There isn’t much to do in New Zealand. The countryside is so beautiful it takes your breath away, the forests so gloriously primaeval that you expect to find a triceratops around every corner, Trouble is, all that gasping does somthing to your brain.
I think this is the problem with LOTR III: The Return of the King. You spend so much time gasping at the scale of the landscape, the epic battle scenes and the gorgeous use of colour that you don’t notice – or it feels churlish to point out – the shortcomings.
Well, this is my blog and if I want to be curmudgeonly, I will. Granted that I saw this after a very stressful day; granted I am 36 weeks pregnant and had to spend half the film comforting an agitated Sladey Jr – but even so, I found myself waiting for the end and congratulating myself for paying less than West End prices for this experience.
So, the plot. As any Dungeons & Dragons-playing fule kno, the Return of The King concludes the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The One Ring is well on its way to Mordor (I suppose pronouncing it “Morgh-dogh” makes it sound less like Morden). The returning King has realised that his destiny lies not in ranging around forests chatting to elves. And anyway, the elves have decided to bugger off home to some happy hippy haven across the sea. All that remains is a final battle against the Forces of Evil, and the establishment of the Age of Men in the power vacuum that results from the buggering-off elves and defeated Evil Forces. Catalytic to all this are a race of short, hairy-footed beings called Hobbits, who as a rule dislike change and read the Middle Earth equivalent of The Daily Mail.
Frodo and his faithful companion, Sam, spend most of the book (and the film) trailing around Mordor and getting into perilous situations, some of which are instigated by the sinister Gollum/Smeagol, their guide and ultimate betrayer. I wouldn’t be Frodo for anything. All he has done fo the past three films is look stricken and get rescued from various perils by his friends. Sam has much more fun – he gets to beat up Gollum, battle with delightfully gruesome giant spiders, and even chuck a few orcs downstairs. And he gets the girl at the end – a simpering barmaid called Rosie. Much fan fiction has been written about Frodo and Sam’s quasi-homosexual bond, but director and writer Peter Jackson makes sure we know that Sam’s all heterosexual Hobbit at the end.
So, what of the rest of the motley Fellowship. The principal focus is on Aragorn, the man who is destined to be King of Gondor – the biggest and most gothic of the cities. Aragorn’s job is to muster the forces of Man against the forces of Orc, Balrog, and assorted ugly creatures. Aided by Gimli the dwarf and Legolas the Elf, Aragorn even manages to recruit a ghost army of dead warriors who owe him a favour and are so scary, even the biggest baddest orcs flee at their approach. Gimli and Legolas don’t have that much to do, other than provide a bit of colour to the somewhat portentous, leaden script – though Legolas does get to o a fantastic stunt involving leaping all over a giant fighting elephant and despatching lots of tattooed baddies to their doom without ruffling a hair.
So, that’s the men, what of the women? Good question. Even my dim teenage memories of Tolkien recall a feisty, battling Arwen and Eowyn, plus a fearsome, seductive and slightly sinister Galadriel. Arwen spends most of the film moping around Rivendell in a variety of lovely Pre-Raphaelite costumes. Galadriel appears – usually in dream or flashback form – when you least expect her, and smirks a lot. Eowyn at least gets to do a bit of fighting, and saves her father from the leader of the Nazgul (with the help of a handy stabbing Hobbit). Errr…that’s it. Oh yes, and Arwen gives up her Elvish immortality to breed royal half-Elves with Aragorn at the end. That’s it. Except for Rosie the Hobbit barmaid, who provides a few interesting questions about the gestation of baby hobbits, but mainly spends her five minutes of screen time simpering at Sam.
I’m being unfair about the dramatic impact of the film. The director/writer’s decision to stick to Tolkien’s method and show most of the action through the eyes of wayward young hobbits Pippin and Merry is a good one. They, unlike Gandalf et al, provide a refreshingly human, fallible dimension to the action, and get to kill orcs too. The battle scenes are possibly the best, most spectacular that I have ever seen on screen; and Andy Serkis as Gollum is a fantastic study of the effects of obsession and evil on an ordinary mind.
The Return of the King is a huge book, and not everything could be included, I know. However, I think Peter Jackson made a mistake in cutting most of the final section of the book, which deals with the Hobbits’ return to the Shire. In the book, Saruman has fled to the Shire and turned the rural idyll into a nightmare industrial dictatorship, run by gangsters and enslaving the hobbits. Unlike their Shire countrymen, who being Daily Mail readers, complain a lot yet accept the situation as the new status quo, Frodo, Pippin, Merry and Sam use their new-found confidence to lead a revolt against Saruman and his henchmen. This, I think is the purpose of the trilogy – the ordinary, “little man” discovers hitherto unknown reserves of heroism and self-confidence, and eventually defeats evil. The final illustration of this is the hobbits’ act of self-determination in their own homeland. All the stuff about the end of the age of magic and Frodo’s departure for the Elf haven is window-dressing. But at least it stops him whining, I suppose.