Thoughts on The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition

For The Fellowship of the Ring‘s 20th anniversary this month, yes 20th, we sat down and rewatched The Hobbit Extended Edition and The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition. We didn’t binge it, goodness no, but we rewatched one film a night. Originally, this was going to be a Rewatch review, but while watching, one particular thought kept gnawing at my mind.

I have seen both the theatrical versions and the extended editions many times (I love these films, ok?). The theatrical versions always felt too long, excessive even, a slog. But, the extended editions? The ones that add even more content (some almost an hour)? They feel just right, they’re enjoyable, the time spent watching practically flies.

I’m not going to list the new and extended scenes, because it’s not about them specifically, it’s about their context. They aren’t really meant to be noticed, but their absence can be felt, and I think that is overall why the theatrical versions feel longer than the extended editions. Sure, a lot of films get away with deleted scenes, it’s still a popular bonus feature these days, but these scenes weren’t cut because they were poorly done, unfinished, or didn’t fit. They were cut simply because there was too much material for the average theatergoing audience. When you cut apart films this big, you’re going to be cutting scenes that the rest of the film relies on.

Something a character does 2 hours into the film seems very out of place, but only because about 5 minutes were cut from the first hour that would have informed their decision. Little things that don’t make sense can build up and become a distraction. If you make enough cuts like that, your 3-hour film becomes a 2-hour confusing slog that feels somehow longer than the original version. If you take the time to give that context, everything makes sense, and you’re just along for an enjoyable ride.

By the way, I don’t blame Peter Jackson for any of this. He had an excessive amount of material to adapt, but he also had to consider the attention span of the average theatergoer. I’m just thankful that he released the extended editions in the first place.

If you weren’t a fan of the theatrical versions of these films, grab the extended editions, sit back, and enjoy. You can stream The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition on HBO Max, but you’ll need to buy or rent The Hobbit Extended Edition from your platform of choice. Hopefully you’ll notice the same difference I did.

Rewatch – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a 2008 animated Star Wars series, which takes place between Episode 2: Attack of the Clones and Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith. The series follows Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and his new Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, as they navigate all of the action and politics that come with a war lasting 3 years.

Joining our heroes is an impressive and ever-growing legion of supporting characters, but perhaps the most interesting are the clone troopers. Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, many are given their own personality with slight vocal changes and various physical expressions. Perhaps the most iconic is Rex, who serves as Anakin’s second-in-command, and friend and mentor to Ahsoka. It’s hard to describe just how much justice this series did for the clones, but they really did. There are many who are just standard copies, but the show makes clear there some who strive for more individuality, and Dee Bradley Baker has his work cut out for him, sometimes leading whole episodes alone while voicing a variety of clones with slight differences.

Along with expanding the role of the clones, significant insight is presented not only as to how the Jedi train and operate, but also as to what the Force is and how it operates. A trio of episodes beginning with season 3’s Overlords expands on the mythology of the Force from the movies so much that it’s practically redefined entirely.

The show ran for 5 seasons, was picked up by Netflix who rescued its final canceled season, and then given yet-another final season by Disney+. 7 seasons in, is the show done? It’s anyone’s guess! But one thing is for sure, the animation improves dramatically every season.

If you’re new to Star Wars, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a great jumping on point. You’ll definitely want to check out the movies after, and I have a recommendation on the viewing order. Star Wars animation doesn’t end with Star Wars: The Clone Wars. There’s also Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars Resistance, both excellent as well. Ahsoka returns in Star Wars Rebels, and she makes her live action debut in season 2 of The Mandalorian. And, coming soon, don’t miss the continuation of Ahsoka’s story in her own series, and Obi-Wan Kenobi in his.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a fun and fulling ride from start to finish. You can stream Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Disney+, or buy all but the last season on Apple TV for $29.99 per season, so maybe just watch it on Disney+.

Rewatch: The Dresden Files

The Dresden Files is a 2007 supernatural detective series based on the book series of the same name. The series follows wizard Harry Dresden as he continues to get caught up in supernatural mysteries throughout Chicago, anything from finding a lost item to busting a necromancer’s life insurance fraud.

