Critical Section

The Return of the King

Monday,  12/22/03  05:26 PM

I saw Lord of the Rings, the Return of the King this afternoon, with Alex and two friends.  The best movie I have ever seen.



Some thoughts:

  • A perfect adaptation of Tolkien's masterpiece.  I'm a big-time LOTR fan, from way back; I can remember winning a LOTR trivia contest while in college (reward = beer).  I know Director Peter Jackson didn't put "everything" from the books into his movies, but he captured their essence perfectly.  Given the constraints of time and the difference in medium, it was great.
  • This is how CG should be used in film.  The purpose of the movie was to tell the story, not to show off the CG, and the CG blended perfectly with live action.  It was really hard to tell the "real" creatures from the "fake" ones.  Gollum in particular was awesome.  As were those huge Mumakil (elephants).  And the Ents were perfect; they were the stars of the Two Towers.
  • Yeah, it was 3½ hours.  But it didn't seem that long.  There was no fat - what would you have cut?  Maybe the ending was a little drawn out, but hey, it was dramatic.
  • The biggest thing missing was the Battle of Bywater.  In the books, after the hobbits save Middle Earth by defeating Sauron and throwing the ring into the Cracks of Doom, they still have to defeat Orcs which have taken over the Shire.  Although it was an enjoyable final coda to the books, it was a bit superfluous.  Given the constraint of time and the desire to tell a coherent story, I don't feel the movie lost anything by omitting it.
  • I love Christopher Lee and I was prepared to be upset that Saruman had been entirely cut from the final movie.  He was terrific in the Two Towers.  But having seen the Return of the King, I have no quibble.  Saruman wasn't necessary, especially since the Battle of Bywater was cut (in the books, Saruman takes over the Shire in revenge for the hobbits' role in defeating him at Isengard).
  • I missed the romance between Eowyn and Faramir, and the part about Faramir remaining Steward even after Aragorn takes the throne.  This was perhaps the biggest plot gap; in the books, Aragorn is revealed to be king by healing Eowyn and Faramir.  In the movie, it just, uh, happened.
  • The father-daughter stuff between Elrond and Arwen was probably the biggest invention.  I think Jackson might have enlarged the role of Arwen for Liv Tyler, which gets no argument from me :)
  • It was not necessarily an actor's movie - the story came first, and the characters second - but the casting and acting were great.  John Rhys-Davies as Gimli and Orlando Bloom as Legolas were particularly inspired, and Viggo Mortensen was perfect as Aragorn.  Ian McKellen's Gandolf tracked the story very well; in the beginning he was a kindly old wizard, then he became a warrior, battled the Balrog, returned to direct Minas Tirith during the battle, and then faded to an old wizard again.  Elijah Wood was a terrific Frodo - you could feel the ring dragging around his neck - and Sean Astin was spot-on as Sam.  The lesser roles were perfectly acted, too; I'd single out Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, and Miranda Otto as Eowyn in particular.

LOTR3 x 4

My favorite part?  Wow.  There were so many great scenes; so many which would have been "the scene" in a lesser movie.  My view may change, but right now the scene which really stands out was the lighting of the torches of Gondor, signaling Rohan.  Those breathtaking few minutes capture the entire magic of the film.

Okay, enough raving.  I liked the movie.  And yes, I will see it again.  I bet it will be even better the second time, and the third, as the full range of glorious detail is revealed...

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