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incidents and accidents, hints and allegations

wood cat
Kate kate_nepveu
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Return of the King, second viewing

We went to the 11:50 showing of Return of the King today—which was packed, a week and a half after it opened in one of four theaters, I don't think they'll have any trouble making back their money on this one. (Initial thoughts are in this post.)

I did like it better this time: I wasn't on the edge of my seat to see what they would leave out or screw up, I was on the edge of my seat because the movie was tense and exciting. I don't think this will ever be a comfort movie for me, because it's tiring; we weren't even halfway through and I was already exhausted. Interestingly, the slow-mo scene with the Fellowship coming into Frodo's room didn't seem as long, indeed the ending as a whole didn't.

I was thinking about whether the tone of the ending is consistent with the books. I think I agree with Melymbrosia that the feeling is off, and there was a particular scene that made me think so: when the Ring is destroyed, Frodo says that he can see the Shire again. (Which I think is not canonical, but I don't want to check because I'm waiting on re-reading the books.) When he later says that the Shire was saved, but not for him—well, I find it jarring. All we get in the interval is looking happy at Sam and Rosie's wedding, a bit of looking lonely in Bag End (and cheesy voiceover, again), and then saying that his shoulder wound has never healed. I don't think that's enough to overcome the happy restoration in the lava field. If he'd said that he still couldn't see the Shire, I would have liked it better. I don't hate the ending as it stands, but I don't think it's quite right.

[Edited 12/29/2003: Several comments have remarked on this, and obviously I wasn't clear enough. I understand that Frodo, in the lava field, is saying that his memories have returned. What I'm saying is that this sequence of events doesn't build up, emotionally, to this conclusion for me:

  1. Frodo's memories of the Shire are taken away by the effects of the Ring.
  2. The Ring is destroyed.
  3. Frodo's memories are restored.
  4. Frodo and the other hobbits go home.
  5. There's a collective "what now" moment at the Green Dragon.
  6. Frodo looks happy at the wedding.
  7. Frodo looks lonely at Bag End.
  8. Frodo says in cheesy voiceover that he just wants to go back and can't.
  9. Frodo says that it's four years since Weathertop and his shoulder wound has never healed.
  10. Frodo goes to the Grey Havens and says "We saved the Shire, but not for me."

In other words: he's got the joy of the Shire back in memory, and what we see on screen doesn't seem like enough to show that the physical reality is so different or overwhelmed by pain and loss that he needs to leave.

Compare the books:

  1. There is a conversation about not being able to remember nature, pre-Ring-destruction.
  2. I don't remember if Frodo gets that back after the Ring is destroyed. (I want to say no, but I'm not sure.)
  3. The Scouring shows that violent death and corruption has touched and changed even the Shire, which noticeably saddens Frodo.
  4. Sam notices that Frodo is withdrawn from the community over time, gives up the office of (Deputy?) Mayor, isn't recognized for his accomplishments, hardly socializes.
  5. Frodo is sick twice a year, on the anniversary of Weathertop and the anniversary of the Ring's destruction.

That's a lot more—granted a lot of it is internal, which is harder to show. Which is why I think it would have worked better if Frodo didn't say, in the movie, that he had the memory of the Shire back, because it makes his journey to leaving much shorter.

End long edit. ]

(Also, I noticed the scale doubles of the Hobbits a lot in this movie, maybe because I was watching too much making-of DVDs. They're quite noticeable in the ending, and also when Pippin is at the balcony in Minas Tirith.)

People have nitpicked the battle scenes. I decided, watching the Pelennor Fields, that I just don't care. Don't. Cavalry charges don't keep momentum like that? Don't care. Can't take down multi-story elephants that easily? Don't care. Catapults shouldn't do that much damage? Don't care. I just don't.

(Teresa Nielsen Hayden, as always, nails it: "The charge of the Rohirrim at Pelennor Fields had an invisible caption under it that said It is more fun to be cavalry than infantry." Much more and many, many, comments at the Making Light thread.)

