Thursday, January 01, 2004

Film — The Return of the King

Of course I went to see The Return of the King.

My immediate thoughts on leaving the cinema were "It was better where they stuck to the text. And Éowyn fought like a girl.".

A very disappointing end - a 2-star movie at best - to what started out so well with The Fellowship of the Ring, two years ago. The problem was that the whole trilogy had quality in inverse proportion to the amount of ad-libbing; and, alas, the amount of it kept increasing from film to film.

In the first part, there was sense to some of the telescoping of the slow pace events in the Shire - though not in introducing Merry and Pippin as lovable Gaelic rogues and rewriting their reasons for being on the quest. And there was little reason to add the almost Lara Croft style crumbling staircase in Moria. But while I jested at the time that Boromir's death was handled a bit like "Oh! I'm hit! But wait! I'm a high level fighter, and that arrow only does a d6.", there was little more that I could fault the movie for - and there were enough little touches that showed the text was being followed, even when it would hardly notice if had been skimped - the blink and you'd miss it scene on the ascent of Caradhras, where Legolas is walking on the snow, when everyone else is waist deep or more, for example. Even substituting Arwen for Glorfindel was harmless. And I felt it was good enough that I went to see it again when it was on the week before The Two Towers was out.

But by The Two Towers, the rot had set in. In a part of the story where many threads are transpiring in parallel, why embellish with the extraneous wholesale invention of Aragorn seemingly falling in combat, and definitely being MIA for a while, or give Frodo an extra diversion in Faramir's company, when the fall of Orthanc appeared almost as afterthought? That one got merely a "Mostly Harmless" rating, and there was no urge to see it again.

The final film was, alas, even more of the same, rather than a return to form, and verged on the "I wish I hadn't seen that". In particular, I'm going to have to actively forget that pitiable fight against Angmar, lest it contaminate my previous vision of that scene of last ditch desperate battle between a capable, if terrified, warrior and the all-but-unstoppable Witch-King. Where was the fight choreographer? And what was he thinking?

By contrast with the first film, this time there were so many senseless omissions of material which could trivially have been fitted in where time was being wasted elsewhere in the same scene - let alone when invented padding was being added such as the dragging out of Cirith Ungol, which should have been over in the first 15 minutes of the film; and the gratuitous bringing on-screen of the battle in Osgiliath.

When Frodo was standing on the pier in Orodruin, looking gormless [not that he ever had any other expression] there was plenty of time for him to say "I have come. But I do not choose now to do what I came to do." : all the time that Sam was trudging up after him, I was thinking "Come on, man! Out with it!" - but no. Similarly, the unfurling of the flag of the King when the corsair ships arrive could have replaced the orc captain's sarcastic remark about their late arrival - an invention that served only to drag the episode from epic to commonplace. Why were Merry and Pippin showing no effects of the Ent-draught even at the end, when it could have been remarked on in some banter at Frodo's bedside? Where was the palantír of Minas Tirith, when Denethor was setting the pyre (and why add him taking the longest possible route to throw himself off the citadel whilst merrily ablaze)?

Worse, most of the changes were simply pointless, changing the words and not the deeds - why change the reasoning behind the stratagem of marching on the gates or Mordor - "If we were about to use the Ring, this is what we'd be doing..."?

Even when it stuck closer to the text, I had some quibbles with interpretations - the mûmakil may have been described as being larger than modern elephants, but I think the film rather overextended the licence that bare description gave.

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