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The Return of the King

I was off work today, so after getting up at 5am to drive back to London -- which took five and a half miserable hours, curse it -- I thought I would go and see RotK at the first possible showing, though I decided against heading into central London.

Instead, I went to the local cinema. This was a dreadful error as they were clearly doing a special showing for UTTER ARSEHOLES WHO NEED A GOOD KICKING.

They talked, they shuffled, they laughed at the tender bits, they left early. I swear to God that if thought alone could inflict a sudden case of *death*, Stratford Picturehouse would have been like the cinema in Pine Bluff Variant

The annoying gang of sniggering teenage losers and their pram-faced girlfriends across the cinema did at least leave after the battle scenes. Presumably they were only there because their headmaster had confiscated the glue, because they certainly weren't there to watch the film.

The man behind me, alas, stayed the whole time, shuffling in his seat, putting his be-Reeboked feet on the back of the seat next to me, and generally rustling in his nasty jacket. His "I'm such a waste of atoms that I have to buy a made-in-China, tacky, plasticky thing with Nike on the front of it so I'm a walking billboard for a tosspot evil multinational, for 70 quid even though it probably cost a fiver to make" jacket.

I wanted to turn around and smack him, or at least yell, " Get your feet away from my ear, stop tutting every time Sam and Frodo hug, and next time, wear less noisy clothing, you twat".

I am going back tomorrow to see it in the big screen in Leicester Square before work, where I feel certain that the uber-expensive ticket prices will keep away the microcephalic.

A couple of non-spoilery things about the film. The last time I saw this many men crying, Mordor Germany had just beaten England on penalties in the semi-final of Euro 96.

And it's nice that a condition of ascending to the throne of Gondor seems to be washing your hair.



Let's get this out of the way first: I haven't read the books. Got 400 pages in when I was about 12 and got distracted by something shiny, I think, so all of this is from the perspective of someone who knows the books exist and has heard a fair bit about them from others, but is basically working blind.

I can't recall the last time I had so looked forward to a film; not since my teens, I should imagine. And in the main, Return of the King did not disappoint at all. It's much more emotional than The Two Towers and more repetitive in the way it cuts from battle to ring-bearers to battle again.

I adored it but I'd like to get a couple of the negative remarks out of the way first.

It felt choppier and less finished than the others, and one could tell that chunks of the story had been lopped out -- not that the tale they told was particularly incoherent, just that there must be more to it, that explained how Person A got to Place B. Gandalf, in his new role as Staff-Wielding Exposition Guy, had to talk a little too much and still events happened seemingly from nowhere. (Look! A Sudden case of eagles! Out of Exposition Guy's Ass!)

They spent time on some reaction shots that I think could better have been used on other scenes, and couldn't they just have left Arwen out of it? Pretty as Liv Tyler is, I am tired of her damp-eyed stare after The Two Towers, and if they'd just hired a bit-part actress, they wouldn't have had to find her things to do in a film that was already packed to the gills.

Also, a couple of the effects shots were less impressive than in previous films; they looked computer-animated, whereas before almost all of them were mesmerisingly real. I hope that in between picking up his well-deserved Oscar and releasing a five-disc extended cut, Jackson has time to tidy them up.

However, that's not to take away from the vast majority of the effects shots, which were stunning. Minas Tirith looked real to me, though it seemed a bit too undamaged at the end, and I loved the shots of the dead and the way they moved. I think they're the most risky shots -- you either buy green dust ascending Minas Tirith or you don't -- but they worked for me.

Shelob was a nightmare brought to life. Arachnophobics will have to hide in their popcorn because Peter Jackson has got how it's the speed and the legs that freak people out. The combination of running like buggery then standing stock-still. The animation guys get that -- and then add mummified corpses and glue-like webs. (The sadists The hairs are raising on my arms just thinking about it.)

Gollum, again, was utterly real. Creating a digital character and making him menacing, pathetic and capable of arousing sympathy is no mean feat. The fight at the beginning between Smeagol and Deagol, described by Serkis as a playground fight grown suddenly deadly, set the scene wonderfully economically, showing the power of the ring and why it was so necessary that Sam and Frodo trek into hell to destroy it.

Wouldn't it be a kick, come Oscar time, if the best supporting actor goes to WETA Digital and Andy Serkis? Alas, I don't think the Academy is young enough or appreciative enough of fantasy to realise what an astonishing creation Gollum is.

