There and Back Again, Day 3: The Return of the King

Join RT's editors as they complete their quest to watch all three Lord of the Rings extended editions back-to-back -- with the final chapter, Return of the King.



And so it ends. Having journeyed through The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, almost always conscious and (for legal purposes) resoundingly sober, we now arrive at the final -- and most epic -- chapter, The Return of the King. Will the extended edition yield another four-hundred endings? Has Gollum's lost boogaloo on the cliffs of Mount Doom been restored to the film? To Mordor we go...

Luke: I know some of us balked at the notion of an extended Return of the King -- wasn't the theatrical cut, with its endless endings (in the book, by the way) enough? Well I was pleasantly surprised by this one. Unlike the Two Towers, and even more than Fellowship, I ate up every extended moment in the longer Return of the King. In fact, not only would I say it's my new favorite, it also -- finally -- elevated everything to that rousing level that I thought had been missing before. One thing I loved about the books was the feeling of dread that ran through the story, the idea that the world was ephemeral and about to be swallowed up by darkness at any moment. Return of the King captured that for me; it was like a series of climaxes where everyone's fate was balancing on the precipice. And everything comes into its own here, too -- visually, Jackson is less indebted to the "Spielberg face" and finds his own classical groove, and the characters (even Merry and Pippin, who bordered on annoying for me at earlier points) all pull their weight.

Tim: I totally agree. The first two chapters are undoubtedly visually masterful, and the story is propulsive, but I found the characters to be archetypes rather than great characters -- sturdy archetypes, to be sure, but more defined by their quest than by distinctive personalities or emotional weight. However, The Return of the King is where the trilogy finally achieves the magisterial power I'd been waiting for. It's able to juggle its multiple plot strands with greater ease; the characters feel more fleshed out, and there's an apocalyptic urgency to just about everything, from Frodo's precarious climb to Aragorn's tense meeting with the King of the Dead (for me, the scene where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli escape from an avalanche of skulls is one of my favorites in a franchise overstuffed with astonishing set pieces -- it's the type of nightmarish threat that would make Indiana Jones wake up in a cold sweat).

Ryan: Tim, you took the words right out of my mouth regarding the scene where Aragorn and Co. confront the undead army. That entire sequence, though relatively short, is one of my favorites. In fact, the first half of Return of the King had me well engaged, what with its "rally the troops" vibe; it's one of those common filmic themes that tend to excite me.

Having said that, though, I might disagree with your assertion that the film did a better job of balancing the various story threads, especially in the extended version; the film does cut back and forth between Gandalf at Minas Tirith and the forces of Rohan pretty effectively, but during the long middle stretch, Sam and Frodo are only visited sporadically. In fact, it seemed as though the quest to destroy the ring was far less important here than the large scale battles being fought elsewhere. The difference, at least for me, was that, while I found Sam and Frodo's journey with Gollum the most compelling in the previous film, they were decidedly much less interesting in this one, so I didn't mind that they disappeared from the story for long stretches. Plus, there were so many great moments peppered throughout that I remained wholly engaged.

Luke: Maybe that's because Frodo was unconscious for a lot of it? I see what you're saying though. I don't think the quest to destroy the Ring was any less interesting for me, it's just that everything else rose to the same level of engagement. Events here were just so much more vivid to me. (Granted, I was awake this time, too). Like, when Denethor asks Pippin to sing, and the melancholy hobbit ballad, set against scenes of battle, is intercut with those wonderful closeups of Denethor crunching and slurping on his food. The way Jackson shoots the Nazgūl (some excellent blood-curdling sound design work, by the way) against the ashen skies. Or one of my favorite mini-moments -- when Sauron's grisly emissary greets the heroes at the gate, and Aragorn cocks his head quizzically at the sight of the creature's grotesque mouth and voice -- a great, subtle bit of playing from Viggo Mortensen. Also, credit where it's due: Has anyone given a more compelling monotone performance than Orlando Bloom here?

