Satisfying and Awe-inspiring - TTT picks up FOTR and carries it one step further.
I spent the 15 minute walk home from the premiere screening of TTT thinking of one word that would adequately describe what I had just witnessed. I settled on `awe-inspiring' after discarding `brilliant' (after a repeat viewing, perhaps), `wonderful' (ditto) and `epic' (too cheesy). `Awe inspiring' is the perfect word to describe TTT, because that is exactly what Peter Jackson achieved. He inspired awe.
I must admit that I did not sit down in the theatre with a clear and objective mindset. I had just finished reading some more purist rants on TORC (Tolkien Online - White Council), and I wondered if I would come out with the same feeling of disappointment. Those wisps of doubt dissipated after about 10 minutes (when Gollum first appeared, if you must know), and throughout the movie I reveled in the incredible spectacle that is Peter Jackson's Middle Earth. I may sound like an echo of lavas in this review, but I'm simply expressing how I feel. Mainly to ease the flow of thoughts to paper, I've divided this into four sections: Characters, Story, Negatives and Conclusion.
I know now why one viewing was not enough to satisfy many. Like the markings on the One Ring, the details that were once as clear as flame have now faded, leaving only a few complete scenes in my memory to use when writing a review. Never mind. I'll do my best. Can I start with Faramir? I wish to bring him up first, because the change of Faramir was one of the purists' main points of contention and one of the parts that I was most fearful about when I started watching. I think I can sum up my response to those who hated him in the movie: WHY? After reading emotion filled rants by Mithfanion and Nienna (non-TORC people ignore that), I honestly expected a clone of Boromir. Someone who was ensared by the power of the Ring, and wanted to take it for himself (no matter what the motive). Someone who was the opposite of noble `book Faramir'. The `movie Faramir' was none of these things. Indeed, the Ring spoke to Faramir, and it tempted him. We saw it in the cave. To me, Faramir rejected the personal temptation of claiming the Ring, and instead persued a more noble course of action (from his point of view). I think he is more inline with the 'book Faramir' than some people realise. When did Faramir mention that the Ring should have been his? When did he mention that it was the only route to victory over Sauron, as Boromir did? Only once did he explicitly state that he would not let Frodo go with the Ring and that was when he said that he would take the Ring back to his father. True, Faramir was not improved over the character that Tolkien wrote. In my view, neither was he worsened. He was changed and the change worked, and I think that is the only correct way to describe him.
So, Faramir did not lessen my enjoyment of TTT in any way, shape or form. What about Gimli? Well, he was simply comic relief. No, "simply" doesn't do him justice. Let me say superb comic relief. I'm sure you all know this already: TTT is depressing. The dark plight of Rohan; of Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin is a stark contrast from the green grasses and laughter of Hobbiton. Every time my spirits were at a low point, John Rhys Davies' superb comic timing and delivery (who could forget the scene with Eowyn and the conversation about Dwarven women?!) was neither cheesy nor corny, but rather necessary. While perhaps a tad overdone - and yes, this movie has its faults - his scenes at Helms Deep provided a much-needed relief from the chilled grey despair of battle. Nope, I had no problems with Gimli, either.
Eowyn? Eowyn was sublime. One scene that has stuck in my mind for being utterly poignant was when Aragorn returns to the Hornburg on Brego and meets up with Gimli and then Legolas. Eowyn notices Aragorn's return, and an expression of joy, perhaps love, blossoms on her face. Then Legolas gives Aragorn back the Evenstar, and Eowyn's expression changes to one of sad resignation. An expression someone would get who is overjoyed, but at the same time reminded of disappointment. Her performance was pretty much faultless, and I have no doubts that she will nail her scenes on the Pelennor Field.
To conclude what I have to say about the characters, let me just talk about Gollum, Frodo and Sam. Gollum was the biggest surprise for me. After reading pretty much every review at RottenTomatoes I knew he would be good, but he still blew me away. At first, though, I would have agreed with some comments people have made about his voice: more precisely, that it was too high. Seeing his movements, facial expressions, and the ability to make people believe that he was a real character and part of Middle-earth quickly washed away any doubt I may initially have had about him. I know I sound like an over-gushing fanboy at the moment, but his CGI was absolutely incredible.
Frodo and Sam were not so much a surprise. Rather, they confirmed my expectation that PJ would continue to develop their relationship, and introduce some conflict and doubt as a reminder of the growing power of the Ring, and the utter futility of what they were trying to accomplish. Sam's speech at the end could understandably have been taken by some as unneeded corny exposition, and while I didn't find it a `highlight', I didn't mind it. Possibly the only aspect of the Frodo/Sam story that I was hesitant about were the scenes at Osgiliath. I'm rather unsure about the scene with the Rider (though it was beautiful), and I'll have to revisit it at my next screening.
