Monday, December 22, 2003

I saw The Return of the King from the balcony of a very full Garman Opera House on the Saturday matinee. Normally I like watching films from balcony seats - I'm not particularly sensitive to the sound distortions that bug audiophiles, and I relish silly childhood memories of Statler and Waldorf on the Muppet Show. But the Garman's balcony isn't nearly tiered steeply enough to give the seats on the aisles a proper view of the screen. Luckily, there isn't a director in the world that makes heavy usage of the bottom corners of the widescreen, and once the projectionist shut the damn projection-room door, I was able to forget where I was and disappear into the film.

Well, as much as Jackson was willing to let me to, anyways. Other folks have pointed out the timing issues. I couldn't remember how much of the Dead storyline was from the book - it's been years since the last time I read the trilogy - and I was distracted with worrying over that issue instead of dropping into the story. No, the worst problem I had with the third movie is the same problem with the whole trilogy, which is Jackson's low taste in overly-cinematic battle scenes. They're far too self-conscious, bloodless, and decorative. The battle in front of the Black Gate especially drove me around the bend. The way the forces of the West just let themselves be surrounded took me completely out of the action.

I hold Braveheart as a standard for premodern battle staging. The movie as a whole is overheated anti-British bigotry and Highlander self-glorification, but the battlefield pieces are marvels of clarity, interest, and violence. Of course, they're also Celtic medieval melee messes, but then, that's what they're supposed to be. Later films which have incorporated those elements have stumbled, mostly because those elements are inappropriate outside of that context. The Patriot, for instance, is problematic largely because it's clearly Braveheart in American Revolutionary drag.

Anyways, The Lord of the Rings. The ending of the third movie was missing something, but I'm not sure the Scouring of the Shire was what was missing. As much as I would have hated it if the movie had ended in that Gondoran sickroom, I think it might have worked better than the trailing coda that was shown. The best ending would, no doubt, have been the coronation scene in Minas Tirith. The books are elegiac, and mournful, and regretful in the final analysis. But the books are not spectacles, and the movies work the least when they try to be elegiac. If it had been a single-season TV series, which took its time from one end of the books to the other, if it had been a picaresque with room for many moods, instead of an epic with many battles and alarums... As it is, the elements of elegy and spectacle clash violently in the delivered film. There isn't enough space to allow the moods to coexist without doing damage to one another.

As a side-comment, I have to say that it's still too close to 2001 to enjoy the spectacle of a collapsing tower without political twinges. Especially not when it's the Evil Lord's tower. They tried to diffuse the expected resonance with a giant blinking Eye and an explosion and digital effects; it only half-worked for me. I know this is my issue, and not the film's. Damn bin Laden, anyways.

Eowyn's part of the battle in front of Minas Tirith is worth the admission. That was always my favorite part of the book, and it worked almost flawlessly. Well, OK, the humongous morning-star was a little too reminiscent of Gogo Yubari from Kill Bill, but I got over that... good scene. Certainly made up for six minutes of slaughtering oversized CGI mammoths.

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