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January 4, 2004

Disappointed By RotK

I would like to preface this little review of ROTK by saying that I've been a huge admirer of Peter Jackson's trilogy, and especially of the incredibly gifted Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens whose superior writing has never failed (with the exception of Sam's speech in TTT; but that's for another commentary!) to delight, entertain and inspire. I offer up the following comments/criticisms of ROTK as an expression of great respect for the ability of PJ et al. to appreciate them as one fan's hope that some of the points will be well taken and perhaps be included in the extended edition(!?)

1) ROTK suffered greatly from overwhelming FX -- surprising because of their careful and judicious use in the first two films. PJ always seemed to know when FX were needed and never over-burdened scenes with them just for the sake of showing off what could be achieved. Most especially, one never felt that the narrative became secondary to technological bravura. There was also a reality to the FX scenes, e.g., in Helm's Deep, because the main action was driven by real actors rather than digital creations. One got less of a sense of this in the Pelennor scenes, which seemed more like something from the "Star Wars" movies.

2) Overall, ROTK provided less of a strong narrative flow than in FOTR or even TTT. There wasn't a sense that there was a storytelling going on. This was done well in the first two films because the audience never lost sight of the main characters who were always presented up close and personal: we were made to feel close to what they were experiencing and saying. In ROTK we don't get that kind of intimacy: there seem to be more panaromic action shots with only glimpses of the characters. There are also what I will term the "Hallmark card moments" that are supposed to highlight the drama and emotional aspects of the film, but only come across as contrived, overly sentimental, and obviously inserted as afterthoughts rather than being a natural part of the whole narrative.

I particularly didn't like the exchange between Sam and Frodo on the stairs of Cirith Ungol when the latter tells Sam to just go home. I don't recall that from the original text. I don't think Sam would have given up that easily, either, after traipsing so loyally through such a difficult journey. His bursting into tears doesn't ring true to his character; I think Sam has a stouter heart than that.

Also, the Arwen baby premonition scene seemed like a device to milk unnecessary emotion from the audience. It was not in the original texts and I don't really understand why it was included in the film when there were better scenes available for emotional content. Maybe the time spent on this scene could have been used for the Houses of Healing. Although I understand why their storylines are not pursued due to time constraints, as a fan of the books, I'd have liked to see more of the Faramir/Eowyn relationship in the film.

3) More use could have been made of the original text. Aragorn's significance and role in the third book seem dimmed by the sweeping action scenes in the film. I don't like that the film implies his decision for claiming his legacy as king of Gondor is because Elrond comes to him with news that Arwen is dying, having given up her mortality for him .In the book, his actual mortivation comes from the session with the Orthanc Palantir and the realisation that Sauron intends to destroy Gondor in a future attack. This is what utlimately leads Aragorn to choose the Paths of the Dead. It doesn't seem in his character or history to allow his personal relationships to influence his decisions.

It also doen't seem in keeping with his treatment of friends and colleagues that his leave-taking of Eowyn would be as abrupt as it is in the film. He's seemed so solicitous of her up until now that I think he would have spent a little more time talking with her especially knowing that their paths are about to separate probably forever.

More could have been made of Frodo and Sam's journey through Mordor. Specifically, more of the original dialogue and narrative could have been used. One moment in the book that I remember and like is when Sam realises it's time to jettison his beloved cookware. That is a wonderfully touching "Sam moment" and would have been very effective in the movie.

I wish that we could have seen more of the other Fellowship members, especially Leggie and Gimli who seem to be relegated to the role of Aragorn's sidekicks in ROTK. There isn't the sense that they are still his close companions as in the other films mainly because he doesn't talk to them much. In fact a huge weakness of ROTK seems to be the absence of dialogue. Even in TTT which had so much action had lots of dialogue -- I really got the sense that there was a script going on and that the actors had lines to say along with all the running, riding and fighting sequences.

It would have been very nice to have more story on the hobbits' return to the Shire. It would have been interesting to see how they adapted to life after all of their adventures in the wide world. This would have been especially relevant in Frodo's case. There is only a meagre reference to his aching shoulder in the film. There might have been more conversation between Frodo and Sam about how the former wasn't really able to settle back into Shire life and the handing over of Bag End to Sam and Rosie from the book would have been very moving.

Overall, I felt cheated by the slideshow type of ending that PJ chose to use for the conclusion of the film. It cheated longstanding fans of the books and the films of a properly satisfying last visit with their favourite characters. For my part, I especially looked forward to and very sorely missed more of the wonderful Walsh/Boyens scriptwriting collaboration. I cannot believe that having written so beautifully for the other films that they did not have an equally stunning script for the final one. Maybe there is some hope that there will be a more narrative ending for the extended edition!!!!!

4) Finally, some technical points:
a) After seeing the wonderful prologue with Smeagol and Deagol, I'm wondering why PJ decided to digitalise Gollum at all. His wonderful Weta Workshop latex transformation during the ROTK prologue was fantastic and very credible! I think that Andy Serkis playing Gollum directly would have brought the character more fully to life and have been creepier because we could still see the humanity lurking behind the contortions. For the more gymnastic Gollum sequences, Weta could have used the computer morphing techniques used in the "Spideman" movies.

b)I didn't like the green lighting of Minas Morgul. Also very Disney-like was the Army of the Dead. They should have been more incorporeal and left more to the imagination. I always imagined them as wisps of fog or smoke.

c) Why are Aragorn et al on horseback initially when they arrive at the Black Gate, and yet the next moment when they charge they are on foot? That seems to be a bit of sloppy editing. A similar boo-boo occurs in TTT when Pippin appears to be tied up, then not tied when he rolls away from the rearing horse, and then tied up again.

d) The hobbits, especially Frodo, need to look more travel- and experience-worn when they return to the Shire. The last scene in the Green Dragon has them looking the SAME as in the scene in FOTR. The scenes were probably filmed at the same time but the makeup people forgot to alter the makeup for the second one!

Well, that's about it . I shall simply end by reiterating how much I love these films and dearly wish to see them in all their perfection. I know that a lot of the work has been done under crushing deadline pressure and probaby, in spite of all that anybody could do, mistakes and oversights have been made. It would be such a gift to fans if these films could be released in improved form on TV -- say a weeklong showing of as much of the original footage as it would make sense to assemble. I've always preferred the extended editions over the theatrical releases because I don't think a tale of this magnitude can be told in 3-hour installments. Obviously that has been the case for ROTK which is badly in need of having a longer, more narrative ending.

Is there any hope that PJ will ever read this?!

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