I would love to hear your official review of “Return of the King”. I am headed to the theaters this evening and though I’ve heard some hype,… I would love to hear the opinion of an avid Tolkien reader. Insights? Favorite parts? True to the story?
First, it bears repeating again that no one but Peter Jackson could/would have made these films properly. It is tremendously difficult to successfully port a story from one medium to another, and even JRR Tolkien considered his books to be unfilmable. In the hands of a less-skilled or less-devoted director – such as the joker who infamously declared that he didn’t need to bother reading Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers before directing the lousy film version – these movies could have been terrible. But they weren’t, instead they are without a doubt the greatest movie trilogy ever made.
SERIOUSLY, IF YOU WANT TO DISCOVER THESE THINGS FOR YOURSELF, SKIP THE REST OF THIS POST
The Return of the King is absolutely faithful to the spirit of the story. It is reasonably close to the letter, although even 3 hours and 20 minutes did not allow for many details, most small, some large. I found it interesting to learn that Peter Jackson disliked the anticlimactic Scouring of the Shire; I always hated that myself and believed that it should have been a separate, more detailed book. So, the fact that it is left out does not bother me in the least. Nor does the much-discussed omission of Saruman bother me, as subsequent to his defeat at Helms Deep and Isengard, he is largely extraneous to the story. But Jackson does not forget him; he’s not ignored and it’s quite clear why we’re not seeing him in this edit.
There are fewer moments that jar one out of the movie in this third episode. The too-modern bits of dialogue are more restrained, Gimli is less laughable – although he has a mordant line that is quite amusing – and Aragorn rightly assumes his royal persona with believable angst and reluctance. He is strangely weaker in this third film, and yet it is somehow fitting that he is not so much the Man on the White Horse as the man who humbly, but with determination, does what his duty requires of him. Only a true king can comport himself as he does in one of the film’s most beautiful scenes, when like an angel who knows his authority comes from God, he refuses the adulation of the hobbits and honors the Ringbearer and his companions by kneeling to them instead.
As a movie, the great triumph of The Return of the King is that it is a better action movie than most action movies, and yet has more emotional depth and power than any drama or chick flick. Even its horror, though less frightening than a good horror movie, is palpable. This list of likes and dislikes is trivial in comparison with the success of The Return of the King as a fully satisfying conclusion to the epic three-part movie.
WHAT I DID NOT LIKE
1. Faramir was one of my favorite characters in the books. He is markedly less noble here, although most of the damage was already done in The Two Towers. His heroism, as well as his admiration for his older brother, does not come across well.
2. Denethor was an epic tragic figure in the books. Here, he comes off as petty and vindictive; a crazy man, not a great man crazed by the loss of his beloved son. The handling of the Denethor-Faramir relationship was probably the biggest disappointment to me, aside from Liv Tyler’s unaccountably tepid Arwen. She’s beautiful, but bland, bland, bland.
3. Horses don’t charge for over a mile. They also don’t charge walled positions. Silly. This happened several times.
4. The Great Sleepless Eye as spotlight. Sauron can see across Middle Earth, but not through a rock right in front of it? What was that? Minor, but very weird.
5. The tiny size of the Army of the West, and the way it gets surrounded. Ever heard of a defensive square, gentlemen? Or better yet, a fighting withdrawal using the seven hills of the book? It didn’t make sense and it wasn’t dramatic. Again, minor, but a strangely inept touch. The same sort of thing happened when Eomer’s riders surrounded Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. If you crowd too much, no one can do anything. What was the point? Yes, they’re surrounded. We get it. Oh, they’re really, really, really surrounded? Come on.
6. Elrond’s reduction in stature. I’d prefer to have seen him remain aloof, even bitter.
7. The siege of Gondor seemed rushed. I thought the siege of Helms Deep came off more powerfully.
8. Aragorn seemed rather lacking in authority when he confronted the dead. He was such a stud taking on the Nazgul and the orcs; I found this a little surprising and disappointing.
THINGS I REALLY, REALLY LIKED
1. The Riders of Rohan were perfect. Theoden’s transformation from deceived victim to triumphant victor was great. His line about being able to enter the Hall of his Fathers without sorrow or shame brought tears to my eyes. I loved Theoden in the books, loved him even more in the movies.
2. I had my doubts about Eowyn. While the actress didn’t quite fit my mental picture of her, she gradually grew on me. In The Return of the King, she comes into her own. I hope we’ll see more of her and Faramir in the extended DVD.
3. The charge of the Rohirrim. Yes, they didn’t fight the Oliphaunts in the books. No, it made little tactical sense considering their superior speed. But holy cats, it was so freaking cool!
4. Legolas rules, again.
5. The devotion to the close relationships of the hobbits. Some may have felt that the ending(s) was too drawn out, but I say no. These four had been through Hell and back, been irreparably changed – even maimed – and a quick Hollywood wave-and-ride-into-the-sunset would have been wrong, wrong, wrong. I never found Frodo terribly interesting in the books, but Elijah Woods did an outstanding job of bringing him to life. By the end, I wanted to weep with Sam.
6. The last fight with Gollum was much better than I imagined it could be.
7. The horrors of war and its effects on the women and children was tremendously powerful in each movie. The grief of the women and children as their men rode out on Faramir’s hopeless charge on Osgiliath was overpowering. Also great was the constant reminders that the men were fighting to protect those they loved. They rode willingly to die, that their loved ones might live.
8. The power of the Nazgul ripping apart the retreating cavalry of Gondor.
9. Grond. It WAS Grond, nightmarish and terrifying.
10. The crotchety old hobbit glaring at the returning heroes, as he did at Gandalf before. There is the unconquerable strength of The Shire. He who refuses to be impressed by the glamour of the great will never lick the boots of a tyrant.
11. The final scene. Sheer perfection. In a hole in the ground….
I hope Peter Jackson does make the Hobbit. For that matter, I hope he tackles Silmarillion one day, that chaotic concoction of invented history. If my books were ever to be made into movies, I wouldn’t want anyone else directing them. He has set the platinum standard for turning literature into cinema. What a tremendous accomplishment. More than anything, I feel a deep and personal gratitude for his tremendous, unprecedented commitment to the epic vision of JRR Tolkien.
I think John Rhys Davies said it best, a dwarf speaking with the wisdom of the Valar. “I think that Tolkien says that some generations will be challenged. And if they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilization.”
The Lord of the Rings is truly a saga for its time. 11 out of 10.