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January 11, 2004 - 4:59 p.m.

A “Chock Full O’ Spoilers” Review!

Lord of The Rings Review Redux

OK, you’ve all had ample time to see Lord Of The Rings: The Return of The King. I guess the only caveat I have is that if you intend to read the books for the first time but haven’t yet, I will be discussing book elements as well, so stop reading this now, ok?

The following unfocused, meandering review is inspired by, expanded upon and partly-cut-and-pasted from some comments I made in Defective Yeti’s Return of the King review. Go ahead, check him out first, I won’t mind. Be forewarned, his comments section is long and in-depth – part of why you should go there!

Back? Took a while, didn’t it? While many of my comments will be duplicated here, I intend to try to refocus and expand on my thoughts. Either that or just meander some more.

Hmm, seems like I’m making this harder than necessary, but I think I’ll also rewrite and re-edit my No Spoilers Review to now include both spoilers and expanded thought processes. If I was smart I would just rewrite everything from the top of my head and then add comments from these other sources, but I’m gonna try combining the two and add more material. Let’s see how good my editing skills are, shall we boys and girls?

In a word: “Yes! ”, however…

Yes, Peter Jackson got it right, but once again he managed to nail it without really being absolutely “true” in detail to the books. Jackson’s Return of the King (ROTK) held faithfully to the spirit of Tolkien’s epic novel, although many fans will nitpick the details.

Hey, it’s what we do.

However, I knew going into these flicks that it just couldn’t be done faithfully in three movies. To do Tolkien right, we would have needed 7 full 4-hour movies (The Hobbit plus the 2 “books” of each of the three volumes), and it still would have needed some trimming!

So we griped about missing Tom Bombadil & The Old Forest, Glorfindel, Ted Sandyman & Bill Ferny; we worried about the (false) rumors such as the “Arwen Warrior Princess” scenes; we complained about Elves at Helm’s Deep, Eomer’s minimized story arc and the buffooning of the proud dwarf Gimli.

There are plenty of nitpicks to ROTK too, but none of these nitpicks are really worth a damn, because, Yes, Peter Jackson’s movie is very much The Lord of The Rings (Ooohhh that Eowyn!!!)

I reserve final judgment on omissions until the real version of ROTK comes out in November; rumor currently holds the extended version as having an hour fifteen minutes of additional material!

Hard choices were made for all three installments due to both the constraints of time and the resultant creative demands of adaptation; a movie must stand alone, end of story! That said…

Favorite Nitpicks

I was especially worried after seeing Fellowship by the rumors of Arwen being the one to kill The Witch King of Angmar, but those fears were allayed after seeing The Two Towers,and of course cemented when ROTK finally came out and we got to see Eowyn Rock!. I still think the mighty Elf-lord Glorfindel should have done the Ford of Bruinin, and then had kickass battle roles elsewhere, but I reluctantly agree that Arwen worked – especially since she didn’t take over other roles, as I had feared.

I originally hated the addition of Elves to Helm's Deep, as I thought it detracted from the heroism of The Rohirrim. Over time I came to accept it. I actually was wondering if Jackson would give Dwarves equal time and perhaps have an army of Dwarves from The Lonely Mountain and Men of Dale show up, hee hee.

Still, where were the Elves after Helm’s Deep? Did they not return to Methuseld with Theoden & Company? Surely they were not all slain, that would be wrong, as “Yet Another Goddamn Matt” said over at Defective Yeti , “These guys have fought Balrogs!” Not just Elves in general, mind you, we can argue that these very Elves may have fought Balrogs themselves! If you’re gonna have Elven Warriors, well by Tinuviel Let Them Be Elven Warriors!

As long as they’re in the neighborhood why not have them stick around for The Battle of Pelennor Fields? This was a far more important engagement for the very fate of Middle Earth, although admittedly without victory at Helm’s Deep there would be no victory in Pelennor either! So if the Elves don’t hang with Theoden, why not show them depart from Rohan? I know, pick pick pick!!!

There is a lot that I wish we could have seen in The Battle of Pelennor Fields, such as other armies of humans fighting on both sides, Prince Imrahil, Ghan-Buri-Ghan and other favorite characters, but I understand why it needed to be simplified. I especially missed the Rangers of the North and the Sons of Elrond coming to Aragorn's side, but again, I understood. You just can't include everything.

I love the Legolas Oliphant scene even though the effects were a bit shoddy. I do wish the Oliphants were scaled down somewhat, they were waaaaay too massive (Imperial Walkers anyone? ), but that's just another nitpick.

I was also fine with the nastier Faramir from The Two Towers, contrary to popular comment I believe he was actually in character the whole time, it was just intensified for the movie. Yeah, his reversal was a bit pat, but I forgive much in these movies because I love so much of it! Remember, he was being seduced by The Ring, as was his brother and other characters before and after. He started to succumb - just like in the book - but shook it off and "showed his quality" when he saw the Nazgul almost get The Ring. Yeah he was more noble in the book, but the external shock of seeing the Ringwraith almost get Frodo helped him fight The Ring's Influence and worked for the movie. Either way, his strength of character ultimately allowed him to defeat the corrupting power of The Ring and let Frodo go. Faramir was a more compassionate soul than his mighty brother Boromir, and it was this very “weakness” that his father detested, and which was his strength and salvation.

Of course Shelob played out much differently than the book as well, but I was OK with that. Sam turning back was definitely out of character book-wise, but it worked for the film, and I try to keep that in mind. Besides, he got better!!!

My biggest lingering nitpick is what I call The Buffooning of Gimli, most notable in The Two Towers. In the books Gimli is every bit Legolas' equal, it is their mismatched strengths that make the relationship so rich! I did love his one liners in ROTK, though!

