ROTK review with an Australian accent - Tolkien enthusiast but not Fanatical Purist
One of the best things about ROTK is the reduced amount of 'originality.' Perhaps due to criticism of TTT, the writers have omitted and simplified, but not invented new material - with one exception.
The attack on Osgiliath and the siege of Minas Tirath are impressive. Instead of the slow build up of dread and despair in the book Peter Jackson has staged the siege as a brutal, rapid, overwhelming assault. Given the time available in a movie, it works. For the same reason, the Nazgul play a direct physical role rather than being the more subtle harbingers of fear. I do regret not seeing the Lord of the Nazgul enter the gate of Minas Tirath - it was shot, there are stills in one of the books - but it isn't really a key event. Extended edition?
The ride of the Rohirrim is well done and the cutting back and forth from the siege recreates the tension of the book. Merry does recognise Eowyn straight away, but that's another simplification that doesn't detract.
The battle of the Pellenor Fields keeps the adrenaline flowing. I think one of the finest shots is where we see a line of Rohan horseman on the ridge. Not too impressive. Then the camera moves up and over and there are rank after rank after rank behind. No wonder the orcs panicked! And while Gimli and Legolas may be there for comic relief, it's such an unrelentingly savage battle that it really does need it.
Aragorns summoning of the dead warriors is another impressive scene. (One of my friends remarked afterwards that between Pirates of the Caribbean and ROTK, the movies do dead people really well these days.) The dead have a much bigger role in the relief of Minas Tirath, which I didn't mind because the Corsairs of Umbar are handled 'offscreen' in the book anyway.
I do wonder though, were the dead warriors made more important to magnify the role of Aragorn? To me, Bernard Hill as Theoden absolutely dominates the first half of ROTK. His transition from indecisive ruler in TTT to heroic leader here is a magnificent performance: his rallying cry to the Rohirrim could so easily have become a piece of corny melodrama. Both actor and director deserve the highest praise for creating a character which is pure Tolkien.
Unfortunately this just makes Aragorn look, well, insignificant. Viggo Mortensen is a fine actor able to play different roles (I've been surprised a few times by seeing his name in credits of movies where I didn't recognise him) so I assume he was playing Aragon in a somewhat hesitant manner under instructions. If so, it doesn't work. Aragorn (film) at the Black Gate doesn't have anywhere near the charisma that Theoden at the Pellenor Fields does.
And while all this is going on we have Sam, Frodo, and Gollum in Mordor. I loved their scenes in TTT, just the three of them in the wilderness, showing that Peter Jackson can do characters as well as action. In ROTK we don't see them together quite as much, but it's still a joy to watch. Damnit, Andy Szerkis deserves an Oscar for his performance as Gollum, even if they have to invent a new category for it!
All the key elements from the book are retained: Shelob, Cirith Ungol, the journey to Mount Doom. Compressed in time, but always true to the spirit of the book if not the letter, as when the army inside of Mordor is drawn out their way by Aragorns attack.
Once the ring is destroyed the film wraps up very quickly, but I guess there wasn't the time for anything else. It's a shame to lose the scouring of the Shire, but then the film would have had to include the lengthy confrontation with Saruman at Isengard.
What's not to like? Well, the portrayal of Denethor. It's quite different to the book, almost a caricature. In the book he's a complex character, probably too much so for a minor film part. But in the movie he's a heartless glutton who pointlessly sacrifices the life not just of Faramir but hundreds of soldiers at the same time. Better to have left him out rather than invent this new Denethor.
So is this, as the poster proclaim, the end of the journey? Nope, that won't happen until the extended edition DVD is out. (Rumoured to be mid year, since there's no need to build up interest in the next film.) TTT on DVD was a different movie to what was in the cinema. In particular, I couldn't understand Faramir in the film, but the DVD has that extra scene with Boromir and Denethor that makes a huge difference. From most probable to least, I expect to see the Faramir & Eowyn romance, the Lord of the Nazgul at the gate of Minas Tirath, the Mouth of Sauron at the Black Gate, some flashbacks from Denethor to explain why he's such a grump, and maybe, just maybe, what happened to Saruman.