I just saw Return of the King
(for the first time) last night. (Yeah, I know, it took me a while.)
I haven't reached a final opinion on it yet, because I need time to ponder it a little more, but here are my initial reactions.
I didn't like it as much as The Fellowship of the Ring
, for several reasons. First of all, victories are supposed to be joyful
, not hollow, and I just didn't get the sense of jubilation I expected. That was probably because the movie dragged its feet so much when it didn't have to. I think the series took a turn for worse in The Two Towers
when it focused on Theoden doubting himself and his men. "We are all doomed. I haven't even lifted my sword yet because I feel like pitying myself for a while. But I will order my men to their deaths so that I can die in peace." After a while, I just got sick of hearing, "It's hopeless, it's hopeless," from everyone except Gimli, whose lines subsequently had a throwaway feel to them. "No chance of success? Certain death? What are we waiting for?"
I'm aware of many of the changes that Peter Jackson made to the story, and my attitude toward that has always been that I won't hold it against him if it results in a better movie
. And I heartily approve of some of the changes he made, especially those involving the Aragorn-Arwen-Eowyn subplot, which makes the characters more human and the story more touching. In the books, Aragon struck me as a shallow, arrogant, pompous ass, but in the movies, he's a wonderful, likable character. But I just can't see any value in changing the character of Denethor, among others. Making him insane and unwilling to protect his country did nothing but make an already hopeless situation seem more hopeless, and there wasn't any need for that; Theoden, Gandalf, Aragorn, Pippin, Sam, etc. had already established the hopeless business well enough for my taste.
And speaking of taste, I found it completely tasteless when Eowyn stood on a battlefield literally littered with corpses and said to Theoden, "I'll cry if you die. None of the other people who have fallen here matter to me." Or when Pippin tugged at Gandalf's robes and said, "Stop defending the gates of the city and protecting everybody and come save Faramir, who's more important than everyone else." Or when Gandalf told Pippin, "Don't worry about all of the killing that's going on right now. If you die, it will be okay. We're all going to Heaven." Talk about warm, fuzzy freelings.
Most people seem to complain about the way that the obvious "heroes" like Faramir, Denethor, and even Boromir were needlessly emasculated, but my biggest gripe was the way that Merry and Pippin were treated. In the books, when they pledged their service to Denethor and Theoden, they had every intention of being true soldiers, and they lived up to it. Hobbits weren't helpless people; in fact, in most of the battle scenes, they usually killed their share of foes and even made the first kills in a lot of cases. They didn't hide behind Gandalf's robes or Eowyn's shield and cry, "I'm afraid to die! Protect me!" When the hobbits returned to the Shire, Gandalf abandoned them and said, "It is now your responsibility to protect the Shire. Don't you understand? That's what you have been trained to do." And the hobbits went back and kicked some major butt.
That said, I can still accept the changes made to Merry and Pippin since the movie is more effective if the hobbits are totally helpless. In light of that, Sam's heroics should have seemed even more heroic, but unfortunately, they fell flat. For example, I was afraid that it would be impossible to capture the scene with Shelob effectively on film, and Sam's heroics seemed unappreciated to me. I hate to keep referring to the books, because I don't insist that the movies should have followed the books to the letter, but I just wish that certain scenes had been as good (if not better) as they were in the books, and the scene with Shelob was one that I was especially looking forward to. Shelob is thousands of years old, and no Man, Orc, or Elf has ever survived a direct encounter with her; in fact, no one had even given her a scratch, ever
. Not even someone like Aragon could stand toe to toe with her. But the movie didn't convey any sense of that at all; Shelob, as scary as she was, was just a big spider. When Sam stabbed her with Sting (actually, she impaled herself on it when she tried to crush him with her body), it was the first pain she had ever felt in five thousand years, and it was going to take a long
time to recover from it. In the book, the orcs were stupefied that someone had actually made her retreat, and they practically wet themselves because they feared that "the mighty Elven warrior" who did it was coming for them next.
Sam's success, of course, was due to the fact that he carried a couple of powerful Elven artifacts and because his rage at Frodo's "death" was magically focused. The star-glass burned with a light of its own, but it burned even brighter if the person wielding it put his own passion into it. And the Elven blade, Sting, was sharp enough to pierce Shelob's relatively soft underbelly. A couple of lines of dialogue could have explained that to everybody, but I guess there wasn't any time for that because it was more important to repeat for the twentieth time that Sauron's forces outnumbered the Men. But the whole point was that when Sam saw that Frodo was hurt, he went ballistic. Have you ever seen the online parody "Lord of the Rings Secret Diaries"? There's a recurring line that goes, "Sam will kill him if he tries anything," and indeed, an angry Sam is a force to be reckoned with. The wonderful thing about Sam's heroics is that he's not self-conscious about it at all, unlike Aragon or Gandalf, for example. Sam isn't even trying to be a hero; he's just doing what comes naturally to him. That's exactly why he's a true hero, and he should be an inspiration to us all. As far as I'm concerned, the movie should have taken all the time it needed to do that instead of glossing over all of the important stuff and giving him so many sappy lines. Sam deserves his due, and he never got enough praise for what he did. Especially since, in the movies, the hobbits are supposed to be so weak and helpless.
On the positive side, well...it's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
. It's a dream come true. What more could you ask?