Someone who is in with a shout is Sean Astin, whose star has quietly shone brighter and brighter over the course of the three movies, building to his finest hour in the third of the trilogy. Astin may be irritating on the DVD commentaries with his grab-bag scholarship and habit of talking over people with more interesting things to say, but he's done a wonderful job in this trilogy.

It's hard to play the stalwart, slightly dull, honest character in a group which contains lively spirits like Pippin and Merry and the ethereal Frodo, but Astin makes Sam's goodness, bravery and modesty profoundly attractive. Frodo may be the ringbearer, the one strong enough to carry the burden but Sam's the heart of the Fellowship and Astin is the heart of the film.*

Another character allowed the chance to step centre-stage in this final film is Pippin. The fool of a Took comes good in the end and Billy Boyd really made the most of his opportunity. His determination to fight, particularly after his encounter with the Giant Marble O' Doom showed him just what he had to be afraid of, was very moving and you could see the terror etched on Billy Boyd's ashen face.

Pippin's song for mad Denethor was incredibly powerful, contrasting as it did with the steward's greed and seeming indifference to the fate of the men he sent out to die. His desperate bravery in saving Gandalf, and then Faramir from the flames made me love him even more, as did his expression when he found Merry on the battlefield.

Merry, in contrast, felt short-changed. I am sure there must be a story for Merry in the book but it barely surfaced here. That's a shame because Dominic Monaghan is, despite the *disastrous* blond-streaks-and-Hair-by-Flymo barnet he's been sporting at premieres the world over, an actor with both talent and presence. (seriously, Dom, which cruel bastard lets you go out looking like that?) When Merry did reach the battlefield, his courage and quick-thinking were a joy to watch

As usual, Bernard Hill made me cry. Theoden made me cry in The Two Towers as well, and twice during the extended DVD, so I suppose it was inevitable. There's a hard-nosed grace about Bernard Hill in everything he does. He manages to make Theoden multi-layered, despite comparatively few scenes.

Finally, we have to praise Elijah Wood. He's such a young actor and Frodo is an intensely complicated character to play because throughout the course of the journey, the ring is trying to turn him away from the right path, stealing away his soul. Wood has to show that inner conflict and have Frodo remain a character that people identify with and he manages it very well.

And now I am going to stop, because if I keep going on about the trilogy and the end, and Legolas and Gimli, and Elrond and Eomer and Eowyn, we would be here all night.

It's lucky I have the extended DVD to look forward to, otherwise I might feel a little bereft at the thought that this marvellous story is actually over.


--------

(*Ever since I watched the DVDs, I've been intrigued by the idea of Sam as Frodo's batman, a relationship which has mostly disappeared in these days of supposed equality. Frodo, the officer, carrying the ring, Sam, his faithful servant (though it wasn't quite so simple a relationship as that word implies), carrying Frodo. I don't want to dump myself in the 'theirloveissopure' camp in every case, but I find slashing Sam and Frodo to be an unwelcome simplification. I hate the idea that our society constantly reduces a whole spectrum of love to relationships which are binary and sexual in nature, and I think it has profound and disastrous effects for young boys. There's a post in that somewhere. )

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( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
se_parsons
Dec. 17th, 2003 12:19 pm (UTC)
I hate the idea that our society constantly reduces a whole spectrum of love to relationships which are binary and sexual in nature, and I think it has profound and disastrous effects for young boys. There's a post in that somewhere. )

I so totally agree with this that I just had to say it.

Sorry your trip home was so hellish and your film experience filled with assholes. I don't get to see this until at least the weekend, if then. But, having read the books, certain things are going to GRIND on me, I know already. Especially as I am filled with the Faramir lurve.
qowf
Dec. 17th, 2003 12:22 pm (UTC)
>>Especially as I am filled with the Faramir lurve.<<

You're going to scream, then. You'll see.
(no subject) - infinitemonkeys - Dec. 18th, 2003 04:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
qowf
Dec. 17th, 2003 12:20 pm (UTC)
>>It felt choppier and less finished than the others, and one could tell that chunks of the story had been lopped out -- not that the tale they told was particularly incoherent, just that there must be more to it, that explained how Person A got to Place B. <<

Oh but there is. And most of it will be in the extended DVD. See my journal for specifics as we all know I can quote those books chapter and verse.

I think it's very interesting and telling on the whole that someone who has not read the books all the way and someone that has have had the same reaction to the edits. You felt something was missing. LOADS were missing and lots of time was wasted on the endless, "Wonder where he's at?" "Dunno, what do you feel?" "I think he's okay, but let's go ask Legolas" dialogue.

