A few thoughts upon re-watching the third LOTR film, now completing my watch of the three films on 4K UHD:
On the ending/s
I know there’s lots of people who joke about the never-ending ending of The Return of the King, but for me its possibly my favourite part. It feels earned. After all, after watching… what is the length of all three extended editions, somewhere around 9 – 10 hours… surely after a story that is so long, it needs a proper ending that wraps up the various character arcs and validates everything before it with a fitting conclusion. Its funny; whenever I see the post-Mount Doom scene, after the Eagles have saved Frodo and Sam and we then see Frodo wake up and he is reunited with his old freinds, and we finally see Sam in the doorway, and he and Frodo exchange that look and Sam smiles and it fades out… I always think, ‘THATS the ending some people might prefer, certainly the ones who think its all too long’. It even FEELS like an ending, when it fades to black part of me expects the credits to roll (I wonder if it was actually a temptation?) but if the film had closed with that, I would have felt so cheated. I need the rest of the film, all the farewells and the ceremonies and the return to the Shire, to remember what’s been saved. And of course, we need the sadness, too, of Frodo’s departure, which was the genius of Tolkien- he understand that ultimately there has to be a price for everything, a cost to the victory, a lesson from Tolkien’s studies in mythology no doubt, and one modern film-makers and writers should heed. Speaking of which-
Its all about the story, stupid
You can’t beat having a traditional, sensical storyline with a beginning, a middle and end (albeit even one, or ESPECIALLY one, spread over a trilogy), a storyline with internal logic and sensical characters and motivations. That’s the advantage of having a literary source where all that has been worked out for you (in the case of LOTR, Tolkien had all sorts of appendices etc for additional weight and thought over and above those huge three books that themselves supplied a trilogy structure). Things that were done or said in Fellowship of the Ring have bearing upon events in Return of the King, it feels like a whole. Its all totally the very opposite of, ahem, the Disney Star Wars trilogy that seemed to inexplicably wing everything as they went along: what in the world were they thinking? I’m no film exec but I would have expected some kind of plan regards creating a new trilogy of films would have been one of the very basic requirements prior to greenlighting anything (or signing actors, really), especially considering the investment required for films of that scale. Simply winging it seems very reckless or very brave (or indication of wild, perhaps even reckless, hubris).
Still awfully pretty
Some of the visual effects have inevitably dated, but much of it holds up incredibly well and maintains the ‘wow’ factor. The sequence of the Rohirrim on horseback fighting the Oliphaunts, racing in the madness of battle under the giant beasts remains as amazing now as it did back then. Its really quite astonishing and holds up brilliantly well. It reminds me that one of the things that so impressed me about all three LOTR films when they originally came out was the sheer audacity of what they were trying to do, how fearless they were in trying to bring some of that stuff to the screen. Indeed, in hindsight its even more impressive when one considers how cutting-edge it was at the time and how so little has been done like that since. Sure, some of the compositing looks a little ‘off’ (probably due to the sheer number of shots being attempted and the pressure of time) but some of the stuff looks more than amazing, some of it quite perfect. Speaking of ‘perfect’, ahem-
Maybe the fate of The Hobbit was obvious
As the LOTR trilogy progresses, some of its missteps become more frequent and jarring- that dreaded word ‘overconfidence’ rearing its ugly head again, as if Peter Jackson was so chuffed by his new film-making toy set and what it could do that he wanted to play with it until it broke, and he lost any self-restraint. The whole Army of the Dead sequence is brutally inept, losing all of the books tension and horror – and when the avalanche of skulls threatens to engulf our heroes (this is AFTER the undead army has agreed to terms with Aragorn) its like something from some other movie- pertinently, its like something from The Hobbit movies. There’s a few moments in the films when any bafflement regards how those Hobbit films could have turned out so bad seems like no surprise at all: indeed it even seems inevitable. The irony that the book of The Hobbit is such a gentle adventure and it was blown into this huge trilogy of spectacle is almost too painful to bear. ‘More’ isn’t always the same as ‘better’ and restraint is often the smartest course of action- just because you can throw armies of thousands of digital characters onto the screen doesn’t mean you have to, nor that a battle of thousands has anymore dramatic power than a simple one-on-one fight: yet its a lesson that film-makers and their digital trickery do not heed. In fairness to Jackson, maybe it was the studio and the external producers demanding something as big as LOTR when he should have been better making something rather more low-key and fanciful, and minus that silly romance between an Elf and a Dwarf (as if Gimli and Legolas wasn’t plenty enough).
LOTR prefigures me too, ‘woke-ism’ etc:
Witch King: “You fool. No man can kill me. Die now!” Eowyn: “I am no man!” (kills Witch King). I mean, that’s how you do it. You don’t draw attention to it or turn into a banner for some political movement. Strong women have been in films for decades, just ask Ripley and Sarah Connor.
The music is extraordinary
What Howard Shore achieved with his scores for these films is beyond exceptional, and like John William’s work for the original Star Wars trilogy, his music lifts the whole LOTR trilogy to some other level beyond anything Peter Jackson could have hoped for. Its a great reminder of the power of film music, its just a pity no-one heeded it, considering the state of film-scoring now.