PG-13 for all of the beheadings. Really, just a string of horrible on-screen deaths. Some of them are quick. Some of them are painfully long. There's also an absolutely terrifying spider. I actually forgot how scary Shelob is because I weirdly handled it well. It doesn't make it un-terrifying. Out of the three movies, this is the one with the most scary things and the most insane violence. Blame it on the fact that it is the most war movie of the three, but there's a lot of gross death. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
Okay, the extended edition might be too long. I can't believe I'm saying that. When the extended editions were coming out, I was jazzed as all get out. "More content?" Of course! This was the era before I realized the value of a theatrical cut and that "director's cut" didn't mean "better". The Lord of the Rings movies were and, I suppose, still are different. When The Lord of the Rings gives you more content, you are going to go even deeper into Tolkien's canon, and that's pretty awesome. But The Return of the King is far too long of a movie. I'm not even saying the stuff at the end. Being amazing and unique, I'm going to stand by the fairly long epilogue. I love that stuff. It's the added war stuff. It has to be added war stuff, right? I haven't seen the theatrical cut since seeing it in the theater. Like many people, The Return of the King might be my least favorite of the trilogy. But like most amazing trilogies, the worst of the three is still a pretty amazing movie.
I'm going to tear it apart first because it is foremost on my mind. War scenes and action stuff have a real tipping point before they get boring. It's really weird that it works that way. The right amount of action gets me fired up. I talk about how awesome individual fight scenes are. (I'm occasionally more bro-ey than I care to admit.) But if there's too much, it all becomes a wash. No individual moment stands out and it just because spectacle. It's like eating icing. A taste of icing gets you excited. But straight-up eating icing by the bowl leaves you feeling gross. It's the problem that I have with Michael Bay movies, in particular the Transformers franchise. I'm not saying that The Return of the King is like the Transformers franchise. We're still within the realm of good story and good characters. The action sequences are a bit much with The Return of the King, but it is still focused on the characters and the narrative for the most part. I often don't like spectacle for spectacle's sake. I need something more and the action sequences don't forget the major conflicts of the story. When I get bored with hordes of people and orcs getting beheaded, I then think of stuff like Gandalf versus the Witch King. It's very brief, but it is great. Honestly, adding the Witch King to the fights make the story worth telling. This kind of spins off into my second beef. This isn't the beef that many people have with the movie. I'm not talking about the eagles. I actually think that the eagles work narratively and I think that people just like trying to find loopholes. The big problem is the Army of the Dead. If there was ever a deus ex machina, it would be the Army of the Dead. They aren't teased throughout the series. Honestly, Aragorn and his companions are just camping near their stronghold. He is told this story and it is remarkably convenient. They need guys. These guys are bound to listen to Aragorn (I'm doing shorthand, guys. Don't comment.) and they come to his service. They can't be killed or defeated because they are already dead. Well, yeah. You could have one ghost on their team who can just kill everyone and that's still a cop out. It kind of undoes all the actual impressive stuff from the Battle of Minas Tirith. Structurally, though, it doesn't matter. This is why I slightly forgive this cop out moment.
The entire movie is a giant battle. Like I said, I don't really love that, but whatever. The movie posits that the Battle of Minas Tirith is the battle of the film. It's like the Battle of Helm's Deep on steroids. But it really isn't the central battle of the film. It isn't what the story is hinging on. It's an obstacle disguised as a central plot point. The actual battle is actually the one that is scaled down. The real battle that we have to care about is the battle at the Black Gate. If the Army of the Dead showed up there, it would have been deeply problematic. But since the Battle of Minas Tirith, sorry to say, is kind of filler spectacle, it works. (I like the Battle of Minas Tirith. I just don't love it.) There is a real threat at the Battle at the Black Gate. It is a suicide mission and people expect to die. I suppose the Battle of Minas Tirith is a suicide mission, but it is one that they kind of have to fight. But now I'm done dunking on the story. (Wait, I also wish that the movie was more Frodo and the Ring-centric, but it has enough and that stuff is grat.)
