December 19, 2003
The big finale

So I saw Return of the King, and had a good time. Unfortunately the earliest show my friend could get tickets for was 8:15, which meant going home at midnight on a weeknight (and taking a while to wind down from all the action), which meant being a zombie yesterday. That's what you get for ordering your tickets a mere four days in advance! But now that I'm more awake, I can attempt to blog about it. (Spoilers ahead.)

I've read the series "only" once, so I don't recall the books in the kind of detail that a lot of other bloggers do, but I noticed some interesting adaptation decisions. The book version of The Two Towers ended with a cliffhanger as Frodo was taken off by orcs after getting zapped by the giant spider. But Peter Jackson -- wisely, I think -- decided to move that entire episode to this movie.

That didn't leave ROTK with a very interesting opening, so Jackson started off with a dramatizaton of Smeagol/Gollum's discovery of the Ring and his subsequent descent. I thought that was very effective. Tolkien fans might have found it unnecessary, but for those of us going on year-old memories of the last movie, it was a good reminder of the Ring's desctructive power and of Gollum's pathos. It was truly horrifying to watch Smeagol turn into Gollum.

Actually, it clarified a vague feeling I'd had from the last movie. The CGI Gollum is a wondrous feat with current technology, but I'm still left wondering if he wouldn't have been better played by an actor, or even a puppet. At the screenings I saw of both this movie and the last one, the audience laughed when Gollum was arguing with himself, and at certain other non-comic actions of his. It was inappropriate, but I could see why: he still looks too much like a cartoon. As great as CGI has gotten, it still can't get up close and personal that well.

It worked brilliantly in panoramas and battle scenes, though. I'm not much of a conoisseur of action sequences, but the battle over Minas Tirith was really amazing. I don't remember ever having quite the feeling of facing a huge, inexorable, terrifying enemy as that. And if you liked Legolas' vault onto the horse in the last movie, you get an even bigger eyeful of acrobatics here. Again, that wasn't really in the book, but I thought it was a decent way of rendering Legolas' superhuman abilities in a more cinematic way than the superior sight and hearing he had in the book would have indicated.

Also, I was glad for the unrealism of CGI during the spider scene, as I expected I would be. Still, it was icky enough that I spent a lot of it not looking directly at the screen, but just watching it at an angle where I could generally follow the action. (Apparently that's not just my arachnophobia -- one of my friends said he did the same thing!)

Jackson also dropped the "Saruman takes over the Shire" subplot at the end, and I didn't really miss it. I was never entirely sure what it was doing there, actually. But I think the movie plays the rest of Tolkien's long denouement nicely.

My main quibble with the movie is that it shafts Faramir. The scene where he goes off to battle to win his demented father's love is heartbreaking, but the movie abandons him on the funeral pyre, and if I didn't know better I wouldn't have been sure if he survived or not. It completely skips his romance with Eowyn, though I guess I understand that a little more. She makes such a great warrior babe, lopping the head off a Nazgul and tossing off a few one-liners to the Witch King before running her sword through him, that it would have made Tolkien's subsequent domestication of her even more disquieting than it was in the book. Still, the way the movie just abandons both characters, wrapping it all up with just one shot of them together at the coronation, feels wrong.

Another interesting change I noticed, though this might be my faulty memory of the book, is that the final destruction of the Ring seems more the result of Frodo's actions. I remember, actually, that what probably annoyed me most about the book was how the Ring seemed to get destroyed in such a banal way. So this is the all-powerful Ring, bending everyone to its will, and it gets burned up because its current bearer stumbles and falls off a cliff? Huh? In the movie, Gollum falls while wrestling with Frodo, which seems at least a bit more appropriate.

Anyway, overall I think Jackson did about as successful an adaptation of LOTR as could be done, given the constraints of technology and the movie market. Someday it may be improved upon, but that will be a hard act to follow.

Posted by Camassia at December 19, 2003 04:32 PM | TrackBack
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