Lately I’ve been rereading your reviews of The Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies, and after reading your “Extended Edition” notes for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I’m wondering about whether or not you still agree about what you said of the theatrical version of The Return of the King and the trilogy as a whole. Too make it short, did the Extended Edition of The Return of the King ruin the whole trilogy for you?
Thanks for writing. By coincidence, I am currently rereading Tolkien’s saga to my three older children (we just finished the first part of The Two Towers) and are simultaneously working our way through the film trilogy, and are somewhere in the middle of The Return of the King movie.
While the The Return of the King extended edition was in some ways a disappointment, I certainly wouldn’t say it “ruined the whole trilogy” for me. My appreciation for the trilogy, including The Return of the King and in spite of the stumbles of the extended-edition material, is too great for that. The final EE should have been the series’ crowning achievement; instead, it was a mixed bag, both enhancing and diminishing the film.
Some of the missteps, such as the stupid drinking game, add insult to injury: Poor Gimli was already deprived of too much of his dignity and the butt of too many cheap jokes, and this was possibly the lowest of them. The “skullvalanche” in the Paths of the Dead is a tone-deaf action-movie affront to the uncanny dread that should pervade that scene. The whole misguided business about Arwen languishing, which undermines the nobility of two of Tolkien’s noblest characters, even the one character whom Jackson would glorify above all, Aragorn.
Yet the film’s achievements remain towering. Not just the big things, like the spectacle of Minas Tirith and the battle of Pelennor Fields, but little things, like Gandalf’s speech about the “grey rain-curtain of the world” and that unforgettable moment when Sam, unable to bear the Ring, grimly sets himself to carry the Ring-bearer instead.
The things I love about the film are too many to count: the brilliant use of Anduril in the Paths of the Dead; the haunting use of Pippin’s plaintive song to score Faramir’s doomed assault on Osgiliath; the tragic flicker of ring-lust in even aged, doddering Bilbo’s eyes. I remain deeply grateful to Jackson and company for the film — even if the confrontation between Gandalf and the Witch-King makes me want to beat Jackson with the largest available fragment of Gandalf’s staff every time.