Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

This is the one that got all the awards and the highest praise and is my personal favorite, but I'm not sure if it's really deserving of all that. It certainly wasn't head and shoulders above the other two enough to win eleven Oscars when they averaged three. All those awards were probably appreciation for the feat of the trilogy as a whole, which I'm fine with, since the Academy so often seems to pick the better story over the truly deserving winner. I still really love the movie, and it's the biggest and grandest of the trilogy. It also happens to be the only film I saw for the first time after reading the book version first. There's fewer changes than the last time, though still some notable ones. Some bits are cut, like the Riders of Rohan being escorted around a blockade by strange men of the forest and most of the real dramatic thrust of Eowen and the development of her relationship with Faramir. There's one key detail that I feel they lost a lot from by having to cut, and it's removal was sort of necessary after cutting the Barrow-Downs from the first movie. Since the Hobbits just get their swords unceremoniously handed to them by Aragon instead of finding them in a tomb, they would be less justified in explaining why Eowyn was really able to kill the Witch King. It's not because "Hur hur no man can kill you but I can because I'm a woman", it's because Merry's sword had some magical essence and was able to break the spell that made the king invulnerable when he stabbed him with it.

I'm also not a huge fan of how Denethor and Gimli are handled. Throughout the movies Gimli is more of a comic relief than he ever was in the book, and it's brought to a head here when his presence in the Paths of the Dead turns them into a joke rather than a spooky setting. Look, he's trying to blow away the ghostly hands and wincing when he steps on any of the absolutely insane number of skulls that litter the place! Seriously, where are the rest of the skeletons? And Denethor is transformed from a depressed, grieving father who has seen doom coming for a long time into a crazy old man who is able to run about half a mile while completely immolated so he can jump off something and look all cool. Wow, I'm really complaining a lot here. I really do like a movie, and moments like Pippin's song as men of Gondor ride to their deaths and the riders charging into the Battle of Pelennor Fields are some of my favorites in any film. They really went all out with the effects for the battle to make up for the main characters not really being there, and it's still an exciting spectacle to watch. The only real change in Frodo and Sam's part of the story is Sam getting sent away for a while, which is another case of adding dramatic tension so there's more of it, but it doesn't have a major effect on the story. When the two stories finally converge at the end is suitably dramatic and epic, and you really feel the love the members of the fellowship have for each other. After the final conflict ends, the movie takes its time ending, and more or less culminated with the departure at the Grey Havens. I was surprised at how much that scene moved me this time, when it hadn't as much before. I can't think of why it would affect me differently now, all I know is that it did. Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's greatest work is far from perfect, and I can't say that most of its departures were that well considered. Still, it was an admirable effort, a labor of love, and definitely worth watching.

No comments: