SPOILERS Jonathan *GASP* Defends Peter Jackson’s ROTK – Hey you… Stop worrying!

by Oct 14, 2003Lord of the Rings (Movies)

It’s been less than 24 hours since I’ve seen the 20 minute preview screening of Peter Jacksons’ Return of the King, and the rumours, accusations, finger-pointing, defending and all around purist vs. revisionist scuffling has reached a furor.

But, before you go on to read, I recommend you read Ted’s Review to get an idea about what it is I’ve seen, and why I–the guy who hated FOTR and who’s site hosted the Movie Integrity Petition–have come to the defense of Peter Jackson…

Many of you already know that I despaired over FOTR (until the extended edition), while I quite enjoyed TTT.  And thus, having seen the preview, I think I’ll rather enjoy ROTK as well.  Probably more than TTT.  A lot more.


Well, briefly, I was VERY disappointed in the treatment of some characters in FOTR, particularly Galadriel.  Most folks who hadn’t read LOTR thought she was evil after she went nuclear in Lothlorien.  I was also disappointed in Aragorn’s un-kingly-ness, the brawling wizards in Orthanc, and Arwen’s additional parts. So, when TTT was released, I had already gotten over my pointed disappointment and was ready to watch it as a movie–and really enjoyed it!  Yes, the ents didn’t get the screen time they deserved and didn’t seem as anciently wise as they should have, and “Filmamir” perhaps wasn’t portrayed as a noble man as he was in the books, but as a film I think it a rousing success.

So now, after Ted’s review, and the other reviews of this preview on the web (here is Chris’s at TORn), the expected verbal sparring now clashes and clangs within the walls of our messageboard.  Particularly regarding Denethor’s portrayal…

“Did anyone really expect PJ to treat Denethor with anything but cartoonish exaggeration?”
“Denethor’s meant to be proud and mean, but not creepy.”
“Well of course, book Denethor is not described as corrupt and disgusting”
“I hate to nitpick, but his poor table manners seem a bit unsubtle.”
“The scene with denathor sounds like perfection.”
“Where the trouble lies here is with both Elrond’s and Aragorn (apparent) pessimism.”
“Why is [Elrond] so pessimistic, what happened to his foresight?”
“I think movie Elrond turned when Galady gave him the telepathic update and put things in perspective for him.”

The funny thing is, is that much of what these folks are saying is right.  Denethor is meant to be proud, as Tolkien writes, “Pippen saw his carven face with its proud bones and skin like ivory…” Denethor is meant to be kingly. Elrond is quite so pessismistic in the books.

John Noble as DenethorJohn Noble as DenethorBut here, in this scene where Denethor sends his son to die, where Denethor eats his food in the lonely hall with fervor and disgust, we are not meant to see the kingly Denethor.  We see the despairing king who–in his anger and loss–would rather see his lone son die in a futile attempt at regaining Osgiliath than saving him for the defense of Gondor.  It is not a kingly act he has done.  He knows this.  We know this.  And the visuals clearly reinforce this.  Of course, the nuance of the books is lost, but a film like this doesn’t have the luxury of engaging in every nuance.  It needs to decide what to show us so we understand the motive and the extent of how Denethor is approaching madness.  Don’t tell me that when you read ROTK you weren’t surprised when Denethor tried to kill himself and Faramir in the pyre–that caught ME off guard!  Peter Jackson knows he can’t surprise a movie audience with a kingly Denethor only to have him try to burn himself and his son alive.  Denethor must be shown to us as the Steward of Gondor approaching a murderous madness.  In the brief scene I saw, he deftly showed us the character that Denethor is quickly becoming.

What’s interesting is that no one seemed to have much of a problem with Gollum’s direct dual personality–something he didn’t have so clearly in the books. In the same manner as Denethor, Jackson did not have the luxury of literary nuance to show us the difference between Smeagol and Gollum, he had to help create that knowledge more immediately and directly for the moviegoer. And he worked it to a wonderful result.

What Peter Jackson is doing is picking the important aspects of these characters from the books.  For example, in the three hour film he didn’t have the luxury of showing us all aspects of Theoden and how he was controlled by Saruman, so he went for a decidely more direct approach.  Love it or hate it, you can’t argue with the fact that he had grown a complacent king lulled by evil forces.  In the movie AND the book.

The scenes I saw show me that Jackson has chosen aspects of characters that are NEEDED to be shown, showing the moviegoing audience the driving forces behind each of them.

So… those of you worrying, those of you fretting at the changes, STOP!   At this point, you worried folks should have no reason to worry.


Stop worrying.


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