LOTR, Chapter Three: Happy (Endless) Endings

(LOTR is an ongoing series.)

Okay, so I finally concluded the LOTR series. The Return Of The King (2003) intimidated me enough to put it off for over two months. The film literally sat on my desktop, gathering dust.

Why so long, you say? Well, first of all it’s over four hours long (once again, I’m watching the extended versions of the films). On average I only get three and a half hours to myself each day, so finding a time to sit down and watch it was hard. Secondly, I have been distracted by just about everything else: work, illness, various writing projects, the holiday season, completing my dual citizenship and, well, Boardwalk Empire… which I’ll write about later.

This is the conclusion of the trilogy, and what a conclusion King is. No expense was spared. No emotion was left un-emoted. In fact, the entire LOTR series may be the longest parade of unintentional O-Faces ever committed to celluloid. Its epicness and moments of being “in a glass case of emotion” are countless. It’s easy to make fun of this. Even fans can’t help themselves. In Ilana’s parody of The Two Towers (2002) she puts her opinion into the characters’ mouths:

FRODO: Damn! I still have this darned ring that I got in the first movie!

SAMWISE: The ring with the terrible power that causes everyone who comes near it to over-act?

Thing is, she’s right. They kind of do. However, the interesting thing about these films and Peter Jackson’s directing choices is that the emotions may be large, sometimes borderline uncomfortable, but they’re part of the series’ grand scale. Also, it isn’t often that films about war and camaraderie allow male characters to emote so much and still be considered “cool.” The men of LOTR may cry, scream and hug each other really, really tight, but that behavior is never questioned. It simply is, and as an audience we are encouraged to accept it.

In many ways this concluding chapter is like its predecessor, a film that centers on action rather than exposition and character development. Overall I would say it’s one long ending: a series of battles- both physical and internal- building to a climax before its notorious ending sequences (I count four, but the number is debatable).

The final showdown at Minas Tirith reminds me of the battle for Rohan in the previous film. This helped me understand why I kept getting the plot of King confused with Towers for all these years. It’s the same situation: a bunch of Orcs and other evil beings trying to storm a walled stronghold on the side of a mountain. The good guys are outnumbered but gather enough forces to back them up. Against all odds they win. In the case of Minas Tirith the army of the dead kind of guarantee that win, and once they show up pretty much everyone who is unattractive dies in one fell CG swoop.

Then Aragorn decides it’s time to go to battle again about fifteen minutes later. Sigh.

Of course, Frodo finally gets rid of the Ring. We watch this go down in what seems to be real time, as well as Frodo’s dumbass decision to keep believing everything Gollum tells him. This tried my patience until it eventually snapped. Frodo’s rejection of Sam was especially hard to watch. I would say it was the most idiotic turn of events in the series. I thought, “You’re going to trust deranged, murdering former owner of the Ring and not a friend of several decades who keeps saving your life? You’re a moron.”

In the end I didn’t really like Frodo. I especially didn’t like Gollum. You know what? Fuck Gollum. I have no idea why he’s regarded as a fascinating character. Whenever he was onscreen he was the bane of my existence. All he does is cause problems and not die when he’s supposed to. I simply couldn’t stand him and after a while his involvement with the plot was beyond logic.

I will give credit where credit is due, though. When all was said and done I thought Sam took a bunch of shit and was unbelievably loyal, patient and persistent with the Fellowship’s goal. In my opinion it’s obvious that he got the job done, not Frodo. Without him everything would have gone to hell (literally) and that makes him more than worthwhile.

What I enjoyed about King was pretty much the same as the previous two films. I enjoyed watching Ian McKellen swing that giant staff around and split Orc skulls, usually in mid-pirhouette or something. I still thought Bernard Hill owned. I appreciated Viggo Mortensen even more in this third film, surprised by his subtlety no matter what is being thrown at him or how he was directed. Aragorn could have been played as a guy who just stands around looking sweaty, heroic, tortured, etc. Mortensen makes him unpretentious and believable. Considering roles he has taken on since (A History Of Violence, Eastern Promises and The Road come to mind) I think I am just beginning to understand how good he is.

Then there are the endings. How could I neglect to comment on them? I suppose it’s better if you’re prepared and know what’s coming. Fortunately the film ends well, it just ends many times.

It amused me to remember the midnight showing I attended when King premiered. It was the only time I’ve heard an audience get audibly pissed during a screening (actually, I take that back- I saw The Village). Whenever the image would fade out people would get up and then another sequence would fade in. At one point I heard someone yell, “Come on!”

But then again it was probably four in the morning. In the privacy of your own home the many endings are easier to take. Also, we all know LOTR has been done for years. It’s beyond done.

Well, until The Hobbit comes out next year.

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