Frodo and Sam's story is what really gets me watching. I wish it wasn't almost the B-story of this movie, but I'm going to let it go. The metaphor of the ring is in full scale. Everyone gets the idea that the ring represents evil and sin. It's palpable. But I love how the Ring is more along the lines of the addictive property of sin. This is going to get cornball, so feel free to tune out. But I couldn't stop thinking about it. The movie starts off with one of my favorite tonal shifts I've ever seen in film. We get pre-ring Smeagol and his fishing buddy that has an absolutely brutal murder against the backdrop of a Shire-y looking place. I know a lot of this is Peter Jackson and not Tolkien. Forget that. But Smeagol quickly devolves into a murderer. His addiction is immediate. I always wondered why Smeagol went so nuts and Sam and Frodo are able to handle it for way longer before losing their cool. It's such a cool idea behind addiction. Some people are born pre-disposed to addiction. But, giving into vice time and again creates addiction. Frodo is able to keep that monkey on his back because he's built to resist. (I both love and hate me at this moment for that sentence.) We see this slow build until Frodo reaches the mountain. I binged all three movies this week, so bear with me. In Fellowship, he makes dumb decisions because he thinks he can handle it. We start to see the weariness and dangerous moments in Two Towers. We enter Return of the King with a full on drug-addled Frodo Baggins. He doesn't trust his best friend. He's strung out all of the times. He makes the worst decisions because he can't tell the difference between right and wrong. He destroys everything around him. The decisions he makes at the end are the inevitable. It makes the ring a very real threat. It's odd to think that all of this is about a bit of jewelry, but both the book and the movie does this absolutely phenomenal job of imbuing this object with so much threat and malice. But this also leads me to some complex moral stuff that I totally dig. The complexities of morality are what give this blog life. Frodo begs Sam not to hurt Gollum. He believes that Gollum is still able to be good. Elijah Wood crushes it in this moment. He is fighting for Sam not to kill his friend, Frodo. We watch as Frodo and Gollum become sympathetic partners. They lean closer to each other's personalities. As much as Gollum is rubbing off on Frodo, Frodo is rubbing off on Gollum. This makes the end decision that Gollum make all the more impressive. There's something remarkably cornball about Gollum making a change for good at the end. It seems to oversimplify the nature of sin and addiction. Also, if Gollum changed for good, that would imply that Frodo would change for evil. And he almost does.
SPOILER STUFF: It's weird to think that Frodo has to live out the rest of his life knowing that he didn't make the right choice at the end. Really, the end is forced upon him. There's something similar to Moses and the desert in that regard. I have always been kind of thrown by Exodus. Moses constantly endures these trials, time and again. He does all this good in the name of good, but drops the ball on the one yard line. (I made a sports reference. Be proud.) Moses taps on the rock twice. Frodo makes it all the way to Mount Doom and can't throw the ring in. It's only because of Gollum and Gandalf's cryptic prophecy being played out that works. It's a satisfying ending as a viewer, but that has to be extremely frustrating from Frodo's perspective. He's still the hero of Middle Earth. Aragorn and Gondor all bow to Frodo, but do they know that he stumbled at the last second. It's not downgrading all of the amazing things that Frodo did to get there, but it is interesting to think about. What is that saying about sin? I go back to the addictive nature of sin. We lead good lives and could be the best of our kind, but it stands to reason that sin still will always have power over us. As mundane of a moment as it is, Old Bilbo asking for his ring back is really telling. He's always going to have that temptation, regardless of what is physically manifested ahead of him. It's kind of powerful.
Can I tell you how scary the Shelob scene is? I talked about this early on, but I am actually shook. I read the book and I knew that Shelob was a character. I knew that it was going to be scary when I was going to see the movie in the theater back in 2003. But this time, my goodness. It's the most intentionally scary spider scene that I've ever seen. That character is terrifying. I'm amazed that I can watch that. I might be able to watch movies about spiders again because I could handle that scene. Back when I played Resident Evil 2, I would unload all of my rocket launchers on regular spider villains. I don't need to be watching that. This is all meant to be a compliment, but good golly, that is scary. I know. A lot of you can handle it. But that stuff is messed up.
I'm super glad that I actually mostly pulled off my Lord of the Rings binge that I've always talked about doing. These movies are absolutely phenomenal. I don't know if binging is the best method for consuming these movies because there is so much action and war stuff that it can get a little tedious. But as individual movies, they positively crush. Oh, and don't complain about the epilogue. I've been on board for so long that I long for a return to normality. Also, I'm still the hobbit character who likes things nice and peaceful once in a while.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.