I saw Peter Jackson’s strange interpretation of Tolkien’s Return of the King on TCM. They were showing Oscar winning movies and this was one of them. I avoided the movies after being disgusted with Fellowship in the way it hacked up the book.
Rather than split hairs about why someone would take one of the best books in the English language and rewrite key scenes, I will just say that the large scale action sequences were very well done, the acting, was indifferent, and the editing was spotty.
I understand that certain things had to be cut. There are parts of the book that are a great read, but nothing much in the way of dramatic action takes place for a while. These have to be cut or condensed. Jackson’s solution was to add dramatic elements to key sections where no dramatic elements existed. For instance, he invents a scene where Gollum throws away food, forcing Sam to go and retrieve it. This leaves Frodo to fight Shelob on his own for a while. Why this should be better than just having Sam and Frodo confront Shelob together, I can’t be sure. I think that Jackson was trying to make the Frodo character more heroic. Frodo, in the book is a tragic figure, and Sam is the more heroic, but Jackson seemed to see Sam as a buffoon, and not the deep complex character as Tolkien painted him.
Gollum was well done, although the Slinker and Stinker dialogs were mumbled and difficult to follow. They went by quickly and you did not feel the sympathy for Gollum that a true villain requires.
I will never understand why Eldond shows up at Dunharrow and what the stuff about Arwen being sick was about. It was all made up out of whole cloth, and may have been part of a sub-plot that Jackson created to keep Arwen in the plot, when, in the book, she was never more than a minor character. Whatever it was, I found this jarring, and Jackson must have cut something out from the final version that had made it justifiable. The Dunadain showing up with Arwen’s banner seemed easier to shoot and fit better into later events.
The book was written in long narratives following the main characters. This, of course, was not really good for an action movie, especially since we spend several weeks with one group of characters and then go back and spend the same several weeks with another group of characters. In a book, it is easy enough to connect the action, but in the movie, it is better if there are no flashbacks, of cross references. Jackson sticks with the time line, showing things as they happen, whether or not they are in Gondor or Mordor. This actually created problems because for a while there were five plot lines running at once. There was 1) Pippen and Eowyn with the men of Rohan, 2) Aragorn traveling the paths of the dead, 3) Gandalf and the battle, 4) Merry with Faramir and Denethor, and, of course, 5) Frodo and Sam on the path to the crack of doom. Jackson cuts back and forth between these five plots, and often it’s darn hard to tell where you are. I know what was supposed to be happening because I have read the book at least 100 times. It would make the person who didn’t know what was going on very dizzy.
The thing that I disliked the most was the eye beacon over Barad Dur. The eye of Mordor was something that was imagined or felt and did not have a physical presence. It was the dark influence of Sauron that sensitive people could feel watching them. It was not a big holograph hanging over the dark tower. At the end when Frodo puts on the ring, the eye does a flip, and a looney toons kind of eyeball bug out. It reminded me of Wile. E. Coyote’s eyes when he sees a bomb that’s about to explode in his face.
The volcano special effects were all great at the end, except for the cartoon eyeball thing.
No way the movie should have won an Oscar except for special effects, but I guess there was nothing much running against it.