Ryan: Well, considering his role up to now has primarily consisted of firing arrows and periodically uttering vaguely ominous lines like, "A red sun rises. Blood has been spilled this night," sure, I'll grant you that. By the way, the scene with Sauron's emissary at the gates of Mordor was cut from the theatrical version, and it's actually one of the choices I agreed with. It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't necessary, and I might argue that the bizarrely comical quality of his twitchy smile felt a little out of place in that moment.

Luke: Oh, I didn't realize that. It was indeed comical, I guess which is why I enjoyed it.

Ryan: And while I'm speaking of scenes that were wisely omitted, what on Middle-earth was with that whirlwind romance between Faramir and Eowyn? They'd met, what, twice? I'll grant that even when I originally saw RotK, the strange sexual tension between Aragorn and Eowyn, and Aragorn's eventual rejection of her affections, left me a little sad for Eowyn and a little angry with Aragorn. I mean, is it just me, or was he totally leading her on from the moment they met? But even with that in mind, Jackson's attempt to give Eowyn her happy ending by bringing her and Faramir together was poorly executed, and I'm glad that never made it into the theatrical cut.

Luke: Eowyn was totally playing all those dudes off of each other in an elaborate move to assert her proto-feminist agenda and take the glory by cutting down the black rider on the battlefield. And the chumps fell right into her trap. In seriousness, though, I agree the love triangles were one of the weakest elements of the series. Marks for the effort to make these elements accessible for a modern audience, but they didn't quite sit with the way the other stuff was operating dramatically. But the arthouse spinoff feature, Eowyn and Aragon Take Broth, would make a lovely extra on the 145-disc set one day. In fact, I've ordered a copy for you Ryan, just in time for Christmas. Another spinoff movie that I would love to see -- and Peter Jackson could go back to his Meet the Feebles sensibility to make it -- would be a knockabout buddy comedy set in the ranks of the Orc army. Seriously, those guys are so pent up and angry seemingly all the time, I found myself laughing at their filthy antics and wondering if there were moments during the day where they were just hanging out, playing cards and talking about their crappy paychecks. There'd be some quality slobbering and slapstick in that movie, and I'm always in for that on film. Get Guillermo del Toro on it.


Join us on Monday when we return with our thoughts on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.


Comments

Valmordas

Val Mordas

Once Return of the King takes off, the film is simply incredible. The extended scenes really add to the movie and explain things which may have been cloudy.

Dec 14 - 06:18 PM

Brian Bowles

Brian Bowles

The Eowyn/Faramir romance wasn't just Jackson giving her a happy ending, it was exactly what happened in the book! The two meet in the Houses of Healing and eventually end up married. A good portion of a chapter is devoted to their relationship.

Dec 14 - 06:28 PM

rt-ryan

Ryan Fujitani

Having not read the books, I suspected this might have been the case. That said, the way this was handled in the film was clumsy and rushed, in my opinion. They share a couple of glances, exchange a few lines of dialogue, and suddenly they're holding hands and gazing wistfully at each other. Given a little more attention, it could have worked, but it didn't... at least, not in PJ's version.

Dec 14 - 10:42 PM

Kevin Lehde

Kevin Lehde

Probably unfilmable. The episode in the book takes place over the period of weeks, while the army marches to Mordor. Tolkien just takes a while to tell us what was happening with Eowyn/Faramir while the army is gone. Showing it in the rushed way in the movie was the mistake, but it wasn't important enough to keep coming back to it over and over either.

Dec 15 - 12:07 AM

jake s.

jake suttles

since the extended cuts are for people who really care and thusly have likely read the books, they would know about Faramir and Eowyns romance, and be able to read between the lines from the little screen time that they should get more of.

Dec 15 - 06:26 AM

Paul Soldner

Paul Soldner

I agree. It would have needed a lot of cutting back & forth. Also, during that time there is a sizeable amount of things going on with the marching army that are not in the film for the same reasons.

Dec 15 - 08:56 PM

Josh Janney

Josh Janney

I saw the extended cut before I read the book, but I always assumed their romance developed offscreen. The book does it better though.

