Last night, my friend and I went to the premiere of RETURN OF THE KING in Brantford, ON (Canada). We had recently watched my video of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING – EXTENDED VERSION, and the night before, my video of THE TWO TOWERS – EXTENDED VERSION. None of these versions, both excellent in their own right, prepared us to be blown away by RETURN OF THE KING.
Although I still prefer reading the books, I feel Jackson’s interpretation is, for the most part (more on that later), very enjoyable and breathtaking. He and his filmaking team, have managed to capture much of the humor and terror of Tolkien novels. And RETURN tops them all.
The film begins with a flashback sequence depicting Gollum’s actual origin, so we get an actual glimpse of Andy Serkis playing Smeagol in his pre-Gollum days. The sequence of how he literally gets the Ring over his cousin Deagol’s dead body is very gripping, and sets the grim tone that dominates most of the film.
Many of the high points of the novel are well handled, and the battle sequences are breath-taking. Of course, Jackson had to skip some sequences to make it palatable for the theatrical version, many of which will doubtless be included in the extended version, such as Aragorn’s direct challenge to Sauron via Saruman’s palatir, and the House of Healing sequence. I can understand why the Scouring of the Shire was cut, although I still wish Mr. Jackson could have at least filmed that for the DVD. After all, we needed some assurance that the hobbits (and humans) can take care of themselves without wizards or elves around to help them. And I would have loved to have seen Elijah Wood (Frodo) and Sean Astin (Sam) getting to interact at least briefly with Sir Christopher Lee (Saruman) and Brad Dourif (Wormtongue).
But the one omission I cannot agree with was leaving Saruman’s fate in the air. Saruman, as played b y Sir Christopher Lee, was a great villain, as much a threat to Middle-earth in his own way as Sauron, and deserved a better send-off than what he got. All we have in the theatrical version are some vague statements by Treebeard and then Gandalf pronouncing that Saruman is no longer a threat and his powers are gone (how can he be so sure?), and then we see the palantir conveniently floating by itself in the flood waters surrounding Tower Orthanc for Pippin to pick up. With all due respect to Mr. Jackson, I would rather he had retained the fate of Saruman for the theatrical version, and trimmed down the extended finale sequence instead. As it was, there were some restless shifting in the packed house before the end credits finally started.
But that is my only main criticism. RETURN is otherwise a very well-made film, with a fine cast, memorable sets and costumes, and some very convincing CGI creatures, including a terrifying Shelob, the giant oliphaunts, and the fell beasts. Although it may be too intense for the very young, I would recommend this film to anyone 11 and up.