As I mentioned in Part 1 of this review, it really isn’t advisable to watch all three extended versions back to back. However, that is probably the best way to judge the entire series as a unified work. And that is why I wrote this post. I wanted to judge the entire work.
I’ll start with the things that I think Peter Jackson got wrong. I’ll follow with what he did very well.
As I stated earlier, Galadriel and Celeborn are awful. Some kind of other-worldly or ethereal quality is being portrayed that just comes off as weird. I do not believe it matches the intent of the books at all. In the book, when Galadriel talks to Frodo about taking the Ring she does give him the image of herself amplified to some terrible queen. But at the end she shrinks back down and assumes a normal form and speech pattern.
She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark. She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
“I pass the test”, she said. “I will diminish, and go into the West and remain Galadriel.”
In the book, in her dealings with Frodo, Galadriel displays a totally normal human personality. In the movie, many of the elves, but Galadriel especially, are these weird non-human things. This is a failing. Galadriel is a major character. Her kinship to Arwen and friendship with Aragorn are important points. If elves are not human in their emotional make-up then the love of Aragorn and Arwen makes very little sense.
Luckily, Legolas is given a human personality. His differences are portrayed as largely super-human physical abilities. His banter with Gimli and his good-natured behavior toward most of the characters strikes the viewer as completely natural and not as some inhuman personality. At most he displays a sort of noblesse oblige. Which considering his greater age is completely reasonable.
The Siege of Minas Tirith
Several problems crop up here. One I’ve mentioned, is the characterization of Denethor. He is portrayed as a base individual. In the scene where Faramir was forced by his father to attack the orc army on the Pelennor Fields we are forced to watch Denethor eat a meal of grape tomatoes and chicken. His inability to keep the food from dribbling onto his chin and the noises he makes eating are obviously meant to give us the impression that he is a slob. His cowardice during the initial attack and Gandalf’s cavalier assault on the Steward’s person is completely at odds with the book. Denethor is a noble and honorable individual. The misfortune to his sons and the disheartening images he has seen in the Palantir have driven him to despair. But he is not the evil character that the movie portrays.
The other major problem of the Siege is the meeting of Gandalf and the Witch King. In the book, they meet at the point where the Gate has been breached with Grond. At this point they are face to face and the Witch King taunts saying that the moment belongs to him. At this point the Horns of the Rohirrim are heard and the duel is interrupted. In the movie, the meeting is not at the gate but during the ongoing retreat upward in the city. And in fact, the Witch King shatters Gandalf’s staff, much the way Gandalf did to Saruman’s staff. This seems to be too much. I could see Gandalf overwhelmed by thousands of orcs and Trolls with the Winged Nazgul providing aerial reinforcement. But if Gandalf the Grey could destroy a Balrog, how could a Ringwraith, even one who was perhaps super-charged with Sauron’s spirit during the attack so easily take him down now that he was Gandalf the White? Seems wrong.
And finally, the scene between Eowyn and the Witch King. The scene is still very, very good. But it should have more exactly followed the book’s lead. It should have been from Merry’s point of view. And Eowyn, should have revealed herself as a woman before the fight and in exactly the words printed. The dramatic force of the scene was perfect in the book. But the scene is still very good.
Frodo and Sam
This is the most difficult fault to describe. Sam for the most part seems fairly close to the intent of the book. He’s a simple village boy caught up in the chaos. Frodo is some kind of invalid from start to finish. It’s not at all apparent why he is a reasonable ring bearer. It seems altogether more reasonable to have given the Ring to Sam. Granted Frodo’s personality is not completely at odds with the portrayal in the book. Frodo is always a problematic personality. But I believe this tendency has been brought much too far. There’s not much more that can be said other than I think it harms that aspect of the story severely.
Alright, I’ve laid the bad stuff on you first. So now I’ll tell you what I did like.
The portrayal of Aragorn is just about perfect. He is a kingly man who also has the common touch. He interacts with the other characters and always improves the scene. He displays humor, mercy, gallantry, wisdom and each when it is needed. All of this and yet he always appears human and in the moment. He isn’t a superman. He’s a hero.
Boromir and Faramir
I believe in the scene where Faramir is remembering the day when Boromir recaptured Osgiliath, I think the movie outdoes the book. Boromir and Faramir are shown as brothers in the best sense of the word. Their good qualities as men and soldiers are on display. We get a scene that defines both characters and their relationship. Unfortunately, this was outside the scope of the book. Kudos to Jackson for inventing it. And here it can be seen how the danger of the ring is thrust on Boromir who, as a man of action is least able to resist it. The type of man who would see it as a solution to the enemy at Gondor’s gate. It is an explanation for why he was both a good man and tempted by the Ring.
And the other great scene for Boromir is of course, his defense of the hobbits against the Uruk-hai. You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel admiration and sorrow watching Boromir battle on as each arrow pierces his body. It is perhaps, the best acting scene anyone gets in the movie. Then his dying speech with Aragorn is equally poignant. He shows his love of his people and nobility toward his rival Aragorn. It’s a fantastic sequence.
The Ride of the Rohirrim
This in my mind is the high point of the movie. When Theoden’s army overlooks the apparent destruction of Minas Tirith and he leads the stirring charge against the enemy’s main force it is electric. And after they break the siege and see the Haradrim and the elephants approaching it is stirring and finally when the Witch King smashes Theoden and Snowmane to the ground we get Eowyn’s moment. I have stated that the book’s portrayal is better. It is. But the movie version is still great. And although Theoden’s farewell to Eowyn isn’t in the book it is still very affecting and natural.
The Black Gate
This scene differs in several particulars from the book. The killing of the Mouth of Sauron is notable but not critical. In general, I would say it was very well done. And in one particular it exceeded the book. Aragorn’s rallying speech to his troops before the battle is stirring. And does not occur in the book. The other effect that the movie added over the book was the sight of Barad-dur in the background and the line of sight to it allowing Sauron to call to Aragorn right before he started the battle charge.
So there is the bad and the good. Over all, any real fan of the Lord of the Rings has to recognize Jackson’s movies as a great achievement that brings most of Tolkien’s wonderful story to life. Maybe someday the story will be done again and improved on. But what we have is a great work and something to be enjoyed.