Just saw The Return of the King. As with the other two Jackson films, I had some serious gripes, but I do agree with Orson: it was the best of the three.
Things I liked:
Minas Tirith looked just as I thought it should, complete with the concentric levels, the forward-thrusting blade of rock, and the white tree.
The first shot of the tower of Cirith Ungol, when Frodo glimpses it between the cliffs, was striking and thoroughly creepy.
Merry’s line to Pippin: “You smoke too much.” One of the few times when Jackson’s taste for low humor worked for me, maybe because the actor said it very seriously.
The wolf-headed siege engine, Grond. Scary and cool.
The eagles rescuing Frodo and Sam from Mount Doom. The screen went black for several seconds beforehand, then came up again to show us the eagles landing one at a time on the hobbits’ spit of rock, gently taking each in their talons, and flying off again. In retrospect I think I may have liked it so much because I have come to expect Jackson to pump every scene for the maximum “suspense” possible. He could easily have directed this one as a nail-biting “will the eagles get there in time?! or will Frodo and Sam be vaporized by THAT wave of lava??!” moment. Thank peep he didn’t.
Frodo’s stab of pain from his wound at the end of the movie. Even without the “Scouring of the Shire” sequence, we see that Frodo has been damaged forever. And when he leaves on the boat to Valinor, we see that his friends have been permanently affected too.
Things I didn’t like:
Why didn’t Jackson stick to the text at Isengard when Wormtongue throws the palantir off the balcony? It’s a hilarious moment — perfectly in keeping with the director’s aesthetic — and it would explain why this precious object is lying in the muck. Puzzling.
The battle physics, part 1. The amount of damage the forces of Mordor were able to cause to Minas Tirith with their catapults was ridiculous. Given the rate of fire and building collapse just in the shots we saw, the whole place would have been in ruins in an hour! This is a fortress “so strong and old that it seemed to have been not builded but carven by giants out of the bones of the earth”. It would not have been that much of a pushover.
The battle physics, part 2. The oliphaunts were too damn big, and their movements and effects on their surroundings were just wrong. Once they entered the scene, I started to feel as if I were watching Attack of the Clones again, you know the scene with the bizarre mutant gladiatorial combat? Call me a stickler for realism, but once the CGI critters are unleashed with no concern for inertia or the biological laws of proportions, I become very bored. What is the point of getting involved in a conflict when there are no meaningful measures of damage, let alone consequences of it? It might as well be a cartoon.
The changes to Denethor. In the book he’s actually a pretty interesting character, not the messy abusive dad he is here. True, he does try to burn Faramir alive, but he has a reason: he’s been looking into a palantir and facing off against Sauron. Rather than being seduced to evil, he has been led to despair, which is almost as good for Sauron’s purposes. I would argue that Denethor is one of Tolkien’s best characterizations, so it was a real disappointment to see him reduced to this.
Eowyn and Faramir’s relationship was completely missing. It is one of my favorite elements of the book, so I’m hoping it will reappear in the extended DVD version of the movie.
I actually burst out laughing at the moment when Aragorn takes Arwen passionately in his arms and they begin making out like teenagers in front of everyone. The word “absurd” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
OK, that’s enough for now. I have to go to bed.