Review of the Return of the King, - with a summing up of the movie Trilogy.
OK, the *four* things I disliked first:
My word, "shoot me full of arrows, 'cause I don't know that I have a shield hanging across my back or from my saddle." How stupid is that ???!!! Rohirrim charging into most of the orc archers in the known world, and I didn't see one of them using his shield: that looked plain stupid: and the charge of the Rohirrim was my favorite part visually - that is known as IRONY, children. (I've seen the film again: and I won't ever be able to ignore all those hanging, bouncing, useless shields; but it also won't ruin my over all enjoyment.)
I disliked the way Frodo and Gollum tussled (again) after Gollum bit off Frodo's finger and got his "Precious" back again. What's wrong with just letting the little dirtbag jump in ecstacy until he misses his step and falls in: having Frodo hanging on to the edge of the cliff by his one good hand looked positively dorky. (But after seeing this now-expected scene again, I don't mind it nearly as much as after the first go: Sam's words are what saves it.) And the way Gollum sort of sinks outta sight in all that lava was really dumb looking, especially the first time around: I thought he should have been vaporized instantly on contact: but after a second viewing, I didn't find it so ludicrous: the One Ring had to make him tougher, and he actually has a stunned, rather frozen expression as he sinks out of sight. (I still think the cartoon handled the destruction of the Ring better.)
I STILL REALLY dislike the way PJ trashed Denethor's character: Gandalf had to beat this guy to make him behave. There was no dignity, not even when eating. Denethor was thoroughly demeaned, in my eyes: he doesn't do squat to prepare Gondor for war: won't even light the beacon fires, so he's a totally useless guy: gone is his 24/7 mail hauberk to keep away the effects of old age and inactivity (at least, the only time I spotted the hauberk was just before he burned to death: he never displayed it as he did in the book, so "accidentally" catching a glimpse of it makes no sense because he was completely unprepared to fight). I didn't like the way they ruined his character without giving any reason for it: no Palantir confrontations with Sauron: hopefully that will be rectified in the EE DVD. (A second viewing makes me accept the "movie" Denethor as at least consistent: rather like another individual's opinion of Denethor's character: exaggerated faults as though by someone who resented or hated his memory.)
I was disappointed in the ending stuff at Minas Tirith. I wanted the formal "Praise them with great praise" shout from the whole gathered host of men. That would have been awesome: sort of like the hobbits receiving Gondor's "Medal of Honor". The crowning of Aragorn scene was cheesy: Aragorn's speech was pitched at room level: he should have shouted it out (like Boromir does in the EE TTT upon the retaking of Osgiliath). But the real sillines was his surprise upon finding Arwen in the crowd: give me a break, the king is going to know when his bride is coming: anyone ever heard of "affairs of state ?" These matters are not "done in a corner." (Arwen's character was supposed to be dying, then she suddenly shows up by surprise: it would have been better had we seen at least a couple of heart-wrenching scenes of her getting worse, and then when the Ring gets melted down, she begins to recover at once. Oh well, a minor detail I guess.) But a grand marriage and coronation of Elessar and Evenstar, with their names proclaimed with loud honorifics, would have been cool. (After a second viewing, I still find the ending somewhat tepid, but not as much so: I especially enjoyed the look of the White Tree - which I noticed this time, though it remains somewhat distant. And having everyone bow to the hobbits in honor of them, even the king and his soon-to-be-queen, is OK for the movie version: I will still enjoy the "praise them with great praise", the old formality feel, of the story as the book tells it, on the field of Cormallen.)
I have already said this before: I think Gondorian bowmen in plate look stupid. (And they will always look stupid, no matter how many times I see this film.)
Oh yeah: I didn't like seeing Faramir being dragged back into Minas Tirith by one stirrup. What would have been wrong with having him manhandled by a Nazgul as he forms the rearguard, so's his troops can make their escape back to the city ? That way Gandalf could ride out and rescue him as he did in the book (altho we miss Imrahil and the knights of Dol Amroth). The quick cheesy way Faramir gets back in is just stupid looking. (And this will always look bad, no matter how many times I see it: "boo ! hiss !".)
