Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Lord of the Rings Return of the King movie poster-Elijah Wood-Orlando Bloom

Rating: 4.5 of 5 ★★★★½ 

Whatever flaws I found in this movie (and there were more than a few) I have to give Peter Jackson credit for taking such an unwieldy storyline, full of several different threads built up through the trilogy and wrapping them up so satisfyingly.

Yes, it was kind of choppy.

Yes, it ended 5 times (at least 3 more than it needed to). So many fade to black shots at the end really didn’t work well.

Yes, I despised what they did to Sam and Gollum and, more to the point, Frodo’s view of Sam and Gollum. There’s this great line in one of Tolkien’s letter that “the tragedy of Gollum who at that moment came within a hair of repentance – but for one rough word from Sam.” The film not only ignores that moment, it twists Sam into someone more cruel than I think the character actually is in his attempt to protect Frodo. It also take Frodo much further in his demise from the ring than the book does, revealed by the way he trusts Gollum more than Sam.

And speaking of favorite moments in the books (which we weren’t at all) this film eliminates two of my favorite. The first is the moment where Sam looks up at the night sky above the Ephel Duath and realizes that evil is not a permanent thing, nor will it have the final victory. There’s a half-assed version of this scene in the extended edition, but it lacks not only the poetry of the true moment, but the resonance and meaning of what Tolkien was actually trying to portray. Secondly, the Field of Cormallen which, honestly, I came to appreciate after reading Tolkien’s non-fiction writings about it. But there’s this incredible moment where the hobbits are honored and the people are so moved that Tolkien expresses with breath taking eloquence. Everyone bowing down to the hobbits before another fade to black didn’t do it justice.

But, despite the aspects that I disagree with, it’s still a Lord of the Rings movie which means the effects and production are sublime. The battles are awesome. The characters still have depth and substance even when that’s been twisted. I can disagree with choices that Peter Jackson made, but I can’t really say he did much of anything badly. And the ending at the Grey Havens, again done differently and not entirely how I would have wanted, is so moving and the final glimpse with Sam and his family are so perfect that I’m left content.

Besides, how many movies truly offer an emotional experience with the credits? The nostalgia in them, the music and the slow beauty of how the moment is handled are just perfect.


December 17, 2003

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