Dec 15 - 03:09 PM

Gimhana Fernando

Gimhana Fernando

Strangely,I like this one the least.Not by much,however.All the films are so close in quality.The extended edition of this is rather tedious.

Dec 14 - 07:19 PM

Brad and Netflix

Bradly Martin

Yeah I agree with you. I think certain parts of the film are Perfect and other parts Awful. It was a very conflicted viewing for me. Eowyn Stands up to the WITCH KING, AMAZING! Frodo Banishes Sam, WTF Terrible. FRODO Refusing to drop the Ring, AMAZING! Frodo's speech about forgiving Gollum omitted...WTF!

Dec 15 - 07:39 AM

King  S.

King Simba

I actually liked the bit about Frodo banishing Sam. It really give you an idea about how corruptable the ring is and just how conniving Gollum is, which made the scene at the volcano incredibly tense. It also really helped display the loyalty Sam had for Frodo that he still came back to him afterwards.

Dec 16 - 03:46 AM

Brad and Netflix

Bradly Martin

The reason I felt conflicted about the scene is it made Sam a flawless character. Jackson or who ever had majority control over the script made all his favorites flawless. Sam's deep rooted prejudice and dis-trust of people was suppose to be a Flaw not a virtue. Also Sam in the first film was going to drown in order to stay by Frodo's side. In the second film he would rather let his master stab in the face then fight with him. In this film he leaves with out argument over bread Crumbs? Not to mention it made Frodo look like a complete idiot. That's why I hate that scene.

Dec 16 - 06:17 AM

King  S.

King Simba

It was more than the bread crumbs. Both Gollum and the Ring deluded Frodo into thinking that Sam was after the ring. And Frodo being fooled wasn't a sign of him being an idiot but of the power of the ring that it even managed to corrupt a peaceful Hobbit.

And I still think that Sam's prejudice was a flaw. Even if he ended up being right about Gollum, the fact is they would have never even entered Mordor without Gollum's help. And Sam's cruelty to Gollum was part of the reason why he eventually betrayed them.

Dec 16 - 09:19 AM

Sam George

Sam George

Certainly the most annoying change was Gandalf essentially defeated by the witch king. In the book, Gandalf stood alone at the gates. Very dramatic and they should have left it the same.

Dec 14 - 08:26 PM

Brad and Netflix

Bradly Martin

I was heart broken this was left out and it took me a long time to accept the film as magnificent for it's merits. Fan Boy Grudges you know? They are dangerous.

Dec 15 - 07:40 AM

Eric Nyberg

Eric Nyberg

I agree. The most annoying thing for me was that Gandalf got "defeated" by the Witch King. I felt like Jackson didn't need to revise Tolkien that way. Keep it like it was in the book.

Dec 15 - 11:36 AM

scottichips

Scott Abate

I didnt like this part at first since it was so different from the book. But after trying to think about it from the film makers point of view, making it compelling for someone who didnt read the book and know the overall outcome. I loved how it made the witch king seem almost invincible in the mind of the viewer, and the chance of victory pretty much gone. Which made the fight with Eowyn all the more tense and one of the most memorable moments of the film.

Dec 15 - 06:27 PM

Brad and Netflix

Bradly Martin

Yeah Gandalf looked like a total putz that entire Film, In Retrospect how is it Gandalf the Grey can Smite the Balrog but Gandalf the White can't even hold his own against orcs and Nazgul. Nazgul that in the first film got freaking crushed by an Elf Chick and Aragorn. The Scene was awful.

Dec 16 - 06:11 AM

Paul Soldner

Paul Soldner

Pretty much the only extended scene I didn't like

Dec 15 - 08:57 PM

rt-ryan

Ryan Fujitani

Having not read the books, I suspected this might have been the case. That said, the way this was handled in the film was clumsy and rushed, in my opinion. They share a couple of glances, exchange a few lines of dialogue, and suddenly they're holding hands and gazing wistfully at each other. Given a little more attention, it could have worked, but it didn't... at least, not in PJ's version.