There are several things I hated a lot because of the inherent morality or motivational change in the character. However, I agree about Astin's performance and Billy Boyd's. Merry's tale is just as heartbreaking and powerful and I'm sad it was shortchanged.

And Bernard Hill is the man. I LOVE him.

Too bad about the Denethor potrayal. It was straight out of fanfic. PJ's been reading Lindorien's "Free Fall".

tarysande
Dec. 17th, 2003 12:35 pm (UTC)
Wonder where he's at?" "Dunno, what do you feel?" "I think he's okay, but let's go ask Legolas"

I just choked on tea. Really. You almost had my death on your hands.

*snork*
(no subject) - qowf - Dec. 17th, 2003 12:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
tesserae_
Dec. 17th, 2003 12:27 pm (UTC)
Brilliant commentary.... Having never read the books I deal with LotR only as a film, so I never had my own visuals for the story, but I can't conceive of the whole thing looking any different in imagination than in these films.

I agree that the Sam/ Frodo relationship is the emotional heart of the film but I also felt that the scene you mention Pippin's song for mad Denethor is essentially the political heart of the film. The intercutting of Pippin's song, Denethor's consumption of his bloody feast and his son marching out to die made the whole film an utter condemnation of war. As it was, I'm sure, meant to be both by Tolkien and by Peter Jackson.

And sorry you had to see it in less than ideal circumstances - I saw it here in Hollywood with an audience of costumed & really, really excited fanatics, screaming only allowed at appropriate moments....
musesfool
Dec. 17th, 2003 12:45 pm (UTC)
The intercutting of Pippin's song, Denethor's consumption of his bloody feast and his son marching out to die made the whole film an utter condemnation of war. As it was, I'm sure, meant to be both by Tolkien and by Peter Jackson.

Yes. I was reading the SAlon review, and the reviewer was like, "Jackson makes a contemporary anti-war statement Tolkien probably never intended," which makes me gnash my teeth.

The whole story is anti-war, anti-absolute power. Tolkien was a WWI veteran, and it *shows* in the battlescenes he wrote.

I think the film makes a powerful statement that war is a horror, but there are some things worth fighting for (protecting one's home and loved ones, to combat evil), but Denethor just didn't know what they were, that his goals were not so much the protection of his people but to save face as Steward, to prevent Gondor from falling on his watch. Also, he was crazy.
(no subject) - tesserae_ - Dec. 17th, 2003 01:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
furies
Dec. 17th, 2003 12:28 pm (UTC)
the most glaring thing that i think got left out was what happened with the ents and sauroman. it was like, okay. what's happening over in isengaurd, cause you known sauroman wouldn't have just taken it lying down.

as for the eagle thing, that butterfly thing was how gandalf got out of the tower in the first one, so i didn't find that too surprising. though the fact that he appeared out of nowhere at the end to pick up sam and frodo was a little weird.

i'm with you on the sam/frodo thing. why can't people just be best friends sometimes? though i do have to admit some of those looks can only be described as longing. and i was bitter about liv tyler. she's boring. i wanted more of mirando otto, and really, what becomes of eowyn? she totally kicked ass. and cate blanchett was also noticably in there for like, three seconds. i'm glad merry and pippin had more of a role, and pippin was truly wonderful. the song made me cry.

oh, so much to say. but the 12:01 showing was worth the late night hour. i just, there's so much there i need to see it again. (and again and again.) i thought i would be hobbit-ed out, because my thesis class and i saw the extended versions of the first two films in the theater the week before, but forget that idea.

i want the extended version NOW.
themoonbar
Dec. 17th, 2003 12:36 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen the movie yet, but it looks like they made some *monster* cuts from the book's storyline. Not having seen them, I can't really comment on it, but considering how long the novel is already, it was probably necessary.

Mostly what I wanted to say was word to your comments about Sam and Frodo. There's an instinctual reaction in fandom to slash any male-male relationship with depth, which, I'm guilty of as well, but is a shame nonetheless. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes it's a cigarette. *g*

Which is my roundabount way of saying that I have a hard time viewing Sam and Frodo's relationship as sexual, but that they love each other as much as two lovers ever could.
(Deleted comment)
matociquala
Dec. 17th, 2003 12:44 pm (UTC)
I don't want to dump myself in the 'theirloveissopure' camp in every case, but I find slashing Sam and Frodo to be an unwelcome simplification. I hate the idea that our society constantly reduces a whole spectrum of love to relationships which are binary and sexual in nature, and I think it has profound and disastrous effects for young boys. There's a post in that somewhere.