The Rohirrim's preparation for charging still got to me, the emotional reverses kept me on the edge of my seat, I still went "guh" when Aragorn lowered his shoulder and charged at the orcs . . . yeah. Don't care, not in the least.

Apropos of the Pelennor Fields, I said somewhere that I wasn't sure if the chronology worked out for everyone to arrive at the same time. I think it can, and probably the easiest way to get the extra days in the Gondor thread is to have a day or two between the big green beacon and the invasion of Osiligath (which is entirely likely, just not explicit). A simple line like "The beacons were lit five days ago, and Rohan has not come—they have forsaken us!" would have made me feel a lot better, but I doubt that most people were bothered by this.

Minor points:

  • I don't think I mentioned, last post, how creepy and amazing I found the Minas Morgul sequence.
  • Shelob—fast and skittering and smart—as much personality as the cave troll, but much more malevolent.
  • I love that Gandalf's white cloak is all grimy 'round the edges when he arrives at Gondor.

There was more I wanted to comment on, but like I said, it's an exhausting movie and it's all run together. Here are some links I collected, and then I'm going to bed:

  • A nice article about trilogy Tuesday from the New York Times, unfortunately now disappeared into a pay archive:

    At one point in the movie's epic final battle scene, a couple enter the theater: attractive, well dressed. Where have they come from? They peer around for seats; seeing there are none, they sit down in the aisle beside me and whisper.

    I find that I want to kill them. It is not so much their noise, which is minimal. It is that this audience has shared this room for, lo, these 14 hours, and these people are not of our "Ring" fellowship. They have violated a sacred space. My homicidal vibes must reach them. They slink back to the impure real world.

    [ETA: a slight amount of that article's content is also in this Slate article (about halfway down).]

  • coffeeandink has collected links to many comments.
  • A condensed parody version by mollyringwraith (also a Two Towers version).
  • An amusing Strategies for Saving the Tolkien Purist from silveraspen

[Edited 12/29/2003 to clarify the thing that several people commented on.]

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I interpreted that "I can see the Shire" comment not as a statement that he can go home again, but that he sees the Shire. Right then, in front of his eyes. Before destroying the ring, he and Sam had that conversation about the Shire, and the taste of strawberries and cream, and all that - and he couldn't remember any of it. Afterward, the Shire returns to his mind's eye, and he's happy that he can remember it again.

*shrug* I could be wrong, but I like it.


The Ring was consuming Frodo, removing any memories he had of a better place, and a better time.

It's parallel to what Gollum undergoes in the flashback.

After the Ring is destroyed and its influence removed, he has his memories back. Still doesn't mean he can stick around, though.

Isn't that flashback creepy?

(I've edited the post to address your other concerns.)

Yes, it was, and the whole biting into fish thing was puke worthy.

My reply was too long and the same for a bunch of people, so I edited the post instead. Hope it's clearer now.

also when Pippin is at the balcony in Minas Tirith

Yes. He looks like he's on his knees because he's suddenly too big for the balcony, relative to him-alongside-model. Turns out he was actually on his knees (scroll nearly to end).

Thanks for pinpointing Frodo's ambiguous relationship with Shire-sighting as a substantial reason why the ending feels wrong.

Yes, I figured that was what it was. That's probably why the proportions were all wrong from behind.

I wish I hadn't noticed this, really. I didn't in the first two.

(Deleted comment)
I believe that the scale doubles aren't proportioned the same way as their larger counterparts. I don't know how much the costumes could disguise it; maybe they did a better job earlier, or maybe I just wasn't looking.

I don't think this will ever be a comfort movie for me, because it's tiring; we weren't even halfway through and I was already exhausted.