Dec 14 - 10:42 PM

Kevin Lehde

Kevin Lehde

Probably unfilmable. The episode in the book takes place over the period of weeks, while the army marches to Mordor. Tolkien just takes a while to tell us what was happening with Eowyn/Faramir while the army is gone. Showing it in the rushed way in the movie was the mistake, but it wasn't important enough to keep coming back to it over and over either.

Dec 15 - 12:07 AM

jake s.

jake suttles

since the extended cuts are for people who really care and thusly have likely read the books, they would know about Faramir and Eowyns romance, and be able to read between the lines from the little screen time that they should get more of.

Dec 15 - 06:26 AM

Paul Soldner

Paul Soldner

I agree. It would have needed a lot of cutting back & forth. Also, during that time there is a sizeable amount of things going on with the marching army that are not in the film for the same reasons.

Dec 15 - 08:56 PM

Josh Janney

Josh Janney

I saw the extended cut before I read the book, but I always assumed their romance developed offscreen. The book does it better though.

Dec 15 - 03:09 PM

Kevin Lehde

Kevin Lehde

Probably unfilmable. The episode in the book takes place over the period of weeks, while the army marches to Mordor. Tolkien just takes a while to tell us what was happening with Eowyn/Faramir while the army is gone. Showing it in the rushed way in the movie was the mistake, but it wasn't important enough to keep coming back to it over and over either.

Dec 15 - 12:07 AM

jake s.

jake suttles

since the extended cuts are for people who really care and thusly have likely read the books, they would know about Faramir and Eowyns romance, and be able to read between the lines from the little screen time that they should get more of.

Dec 15 - 06:26 AM

Paul Soldner

Paul Soldner

I agree. It would have needed a lot of cutting back & forth. Also, during that time there is a sizeable amount of things going on with the marching army that are not in the film for the same reasons.

Dec 15 - 08:56 PM

Luvagoo

Tallulah Robinson

The meeting with the King of the Dead and Pippin's song with Denethor and Faramir are those kinds of scenes you remember in awed detail, though you've only seen the movie once about 8 years ago.

Dec 15 - 04:03 AM

jake s.

jake suttles

since the extended cuts are for people who really care and thusly have likely read the books, they would know about Faramir and Eowyns romance, and be able to read between the lines from the little screen time that they should get more of.

Dec 15 - 06:26 AM

Brad and Netflix

Bradly Martin

Yeah I agree with you. I think certain parts of the film are Perfect and other parts Awful. It was a very conflicted viewing for me. Eowyn Stands up to the WITCH KING, AMAZING! Frodo Banishes Sam, WTF Terrible. FRODO Refusing to drop the Ring, AMAZING! Frodo's speech about forgiving Gollum omitted...WTF!

Dec 15 - 07:39 AM

King  S.

King Simba

I actually liked the bit about Frodo banishing Sam. It really give you an idea about how corruptable the ring is and just how conniving Gollum is, which made the scene at the volcano incredibly tense. It also really helped display the loyalty Sam had for Frodo that he still came back to him afterwards.

Dec 16 - 03:46 AM

Brad and Netflix

Bradly Martin

The reason I felt conflicted about the scene is it made Sam a flawless character. Jackson or who ever had majority control over the script made all his favorites flawless. Sam's deep rooted prejudice and dis-trust of people was suppose to be a Flaw not a virtue. Also Sam in the first film was going to drown in order to stay by Frodo's side. In the second film he would rather let his master stab in the face then fight with him. In this film he leaves with out argument over bread Crumbs? Not to mention it made Frodo look like a complete idiot. That's why I hate that scene.

Dec 16 - 06:17 AM

King  S.

King Simba

It was more than the bread crumbs. Both Gollum and the Ring deluded Frodo into thinking that Sam was after the ring. And Frodo being fooled wasn't a sign of him being an idiot but of the power of the ring that it even managed to corrupt a peaceful Hobbit.

And I still think that Sam's prejudice was a flaw. Even if he ended up being right about Gollum, the fact is they would have never even entered Mordor without Gollum's help. And Sam's cruelty to Gollum was part of the reason why he eventually betrayed them.

