Reflections on the Rings
Yesterday, me, Anton, Danny, Justin, Scott and Ryan all sat down to finally appreciate Peter Jackson's epics in one fell swoop; A twelve-hour plus movie marathon of the Extended Editions of the three films. It took the whole day, but the only other time that I've felt as engrossed by Tolkien's creation was the time I read Fellowship of the Ring in one day.
As someone who is already a noted fan of the films, this viewing gave me a new appreciation of the films as one story. These aren't really separate films, and judging it as such isn't really fair. Like Tolkien's stories themselves, the book divisions are somewhat arbitrary and they're really meant to be read/viewed in one volume as one story. Hence you won't ever have me complaining about moving the death of Boromir to the end of FotR or Shelob to the beginning of RotK because it is all rather arbitrary, and more importantly it preserves the time frame of the books. It also gave me a new appreciation of TTT, which was my least favourite of the three films, but really has some nice moments in it.
My first thoughts on the Extended Edtion of Return of the King was that I feel that the extended versions are the better versions. Perhaps with RotK, the added scenes felt less necessary but that's probably because I felt that RotK worked the best as film on its own. However, I think RotK:EE adds a number of things that I think can be called improvements.
I'll just go through the changes in the film and say what I thought of them. I'll reference by scene number, so those of you with the DVD can check it out.
4. The Fate of Saruman - Not my favourite addition, especially Saruman's fire ball, but I like it better than just saying "Oh, well he's in his tower and can't do any harm..." It lends some closure to the Saruman figure, who really was the most visible villian in the first two films and needed to be dealt with.
5. Drinking Game at Edoras - I actually liked this part. I got some good laughs and it adds to the camaradarie between Gilmi and Legolas.
7. Eowyn's Dream - Nothing really to add. I think it's fine.
12. Gandalf describes the Decline of Gondor - Excellent addition which adds depth to Denethor and explains why the Lineage of Kings is done.
13. Cross-roads of the Fallen Kings - I liked this addition. Anyone who appreciates the history and myth that Tolkien created will like this.
16. Warning of Sam - Nothing to say really.
22. The Wizard's Pupil - Another worthy addition. This is the kind of thing that these extended versions excel at. Here we see the deeping of Faramir's character and his conflict with his father more fully fleshed out. Any chance to make Faramir a more noble character is good in my book.
25. Pippin, Soldier of Gondor - I liked this scene. Again, we get more insight into Faramir as a character and Pippin, who I love.
35. Paths of the Dead Extended - Some people didn't like the avalanche of skulls and such, but I really liked this addition. Not only did it make the Paths more creepy, but it's fun as well.
37. The Corsairs - I liked this too. Though it spoils some of the suspense of the later arrival of the Corsairs. Funny watching Peter Jackson get shot by Legolas (I suppose appeasing those who didn't like the films).
39. Merry's Simple Courage - In one sense a nice scene between Merry and Eowyn, but nitpickers might be curious to note that Eowyn removes her helmet in this scene (possibly spoiling her disguise), but I suppose with her hair in her face it might be possible.
45. Gandalf versus the Witch-King - In one sense this was necessary, as in earlier in the film the Witch King states that he will "break" Gandalf, but then nothing happens in the theatrical version. This plays up the roles of the two warriors, but the shattering of Gandalf's staff is an iffy change given the symbolic nature of the wizard's staff. I can live with it though.
56. The Houses of Healing - This is one of those scenes that is sure to please fans of the books, and I liked it. But I can't really say it's integral or seems important. As a film fan, I might say that this was unnecessary in almost every way, but the Tolkien purist in me rejoices.
60. Aragorn and the Palantir - A good addition, though one that occurs in the book at a much earlier scene.
61. Faramir and Eowyn - Nice addition that fits with what we know happens to the characters, and also explains them being together at the end of the film (which might have been confusing to none Tolkien adepts in the theatrical version).
62. Sam and Frodo with the Orcs - Nothing really bad nor good to this scene. But it does explain why they discard their Orc armor.
64. The Mouth of Sauron - I liked some parts of this addition. I liked having it here, and it adds to making this a confrontation between Aragorn and Sauron. The Mouth was a lot scarier the way I imagined him, and also, I thought it out of character for Aragorn to behead an emmisary in that way. But again, I can live with it.
So, despite a few nitpicks, I love this film and and this film series. There were moments that I had to sit back and say to myself "Wow, this is really, really amazing filmmaking." I know some people (Caitlin) dislike things like the battle sequences and oliphants, but I still think Pellenor Field might be the most exciting battle sequence ever put on film. I remember back in the spring when I watched Troy, I was bored, because really once you've seen the mighty Rohirrim battle oliphants on that scale, a bunch of guys on a beach is kind weak. On a technical and adventure scale these films are second to none.
Secondly, and I noted this on Caitlin's blog, it seems to me that some people will end up liking and disliking different things in the films. What one man loves, another man hates. I have met few people who actually like and dislike the same things. I think this is because everyone has latched onto different elements in Tolkien's books, and fair enough. There are a lot of different themes in the books and not all could be given prominence in the films. I think this is because of the problems of adaptations. These books have become so personal for people that any attempt is only going to please some and bother others. On that regard, I have to commend Peter Jackson for doing such a good job. Sure not everything was perfect (some still really need their Tom Bombadil or Scouring of the Shire), but in the end I didn't think anyone could bring Tolkien to life so convincingly and in a manner that is true to the spirit if not the specifics. When one considers the state of most other film adaptations of famous books or stories, these films are remarkably faithful and I'm thankful to have them as a fan of both the books and of grand scale filmmaking.