On first viewing, I came away disappointed in a way I had not been after the first film. With FotR, I recognized the discrepancies between book and film, but did not feel they detracted or that they changed any character’s motivations. I cannot say I felt the same after the first viewing of TTT.
However, after a second viewing and plenty of chat with my wife, I do think that TTT is not the abomination I had originally thought. What do I mean?
1. Opening scene: first time, looked like a royal butt whipping to me; I didn’t see the balrog doing any damage to Gandalf. On second look, he does get in three or four good shots with a huge flaming fist. That’ll hurt.
2. Gimli lagging behind during the trek across ME: first time, I thought they made him lag too far behind, and that that was bad. Second viewing, I realized it’s fine — dwarves may have incredible stamina, but that doesn’t mean they’re as fast as humans or elves.
3. Theoden’s exorcism: First time, didn’t like it. Didn’t think it was necessary. Second viewing, I still don’t like it, but IO see why it’s necessary. PJ might be skipping the scene where Gandalf strips Saruman of his power, and if that’s the case, this exorcism turns out to be the scene where we see that Gandalf has now surpassed Saruman in power and stature.
4. Faramir: First time, was GREATLY distressed. Second time, still don’t like it much, but I can see that PJ simply had Faramir’s thought process (from the book) played out externally. On second viewing, I don’t think this does nearly as much violence to Faramir’s character as I had originally thought. Faramir never touches the ring, and when he is tempted by it, his temptation is to give it to his father, not to use it for his own glory. And it does set up the importance of Denethor to Faramir, which one presumes PJ will bring out in RotK.
5. Elves at Helm’s Deep: This is one that I still don’t like, even after two viewings. The Last Alliance of men and elves at the end of the Second Age is just that — the LAST alliance. I think it is a disservice to Tolkien’s theme of elves fading/men meeting their fate on their own to change the story in this fashion.
6. Nazgul encounter with Frodo in Osgiliath: It is logically explainable (though not made very clear in the film) how this could happen. When Sam and Frodo tumble down the stairs, one has to assume that the arrow shot by Faramir into the Nazgul steed was followed by many more arrows, which I think logically does dictate that the steed would retreat. And why does the Nazgul not come back? Frodo never actually put on the ring. And why doesn’t Sauron realize something’s up? He thinks the ring, close as it is to him, is going to Gondor. Tolkien makes it plain that Sauron never thinks that the forces of good would destroy the ring, because he himself could not fathom such a move.
7. Ents: This is the one area in which PJ *REALLY* botched it up, in my opinion. After the scene where Treebeard/Merry/Pippin are marching along the top of a tree-covered hill, and where M & P see the destruction of Isengard, I have two questions: One, how did Treebeard or any other Ents NOT SEE THIS BEFORE? And two, even if they did not, why did M & P not see fit to mention it to Treebeard? This is not only a change in the story, but a major flaw in continuity. Also, the change in the motivations/personalities of the Ents is very bad. They are changed from Tolkien’s thoughtful, careful old men who reach a considered decision and carry it out in the face of possible extinction, to PJ’s unaware, timid and easily (and quickly!) swayed hill giants. I personally think this is the biggest problem with the film, and I do hope that the extended version DVD will include cut scenes that flesh out the Ents (though I am unsure how this will resolve their original decision to not attack Isengard).
In any case, I enjoyed the film much, much more the second time, and come away with only one major gripe (Ents) and one minor one (Elves at Helm’s Deep). In my mind, all the other “alerations” do not in any way change the motivations of characters or the flow of the storyline. At the end of the film, all major characters are where they should be, according to the books.