Return of the King (pt. III of you-know-what) is a good movie but sadly, it’s not half as great as everyone says it is. It’s unlikely that it could be that good, unless it was an immersive virtual reality experience. Every review reminds BB of nothing so much as Oasis’ third album, when what was apparently a CD blessed by God and all His angels became a cocaine-dusted turd within three months of release.
Having finally satisfied three years of keen anticipation, BB left the cinema feeling somewhat deflated. It’s not even the best movie of the trilogy (although it may be once the extended version becomes available). Since we’d have no trouble picking Fellowship over Two Towers, which itself vastly improved on DVD, it may even currently be in third place. Perhaps we’ll think better of it on second viewing, when we’re not so intent on it matching our imagination to the perfect degree. The best things in it are Eomer and Eowyn, for taking down an oliphant each (with much less fuss than Legolas) and for sticking it to the witch king (formerly a top New Line exec). As for the rest: Shelob does not rewrite the book of “Realistically portrayed giant spiders”; and despite the promised tearfest, BB’s steely gaze pricked only when the newly crowned Aragorn and his subjects bowed before the hobbits. Neither Theoden’s death, Sam’s betrayal, Gollum’s dunking or the final moments on Mount Doom provoked any response beyond “yeah yeah, get on with it”.
RotK’s problem is horribly bad pacing. It moves too fast to absorb the action when things are happening and then drags in the quieter moments. Despite all the carping, in one respect it is exactly like the books: the Frodo and Sam scenes, which have become increasingly tedious throughout the series, are like slow torture here. BB could happily never watch another film with Elijah Wood’s mournful spanked-puppy eyes again (but wake us up for Miranda Otto’s first erotic thriller, please).
Clearly, some clueless idiot gave orders to bring the running time in at 180 minutes, lest it put off a few dozen potential moviegoers (the same ones who will complain about the lack of a precis). As a result, Jackson has cut the film to the bone (“some things that should not have been forgotten were lost”) and it suffers badly - not helped by the same idiot relenting slightly and generously allowing him an extra twenty minutes later on, at which point he must have thought, “Bugger it, I’m not re-editing this. I’ll just pad it out with some farewell scenes from that box of outtakes.” Why on middle earth must a film be less than its required length?? Dances with Wolves was four hours long and it was utter drivel, yet this film, which has so much to pack in and enough talent to fill the time, has been compromised so that cinemas can show it often enough in a single day. Bad studio! Naughty!
Enough incessant whinging. Here are BB’s highlights of the whole trilogy:
- The elves in the first battle against Sauron: Elrond’s hair blowing in the slipstream from the arrows, and the synchronised sword movement.
- Aragorn’s battle with the wraiths on Wethertop, particularly when there’s only one left standing.
- Arwen’s horseriding and “If you want him, come and claim him!”
- Mines of Moria: the entire section - Gandalf’s speech about fate and destiny to Frodo; Sean Bean’s delivery of “They have a cave troll!”; the battles; the coming of the balrog - is unadulterated excellence, but the part where they run down the staircase and, for the only time, the whole orchestra breaks into the Fellowship theme makes your heart leap about six feet out of your chest. Good one, Howard.
- Haldir’s sly remark: “The dwarf breathes so loud, we could have shot him in the dark.”
- The moment when Aragorn says farewell to Frodo and strides casually forth to meet the Uruk-hai, holding his sword up as if to say, “C’mon then, if you think you’re ‘ard enough!”
- The cut to a long shot in which, after plummeting down through the depths of Moria, Gandalf and the Balrog emerge into a huge cavern.
- “Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys!”
- The drawing out of Saruman “like a poison” from Theoden’s body by Gandalf. Now who’s the best wizard?!
- The Legolas stunts in Towers: mounting the horse and surfing down the stairs on a shield. (We don’t care if they besmirched the books in your geeky opinion; we liked them.)
- The extra Boromir/Faramir scenes in the Towers DVD. Bean’s acting was arguably the standout performance of all the films.
- Eomer wheeling round while everyone else is being battered senseless, sizing up a charging oliphant and then hurling a spear straight into its rider, causing it to veer into the one next to it.
- “King” Aragorn clashing with the leader of the Army of the Dead. (Hoping for a lot more Dead scenes in the DVD.)
- “No man can kill me!” - “I am no man!” - stab (Did you know: there are no strong female characters in Tolkien. Numerous female columnists who have never finished the book say so.)
Stuff that didn’t work so well:
- Elrond - doomy old sod and Bad Dad.
- Orlando Bloom going for a portrayal of numbed incomprehension at the fall of Gandalf but instead hitting “Where did I put my keys?” Similarly, Sam’s poetic tribute: shut up, shut up, SHUT UP.
- Treebeard - apparently you can have too much bush.
- Saruman’s fate - badly needs that resolution when the Worm turns.
- Deaths of remaining Nazgul - should have been much more dramatic.
- Fall of Sauron. Crash, wink, that’s all folks.