If you love noir-style detective stories and magic, this is a must-watch series! Narration throughout really makes things easy to follow, especially if you decide to just jump into the middle of the show or watch it out of order. There’s not much character growth, but the characters are all pretty much grown as it is, a benefit of jumping out of a well-established book series. The mystery starts, great characters resolve it, you have fun. What more could you ask for?

Paul Blackthorne stars as Harry Dresden, a talented wizard and noir-style detective type who works as a consultant for the police when they need a “difference perspective” on very unusual cases. Valerie Cruz stars as Lt. Murphy, the only police officer who can stand Harry, and thus often his only source of case work. Terrence Mann stars as Bob, the ghost of an ancient sorcerer cursed to spend eternity bound to his skull, and Harry’s teacher. Conrad Coates stars as Donald Morgan, one of the wizards in charge of policing other wizards, and one who isn’t particularly fond of Harry.

If you know the stories, the actors definitely don’t look the part, but they play their parts to perfection. If you go on to read the books, it’s easy to hear their voices delivering the lines, because they just are these characters. Blackthorne’s Dresden is sloppy, distracted, showy, and focussed and powerful when he needs to be. Cruz’s Murphy is curt, direct, and always focussed on the case at hand. Mann’s Bob is arrogant yet caring, a teacher anyone would be happy to have. Coates’s Morgan is the perfect mix of direct, powerful, and kind when he wants to be.

Sadly, the series only ran for 12 episodes before being canceled, which is a shame, because it’s an absolutely wonderful show to just sit back and relax with. Fortunately, it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, and if you want more, you can always read the books.

You can stream the series for free on IMDB TV, or buy the whole series on Apple TV for just $9.99. If you’re looking for one episode to get you started, try “Soul Beneficiary,” but really they’re all great, and I hope you enjoy watching The Dresden Files as much as I do!

Rewatch: Samurai Jack

Long ago in a distant land, Aku, the shapeshifting master of darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil. But, a samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose him. Before the final blow was struck, Aku tore open a portal in time and flung the samurai into the future, where his evil is law. Now, the samurai seeks to return to the past and undo the future that is Aku. He’s gotta get back, back to the past, he’s Samurai Jack.

Samurai Jack is a 2001 children’s animated series lead by Genndy Tartakovsky, starring Phil LaMarr as the titular Samurai Jack and Mako as Aku. The series ran for 5 seasons, though there was a 12-year gap between seasons 4 and 5, more on that later. To call it strictly a “children’s animated series” though is a bit of a disservice. Like with Batman: The Animated Series, some episodes definitely have a time-filler feel, but other episodes feature moments that can only be described as art.

Stranded in the future, Jack (taking the name the locals call him) immediately sets out to find time portals or magic to send him back to the past and prevent the future that Aku currently rules over. The show focusses on his journey as a whole. He’s always walking towards the next rumored solution to his problem, encountering new challenges, friends, and people to rescue along the way. Though Aku appears a few times each season, Jack spends most his time dealing with robotic minions of varying statures in Aku’s employ. With that said, Aku is perhaps one of the best villains in children’s animation, largely thanks to Mako’s unique voice and comedic timing. It’s truly a treat whenever he shows up.

Samurai Jack was canceled without a resolution after 4 seasons. The lack of resolution was intentional. The final episode is just another “someone needs help” episode, Aku isn’t even mentioned. Tartakovsky intended the viewer to simply understand that Jack will continue his journey. 12 years later, the show returned for a final season. Rather than being episodic and kid-friendly like the past 4 seasons, it had an overall arc and was darker and more geared towards the audience that grew up on the show. Sadly, Mako passed away in 2006, and Greg Baldwin took over as Aku. Regardless, the final season is an excellent end to Jack’s story.