I actually think that a *lot* of slash is about an urge to simplify a complex social relationship into something easier to understand and control. Slash, weird as it seems, can be about taming.

I notice this in a couple of fandoms I peripherally follow, where a canon relationship that's diverse and powerful and multilayered frequently gets simplified in fanon into 'twu wuv.' With all the uncomfortable, challenging bits (like rivalries and competition) smoothed *right* out.

Perhaps we girls are so socialized to heal conflict anywhere we find it, that even where we find it attractive, we can't quite leave it in its natural state.
coffeeandink
Dec. 17th, 2003 09:51 pm (UTC)
I think the issue may jump out in slash, but it's visible in all sorts of unconventional relationships (for some reason this is fannish slang for noncanonical relationships both het & slash), and for that matter in a lot of fanfic renditions of canonical relationships. There is a tendency to smooth out complicated interactions into Hallmark romance or equally cliched dysfunction. I'm not sure what it is -- and it's not just always bad writing, because the writing can be technically good in other respects in such stories.
(no subject) - matociquala - Dec. 18th, 2003 09:02 am (UTC) - Expand
snacky
Dec. 17th, 2003 12:54 pm (UTC)
::sigh::

I'm going to be very very disappointed at the lack of Merry. But it sounds like the Pippin scenes will make up for it.
infinitemonkeys
Dec. 23rd, 2003 05:27 am (UTC)
I'm pinning my hopes on the extended edition dvd. I'm hoping that half of the reported hour of extra footage is Merry and Eowyn and Theoden.
(no subject) - snacky - Dec. 23rd, 2003 06:01 am (UTC) - Expand
musesfool
Dec. 17th, 2003 12:59 pm (UTC)
deleted and reposted with corrections. gah. I need more sleep.

I don't want to dump myself in the 'theirloveissopure' camp in every case, but I find slashing Sam and Frodo to be an unwelcome simplification. I hate the idea that our society constantly reduces a whole spectrum of love to relationships which are binary and sexual in nature

Hmm... on the one hand, I tend to have problems with the idea that sex will 'taint' a 'pure' love, but on the other, Sam and Frodo are... so much more than just sex or just love or even a loving sexual relationship. There's something incredibly deep and profound in the nature of their bond - yes, a batman and his officer, but even more, for me, Sam is a maternal figure. His love is a mother's love, sort of. That's the feel I've *always* gotten from him, and Frodo responds to that and loves him back the way an adult child loves his mother.

I can list many reasons I don't think Sam and Frodo were ever getting it on, but mostly, it's because I don't see a sexual component in their love, deep and abiding as it is.

leadensky and I have had this discussion often, in regard to LotR, and lately, Master and Commander, about the type of love between comrades in arms, people who've been through such life-changing experiences together and love each other in ways most of us can't even comprehend, and yet it's not necessarily sexual, and we don't have a word for it. Which, considering the English language's propensity for having a good half-dozen words for *everything*, is extremely annoying.
jeviltwin
Dec. 17th, 2003 01:41 pm (UTC)
leadensky and I have had this discussion often, in regard to LotR, and lately, Master and Commander, about the type of love between comrades in arms, people who've been through such life-changing experiences together and love each other in ways most of us can't even comprehend, and yet it's not necessarily sexual, and we don't have a word for it.

No word, and I often get the feeling that for a lot of people, there's no context either -- like it's unimaginable that you could love someone this deeply without wanting to snog them. Of course, I also feel that friendship basically gets shortchanged in comparison to romantic love, and if you throw in things like chemistry there's not a big chance that just being a pal (in the common perspective) is going to look as interesting as, uh, sex.

(Which is what infinitemonkeys said, only more smartly. I'll stop dumbing down her comments now. *g*)
(no subject) - _maayan - Dec. 17th, 2003 05:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - musesfool - Dec. 20th, 2003 03:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - _maayan - Dec. 20th, 2003 03:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - musesfool - Dec. 20th, 2003 03:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
qowf
Dec. 17th, 2003 01:26 pm (UTC)
>>I can list many reasons I don't think Sam and Frodo were ever getting it on, but mostly, it's because I don't see a sexual component in their love, deep and abiding as it is.<<

I don't remember where I read it recently; it may have been on LJ, but someone put it really well. To paraphrase, "the only vaguely sort of slashy love in LOTR is Frodo and Sam. However, the way it would play out is Frodo walking to Mordor saying, 'I must get the ring to Mordor," while Sam walks behind him staring longingly at the back of his master's head."

Or:

"Uh, Mr. Frodo?"