Although I do wish Saruman was dealt with in the theatrical version, I never gave it a second thought, since I figured we'd see everything in the extended (real) version anyway. I am curious what exactly his end will be, and whether it will still be at the hands of Wormtongue!

Endgame

The 2 biggest complaints about ROTK that I've heard are very much at odds with one another.

1) The ending is too long (complaints by folks who haven't read the books)

Ok, it is not a quick Hollywood action ending, it is a character development ending. Deal with it!

2) The ending isn’t long enough (Where is the Scouring of The Shire? by purists)!

To do justice to the Tolkien ending we would have needed an additional hour and a half of material past The Ring getting slagged. Fine for us hardcore fans, but I'd rather stick with this ending than see a rushed (read botched) attempt to do the book ending.

I seriously doubt we'll see it in the extended version, as this would not be so much an extended scene but a substantially altered ending that would need much reworking in the movie's main body as well. Let's just savor it in the book, shall we?

The Scouring of the Shire at the end of the literary version ROTK makes it clear how much the Hobbits have evolved as characters, from meek little creatures who are in way over their heads, to daring leaders who now have the moxie to take on Saruman themselves and defeat him! The scenes where they rally the Shirefolk to victory would have been stunning, emotionally charged scenes, and I do wish this could have been included in the movie, but let’s be real here, Peter Jackson was uncommonly lucky in how much material he was allowed to produce. There is really no way the purse-strings at New Line would have allowed the climax to this Epic Tale (destroying The Ring, ostensibly the point of the whole shebang) to be followed by still an hour and a half more movie! It’s shocking how little creative interference Jackson had to brook, but I’m sure The Suits would have balked at a 4 1/2 hour Theatrical Version!

Yeah, I know, he could have done it in maybe a half hour, but only badly. To do it right, we would have needed:

The initial bickering between the beaten Saruman & Wormtongue which culminates in Grima throwing the Palintir out of the window. We of course then see Pippin pick it up, and of course we already know that Saruman has already begun the subjugation of The Shire, thanks to Merry & Pippin’s discovery of the “Longbottom Leaf” pipeweed (and stop your snickering out there, in Tolkien pipeweed is explained to be pipe tobacco, remember this was written in the 1940’s !!! )

Saruman & Grima escape by fooling Treebeard into believing they are harmless. We wouldn’t need to see that scene, but of course we now are obliged to play out The Journey Home, so that Gandalf can find out from Treebeard all that had transpired.

Even if we minimize The Journey Home and don’t include anyone but Gandalf & The Hobbits, we would still need to set up events further with their meeting of the diminished and bitter Saruman & Wormtongue on the road.

Since Saruman now needs time to get to The Shire before the Hobbits and personally oversee the already overthrown and Orc-infested Hobbiton, we’ll probably need to play out some version of the trips to Rivendell and Bree, and Gandalf’s speech about facing the danger in The Shire alone because this was their Greater Purpose all along!.

These scenes must then have enough substance (read onscreen time between Saruman appearances) so that those who don’t see it coming don’t immediately realize that The Shire’s Overlord “Sharky” is in fact Saruman!

We then have a lot more meaty content to get into, and I’m not going to just recap the whole ending, but we need confrontation, despair, grim determination, setbacks, Rallying of The Shirefolk, triumph over Saruman’s Thugs, the subjugation of Saruman, Wormtongue’s Revenge… You just can’t breeze through that.

Then we still would want to see The Grey Haven’s, Bilbo & Frodo’s Departure, and of course darling little Elanor Gamgee (I suspected when I first saw it and finally confirmed it in the credits that Sam’s daughter is in fact played by Sean Astin’s daughter!)

Final Nitpick

One final nitpick that I’ve mentioned elsewhere, which is not a criticism of the film but rather of how it is discussed: Tolkien always intended LOTR to be one novel, and said it was not a trilogy. Against his initial wishes, he eventually reluctantly agreed to publish his story in three parts, but it is very much one novel published in three parts, and not a first book plus two sequels.

Similarly, Peter Jackson honored Tolkien’s vision by releasing the three movies close together (only a year apart in Hollywood terms is virtually unheard of) and telling the story as if it is one film shown in three parts. Fellowship just stops (as well it should!), while The Two Towers has closure to the Rohan arc but also pretty much just stops. Also, Jackson didn’t go crazy with recaps but just started the second and third films where he left off; you had to see the other two movies, if you didn’t don’t bother seeing ROTK!!!

Lord of The Rings: Extended DVD’s

Now, you all do have the extended versions of Fellowship and The Two Towers, right?

For the Tolkien Fanboys and Fanbabes out there, well, what the hell are you waiting for, you purist you, these are substantially better versions of the films!

For those of you who haven’t read the books but loved the movies, hell, it’s even better for you guys because the extended versions really fill in the blanks; they explain a lot of the motivations and certainly fine-tune the characterizations. It’s all stuff that shouldn’t have been left out but couldn’t have been included. Average theater-goers just won’t sit through a long epic like these extended versions, while you can either sit through it in your own home or at least watch them in measured bites.

There’s no way around it, very long movies, no matter how well crafted, can have a soporific effect on anyone. The beauty of the extended DVD’s is that you can go back and pick up where you fell asleep!

End Thoughts

I think Sean Astin and Billy Boyd both deserve Best Supporting Oscar nominations, but I'll be surprised if Billy gets one. Pippin's song soared with the Spirit of Tolkien, and deserves a nomination as well!

I refuse to pick a favorite movie, because I see LOTR as one movie told in three installments, as noted above.

Yes, Peter Jackson really did a great job with LOTR! It’s the real thing! (Don’t sue me, Coca Cola!!! ) Now let's see what Mr. Jackson does with King Kong!!!

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