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Customer Review

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Achieving the Impossible, January 5, 2004
Any review of "Return of the King" has to start from first principles: First, the books are too long to make into a movie, even a trilogy. Second, not everyone has read the books, or liked what they read. Sad but true. Third, of those who have read and liked the books, only a few of us have them mostly memorized. So any successful film production must take into account that parts of the books must be dropped, that the story has to be interesting and accessible to those who haven't read the trilogy, and that the movies must still honor the trilogy for those who have read - or memorized - Tolkien's life work. Those are the realities; we must judge the movie on those realities.
You can quibble over some very minor details, but Peter Jackson's telling of Return of the King balances these principles masterfully. Compression? Yes, of course. When Aragorn and Legolas lost the horses at the entrance to the Paths of the Dead, how, I asked myself, were they going to cross the hundreds of leagues from Erech to the Anduin? Excision? Yes, of course. The confrontation of Gandalf and Saruman. The confrontation with the Mouth of Saruman. The Houses of Healing. Imrahil. But the book trilogy is just too long to fit into three manageable movies. The absolutely critical scenes are all there. The story line is not lost or compromised. I will never know if it appears choppy to those unfamiliar with the books, but for me the compressions and excisions did not seriously detract.
Jackson also had to find a way to make the movie accessible to those who have never read the books. Those challenges included finding some way of demonstrating the pure evil of the One Ring. Those who have not read or do not remember the books don't know Tolkien's extended descriptions of what Frodo was experiencing. A movie maker's tools for making that introspection into exposition are pretty limited. The opening scene between Deagol and Smeagol brilliantly reminds viewers of the absolutely corrupting influence of the one Ring. Only by watching every character be tempted by the Ring, and watching many of those tempted succumb, can strangers to the Trilogy begin to know what Frodo was experiencing. The books are full of other, equally challenging problems for a scriptwriter and a director. Jackson handles them all quite well.
But Jackson also brought his own talents and imagination to the story. Is there anyone who wasn't transfixed by Jackson's invented sequence of Faramir's doomed charge on Osgiliath while Pippin is made to sing for Denethor? It's the difference between merely filming the book and making a movie. Jackson's additions range from brilliant to interesting; none of them detract from the story.
Finally, Jackson had to preserve the attention and respect of the sizeable minority of us who cherish the books. Speaking for myself, that moment came when Jackson had Aragorn turn to the crowd after his coronation, and recite, in Elvish, the words of Elendil when he came to Middle Earth. No subtitles; no explanation. Obviously, that line was for hard core fans alone. Having Aragron chant the lines was just icing on the cake.
Brilliant special effects. Superb unity of plot, theme, and character across the three movies - compare Isildur's half smile when he declines to destroy the Ring at Elrond's urging with the look on Frodo's face at the penultimate moment. And the knife's edge balancing of these principles. This is an excellent adaptation, nearly flawless. Highly recommended.
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Review Details

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James D. DeWitt

Location: Fairbanks, AK United States

Top Reviewer Ranking: 73,043