Ringer Spy Tinuvielas writes: Here is my absolutely spoilerfree review (unless you count simply mentioning Shelob and the Ride of the Rohirrim spoilers)!
I thought I was going to cry over “The Return of the King” a long time before finally seeing it. The only thing I wasnt sure about was whether Jackson and crew were indeed going to succeed in making me shed tears for Frodo and the others; or whether I was going to weep over the lost chance, given the wonderful book, and the great cast of characters on their hands, and the huge effort of everyone involved. Then the first trailer went online, its pictures haunted me, and the message “no victory without suffering” gave me hope that finally Peter Jackson would deliver what I had been looking for in the first two films. Hope, not surety.
Now I have seen the film, last Thursday at a press-screening in Hamburg, Germany, and the baffling fact is: I didn’t really cry at all. I like the flick, but no need for tissues, folks, and let me tell you I’m as good a victim of a tearjerker as any. There are lots of scenes that will send you the shivers down the spine, though, and I dont think its a spoiler to mention the Ride of the Rohirrim here. As in the previous two films, the greatest moments are when Jackson sticks close to the book (which he luckily does in crucial passages). As soon as he tries to better Tolkien, however, what we see tends to become a bit bombastic, kitsch or even shallow. In this category fall some (fortunately not all) misty-eye-scenes, easily recognizable by Howard Shore’s beautiful soundtrack soaring in melancholy heights, and at least one character on screen weeping.
On the other hand, for my taste, which is schooled on Tolkien’s books, there is again too much action and too little acting. No, that’s wrong: the acting is superb, but the actors are given too little room. Jackson is no Hitchcock; subtlety and suspense are not his main strengths, and often he changes the story to go for rather superficial and conventional moments of tension or special effects. A notable exception is the superb sequence of Shelob, definitely one of the highlights of the film. Talking of strengths: Battlescenes count among them, and needless to say, there are more than enough in “King”.
However, the main problem of “Return of the King” is another one, and one that the film has in common with the book: It is too short. This was foreseeable and foreseen and indeed recently commented on by cutter Jamie Selkirk. It confirmed me in thinking even while viewing the film that New Line must have pushed Peter Jackson to come close to the three hours after all, his protestations notwithstanding that “Return of the King” would be as long as it needed to be: It is not. Too much is missing that has been reported filmed, and, which is worse, even the non-readers and non-internet people notice this.
I’m not (only) talking about favorite scenes like … (but this is the non-spoiler version, keep it up!), or about superficial characterization (as in the case of the Faramir-plot in “The Two Towers”), but about entire sequences that are edited extremely tightly, shown in a couple of strong (or rather shadowy…) lit scenes and coming to an on-screen dead-end; about definitely too “hasty” transfers from one scene to the next, and especially about the missing breathing space and emotional build-up between the two decisive battle-sequences.
Just like in the middle-part of “Fellowship” and most of “The Two Towers”, the pacing in approximately the last third of theatrical version of “King” does not feel quite right. Way too quickly the plot plunges from climax to climax, thereby losing its temporal and geographical depth and at the same time foregoing a lot of it’s emotional potential, simply because the audience isn’t given room enough to catch a breath and anticipate the next climax. Which is why tissues won’t really be necessary: You don’t get to pull one out, before you are whirled away from one fantastic set, from one tragic happening to the next.
But in spite of this criticism and that is the strange quality of the Jackson-adaptations “Kings” delivers. As soon as you leave the theatre, the opulent pictures (and sounds, for that matter…) start resounding and cause a melancholy which will take most of the viewers back to the end of the queue for at least a second showing. You want more; you want it again. It’s this addictive quality, rather than any commercialized fan-industry, which is at the basis of the worldwide hype. So that the verdict of one clever analyst (I thinks it was Michael Jenkinson of the Edmonton Post) is quite true, who called “Return of the King” in advance a “Three hour-eighteen-minute (or was it 321?) trailer for the Extended Edition” we keep on waiting!
One more thing: bookpeople who feel like rereading the last two pages will be rewarded!
Tinuvielas aka Anja Stürzer