As we wrap up this first cinematic chapter of seeing Tolkien’s works on the big screen, I’m glad it ends on a quality note. There’s quite a bit to love about this final chapter, and just enough to question… but it’s one heckuva fun ride.
My journey into appreciating the films began with the Extended Edition release of The Fellowship of the Ring. With the extra footage, I thought Peter Jackson got right the scenes (Lothlorien) and the characters (Galadriel) that irked me so in the theatrical edition. In The Two Towers, I enjoyed the film as a completely separate entity from the book, but there were still a number of things that should not have been chnaged that would have heightened my enjoyment of the films (the change in Faramir’s character, minimizing the Ents by allowing them to decide NOT to go to war)–the Extended Edition improved a bit on The Two Towers, but nowhere near to the amounts FOTR was improved.
And in The Return of the King, there are some decisions that I question, some moments changed from the book that should not have been changed. But, far and away, this movie is closer to the books than either of the other theatrical editions.
Instead of actual changes to the book, we mostly see omissions due to the time constraints of the film (which does clock in at the longest of the three–3 hours, 20 minutes). Perhaps the most glaring omissions were:
–The Voice of Saruman
–Sam and Frodo at the Crossroads
–The Mouth of Sauron
–The Houses of Healing
The Rohirrim at the Pelennor FieldsBut, as I’ve always said, I can accept omissions over overt changes (I hated the Wizard’s Duel in FOTR, and the change in the final outcome of the Entmoot in TTT). And overall, these omissions work (the removal of Saruman’s defeat is REALLY glaring though–the villain of the first two movies NEEDED to be shown defeated and broken by Gandalf). If you haven’t read the book, you’ll be no worse off for not having these scenes. If you have read the book, you’ll wince a bit at the omissions. I was hoping to see Faramir and Eowyn at the Houses of Healing, and The Mouth of Sauron at the Black Gates… but I’ll just have to wait until the Extended Edition. John Noble portrays Denethor as just a bit more mad than I’d expected, but with his character now established in TTT Extended Edition, it worked well for me (except for the plummeting fireball he becomes instead of simply burning on the pyre).
What does work in the films? I quite enjoyed the Battle of the Pelennor fields (minus Legolas’ crazy-go-nuts Elven moves on the Oliphaunt), and even the Paths of the Dead was effective (if a bit modified). The friendship between Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas continues to take center stage, and Sam and Frodo’s scenes are thick with emotion–despair mingled with Sam’s optimism and hope. The resolution of the film (without The Scouring of the Shire) worked rather well for me. As the Hobbit’s return to the Shire, they see the unspoiled home they left, the home they fought for, where folks are more excited over the huge pumpkin than the return of the 4 hobbits. I know some thought too much time was spent on this end, but it seems appropriate to me. The movies were always about the Hobbits more than anyone else (as, really, the books are too), and spending the last 15 minutes on them is necessary and appropriate.
Enjoy the movie. Sink into your seat. Try not to get caught up in the changes. Enjoy. And maybe you’ll have more luck than me at stilling that little voice in the back of your head that says, “This isn’t the REAL, definitive film… so, let’s see… when does the Extended Edition come out?”
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