Spoilers One Fan's Opinion of the Film vs. the Source - TTT Review
To gush for a minute, I am so glad that someone has taken the time to approach fantasy material with a serious sensibility. For example, when we are in Osgiliath (more on this addition later), you get the sense that these men are concerned with real-life military problems. You know that if the cameras were to linger long enough, you would see Orc Engineers fighting to build a bridge across the Andiun. You get the feeling that this world Peter Jackson has created from the words of Tolkien continues beyond what is on screen. I can think of few fantasy (lumping Sci-Fi in here as well) films that achieve this same sense of depth that we get from "plausible" films. It is refreshing to those of us who dive deeply into the stories we read to see them translated into a pop-medium in a way that does justice to the source.
In short, I loved this film(s) and intend to see it (them) again and again. Then I plan to buy the first version of TTT that comes out on DVD and watch it consecutively with FOTR. Then I plan to purchase the inevitable extended TTT DVD and watch it consecutively with FOTR. And then do it again. It is the fan in me.
Moving on...It is difficult for me to summarize exactly what I would have preferred from this film. There were expansions in some areas, but contractions (retractions?) in others that, were I at the helm, would have been handled differently. How many times have we fan-children said that!? But there are some things I just don't understand. I know that even the very wise cannot see all ends, but that is not entirely true in this case. I have read the Lord of the Rings. I know how it ends. I know what is left to be done. I know that it is not a simple jaunt into Mordor and a set battle and a big hurrah.
There is the siege, the Paths of the Dead, the conflict with Denethor, the wounding (and healing) of Faramir, Pelinnor Field, Aragorn's cruise up the River, Sam saves Frodo (twice even) than kicks his ass up Mt. Doom, there is the battle in front of Morannon, Ring is destroyed, Aragorn Crowned, all are healed, White tree restored, Return to the Shire (Scouring??), the booting of the big-folk and "Sharkey," and finally departure from the Gray Havens. And now that I have seen TTT, I know that there is the set piece with Shelob and the reckoning of Saruman to include in film 3 as well since they were not included in film 2.
I trust Peter Jackson. He has made some quality films, but have the folks in New Zealand made a final film that will intelligently address all of the issues left to resolve as well as the ones left over from TTT in a three hour final installment called Return of the King? Crap, even the book seems over-stuffed to me.
That is why I get a bit antsy when we spend time on a warg attack and the bit with Aragorn "falling." That is why as was little bored with the dream sequences. That is why I was a little bummed in the fabricated scenes with Faramir. I think we get that Rohan and mankind is in danger from the first few scenes of their hardships and Saruman's evil speeches, do we need to linger on so much on the arming of children, the hugging of women? It is important to the story, but can be communicated with less fabrication (I am referring specifically to the scene with the long-haired boy and Aragorn on the steps).
Really the Faramir thing bummed me out the most. With the Wargs and the Arwen stuff I can forgive the story tellers the need to include some drama and background info. Even the sad state of affairs for the Rohan villagers and the lads-to-arms scenes I bought as necessary backstory and explanation for things eluded to in the source. But Faramir is not like his brother Borimir. The whole conflict between him and his father (from the source) is good drama. Faramir is a good guy and is from the beginning. The film sequences with him in it are great up until he gets the wind of the ring. He decides to take it Gondor. From there, the films must fabricate circumstances that don't always work. Now you have to have Faramir "forfeit his life" and a Nazgul get scarred off by an arrow. And if letting the Hobbits go is such a crime, why doesn't some other officer arrest them after Faramir lets them go? And since the Nazgul know where the ring is, why don't they come en force? See the problems this creates? Why not stop with that crap and expand on the themes and drama contained within the source?
To sum it up: The changes made in TTT are not all changes made to cater to a different media and that bothers me.
So now we must wait another year. Can Peter Jackson pull off the final act, which is choked full of stuff -- good stuff -- with the same quality as the six hours previous? What scenes will not make the final cut because new stuff was added? I can sort of now understand the worries of those who woed the loss of Bombadil (which I forgave for his lack of importance and tripped-out sing-song nonsense). But it does seem like the lip of a slippery slope. If Bombadil goes, why not Glorfindel? Why not Radagast? Why not the Orc Chieftain in Moria? Why not the hall of Treebeard? What will be left out of ROTK -- there is so much to pack into a three hour movie!
If Boramir gets to witness his forgiveness and know the ring is safe _before_ he dies (IMO a key difference between the film and book versions of FOTR), why not change Faramir to be as short-sighted as his brother (another key difference)? Why not make the Ents hasty in the end? Why not put elves and gun-powder in Helm's Deep? Frodo, Sam, and Gollum in Osgiliath? What themes will change in the over-all arch of the story in the name "books-don't-translate-well-to-film"?
It is a slippery slope indeed.
I know I sound like I am naysaying, but two things allay any shame I feel in writing what I have written. 1) The audience for this website includes some Tolkien Fundamentalists whose world view would likely shatter should the Professor choose to promenade across the Themes and end up under water, if you get my drift. 2) I love this genre and I love the intelligent, adult direction these movies have taken in regard to filming it. And I CAN NOT WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR! I loved both of these movies despite the differences from the source I flagged as most glaring.
PS: We love Star Trek because Kirk, Bones, and Spock are characters who maintain a deep and complex dynamic between them. As an audience, we buy that. The same goes for Luke, Han, and Leia from Star Wars. But these are all real people--actors. Fantasy (and Sci-Fi) often requires non-human characters. On the written page, it is easier to buy a non-human as a living, conscious being with intelligence and awareness. This becomes harder to do so as you translate those non-human characters to film.
Rubber masks and make-up allow an audience to suspend belief a little bit, but a rubber mask cannot emote nearly as well as a living face can. ET was an attempt at the non-human, but ET was, in the end, a piece of rubber wrapped around an expensive puppet. We were willing to suspend our disbelief with Yoda because Frank Oz delivered such a memorable performance--but Yoda was still only a supporting character. The same goes for Chewie, Nien Numb (sp?), Adm Ackbar, and any other muppet seen in a major motion picture. R2-D2 was arguably the most successful non-human character to deliver performances with depth, but R2's range was severely limited to rolling and beeps. I won't even discuss the failure of Jar-Jar -- a victim of poor writing -- but he possible had a shot at what I am talking about here.
In other reviews, people have hit on what makes the LOTR trilogy different from other films in fantasy/Sci-Fi genre, the bringing of a non-human character to the fore-ground as a principle actor. Gollum is amazing. In every scene he was in I was enthralled. In several scenes I was heart broken. Not the eleven-year-old heartbroken I got from "Baby... Secret of the Lost Legend" but "The Elephant Man" heartbroken. Both films relied on effects, but one pulled more than heartstrings.
Gollum is an amazing feat and a boon for a fantasy film. Finally a non-human character can bring weight to the scene as a principle character. The process of bringing Gollum to life should be studied by anyone who wants to make a film with a creature at the front.
This alone makes TTT worthy of the gushing praise we fans and geeks heap upon it. It is my feeling that people who never "go into" fantasy/sci-fi films didn't because they could see that Yoda was clearly a puppet. It is my hope that people who never "got into" fantasy/sci-fi movies can see a performance like that of Gollum's and buy into enough to see beyond the fantastic enough to ingest the heart of the story.
Thank you, Peter Jackson.