Although it’s only been a couple of weeks, it seems an eternity since The Return of the King came out, so I feel compelled to add “finally” when I say we saw it last night. I am still trying hard to get my head around such a huge slab of cinema so I will give what can more rightly be called “impressions” rather than a review proper.
First, the trilogy is a truly great and extraordinary work of cinemagic: Peter Jackson has captured the grandeur and essence of the epic and lovingly given it screen life. For this we should be eternally grateful: the production values, the layers of meaning, the solidity of the many characters, the sheer scope of the entire enterprise ring true and speak of reverence for Tolkien’s mythic fable – or fabulous myth – without being hamstrung by slavish adherence to the trilogy’s every word. The achievement is staggering. Bravo!
Having said all that, though, I came away from last night’s marathon feeling satisfied but slightly troubled by the vaunted third installment. Some of my apprehension may be due to the difficulty of digesting so much in one sitting – by comparison I have watched the extended part 1, The Fellowship of the Ring, several times now on DVD, and part 2, The Two Towers, perhaps four times (although not the extended version yet, which we just picked up New Year’s Eve) and my appreciation for each has grown with every viewing.
But there are specific comparisons between part 3 and parallel scenes in parts 1 and 2 that lead me to believe that perhaps Jackson and company were running out of steam and powering through on adrenaline and momentum rather than inspiration and freshness of vision, to wit: I no longer felt any sympathy for Gollum – I just wanted the treacherous little scum offed for once and for all.
I felt little or no sense of the individuality and personality of any of the bad guys, unlike stand-out evildoers in both one and two. I especially missed towering vile human traitor Saruman, and none of the Orcs or similar minions of Mordor stood out in my mind as individuals – well, I do remember the spider, but she seemed to be a free agent.
The battle scenes were literally awesome, exciting and enthralling, but I still felt more was at stake, more sweaty desperation, in the first two films at moments of conflict: Boromir’s valiant heartbreaking death in part 1, the grand battle of Helm’s Deep in part 2, for example.
Despite its length, I felt at times that the movie was rushing – absurd I know for a 3 1/2 hour movie, but I think Jackson missed an opportunity to show real character growth among the hobbits when they returned to the Shire and, unlike in the book where evil still prevailed and Merry and Pippin in particular rose to the challenge and vanquished the opportunistic predators, in the movie everyting was essentially as they left it some thirteen eventful months prior.
This left us, in the film, with the impression that Merry and Pippin were still just sort of along for the ride and that they had not been utterly transformed, steeled, by their adventures. In the book the hobbits had even grown physically in their absence from the Shire due to intense physical exertion and ingestion of elvish food and drink – they had grown in body AND spirit.
In the film, I missed the deep satisfaction of hobbits kicking serious ass on stunned and dismissive BAD MEN and setting their own little world to right upon their return from the Grand Adventure, which also had the effect of reminding us that there is no happily ever after, that danger always awaits, that we must always be vigilant. In the movie, when it was over, it was over, even though the film toddled along for a while to wrap things up.
But again I must flip my perspective: The Return of the King is, despite my misgivings, an excellent, satisfying, thrilling, genuinely scary movie and I would hesitate not a moment to recommend it to anyone inclined to high adventure on a macro and micro level. As others have said, perhaps most satisfying of all is the magnetic, naturalistic, moving bond between the members of the original fellowship of the ring, especially between Frodo and Sam, heroes 1 and 1a of the saga.
I am now counting the days until the entended DVD comes out!