Action Movie Friday: Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release: 2003
Genre: action, adventure, fantasy
Starring: Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Ian McKellen, Dominic Monaghan, Viggo Mortensen, Craig Parker, Liv Tyler, David Weatherley, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Brad Dourif, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Andy Serkis, Karl Urban, John Noble, Thomas Robins, Peter Tait, Paul Norrell
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and JRR Tolkien (books)
Distributor: Warner Bros. (New Line Cinema)
Budget: $94 Million
Box Office: $1.140 Billion

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 95%

Gingersnaps Rating: Four and a Half cookies!

Summary:

The Ring has made its way to Mordor. Frodo and Sam are on the very last leg of their journey to destroy the one ring of power by throwing it into Mount Doom. Betrayal dogs their footsteps and every step is the one that could be their last. They are the only hope for the Men of the West. Sauron’s armies have marched upon Gondor. Together, Rohan and Gondor may fall if Frodo and Sam don’t complete their quest.

Review:

When it comes to the Lord of the Ring movies, most of them you can watch the theatrical edition and have a sense of completeness and the same tone of the novels. They’re three hours long each after all and that’s a lot of time to watch a movie. The same can’t be said of Return of the King. I strongly, strongly recommend watching the extended version of the last movie because there are a few scenes in it that really tie everything together that somehow were left out of the theatrical version. Yes, I know there was only so much time they could put in, but I wish they’d left a few things OUT of the theatrical version that they had and put one or two of the things from the extended version instead.

So, as it is, before we go any further, I am taking a bite out of the cookie right away. Because, in the theatrical edition, certain things didn’t end up making sense. Storylines were left unfinished and a little too much attention was given to epic battle sequences.

The Return of the King from Sam rescuing Frodo to them making it to Mount Doom is the last final epic week of the quest. Aragorn proves his worth by travelling the paths of the Dead with the Dunedain (who never appear in the movies), the last heroic stand of Gondor and Rohan, and fulfills several prophecies/sayings about the Kings of Gondor. And in that final week, they ride towards the Black Gates to distract Sauron from watching inside his own borders on slim hope that Frodo is near the end of his journey. So, there are things that are left out and details that aren’t included that I don’t know, maybe Peter Jackson just didn’t think they were important. And it frustrates me, it frustrates me as much as watching John Carter after having read the book. Sure, the adventure is there, the important plot points are there to a degree, and the reasons and the details and the points of honor that were all so important in a medieval society and in Tolkien’s middle earth have been flagrantly ignored.

And in this case, it takes away from the story. Aragorn can’t just show up, with or without an army of the dead, and go “I’m the King of Gondor, let me in.” There has to be more proof than that. That was the point of the green stone, and “the hands of the King are the hands of the healer.” He had the sword that was broken reforged. The people started calling him by the name predicted by prophecy. He healed both Eowyn and Merry, proving he was of the old line of the men of the West. And most importantly, he’d wrestled with the palantir from Saruman’s tower and won. (That scene is in the extended editions and the script changed that too so much that I want to throw the palantir at the writers’ heads.) But, he still couldn’t enter the city as King, until Faramir, acting steward of Gondor, recognized his claim as legitimate and turned over the keys to the city to him, which Faramir did when Aragorn returned from the battle at the Black Gates and was crowned outside the city of Gondor. So, yes, having Aragorn crowned in the city was pretty but not realistic. (Also, a personal peeve is that Frodo didn’t carry the crown to Gandalf. Aragorn had reasons for why he wanted it that way.)

This ties in with gripe number two, as the ending of Eowyn’s story started in The Two Towers remains unfinished except for a tantalizing glimpse at Aragorn’s crowning where she is on Faramir’s arm as his lady. And between the time from when she killed the King of Angmar in her crowning moment of awesome to the time of the crowning, she is healed both physically, but also mentally and emotionally and becomes more willing to accept her very important station as Princess of Rohan and later Princess of Gondor as Faramir’s wife. When Theoden told Eowyn to stay and protect Edoras, he meant it. If an attack came to the city, she would be the one to call the strategy to defend it. She wasn’t decorative. She was an administrator, a diplomat and a business woman in her own right. The fact she left Edoras undefended could have been construed as treason. (Then she goes and kills the King of Angmar and they are all too worried about her surviving to worry about that.) Faramir was well within his rights to tell her that Aragorn may not be able to love her but he could and she would still be doing an important service to her people. (Poor Eomer, now he’s going to have to get married so there is someone to help him run Edoras. The tough luck of being a King.)