I can talk about the things I hope the EE will do now:
I hope they will show Eowyn, Merry and Faramir being healed by Aragorn: and show Eomer holding his sister's body and sobbing on the battlefield (like in the trailer). Having her and Faramir beside each other as they recover, and sharing a few "let's get together yeah yeah yeah" lines will make their getting together feel more convincing. I look forward to Gandalf and the witch king facing off first. Sam really needs to have his longer moment to consider his options, when he thinks Frodo is dead: he needs to take the Ring and Sting and get ready to march into Mordor alone: what is there in the theatrical release is excellent: it's just too short. And here's hope the ending will be augmented to fix the points I mentioned above that I disliked: including, I trust, a scene showing the renewal of the White Tree by Aragorn.
Now things I really liked:
I think PJ is the absolute master of cinematic "eye candy." From TFOTR to the grand finale I am agog, almost out of breath at times, over the visual impact of these movies. TROTK is the best, with tons of stupendous action, down to the little details, and wonderful expansive scenes of "Middle-earth", like during the beacon lighting sequence, which is one of my favorite dramatic moments that is simply stupendous photography and music combined. Incredible: I have never seen anything like this in my life. I have to get back to it as soon as possible.
To say that I liked the action is a massive understatement.
I loved PJ the way he stayed true to the story throughout the trilogy of films: he did some things I don't like, but over all he succeeded beyond my expectations.
I loved the death of king Theoden.
I enjoyed the paths of the dead; and thought having the dead help win the battle of the Pelennor fields was a brilliant way of simplifying the story: until I realized that how Peter Jackson handled their power actually is a deus ex machina taken way too far. Tolkien handled this well: he had the dead clear the Black Fleet of the baddies, and then Aragorn released them. The southern Gondor forces got aboard and they rowed up the river (with the help of a freshening ocean breeze) and saved the City just in time. Peter Jackson would have us believe that the dead can kill: that they can slay an entire army of tens of thousands in minutes. That means that king Theoden's death was unnecessary: and the arrival of the Rohirrim is not exactly in the nick of time: the City is still stubbornly holding out, retreating level by level behind their gates: and so they would have been when the dead arrived. Hopefully the extended edition of ROTK will make the timing more acceptable; otherwise, I shall remain unsatisfied with the way PJ exploited the Rohirrim needlessly.
I liked the Eowyn and the witch king scene: except: Merry didn't have a special weapon, which is the logic in the book that makes his attack from behind work at all. Eowyn's trimmed line "I am no man" worked OK, then she stuck her ordinary sword into his face and he crumpled. I wish that there had been a cool, trailing, wailing disembodied voice go shuddering up into the air and across the battlefield when he died, but oh well, it was done OK - it just could have been better.
I thought Sean Astin's Sam was superb acting: if he doesn't get nomination for best actor or best supporting actor I shall be miffed. When he thinks Frodo is dead, his grief is utterly devastating.
Shelob: well, YEAH. Nothing could have been better there: she was nasty nasty nasty. Just like in the book, she get's hoist on her own petard and scuttles off mewling.
Summing up: The Lord of the Rings is epic literature, apocalyptic in focus; with the characters forced to decide which side they are going to be on, or whether to try and hide: the unfolding plot makes it obvious that the latter tactic is hopeless: you cannot run away from evil: you must band together and fight it, even when victory seems remote or unattainable. And in the end, right and light do triumph, after great sacrifice and personal cost. It is worth it, because the good things are worth fighting for and preserving; life in a free world is worth fighting for. Sam says it very well at the end of the second film; his words are straight out of Tolkien, as are all the great lines, preserved (though often transposed) in all three films. I really feel (nay, believe) that forces for good were at work upon Peter Jackson and company to produce this excellent Trilogy of films: so the story is given a widely received expression of the Spirit of Tolkien's master work. And a good reason for this belief of mine is based on my personal conviction that our modern world NEEDS stories like The Lord of the Rings as much as food: things are coalescing into another world-wide confrontation between the forces of darkness and light. Watching films like these, based on the much better original books, cannot help but inspire viewers to try and be more courageous and true in their individual lives.