As for the rest of the starring characters, I'd type a paragraph for each of them, but it would only be reiterating how happy I am with how they were portrayed. Aragorn? Great. Theoden? Superb. Gandalf the White? Perfection. Legolas? Crowd-pleaser. Eomer? Nailed. Pretty much everyone else? Oh. My. God. There's nothing much else I can say about them except for the fact that they exactly what I expected. Butchered Theoden? Unwilling Aragorn? Corny Legolas? Give me a break. Like I said earlier, nothing could have frightened me more than the fact that I might actually come to identify with the Purist complaints after seeing TTT; that I would become disillusioned with how Peter Jackson was letting the movie adaption of LOTR unfold. Nothing could now be further from the truth, and I am utterly glad that I can separate the book from the movie and enjoy it, along with all the changes, in the way that PJ and the team intended.
I agree with a comment I read on TORC that stated how the changes made to the story make for an interesting ride: not knowing where I will be taken next, or how Treebeard will be brought into the war, or how Gandalf's introduction and fight with the Balrog will be handled, or how the plight of Rohan will be unveiled. I enjoyed being able to submit myself to the flow of the movie, and enjoy each spectacle as it arose. It worked. Right now, not 30 minutes after I left the cinema, I'm still too excited (and happy) to place my thoughts on paper in a logical and collected fashion. Forgive me.
After the initial encounter with Gandalf and the Balrog, the movie started slow. This is a fact that we can all agree on, and I don't necessarily think that this was a good thing. The flitting between the three separate story threads took a while to get used to and I have to admit that my trepidation before the movie started wasn't helped by the first 10 minutes. Once all three plot lines were introduced, this started to disappear. Probably the first scene in the movie where my jaw dropped open was in the Dead Marshes, more specifically, when Frodo was under the water. Heh, and I thought I was scared when the eyes of the Elvish warrior opened.
Following that, wonder came in quick succession. The Black Gates of Mordor, operated by the Cave Trolls. The battle between Gandalf and the Balrog - how does one top that incredible portrayal of Gandalf and the Balrog falling in slow motion from the chasm into the underground lake? Why do I never get sick of the helicopter shots of people traveling over the fields of Rohan and the beautiful landscape of Middle-Earth? Eowyn standing outside Meduseld, watching Gimli, Aragorn, Legolas and Gandalf riding in. Aragorn and Arwen's scenes together: most notably at Aragorn's death. The Battle of Helm's Deep: utterly captivating. I wish I could write more, but there's too much to take in and decipher. I am completely honest when I say that I am overwhelmed by what I have just witnessed.
Dang. I sound like Harry at Aintitcool.
Yes. TTT had negatives, but they were few and far between. I thought Merry and Pippin's story was rather weak, and I was underwhelmed by the Ents and the effects used to portray them. The siege of Isengard took, what? 5 minutes? (It seemed like that!) Much too short, anyway. Other weaknesses include the portrayal of Theoden before the `exorcism' (he can't talk? what?!), and the exorcism itself was slightly cheesy, though nothing like as bad as the `duel' in FOTR. Galadriel's voiceover was nothing special, but I'm expecting this to be rectified in the Extended DVD.
I wasn't too keen on Frodo and the Invisible Cloak, and the number of people that ended up defending Helms Deep, but these are petty complaints. They in no way affect the experience of watching TTT.
Other weaknesses? I don't know. I really don't. Let me see it a second time, and a third time, and a fourth time. Only after seeing FOTR about 15 times am I able to come to concrete terms with the parts that I am unpleased with.
Is this movie better than FOTR? Yes and no. The storyline in the first movie is more coherent. It is easier to follow, and the movie leaves a better feeling in you when it finishes. However, TTT has (so far) none of the faults that FOTR did. There are no scenes like Weathertop, Arwen at the Ford and the Falling Staircase of Khazad-dum that made me stand back and say, under my breath: "Lame...." The scope of FOTR was also smaller, and it makes me think, if ROTK eclipses TTT by the amount that TTT did FOTR, how the hell am I going to handle it? But TTT is a bigger movie that FOTR, in a good way. It picks up whatever I liked about the first movie and taken them one step further.
My rating, at this stage, is 9/10. No, TTT isn't perfect - but no movie is - and in any case I am too overwhelmed to give it any more than 9 because there is always the chance that I have forgotten some small parts that I didn't like.
PJ nailed TTT utterly. Yes, there were changes. No, the changes did not `destroy the spirit of LOTR'. No, I don't agree with all of them, but at the same time they do not bother me in the slightest. I am so happy, therefore, that I am able to come out of the cinema with a feeling of euphoria. I am so happy that I am able to separate the book from the movie; that I am not a purist, writing angry posts on various message boards about how PJ `failed me', and I am so happy that this new installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy has lived up to the expectations that I had after watching FOTR. I do not know whether it has gone beyond them: only more viewings will make that certain, but one thing is for sure. I am satisfied, and for that I am so very thankful.