They ended up somewhere else. My friend that I go to these things with has, of course, been in meetings with George in attendance, but that's George on a stage giving a presentation with a huge screen behind him so everyone can see him better. It's somewhat akin to watching a special video presentation before a movie by someone like Peter Jackson. Which is to say, it doesn't count.
We got there later for Towers than we arrived for Fellowship last week. We were sort of rushing to get to the theater, although I didn't realize that we were rushing, because that's how we rush, evidently, without looking like it. Or even knowing it. But the theater was still locked. Whoever was supposed to show up to open it all up hadn't arrived, yet. More curious was the fact that, although we were at least 20 minutes later than the week before when the theater was already open and about 1/3 full of people, there was no one else there waiting to get in. There were some people up in the cafeteria area eating, but that didn't mean they were going to the movie. They were, more likely, staff taking a break from whatever sound stage they were working in.
We went back up to hang out in the entry area of the tech building, which houses the theater, until something happened. I could see my friend questioning himself about whether we were there at the correct time or whatever, but the guard had said "enjoy the film" when he let us in the gate and, since I was driving, and he didn't recognize me, gave us directions to the tech building (which I already knew, since, as I said, I'd been there before). The building has an... interesting layout. And I haven't even seen the whole thing. But the front portion, at least, has an unconventional design.
Rather than try to explain what the building looks like, I'm just going to tell you what happened:
Walking toward us from a hallway that goes off into the building to the right (and over the theater, because you go down to get to the theater) was George Lucas. It was just a glimpse through an adjoining hallway. There are sound rooms all down that hall, and he passed through the opening through which we saw him fairly quickly. I turned to my friend who said, "Well, he does live here," which is not exactly true, but close enough to count. A moment later, he appeared in the cafeteria area which is a big open area in the center-ish of the building. Now, my friend and I are standing near the front doors. Just off to the right as you come through from the outside, because that's the direction to the theater. My buddy starts trying to act like George is not walking through the same space as us, ducking his head and trying to look like he's deep in conversation with me. I acted as close I could to how I would act if anyone had walked into the room, which is to stay, I looked at him. Just like I would have looked at anyone.
George looked back. And made eye contact. And I did that guy thing, and I nodded to him. And he said, "Howdy." He continued on his way out the front doors and down the walk. I think he drove off shortly after, but I'm not completely sure that was him in the car that went by a moment later.
I think my friend almost died. My whole response was, "It's a good thing I'm a restrained kind of person." That was when I found out that part of the interview process for working at Lucasfilms, in any of its divisions, are a bunch of questions about what you would do if you ever found yourself in the same room with George. I would have passed. People who own up to the fact that they would wig out and accost him, in whatever manner, do not get hired. So, you know, if you are that kind of person and you ever do have the opportunity to work for Lucas, you should now know how to respond to those questions.
Somehow, during the movie, although I didn't see my friend do it, he told people about what had happened. After the movie, without me saying anything, there were questions from people that my friend works with who have never been that close to George, much less have him speak to them. Including my friend. My kids... well, my kids said bad things about me when I told them what happened. Okay, well, my daughter didn't, but she doesn't quite get that, yet. It's not quite that important to her. She was just kind of oh wow neat while my sons were busy telling me what a jerk I am. Of course, my oldest is mad already that I'm getting to go see these movies down there. I'd take them if I could...
So... there you go. My tendency for saying "howdy" has been justified by knowing that George also greets people that way. And, yes, he was wearing a plaid shirt. Probably flannel.