Samurai Jack is an incredibly diverse adventure, it’s art much of the time, and it’s simply fun. It’s well worth watching. Since the first 4 seasons are very episodic, it’s safe to check out episodes XXXV or XL if you want just a taste first, and I’ve posted a few GIFs if you need an even smaller taste. You can stream Samurai Jack on HBO Max, or buy the whole series on Apple TV for $84.99, so maybe just get HBO Max for a month and stream it.

Rewatch: Kamen Rider Kuuga

I’ll be honest, this wasn’t a rewatch for me. This was the first time I’ve seen this show, but I absolutely had to write about it, so keep reading to find out why.

Kamen Rider Kuuga is a 2000 Japanese tokusatsu series, following an unlikely hero’s struggle to stop an ancient race of evil monsters who see the killing of humans as a competitive game.

There’s a huge cast in this show, which normally I’d ramble off, but that would be a bit much. The show primarily focusses on our unlikely hero, Yusuke Godai, played by Joe Odagiri (with Kenji Tominaga as his suit actor), and his police partner Kaoru Ichijo, played by Shingo Katsurayama. As the Kamen Rider series tends to lean towards a more mature audience than the Super Sentai series, the show is packed with characters who all have meaningful relationships, contributing to the drama and realism of the show.

This show has depth, I can’t state that enough. To be honest, I watch these shows because they’re usually ridiculous and fun, and that’s what I was expecting here. That’s not to say this show isn’t fun. It is fun, but it’s also very good, shockingly good. The production values are very high for the year it premiered, the acting is great, and the characters are so grounded that you can’t help but feel for them.

In particular, Godai is absolutely the ideal hero. When we meet him, he’s simply a self-proclaimed “professional dream chaser” who wanders into his friend’s archeological dig. The dig uncovers the evil Grongi, and the Arcle, which will eventually allow him to transform into Kuuga. When his friends are attacked, the Arcle calls to Godai, and he puts it on, transforms, and fights off the Grongi without hesitation. Godai declares that his mission is to “protect everyone’s smile,” and that’s exactly what he does.

We’re all used to selfless heroes, but even our favorite heroes have moments of “Oh no, I’m going to miss my date,” or “I’m so tired from last time.” That is not the case with Godai. He relentlessly thinks of others first. Nothing in his backstory sets him up to eventually be a hero, he just accepts the responsibility and gets to work. That is not to say he doesn’t have a life outside of this. He works at his surrogate father’s restaurant and volunteers at his sister’s school, but if a Grongi is attacking someone, Godai is either fighting to stop it or still in a coma from the last fight. He also makes no effort to hide his identity. He’s always printing Kuuga’s logo on his clothes, painting it on his bike, and if he transforms in front of you, he’ll just give you a thumbs up. On the other hand, he makes no effort to tell people he’s Kuuga and capitalize on the fame. Godai is simply fighting because if he can’t stop the Grongi, people will stop smiling.

At the beginning, the police see Kuuga as another threat. Over time, lead by Ichijo, a whole team of officers, scientists, and a doctor are formed to support Kuuga. To be clear, the police are not simply here to be Worfed. They hold their own in a fight against the Grongi often, and their science team is constantly coming up with weapon advancements. Since the Grongi are playing a game to see which of them can kill the most humans in the most creative way, the police are often charged with determining the motive and method for the killings, locating the Grongi, and paving the way for Kuuga to finish it off. Throughout the series, the team, and Ichijo in particular, go from not trusting Godai to practically becoming family.

I cannot state enough, this is a good show, it is a shockingly good show. It’s easy to care about every character, and though the formula is often “monster appears and is defeated,” you’ll find plenty of engaging content between the margins.

You can stream Kamen Rider Kuuga for free on Shout! Factory TV. If you want to try one episode, check out Revival (the same episode embedded first in this review), which is the first one, because no matter which episode you start with, you’ll keep watching. If you need a smaller taste before diving in, I’ve posted several GIFs, mostly because Godai is so GIF-able. I was really expecting something ridiculous and fun with this show, but instead I saw something very good and fun. I hope you’re just as surprised as I was!