So, they also cut out the end of Saruman’s story and the cleansing of the Shire. I get it. Time became an issue. The completest in me wails, while the realist in me understands that many people were getting uncomfortable with the movie at the end of Aragorn’s crowning. They thought that is where it should end and in a visual medium, yes, it would. This is Tolkien though and that was only the end of Aragorn’s story, not of Frodo, Bilbo and the rest of the ring bearers.

And my last gripe with the changes in this movie is what is considered Sam’s moment. Sam’s moment is “I can’t carry it Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you!” Now, sure, Sam should have this moment. Where they put it is, in my opinion, the worst spot. The way they did it, with the conversation about how Frodo can’t remember the taste of food or water and the color of the sky, and then Sam going on to have his speech and then doing the whole “I can carry you” bit was edited with cuts of what was happening at the gate. It pulled me out of the movie. This happened earlier in the books so it wasn’t as annoying. Here, it was annoying.

Well, the theatrical version cuts out the Mouth of Sauron who gives Frodo effects to Aragorn and Gandalf. Adding this back in might have helped but I’d have to see it in context. (It would also explain how Frodo has his cloak again at the end of the movie.) But the way it is cut, you know Frodo and Sam don’t have much time given the orcs are marching on the army of men at the Black Gates. So, Sam stopping to give a speech, completely kills the tension of the scene. You want to shout at him, “JUST GET ON WITH IT.” And then Gollum attacks them on the mountain and once again, they cut out Frodo’s admonishment to Gollum, that if he tries to take the ring again, the ring will be Gollum’s doom. Frodo has the power of the ring behind him at that moment. It is a powerful scene of foreshadowing and how Frodo is still a noble person right up until the end before he fails that last critical test. And they left it out. So, another bite of the cookie.

1200 words already. I have strong feelings about plot apparently.

There were big battering rams in the shape of wolves heads with fire in their mouths and crumbling towers and gates and that was enough for an “holy shit” reaction from me. So, a cookie.

The fights were entertaining. On top of the King of Angmar, Eowyn took out an entire Oliphant by herself. There is the infamous line of Gimli after Legolas also kills an Oliphant “That still counts as one!” And Aragorn fought the king of the dead. So, highly entertaining all around, one cookie.

In this movie there is a very short scene of Galadriel giving Frodo hope. Arwen chastises her father for not telling her everything he saw in the future and then bullies him into reforging the sword. Tying her life to the fate of the ring was a bit much, I think. Peter Jackson seemed to be reaching to keep Arwen important. I think it’s important to remember that Arwen didn’t have to prove anything. She already was a Princess and revered by her people. She also is to have a long life. Aragorn needed a Queen that would live at least as long as he would. (It is implied that she’ll live much longer, though Elrond discounts the comfort of children and grandchildren in her long life once Aragorn passes on. I don’t know if Tolkien thinks that women have no life once their husband’s pass or what. It’s confusing and a bit insulting.) The real star, as far as women are concerned, in this movie is Eowyn. Eowyn of the “I am not a man!” And then destroys the King of Angmar that “no man” could defeat. (Honestly, that’s a very easy restriction to get around. You just have to wrap your head around the fact a woman can fight in combat.)

I know that many people find the lack of “action” women in Tolkien’s books to be very disappointing. (I think part of this is the rise of romantic fantasy in the 70s, 80s and very early 90s which was written by women and contained many female action characters going to battle but there is STILL a fallacy that destiny is handed to them rather than them working for it.) In the context of the time that Tolkien was writing about, Eowyn as a shield maiden and being on the battlefield was very shocking. He was writing these stories around the time of the Great Wars, despite the fact they weren’t published until later. (Funny how that works.) Even back then, the idea of a woman fighting was just not considered proper. They could be a nurse, but they did not fight in the trenches. And the nurses were in general, not anyone of nobility or the upper class. Eowyn is that shocking woman who dresses in breeches and hides among the men to fight. Eowyn went seeking glory before death. She didn’t expect to live through the battle. She was so damaged by the machinations of Saruman and Wormtongue that she would have rather died than try to live even after they were gone. And she almost gets her wish. Then decides, after a bit of a lecture from Faramir after getting to know him, that she is going to live and give life a chance and give Faramir a chance. So, if Aragorn and Arwen are sweet, long lasting love. Eowyn and Faramir is a love story based upon mutual respect and communication. So, rather groundbreaking. One cookie.

Really, this is the third movie in a trilogy that was filmed all at once and used the premier Tolkien artists as concept artists and yeah, it was lovely and beautiful and grim all at once. One cookie.

The Return of the King is a decent enough ending to the Lord of the Rings. There are a few pacing issues and accuracy issues that make me take away bites of the cookie. Four and a half Gingersnaps.

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