Movie Review: The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

In Which The Captains Of The West Debate The Completion Of The Film Epic

Sunday, December 28, 2003

The Scene: Gandalf, Aragorn, Imrahil, Eomer and the sons of Elrond are joined by Faramir, Sam, Gimli and Bilbo.

Gandalf:  My lords, the theater screens of the modern age are spread far and wide, and not even the greatest of novelists can compete with their reach. An author can, maybe, by his will choose what things are allowed to be filmed, or cause a small measure of fidelity to be taken. Nonetheless it cannot be doubted that when viewers see our story as presented on film, they will believe they are seeing that which truly was.

Well, the Tale is now told, from first to last. Here we all are, and here is the third film. But we have not yet come any nearer to an agreement on its quality. What shall we say of it?

Aragorn: Let none now reject the counsels of Gandalf, whose long labours forced the deeds which made these films worth making. Glad I am to hear and see again the tale of our fellowship. Speak no evil of the Three Films! They are wondrous things to behold, whatever their faults may be. For my part I choose approval. Nonetheless I do not claim to command any man. Let others choose as they will. I will only say this: never in truth have I tossed a dwarf, or grasped and shoved a hobbit.

Elladan: Powerless and frail is how I deem these films, for I do not admire the facsimiles of men. Nor do I fear the taunts of the multitudes who are loth to hear words against their epic. It is an epic, yes, but for the eye only.

Eomer: As for myself, I have little knowledge of the films of man, but I need it not. This I know, and it is enough, that as my friend Aragorn has succoured me and my people, so I will heed his counsel. I choose approval.

Elladan: But Eomer, what of Theoden? Have you forgotten the contempt in his voice when the beacons of Gondor called for the help of Rohan? How different it was from the text, where he said, "But say to Denethor that even if Rohan itself felt no peril, still we would come to his aid."

Eomer: I have considered this. It was an ill turn, but not a fatal one. I also marked the absence of the Huorns, and the Woses, and the voice of Saruman at Orthanc. And you, Elladan son of Elrond, were absent from the film entirely. Could this be the source of your rancor?

Elladan: Not all of our tale could be shown, and the exclusion of Elrohir and I is an understandable one. Nay, I feel no rancor. And there is one part of the films that I would call genius, and that is the very first part of the first film, when the origin of the ring is described. Afterwards the story falters.

Bilbo: With apologies to the Dunadan, all that glitters is not gold, that's what you're saying. Elves may thrive on speech, but I am only an old hobbit. Perhaps we should see the film again?

Gandalf: Of course, my dear Bilbo, you may see it again, but now is not the time. The films, it would seem, have no power over Elladan, but from the rest of you I detect at least a conditional approval. There is much to admire, but also much to mourn.

Aragorn: And much has been invented. Your fancy staffwork on the shins of Denethor was a sight to behold!

Gandalf: Ah! And evidently my spanking sent him over the cliff?

Elladan: Your jest will not be accepted by defenders of the film. They will say, 'What do you know? You are not a filmmaker.'

Gandalf: And I will say that after nearly a hundred years of filmmaking, the craft has improved greatly in the areas of set-making, costuming and computerization. But the ability to tell a story has not improved. This is especially so when adapting classic novels to film. Filmmakers cannot resist the temptation to tinker. I prefer Denethor where he belongs, prostrate on the pyre, holding the palantir.

Faramir: Much of the tinkering was to add action, which played to the strength of the filmmakers.

Gandalf: Yes, choreographing action is easier than fleshing out dialogue. Consider my duel with Saruman in the first film. Why, it might have been a scene from Harry Potter! Two wizards dueling, though with staffs instead of wands.

Aragorn: Enough of dueling and tinkering! What are your thoughts of the characters? It is to the credit of the filmmakers that no new characters have been contrived, at least none that I noticed. All seem to be taken from the text.

Imrahil:  I am intrigued by the depiction of Gothmog, the lieutenant of Morgul, who led the assault on Minas Tirith from the field out of Osgiliath.

Eomer:  You speak for me also. Nay, I felt I was looking at Sloth, the creature from The Goonies, a film from the year 1985 of the modern age.

Faramir:  Now we come to strange matters. For this is not the first shadow of The Goonies that has crept into this rendering.

Sam:  Begging your pardon, I know where it's crept into. It's in the second film, and it's when my character gives a speech of encouragement to Frodo at Osgiliath. I've only just remembered, sir.

Faramir:  Yes, the speech and the setting were contrived by the filmmakers, using words cobbled from other chapters. For myself, I could not help but remember the young actor Astin, who gave a similar speech as the child Mikey in The Goonies. "Don't you realize," said Mikey, "the next time we see sky it'll be over another town....down here it's our time. It's our time down here." Afterwards the Goonies wavered no more.

Aragorn:  Now come! All filmmakers draw from a limited bag of tricks. If we were to compare all the scenes that bring to mind other films, we should still be sitting here when Winter had passed into Spring.

Gimli:  Wait a minute! I've thought of another - one of your scenes, Gandalf. It's in the second film, when the camera zooms into your eye after you threw down the Balrog. That has been seen before.

Gandalf:  Yes, Gimli, most recently at the beginning of the film Chicago. And other films too numerous to mention. It is a common technique.

Eomer: Common, yes, but effective.

Elladan: I can name another. The destruction of the ring of the Dark Lord, where Frodo struggled with the creature Gollum at the Cracks of Doom, has been embellished and extended.

Sam: Ninnyhammers! Noodles! Mr. Frodo didn't fall into the Crack with that slinking Stinker. He fell to his knees and I picked him up and carried him to the door.

Elladan: Not any more! Now the world believes that after losing his finger and the ring to Gollum, Frodo began a second struggle, and toppled with the creature over the edge . . .

Imrahil: . . . where he conveniently found a handhold to dangle from. It is a visual cliche that filmmakers seem to be fond of. Why, it was even added to the flying car scene in the last Harry Potter film. Filmmakers can be diligent with their cliches, whatever else one may say.

Bilbo: Very well, very well, Master Prince. Say no more! It is a good film, and none the worse for having been twisted and teased from the text. If you want to know, I have only one quibble. Tell me: what do you think of my character as shown during the ride to the Havens?

Gimli: You were scarcely recognizable, Master hobbit. Your face had undergone a change that would baffle a Ranger.

Imrahil: The change was felt to be needed, no doubt, to show that your age had caught up with the passing of the Ring. But I could not help but smile, for I was reminded of the face of Miracle Max, the Billy Crystal character in The Princess Bride.

Sam: Well, here we are! Here are the Films, and it looks to me as if they are about the best we are ever going to get. My word, but the Gaffer would have a thing or two to say, if he saw me on the big screen!


-translated from the Common Speech of Middle Earth by Michael Locke


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