The new movie The Return of the King (RotK) is a satisfying conclusion to Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy. At three hours and twenty minutes it seems odd to say it is too short, but it is too short. Each of the movies leaves out parts of the book we Tolkien aficionados considered essential. If you are a fan of the book you will be shaking your heads over parts omitted. One wonders, for example, how Peter Jackson (the director) could possibly leave out Gandalf’s key scene at the gates of Minas Tirith with the Witch King. One can only pray the scene was filmed and will be shown in the extended DVD. But there are other bizarre parts that ended up on the editing floor such as Sam’s using the ring. Eomer never gets a chance to grieve over the body of King Theoden. Jackson’s choices for what were important were often debatable. Gone are the Houses of Healing, gone is the romance between Faramir and Eowyn. We never see ancillary characters like Beregond and Prince Imrahil. The time between the Battle of Pelennor Fields and the final encounter at the Black Gate is incredibly squeezed, as is Sam and Frodo’s journey through Mordor. And of course Jackson never bothered to film the scouring of the Shire, considering that part simply boring. We can only hope that most of these omissions end up in the extended DVD.
Other things seem kind of strange compared to the book. The ruined city of Osgiliath appears to be a mile or so away from the gates of Minas Tirith instead of a day’s ride away. Indeed from the perspective of Minas Tirith, Mordor seems so close that it practically hovers over the city. One wonders how the people of Gondor kept their city from being overrun for so long since the distance between good and evil seems so collapsed.
Of course some plot points were changed, but none seriously. Merry ends up with Pippin going to the Black Gate (I guess his wounds weren’t too bad.) Elrond makes an unexpected appearance in Rohan to give Aragon his sword Anduril. (Why couldn’t he have gotten it back in Rivendell like in the book? What was the point of waiting through two movies?)
But really these are fairly minor nits because if you liked the first two movies you won’t be disappointed this conclusion. Some parts simply take your breath away, often at unexpected times. The lighting of the beacon at Minas Tirith and the scenes of the beacons being lit on the mountaintops across Anorien make the heart stop. The Battle of Pennelor Fields is as spectacular as you would expect. The scene where Eowyn kills the Witch King was the emotional highlight of the film for me. People worried about the final scene at the Cracks of Doom need not worry; Jackson kept to the dogma brilliantly.
The audience was a little confused about when the movie ended. Once Aragorn was crowned king and the screen faded to white some thought the movie was over. There were other opportunities to get confused about when the movie ended. But I didn’t feel that the number of “goodbyes” was overstated at all. The whole chapter in the book “Many Partings” was basically cut out. In takes less than a minute to move the reader from Gondor back to the Shire.
Some random thoughts and observations:
– Liv Tyler actually acts pretty well this time, unlike in the first two movies. I had a feeling Jackson reshot these scenes because Tyler wasn’t very convincing at all in the first two movies. In fact she annoyed me. I didn’t believe her at all. I believed her in this movie.
– Do elves have superglue on the pads of their feet? How can Legolas possibly keep his balance as he climbs the oliphant to bring it down?
– Miranda Otto more than fills Eowyn’s shoes. My wife is very upset that this was done so well. She has always disliked the character because she comes across as a stereotype in Tolkien’s books. Not so in the movie.
– Why didn’t the muster of Rohan take the enemy by surprise? In the book it was because they acted like cavalry that they were so successful.
– It’s nice to see Billy Boyd provide something beyond comic relief. He gets his moments to shine in this movie.
– Shelob was worth the wait. She is disgusting beyond imagination.
– As a local reviewer also noted, the dead that Aragorn encounters look more like ghosts from Pirates of the Caribbean, and wouldn’t scare me too much. I’m wondering why the orcs were so afraid.
Naturally I’ll be back in the theater to see it again and again. There is a long holiday period coming up. But until the extended DVD arrives a year from now in my mind it won’t really be over. There is too much that needs to be added. This feels like a Reader’s Digest condensed version of the movie.
As a footnote I learned that the book was so named only at the insistence of Tolkien’s publisher. Tolkien had wanted to name the third volume “The War of the Rings” but was overruled. In the 1950s I guess Tolkien felt fortunate enough to be published at all and didn’t feel in a position to argue.