Return of the King Reprise

For all its spectacle, Return of the King is the trilogy’s most flawed movie.
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King - Peter Jackson

(Again, some spoilers are contained below. Sorry, can’t really help it.)

I saw Return of the King for the second time last night, and it definitely improved with a second viewing. But at the same time, I have to admit that Return of the King, for all of its spectacle (such as the Battle Of Pelennor Fields), is probably the most flawed and uneven of the trilogy.

Much of that is due to the absence of some key material, which while less glaring the second time around, is still felt. But as I wrote in my last post, I don’t really begrudge Jackson for making those cuts. The original theatrical cut ran a whopping 4 1/2 hours, which simply would not work. Again, as I said before, this is one film where the Extended Edition will, I feel, be mandatory viewing, if only to get the complete story.

Another thing struck me even more clearly the second time around, that being the film’s score. Composer Howard Shore has just done a masterful job with the trilogy — the Shire theme, which echoes the melody of “This Is My Father’s World,” still gets me misty-eyed every time I hear it, as does the Rohan theme. But in Return of the King, his score often feels haphazard and scattered about, lacking much of the uniformity and cohesion that added so much to the other two movies.

Again, I have a feeling this was due to excessive editing that was done for this third film, and I also have a feeling that things will be smoothed out for the Extended Edition (that is, assuming Shore rescores the movie like he did for the other two Extended Editions).

All that being said, Return of the King has some of my favorite moments in the trilogy, and surprisingly, they aren’t during the movies loudest and biggest spectacle moments. As with the other two movies, they occur during the quiet moments when Jackson’s films truly resonate, albeit sometimes in a flawed manner, with the themes that resound in Tolkien’s myth.

For much of the trilogy, Pippin has been the brunt of Gandalf’s frustration (“Fool of a Took!”). And yet as they await almost certain doom at the hands of Mordor’s armies, he also receives some of Gandalf’s most beautiful and encouraging words, a description of the world beyond this one that fills Pippin (and, might I add, the viewer) with peace. A similar scene occurs between Theoden and Eowyn, as the Rohan king bids farewell, saying “I go the halls of my fathers, where in their mighty company, I shall know neither fear nor shame.” Even in the midst of that tragic scene, hope and comfort are there.

Much has been said about Sam and Frodo’s relationship by other people, and especially of Sam’s devotion, loyalty, and most of all, love for Frodo. (And for God’s sake, let’s act like adults and lay off the homosexual subtext — such a reading is wholly inconsistent with the themes of Tolkien that Jackson brings to the big screen). However, I’d like to add that Frodo’s final words to Sam on the side of Mt. Doom, as the mountain explodes around them — “Glad to be with you Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things” — is weighed down with such love and gratitude that it makes me ache to have a similar relationship with my friends… and I say that with absolutely no melodrama or sentimentality whatsoever.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of Jackson’s Trilogy, as flawed as it might be, is the ability for even the simplest and gentlest of moments to rise above the big, epic ones. The epic moments feel us with awe, and rightly so (I still got an electric charge during the charge of the Rohirrim, perhaps my favorite moment of the Battle of Pelennor Fields). But it’s these smaller moments, the ones that often get derided as “cheesy” and “overwrought,” that truly make the movie resonate inside our souls, whether we realize it or not.