Rating: 4.5 of 5
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.
Hail to the Rings
Return of the King has nothing to apologize for. It’s an epic. It tells a passionate, elemental story. It takes the principal filmmaking currency of our times, special effects, and makes them matter.
On Nov. 5 – in the midst of the rush to get Return of the King finished – the director, his friends and his family celebrate Guy Fawkes Day by setting off fireworks at his house. He has laid in a great stash of explosives for the occasion. It’s dark and chilly, and everybody’s wearing a coat except him. He scampers around barefoot, in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, handing out Roman candles and saying, “First you must read the label, where it says, CAUTION: DO NOT HOLD IN YOUR HAND. OK, now – hold it in your hand.” Every time more fireworks go up, there’s a tiny slice of silence and then the sound of Jackson, and only Jackson, shouting, “Woo-hoo-hoo-hoo!” Boyens, who lives next door, looks fondly. “Pete’s a pyromaniac,” she says. “A complete nutter.” For half an hour, Jackson’s fireworks are the only show in sight. Then some family a quarter of a mile down the bay sends up a giant flourish that seems maybe a little bit better. Jackson grimaces playfully at the competition. “Can’t have that,” he says – and runs back to his stash. They have no idea who they’re dealing with.