Interestingly enough, in a way it's become a comfort movie for me for that very reason. When I'm emotionally frustrated, I suddenly find myself craving RotK, because it's intense and exhausting, and it'll give me an outlet for feeling frustrated that ends. Wacky, but true, I think.

I can't believe it's only been out for less than two weeks. It feels like it's been out for ages.

There are books that I read when I'm emotionally wrought and want some quality melodrama--Guy Gavriel Kay's books being high on the list. For comfort movies, though, I tend to want less emotionally demanding things--it may be because I can't help but get very emotionally involved in movies and I can't control the tension levels by skimming tough parts or such.

But it makes sense to me that if I was going to use a movie for that, this would be a good choice.

(Also, I noticed the scale doubles of the Hobbits a lot in this movie, maybe because I was watching too much making-of DVDs. They're quite noticeable in the ending, and also when Pippin is at the balcony in Minas Tirith.)

You are me AICMFP. I did like seeing Cirdan again at the very end, silent as he was at the very beginning. (Who's the 3rd dude, anyway, the non-Elrond with Galadriel and Cirdan when we see the 3 Elves with the Three?) At least, I think we see him.

I agree with ceara that Frodo seeing he can see the Shire again means merely that he can remember it again.

Probably Celeborn. Remember him? Galadriel's husband?


Nobody remembers him, because he's useless.

I have to assume he was a kickass guitar player back in the First Age, because I can't think of any other way a dork like him would get to marry a babe like her...

I think he's just forgettable in the books, rather than actively a dork as he is in the movies.

Yeah, Celeborn doesn't do a thing in The Silmarillion, either. Not a single darned thing that I can tell, besides contribute his genes as Arwen's grand-dad (Family Tree II, Silmarillion). I mean, there's all kinds of ass-kicking going on up and down the whole length of the First and Second ages, you got folks with the cojones to march right into Morgoth's fortress and steal the Silmarils right off Morgoth's freaking head (Beren and Luthien), Morgoth who was so bad-ass it took the Valar themselves marching out of the West to take him down; or guys with enough guts to single-handedly take on dragons (Turin). And then you have Celeborn, whose only mentions were that he married Galadriel. I mean, dude. :-)

Heh. I assume he's got qualities we don't see, otherwise Galadriel wouldn't have married him.

I think I do remember him at the end, getting on the boat with everyone else. But I do not remember him in the prologue of the first movie, and I don't remember him giving Elrond one of the Three.

By "he" do you mean Cirdan, not Celeborn? Celeborn canonically never had a Ring.

I mean Celeborn. I didn't think he ever had a Ring. This leaves me confused as to who it is with Galadriel and Cirdan in the prologue when they show the original (I assume) wielders of the three.

Honestly I barely looked at the male faces, though canonically it would be Gil-Galad, who is listed in the credits but maybe for the battle scene.

Hee. You are a Bad Man. I'll have to ask some of the Mythies who know more about this sort of thing than I do.


Frodo says that he can see the Shire again. (Which I think is not canonical, but I don't want to check because I'm waiting on re-reading the books.)

It isn't which surprised me; I thought it was. But I've just looked and it's not there.

When he later says that the Shire was saved, but not for him—well, I find it jarring.

Well, that is exactly what he says in the book, but I can understand that you didn't think it was set up well enough, if that's what you meant. I'm afraid that part was really rushed.


(nods nods) Looking as well, I too am surprised that particular quote *isn't* in the book because so much else of the dialogue in the last stretch *is* -- the "wheel of fire" bit, the "carry you and it as well", and so forth.

Personally, I liked the changes to Theoden's last words better than what was in the original text, similar to what they did with Boromir's last words.

They did such a nice job with Theoden in this movie, and Boromir overall--I still don't like Theoden in the second, but I can almost forgive that now. (Almost.)

The set-up is exactly what I meant, I've edited the post to talk about it at length since I wasn't clear enough before.

Discussion about the ending's tone is also going on over at coffeeandink's journal, in the post about first impressions.