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Kate kate_nepveu
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Initial thoughts on RotK

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."

Dear me, what a mess. Time for bed.

Tags: ,

A mess, but you managed to keep it far more coherent than I did.

I could comment about your random comments but I'm really tired and will postpone that for the time being---I still have review part 2 that I promised myself to write anyway---but one thing: "...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." Yes, definitely. It was far easier, the second viewing (tonight), for me to ease into it and let it carry me, and it felt so much more smooth and flowing. And with the amount to grasp, it is no more a single-viewing movie than its source matter is a single-reading book.

Not a movie for someone afraid of heights? Definitely. My mom had to cover her eyes during you know which scenes...*smile*

Good grief, practically all of them--the beacons, the Stair, Minas Tirith, wingéd things, Mount Doom, etc. etc. etc. Jackson is extremely fond of the vertigous shot.

The Stair scenes, particularly.

(Deleted comment)
Yes, good call.

I really want the Extended Edition. Now.

(Deleted comment)
There's always The Hobbit...

No scene of Gandalf confronting the Witch King

I realized why this was, this morning.

The movies don't ever make clear that Gandalf isn't human, I don't think. And so by avoiding his confrontation and that explanation, the movie clears the way, dramatically speaking, for Eowyn and Merry.

(Also, the confrontation wouldn't really advance the plot much.)

Of course, my recollection of the books is that it's strongly suggested that Gandalf can't kill the Witch King either, and that the confrontation between them is probably futile bravado on Gandalf's part.

I don't recall that from the books, but you've read them more recently.

I don't know that it's explicitly stated, but I think the Witch King cites the "no living man" prophecy to Gandalf, and I certainly got the impression that Gandalf didn't really expect to win. I'll check it again later.

(no subject) - texas_tiger, 2003-12-18 06:21 pm (UTC)(Expand)

I'm responding to this rather late, aren't I?

I think it's fine to have omitted Gandalf's confrontation with the Witch King, but then why bother having the Witch King mutter, "I will break him," leading everyone to think there is going to be some sort of confrontation?

I loved the movie so much: the first viewing completely overwhelmed me, the second I was busy looking for things I'd missed the first time. I really loved my third viewing best. I have yet to write up my own comprehensive review, but agree with you on many things.

So many things were done perfectly that it really bothered me extensively when someone was done wrong. Like the excessive slow motion. Argh!

Re: I'm responding to this rather late, aren't I?

Apparently the Witch King-Gandalf confrontation was filmed and will be in the Extended Edition.

Oddly, the slow motion didn't bother me as much on my second viewing. It's such a tiring movie that we haven't got around to #3 yet, but I'm sure we will.

Re: I'm responding to this rather late, aren't I?

Apparently the Witch King-Gandalf confrontation was filmed and will be in the Extended Edition.

I've heard this, but it bothers me that they left things like that in the cinema release. I can't wait, of course, to see all the extended bits in the EE dvd!

And I agree, the slow-motion and all the other small things bothered me much less in the subsequent viewings.

I believe I read somewhere that the extended editions were a felicious semi-accident; Jackson had not originally planned this kind of two-tiered release. And I think that it shows in that FotR is the smoothest of the theatrical releases in terms of story and flow.

Vertigo -- hell, yeah. I kept flinching.

In one sense, the pacing of the last two theatrical versions drives me nuts, because how could they have thought that they could fit everything into the time they had remaining! Especially with leaving so much of book two for the third movie.

It's a failure of ambition rather than the reverse, which for some reason I respect more, at least in art. But I do wish that they'd been a little more rigorous in setting up the story arcs in the first place.

(Deleted comment)
Hmmm, I don't agree, they've cut huge swathes out of the plot in the first book, after all.

(And then adding the damn warg attack! Sorry.)

In one sense, the pacing of the last two theatrical versions drives me nuts, because how could they have thought that they could fit everything into the time they had remaining! Especially with leaving so much of book two for the third movie.

As I said when we talked about this off-line, I think this stuff may seem obvious to us, but that may be an illusion caused by the fact that we're not in the movie business.

