Before the movie talk, a practical note about going to the theater: don't count on being able to make one last bathroom run during the trailers, because we only had one, much to my surprise.
This is not going to be very coherent. I'm really tired, but I needed to eat something and drink a whole bunch of water when we got back, so I'm not going to be able to sleep for a while. This is mostly going to be an attempt to preserve my first reactions, so I can compare later.
In the car on the way back, I was surprised at how long it took for me to determine how I felt about the movie. Partly this is because the roads were terrible, but partly my head just felt overstuffed and yet empty. It sounds odd, and it was.
Some of this was the sheer scope and grandeur and furious pace of the thing. My poor brain needed a rest. But I think most of it was the tension between two reactions: on one hand, there was (at least on first impression) the least amount of things that really pissed me off. So by that measure I should have loved it and been jumping up and down. But on the other, it was (again on first impression) the movie that most made me miss the context and richness and added details of the books, all the stuff that was cut for time and narrative flow. For instance: during most of the ride to the Black Gate, I was trying to see if Eowyn was there. Of course she wasn't, and I knew that she wasn't because she had a broken arm. But Merry was, and so I couldn't be sure—and we never hear of or from Eowyn until the coronation, once the Pelennor Fields are done. (And the happy face we see there isn't incompatible with a broken heart, but nevertheless that bit doesn't get closed off.) And Denethor mentions having seen things, but we never see his palantir. And we see the dead White Tree but don't have its flowering emphasized (Chad says you could see it; I didn't notice it, myself).
I want to be as clear as possible about what I'm saying. Some of the things I mention above are small loose ends that, considered as an internally self-contained story, I think weaken the movie slightly (mostly the Merry and Eowyn transitions). In other words, I think they would be a bit confusing for people who hadn't read the books. But that's not most of what I'm talking about when I talk about missing the richness of the book. That is, I don't think the movie is a bad movie for not including some things: I can see why it didn't, and the omissions didn't do violence to anything I felt strongly about. Their omission just made me almost melancholy: how wonderful would it have been, if we could have seen that, when they did so well with what we did see.
And I'm sure we'll get a lot of it back on the extended DVD. But I think I had a feeling like that in the back of my mind while I was watching, hence the odd reaction. Seeing it again is definitely in order; now that I'm not wondering what's made the cut or not, I ought to be able to look at it more for its own sake.
As I said, this had the least amount of stuff in it that I hated. In comparison, I was jumping up and down with joy after Fellowship, even though I hated The Temptation of Galadriel and the wizard-fu duel. The difference between beginnings and endings, between the thrill of discovery and the tension of "please don't screw it up"; and the melancholy of loss.
Random comments about specific things:
- When watching The Two Towers and seeing Frodo fall into the Dead Marshes, I made a joke to Chad about who was going to fall into water in the third movie. Well, that was answered in the prologue. (Think Andy Serkis will be able to score a supporting actor nomination, technically for his appearance as pre-Ring Smeagol, but really for Golllum?)
- Grandeur and scope: the beacons being lighted.
- The least-graceful thing Aragorn did in the movie, was run when he saw the beacon. Beautiful characterization.
- Thank you, thank you, thank you, for not throwing in a "Theoden decides not to go to Gondor's aid" subplot. Though you did get me tense in that pause, knowing what you did in the second movie.
- Minas Tirith is amazing. I love the late-winter's-afternoon light for it and Osgiliath.
- This is so not a movie for people who are afraid of heights.
- Speaking of light, the army of the Dead is green because that's the color of death; note Minas Morgul.
- The Gollum psychological warfare was a positively brilliant addition. I don't really believe Sam would have tried to go home, but he was heartbroken so I'll forgive him.
- Shelob. I want credit, I kept my eyes open for the entire thing.
- Of course Sam didn't use the Ring to get into the tower, because it would have given away to the viewer that he had it.
- I don't hear the "I can carry you" line like that in my head, but I suppose they needed a rousing speech at that time. Though I did cringe at the flowers and trees and parties bit.
- Pelennor Fields: unlike Helm's Deep, it had a definite emotional ebb and flow to it that I thought made it even more impressive. And they left the Corsairs in, even if we didn't get the cries across the fields of "The Corsairs of Umbar!"
- I actually started tearing up when the Rohirrim were preparing to charge. Something about "Death! Death!" as a battle cry, you know.
- No scene of Gandalf confronting the Witch King, or riding up to a Fell Beast in the city (which was in the trailer). No "we shall see the Shire" scene, either.
- Merry and Pippin! Nice for them to have something to do. Billy Boyd, in particular, is really good at making Pippin's face utterly transparent (like when everyone's bowing to the four of them).
- Eowyn, Merry, and the Witch King: oh, very well done indeed.
- I don't remember the Nazgul screams being that piercing. I cringed every time.
- Denethor as a flaming cannonball: a little cheesy. Overall I wasn't unhappy with his portrayal; I would have liked more depth to it, but I didn't think it was grossly wrong.
- Speaking of flames, I personally think it was a more satisfying change to have Gollum fall over in a struggle, because that's never quite worked for me. I can certainly understand people being upset over that, though.
- And the flaming eyeball: eh, well.
- Before the Black Gate: "For Frodo," and the reaction shots when they realize how this victory has come about. Heartstrings tugged, check.
- The Eagles were not very impressive-looking, but then they weren't in the first movie, either.
- I like drawn-out endings. I do. I love all the book chapters where people are happy and get married and talk and say goodbye. But I could have done with many fewer slow-motion shots.
- Subtle touch: Sam's clothes are noticeably nicer after they return.
- "Well, I'm back."