My wife and I went to see TTT last night — opening night. Although there were highlights that score high marks — Gollum, of course, being one of them — I left the theater with a feeling of sad disappointment. In my review of Fellowship last year, I wrote about omissions (things Jackson left out) and commissions (things he stuck in or changed outright). My biggest objection then being with the omissions (the exchange between Galadriel and Gimli being the most thematically egregious of them). Nevertheless, Fellowship still shone, and the extended version has amended much of what I thought was lacking in the original.
With TTT, however, I was blindsided by the commissions. (Spoilers) Sending Eowyn (and the women and children of Rohan) to Helm’s Deep? Sending Frodo and Sam to Osgiliath? While the latter is probably the more serious departure from Tolkien, in a way it makes sense: Jackson simply has Faramir act out the struggle which Tolkien presents as an inner and instantaneous (albeit intense) conflict that quickly gets resolved in favor of Frodo and in favor of nobility of character. Although a bit melodramatic, Jackson’s rendering is effective, and Frodo and Sam quickly get back on track (to Cirith Ungol, one hopes!), with Gollum to guide them.
Sending Eowyn to Helm’s Deep, however, was clearly done with the sole purpose of capitalizing on the romancing of Aragorn. (My wife and I held an argument on the way home with whether or not Aragorn reciprocated and encouraged her feelings; gender differences emerged: she said yes, I said no; a matter of projection or wish-fulfillment, in the Freudian sense?) The ‘fall’ of Aragorn and his apparent death evidently were also in the service of this romance-in-potentia, but frankly the effect — on my wife and me, at least — was cheesy and cheap. There’s enough pathos in Tolkien’s original without having to resort to such ploys. (Apparently the cutscenes to the women and children in the glittering caves of Aglarond — oh, is that what they were? — served a similar purpose.)
Ents. Visually stunning. But oblivious and, well, hasty. They’re supposed to be treeherds, right? their hatred of Saruman is supposed to be based on their hatred of the tree-burning orcs, right? Yet somehow it takes two out-of-town hobbits to call their attention to the treachery of their neighbor. (What, by the way, was the nature of their conversation with Gandalf — for plainly he is the ‘white wizard’ to whom Treebeard took Merry and Pippin? Are we to presume Gandalf just stopped by for tea, or did he have words to say about the turning of the tide, words that, one might guess, would at least have alluded to the treason of Isengard?)
Which brings me to Gandalf. This is something I held my tongue about regarding Fellowship, but it became all the more striking to me in watching TTT: does Jackson have a need to emasculate one of the most powerful characters in LOTR? The exorcism of Theoden was an interesting, parabiblical twist, but did Gandalf the White really need Gimli’s booted foot to make Grima grovel like a snake? Did Gandalf the White need to bop Uruk-hai over the head with his *staff* at the battle of Helm’s Deep?
Jackson had some ‘credits in the bank’ to exercise interpretive license after Fellowship’s success. Regrettably, I left the theater wondering if Jackson, or Lucas, had directed the film.
It is important to note what Jackson did well, other than the obvious: cinematography, effects, etc. Here I’ll simply call attention to Gollum. Beyond the breakthroughs in computer animation, presenting *Gollum’s* struggle between good and evil was, simply, brilliant and very much in the spirit of Tolkien. It may in the end be the film’s redemption.
Much more can be said. I will need to see the movie one more time to decide whether I liked the film or not. But I do not think I will be going back to see it five times, as I did Fellowship, or buying two copies of the DVD when it comes out, as I did with Fellowship.