There's a nice essay in William Goldman's Which Lie Did I Tell? about making the movie Maverick, where he talks about a scene he'd written that he really loved, and that reinfoced the "magic" thing. It worked great on the page-- he loved it, the director loved it, the actors loved it. But on film, it killed the movie dead-- and again, they all agreed that it just didn't work on screen.

I can easily believe that something similar happened here, particularly with the omitted scenes. Somewhere in the extras for The Two Towers, Peter Jackson even says that they wanted to put the Saruman scene into the second film, but they decided it messed up the ending. It wouldn't surprise me to hear on the commentary tracks for the third movie that they decided the pay-off just didn't justify the screen time, and that's why it was cut from the third.

Grumble. That omission I find particularly annoying; apparently it's ~7 minutes. If you did want to put it at the end of the second movie, just cut out the Warg attack, trim Helm's Deep just a touch, and you've got the time. (And I think it could have worked; Gandalf could have gone into exposition mode, "Saruman is overthrown, but Sauron remains, and will be moving now that Saruman has suffered this defeat." Etc.)

But having seen the way the third movie opens, I really don't think it would have killed the opening, either. The glossing-over of it didn't feel as lame as I'd feared, but I really don't think it would have hurt it. And it could have been played to increase hobbit motivation and so forth.

I guess we'll see in November 2004.

Anyway. I know they had an enormous task and they're all insane to have even tried to do this in seven years, but I wish they'd been able to take just *that* much more time to get better theatrical pacing.

Grumble. That omission I find particularly annoying; apparently it's ~7 minutes. If you did want to put it at the end of the second movie, just cut out the Warg attack, trim Helm's Deep just a touch, and you've got the time. (And I think it could have worked; Gandalf could have gone into exposition mode, "Saruman is overthrown, but Sauron remains, and will be moving now that Saruman has suffered this defeat." Etc.)

The problem wasn't running time, it was pacing, according to the comment I recall. He said that the people who saw it all felt that the movie really ended with the victory at Helm's Deep, and adding more stuff just felt like they were dragging it out.

And, at the time they were making the second movie, they thought that they'd be able to put it in the third movie...

But having seen the way the third movie opens, I really don't think it would have killed the opening, either. The glossing-over of it didn't feel as lame as I'd feared, but I really don't think it would have hurt it. And it could have been played to increase hobbit motivation and so forth.

I'd have to see it to know for sure. Again, I like the Goldman essay on this-- he's a great screenwriter, and even he doesn't know for sure what will work until it's on screen.

The slow-motion shots at the end were really irritating. The scene with Frodo on the bed almost lapsed into self parody. If I were a director, I think I'd have handled it differently.

The development of Merry and Pippin was quite welcome, and well done.

It has been said elsewhere that the growth of the hobbits, and their centrality as viewpoint characters, is crucial to the books; and to the extent that the movie preserves this, it is a good thing. I agree with this, and so was very pleased with Pippin especially.

Four more things:

1) Grond. Very cool.

2) The inscription on the Ring coming out as it heats. Also very cool.

3) Denethor eating. Oddly, creepily effective.

4) When Theoden asked Eowyn to "release" him, I thought he was asking for a mercy killing, and I couldn't believe they'd do that. Either that's not what he meant (don't try to keep me alive, it's time), or they made Eowyn all girly and non-warrior-code and stuff by not doing it, or they just chickened out and had him die before she was ready. It was a strange moment.

I don't remember him saying "release"-- I thought he said "let me go," which would be much different.

Let's go see it again tonight, and sort this crucial issue out...

Grond, yes, gate, no

(Anonymous)
Unlike, it appears, practically everyone else, I was a bit annoyed with Minas Tirith.

The Witch-King goes for the gate -- the gate of iron with pillars of steel, mind -- because the rest of the wall is one big seamless indestructable thing, like Orthanc, not (apparently) masonary with really rotten mortar.

They missed a chance to have the great big *boom* noise and the Witch-King do something witchy, too, which I can't quite see why they gave up.

One more:

"Fat Hobbit!"

(I bet that was a Serkis improvisation; you could tell how much Sean Astin hated being fat, so Serkis used that irritation for the character.)

Actually, no, that's canon. Gollum refers to Sam at least once as the fat hobbit, IIRC.

Andy Serkis is brilliant.

And thanks for your comments: I drove by via Mely's list of links.

Is it such a prominent feature, though?