"Yes, Sam? It can't be much further to Mordor, can it?"

"I love you."

"Ah, brave Sam. Now, I must get this ring to Mordor."

"No, really, Mr. Frodo: I love you."

"They'll make songs to you, 'Samwise the Brave.' How much further to Mordor do you think?"

"If we stop for a rest, I'll rub your feet, Mr. Frodo."

"The ring weighs on me, Sam. I must get it to Mordor."

And so on.
cofax7
Dec. 19th, 2003 03:00 pm (UTC)
::snorfle!:: I lurve you.
(no subject) - musesfool - Dec. 20th, 2003 03:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
veejane
Dec. 17th, 2003 08:23 pm (UTC)
> (Look! A Sudden case of eagles! Out of Exposition Guy's Ass!)

Sadly, you'll have to blame Tolkien for this. He does not even describe an ass from which the eagles emanated: they just whip themselves into existence (or participation) because the plot suddenly needed airplanes and couldn't find any.

(They are at least shown to exist prior to this, but yeah, like, where were they when Minas Tirith needed airplanes? I ask you!)

> the Giant Marble O' Doom

I was calling it the Evil Bowling Ball. Same diff.

More thoughts later -- we don't disagree in the main.
infinitemonkeys
Dec. 23rd, 2003 05:20 am (UTC)
I just went to see it again. I think I forgive the eagles because of the moth. I'm so easy.

I read your reviews and it's great to get a perspective from someone who knows the books inside out. I think that you and Qowf and musesfool and suelac and the rest of the people have persuaded me I should probably give the books a go. God help me.
cofax7
Dec. 17th, 2003 09:33 pm (UTC)
All of that. I had fewer nits with the CGI than you, and just as many complaints about the choppy editing/pacing, particularly in the second half.

My primary complaint is, oddly enough, about Denothor, who deserved better than to be chucked flaming off the side of a mountain. In the novel he's rather more complex: tragic and deluded and despairing, but also noble and generous, and kind to Pippin. So much was done to build up and bring out facets in Faramir, Boromir, and Aragorn, that it's sad to see Denothor dumbed down. Having Gandalf bop him over the head -- twice! -- was... I dunno. Shortchanged both characters.

That said, it was all very powerful and even when I knew what was coming I found it very moving. And Shelob! Wow!
infinitemonkeys
Dec. 23rd, 2003 05:21 am (UTC)
I had fewer nits about the CGI the second time. I think I was picking nits in order not to come off as a raving fangirl. Talk about a doomed mission.
sorlklewis
Dec. 18th, 2003 07:49 am (UTC)
Running by quickly, because while I have read the book, I haven't seen the film yet.

1) That is why I usually wait till the last possible moment to go see a film at the cinema. The Two Towers? Didn't see that till mid or late February last year. It was fabulous. Aside from those I went with, there were maybe five other people in the cinema.

However, it pisses me off that one must do that just to enjoy a film without disturbances.

And 2) Your icon. So funny. I love it.
infinitemonkeys
Dec. 23rd, 2003 05:25 am (UTC)
I love empty cinemas too. When I was a kid I used to bunk off school to go to the cinema every Friday (the afternoon was a free study period and no one missed me). There was always me and this old fellow who slept through every film, no matter what. Sometimes he remembered to put his teeth in but not always.

Thanks for the kind words about the icon (was it the Harry one?)
oracne
Dec. 19th, 2003 12:18 pm (UTC)
Ever since I watched the DVDs, I've been intrigued by the idea of Sam as Frodo's batman, a relationship which has mostly disappeared in these days of supposed equality. Frodo, the officer, carrying the ring, Sam, his faithful servant (though it wasn't quite so simple a relationship as that word implies), carrying Frodo.

We had a panel about this at Readercon. Panel description is in this post, here:
http://www.livejournal.com/users/oracne/282757.html

I posted about it after the fact, not terribly coherently, here:
http://www.livejournal.com/users/oracne/287739.html
infinitemonkeys
Dec. 23rd, 2003 05:23 am (UTC)
Thanks for the links. You know, when I watched the DVD extras on TTT and they were talking about the batman, that thought had a familiar taste to it and now I am wondering whether it came from the fact that I had read the discussion on your LJ -- you're on the reading list of a couple of mutual friends and I lurk there often.
oracne
Dec. 19th, 2003 12:20 pm (UTC)
Erp, I meant to put this in the other comment.
That Readercon panel didn't START OUT having the whole officer-batman thing in it, but we ended up talking about that.
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