Return of the King, a review
Click on each image for a larger one.
Well, well, well. I'll say right off the mark this is the least of the three films, in my opinion. I know it swept all before them at the Academy Awards and other places. People can't praise the Return of the King enough.
I'm not saying it's a bad film. It's actually very good. It just doesn't hold a candle to the previous two as far as I'm concerned. There are far too many omissions, abbreviated story-lines and minor deviations for my liking. In other words, it doesn't stick to the book enough. I'm a Tolkien purist, a fanboy if you will, and I couldn't help feeling as I watched this film at the cinema, and on DVD later, that it was missing something. It also has far too many endings.
The characterisations and acting is excellent as usual. The effects, the settings and the action are flawless. If the film was based on an original work written for the screen, it'd be an all-time wondrous masterpiece. But it isn't. It's based, as everyone near or far knows, on a classic book. So, it comes laden with some tonnes of pre-conceptions and expectations.
I was disappointed with a great many things. most I'll cover in the differences section below. Once again, Éomer is relegated to bit player. He is a major character in both this film and in the Two Towers. The same is true for the most part with Faramir.
Australian actor John Noble plays Denethor extremely well, but sadly, the film doesn't give any real indication as to why the Steward of Gondor behaves the way he does. In fact, Denethor is rather pathetic in the film.
The introduction showing Sméagol and Déagol out fishing, the finding of the Ring and the corruption of Sméagol into Gollum is a wonderful touch. They look great, like a couple of hobbit bumpkins on their day out. They're ancestors of the "present-day" hobbits, being fisher-folk of the Gladden Fields, a region along the Great River between Rhovanion and the Misty Mountains.
All three films have a high "assume" level. It's expected that you've read the books, but that sentiment reaches an all-time high here in the Return of the King. The feeling that all will be explained (or expanded upon) in the upcoming extended version is very palpable. Oh well.
- Frodo and Sam's ascent up Mt. Doom. Awesome stuff; precisely how Tolkien describes it.
- Shelob. She is superb. I feel sorry for all you arachnophobes out there.
- The oliphaunts or mûmakil. Big elephants, bad elephants, killer elephants.
- Pippin's run-in with the palantíri.
- The entire siege of Gondor and the battle on the Fields of Cormallen.
- The Dead of the Dwimorberg or Haunted Mountain.
The Book and the Film :: The Differences and other Points
- Théoden, Aragorn, etc, riding to Isengard actually takes place in The Two Towers. It's awfully truncated and we're not told why the party went there. It's essentially the removal of Saruman from the greater events of the War of the Ring. He's fallen and Gandalf casts him from the Wizard Order.
- Saruman and Wormtongue do not die at Isengard, both perish in The Shire, a section which wasn't filmed.
- The palantíri was cast out of Isengard by Wormtongue, it didn't roll out of the clothing of Saruman.
- Halbarad and a company of Rangers catch up with Aragorn. Omitted from the film.
- Éomer's character is given minimal screen-time. He is a major character in the books.
- Ditto again for Faramir.
- The Sword is re-forged while the Fellowship is still in Rivendell. It was given to Aragorn before they set out.
- Elrond never meets Aragorn in a Rohirrim camp.
- Prince Imrahil and other named gentry of Gondor make no appearance. Imrahil is a central character in the book.
- Faramir is not dragged by his horse into Minas Tirith; instead Prince Imrahil returns with him.
- Aragorn is told to take the Paths of the Dead by Elrohir, not Elrond. He also takes Halbarad and the Rangers with him as well as the sons of Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir (Passing of the Grey Company). He doesn't contend with the King of the Dead either. He just summons the Dead to follow him to Erech and beyond.
- The filmed scenes in the Paths of the Dead are an embellishment to the books. It's well done, in my opinion, especially the huge avalanche of skulls.
- The Paths of the Dead emerge near Erech, which is about 100 miles from the Mouths of the Anduin. As such, you could not see the Corsairs sailing from that distance. In fact, you couldn't see either the Sea or the Anduin from there.
- Elladan and Elrohir, sons of Elrond, make no appearance.
- The Rohirrim seem to think Aragorn has abandoned them and the War of the Ring by following the Paths of the Dead in the film. Arrant nonsense which isn't in the book.
- The Woses have been omitted from the film.
- The beacons were lit before Pippin and Gandalf got to Minas Tirith. Denethor was mustering his forces long before they got there.
- Denethor is well aware of what's going on in Gondor. He knows Sauron's army moves toward him as Sauron has shown it to him in the palantír.
- Denethor's despair was caused by scenes revealed to him in a palantír. Sauron had shown him the Doom of Gondor. At no time does he order Minas Tirith to abandon. Instead he withdrew into the tombs with a small group of men, Faramir and Pippin. It's also how he knows of Aragorn and his lineage and birthright, etc. The way Denethor is portrayed in the film is a sorry joke. He is an iron-willed leader that has had his sanity eroded by constant contact with Sauron, his bitter regret at the death of Boromir and his perception of Faramir as a weak and pliable son. He is not the ignorant fool the movie portrays him as.
- Gandalf never hits Denethor.
- Denethor kills himself by immolation on the pyre, holding the palantír, not by flying off the edge of any spire of rock.
- The Witch-King is the first to enter Minas Tirith, not trolls, and is denied by Gandalf. A rooster crows at dawn and then Rohan attacks. The film omits this, which is a crying shame as it's one of the more potent and symbolic events in the books.
- Théoden is unaware that Éowyn had accompanied them to battle. He speaks to Merry at death, not Éowyn.
- Théoden names one of his soldiers as Grimborn. Grimborn was Gondorian and was never under Théoden's control.
- Beregond and Bergil have been omitted from the film.
- The Mouth of Sauron is not beheaded by Aragorn, instead he retreats inside the gates of the Morannon. It's assumed he died with the downfall of Sauron. The Mouth doesn't return Frodo's mithril shirt, Gandalf seizes custody of it.
- The romance between Faramir and Éowyn has been truncated greatly.
- Merry was injured in his battle with the Witch King and doesn't go with the company to the Morannon.
- Aragorn sets fire to the Morgul Vale and does a host of other things before they reach the Morannon, including the restoration of the King's statue at the Crossroads. In the film, they leave Minas Tirith, and bang! they've arrived at the Morannon just like that. The film doesn't really give a true idea of the distances involved.
- Frodo doesn't get his gear back after the orcs have fled the tower. In fact, his mail shirt and other accessories were taken by Shagrat to Sauron.
- Shelob's lair is very dim. She is a child of Ungoliant, a spider-Maia from the First Age and her main attribute was "Un-light". In the film, Shelob is relegated to giant spider status. She is more malice given corporeal form in the book than just some hypertrophied spider. Nonetheless, Shelob is an impressive CGI monster.
- Shelob and the majority of the action at the Tower takes place in the Two Towers, not the Return of the King. Like I mentioned elsewhere, it was probably done to pad out the third film.
- The crowning and the wedding of Aragorn bear small resemblance to the book.
- The crown of Gondor is winged. It's not in the film. Why the film didn't depict this is anyone's guess, as it's one of the great symbols of Gondor.
- The return home of the hobbits is hugely truncated. The Scouring of the Shire is omitted altogether. The Shire is essentially how they left it and life goes on as normal. Nonsense.
- Celeborn is not at the Havens with Galadriel or the others. He leaves and passes West at a later date.