The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Special Edition Review
I should say first off that I am a massive fan of The Lord of the Rings both books and movies. My sister read me The Hobbit when I was six, and then I read it myself, over and over and over again, and then struggled with The Lord of the Rings until I finally read the whole thing as a teenager. When I heard there was going to be a series of live action films, I remembered the peculiar Ralph Bakshi cartoon, and anxiously followed the online rumours mill. Our Christmas party clashed with the release of Fellowship, so I went to see it alone the following night, not wanting be bothered having to explain Tolkien to less enthusiastic friends. I came out of the cinema beaming, and every Christmas since I’ve looked forward to my gift from New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson. And now this is it. The last present, the last film.
The Extended Edition of The Return of The King is, as with all the Extended Editions, a thing of beauty. No expense has been spared with the packaging, which features new illustrations by Alan Lee. All the extended editions have felt, to me, like massive improvements on the theatrical releases, allowing a bit of time for the story to breathe, to flesh out the characters, and to have a little more Tolkienesque contemplation, but they have also suffered on occasion from Peter Jackson’s slightly juvenile sensibility, and Return of the King is no exception.
All in all the film benefits from the additions, particularly the confrontation with Saruman and the breaking of his staff. The lack of closure for this character was odd in the theatrical edition and though I understood the arguments about pacing it still felt weird to set up a major villain and then just abandon him. But sometimes the film is just let down by the script. ‘Put an arrow in his gob’ Gimli instructs Legolas. WTF?
Ah, Gimli. Somewhere along the line the scriptwriters took this character and decided that he would be good as comic relief. And once they made that decision there seems to have been no turning back. So from a stalwart warrior in Fellowship we have him burping and whittering about nervous systems and squirrel droppings (again, WTF?) in Two Towers and now farting and drunkenly banging on about swimming with little hairy women in ROTK… Gimli is Peter Jackson’s sense of humour writ large and to me it jars horribly with the rest of the world that he’s created.
Other scenes are more successful. I was enjoying The Mouth of Sauron scene until Aragorn lopped off his head – not very kingly behaviour from the future ruler of Gondor. Frodo and Sam’s trek through Mordor takes longer and consequently feels a lot more gruelling and unpleasant. Denethor and Faramir also get to flesh out their relationship, and Denethor’s madness; Faramir spends some time with Pippin, explaining why Pippin is so upset when Faramir is dying. The Houses of Healing have also been added back in and there’s a bit more of the Eowyn/Faramir romance, though Eowyn’s confrontation with the Witch-King is still spoiled by the cut away to the Corsair ship.
Maybe I’m just greedy and want a 20 hour film but I wasn’t satisfied by Return of the King. It’s amazing and beautiful and moving and sublime – the eagles flying over Mordor; Nazgul dive bombing Minas Tirith; the Ride of the Rohirrim – and then suddenly you have Gimli farting or the dreadful reunion scene with Gandalf laughing like a drain while the hobbits bounce in slo-motion on Frodo’s sickbed, and its these inconsistencies of tone that spoil it for me.
As with the previous extended editions the appendices are gorgeous and comprehensive and very revealing. Listening to how up against it they were to deliver the final feature I began to understand some of the problems; the final cut was literally delivered days before the World Premiere, with all the crew working like dogs to get the project completed in time. The documentaries are also unusually moving, showing the sadness and emotion of the cast and crew as they came to their last day on set, and their reluctance to let go. The DVD is well worth the purchase price for the appendices alone.
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