Friday, September 25, 2009

Lord of the Rings: an Annual Viewing, part 3 of 3

Previously, we have looked at The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers to consider how they've held up over time. At last we come to it: The Return of the King, winner of eleven academy awards. We have always held that the Academy erred in waiting until the last movie to hand these over. All three of his films were deserving of best picture and director, and none of the trilogy's cast received the honor they were due.

But we are here to discuss other matters: we've come to look again at The Return of the King and consider it in hindsight.

On some level, when it was released, expectations for this movie were impossibly high. At the same time, there was already a sense of disappointment among fans, who were well aware that the Scouring of the Shire had been removed, and that there'd been issues and disagreements regarding Saruman's role. In the theatrical release, the fallen wizard never made an appearance, instead getting discussed briefly in a very awkward scene involving Gandalf and Treebeard.

The assumption was made that, when that scene appeared in the extended edition, all would be right with the world. Sadly, this wasn't the case. The final showdown, while at least offering some resolution, still felt forced and rushed. They tried to retain some of the death of Saruman from the book while moving it elsewhere, and the result came off as clumsy.

In some ways, this sums up the issue with the final extended edition: the majority of added scenes failed to add to the movie as a whole. Even those that did, such as Gandalf facing off with the Witch King and the scene between Eowyn and Faramir in the Houses of Healing, were less than we'd hoped. Meanwhile, Gimli was used once more for comic relief, getting drunk and alluding to bearded dwarven women. Frodo and Sam, mistaken for orcs and forced to march, was somewhat better, but even this was less than we'd hoped.

Of course, none of this detracts from the movie's many strong points. The best scene in the movie is certainly Pippin's song, sung to Denethor while the steward's son rides into battle. The scenes on Mount Doom were also excellent, and the movie's conclusion, while inviting no shortage of complaints from the public at large, earned accolades from geeks everywhere.

The battle of Pelennor Fields was an exceptionally complex and stunning scene. The siege of Gondor, the charge of the Rohirrim, and the slaying of the Witch King were handled beautifully. However, the immediate appearance of Aragorn and his army of undead made the issue somewhat moot: if he was able to save the city so easily, what was the point of the rest of it? Still, the battle hits more than enough high notes to continue to impress. Perhaps someday a film maker will make something to rival its scale, but we haven't seen anything since.

Another element is in need of addressing: Legolas's heroics. These occurred throughout the trilogy, in one form or another, culminating with him slaying an oliphant. While certainly cool, it's age has begun to show. The limitations of the CG have grown apparent at points, and the whole thing comes off as cartoonish. Similarly, scenes in Two Towers where he rides a shield and leaps onto a moving horse haven't aged particularly well.

It's important to note, however, that Jackson was never making these movies for posterity. Like Lucas with the original Star Wars, he was making these out of a love of the source material and the joy of film making. These were made for the audiences seeing them in the theater, as well as fans buying the DVD. There's little evidence that Jackson concerned himself with how the movies would be regarded a hundred years down the road.

Perhaps that's part of the reason they'll still likely be watched a century from now.

1 comment:

Shiraz said...

The picture does in fact rock.