Dec 16 - 09:19 AM

Brad and Netflix

Bradly Martin

I was heart broken this was left out and it took me a long time to accept the film as magnificent for it's merits. Fan Boy Grudges you know? They are dangerous.

Dec 15 - 07:40 AM

Eric Nyberg

Eric Nyberg

I agree. The most annoying thing for me was that Gandalf got "defeated" by the Witch King. I felt like Jackson didn't need to revise Tolkien that way. Keep it like it was in the book.

Dec 15 - 11:36 AM

scottichips

Scott Abate

I didnt like this part at first since it was so different from the book. But after trying to think about it from the film makers point of view, making it compelling for someone who didnt read the book and know the overall outcome. I loved how it made the witch king seem almost invincible in the mind of the viewer, and the chance of victory pretty much gone. Which made the fight with Eowyn all the more tense and one of the most memorable moments of the film.

Dec 15 - 06:27 PM

Brad and Netflix

Bradly Martin

Yeah Gandalf looked like a total putz that entire Film, In Retrospect how is it Gandalf the Grey can Smite the Balrog but Gandalf the White can't even hold his own against orcs and Nazgul. Nazgul that in the first film got freaking crushed by an Elf Chick and Aragorn. The Scene was awful.

Dec 16 - 06:11 AM

Richard Francis

Richard Francis

I went to our local XD theater last weekend to see the trilogy played out with the extended versions. Big screen, big sound, perfect. An amazing way to spend 13 hours! So glad I did that.

Dec 15 - 11:39 AM

Rachel Smith

Rachel Smith

I went to go see the extended LOTR trilogy in a movie theater the week before the Hobbit came out just because I've wanted to see all three films on screen (I only saw Return of the King in theaters) and I've been waiting 9 years to have someone play them all back to back in one day. There's something about seeing the battle scenes and certain CGI sequences on a big screen that just don't cut it on a standard big screen TV, not to mention the fact that the theater was also occupied by LOTR nerds who clapped and cheered at points of the movies I loved too. Nothing beats the communal movie watching experience, in my opinion. I wish more people and theaters would be more compelled to put together such events in the future: I see there ought to be a holiday where the trilogy is shown on Tolkien's birthday every year!

Dec 17 - 02:05 PM

Josh Janney

Josh Janney

I saw the extended cut before I read the book, but I always assumed their romance developed offscreen. The book does it better though.

Dec 15 - 03:09 PM

scottichips

Scott Abate

I didnt like this part at first since it was so different from the book. But after trying to think about it from the film makers point of view, making it compelling for someone who didnt read the book and know the overall outcome. I loved how it made the witch king seem almost invincible in the mind of the viewer, and the chance of victory pretty much gone. Which made the fight with Eowyn all the more tense and one of the most memorable moments of the film.

Dec 15 - 06:27 PM

Brad and Netflix

Bradly Martin

Yeah Gandalf looked like a total putz that entire Film, In Retrospect how is it Gandalf the Grey can Smite the Balrog but Gandalf the White can't even hold his own against orcs and Nazgul. Nazgul that in the first film got freaking crushed by an Elf Chick and Aragorn. The Scene was awful.

Dec 16 - 06:11 AM

Paul Soldner

Paul Soldner

While you are correct that the Eowyn-Faramir love story was over-rushed, that was due to time constraints. The book has about 2 chapters dedicated almost solely to that relationship.
Also, I like your idea of a Orc buddy-cop film. Once again in the books, there are 2 or 3 chapters that show things from an Orc's pov, and its EXACTLY how you describe it :D

Dec 15 - 08:53 PM

Paul Soldner

Paul Soldner

I agree. It would have needed a lot of cutting back & forth. Also, during that time there is a sizeable amount of things going on with the marching army that are not in the film for the same reasons.

Dec 15 - 08:56 PM

Paul Soldner

Paul Soldner

Pretty much the only extended scene I didn't like

Dec 15 - 08:57 PM

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