For those who remember when we only had one board, I have always said "I can't really tell how good the film is until I have seen all three, so I can evaluate the scope of the whole story."
I realize that many of you have discussed this to death, but I have not been on the boards since Dec 15th, so I missed all of your thoughts, and hope that you will either share them with me (even if it is a repeat) or at least indulge this old-timer for his moment of reflection without rancor.
First, and let me be honest, I really value and appreciate PJ's work. An epic of this kind has not been seen since Cecil B. De Mille, and should be commended for attempting something of this scope. In a world of Sound-bites and pandemic ADD, Peter Jackson has created a world where you can enter and follow a story whose retelling lasts more than 9 hours of time (not including the "Extended" versions) and yet never looses its sense of engagement with the audience. This movie, broken into three parts, has accomplished the goal of the author, JRR Tolkien -- it has created its own mythology.
Additionally, the attention to detail of something of this magnitude is staggering to behold. Every scene was crafted with superb artistry, and even when I disagreed with the choices made, I still walked away "believing" in PJ's Middle Earth. I find myself filled with consternation when I see people get up to leave before the credits are through playing. These people who have made sure that the sets were sturdy, the props believable, Orli's wig securly fastened, and JRD to look short deserve better from the public than to walk out on their "curtain call." Perhaps someone should do a "sound-bite" discussing this point . . . but I digress. My point is simple: The quality and artistry of the production were beyond reproach.
Making allowances for the change in media (book into film), the major story points were well executed, if with a few too many irreverent moments which added nothing to my viewing. For example, I could have watched the Battle of Helms Deep without the tribute by Legolas (who did a great job bringing the elf to life!) to Tony Hawk's skill as a skateboard icon. However, I was especially impressed with the treatment of Gandalf's relationship with the hobbits, the relationship between Merry and Pippin, and (most notably) the warmth of Boromir. PJ was able to make to bring the characters to life, allowing them all to be individuals, which is both impressive and important in a story of so many characters. The flow of the films was well balanced, and the story sped us through the evenings at the theater wanting nothing (unless it was a break so that one could go to the restroom and not miss anything!) :-)
The Story told by PJ was an emotionally fulfilling retelling of Tolkien's masterpiece. By the end of the film/story, the audience had truly been taken on a journey, and filtered through most of the spectrum of human emotions. Was there a dry eye in the theater when Gandalf fell in Moria? Did anyone escape the joy in watching the hobbit children rejoice when Gandalf set the fireworks aflame behind his cart, or not delight in the face of the hobbit girl when Bilbo was telling of his adventure with the trolls? I was always comforted and felt my heart burst with honor and pride when Haldir and the elves showed up at Helms Deep, and watched with mixed emotions (horror, awe, delight, and dread) as Smeagol and Gollum start to fracture into two separate identities warring for control of his soul. And who didn't feel a glimmer of love when Sam picked Frodo up on Mt. Doom and began to carry him up to the entrance. PJ's version of The Lord of the Rings is equal to Tolkiens telling, perhaps even more emotionally evocative, as film allows a sense of immediacy which books must filter through the written word.
And yet, I am left with questions for which I feel there will be no satisfactory answers.
-- Why was Treebeard left to guard Orthanc for all eternity? In the book, Saruman dies. In the film, he is guarded, and we are left to assume that in response to Treebeard's decision to take action against a rogue wizard, he is forced to let the forest of Fangorn grow as it will, while he keeps watch at Isengard. Is this justice? What do we learn from this?
-- Why did I hear Randy Newman's song, "Short People" everytime that Gimli was the butt of a joke? Was there really a need to denegrate the ONLY dwarf with such poorly executed humor?
-- Why, after the release of the first extended DVD, was there a need to release "Theatrical" TTT, only to have it fleshed out later in TTT-EDVD? For the first one, I can forgive it, as he was afraid that the film would not hold the interest. Yet with the success of the sales for the FOTR-EDVD, he established that his audience wanted MORE depth. So why shrink from it? I only saw TTT in the theater twice, because it was so disjunct. But when I saw the Extended Version, I was able to appreciate the journey the broken fellowship was on, and understand some of the things which had made me go, "Say what?" in the theater. Had he engaged me with a full telling of TTT, I would have been even more anxious about seeing the third installment. As it was, I was looking forward to ROTK, but with great bouts of dread as well, wondering, "If he did that to Faramir, do I really want to know what the third film will do to me?" I finally saw TTT-EDVD two days before the third film opened. Those were the two longest days of my life.
-- What was the need to have Frodo reject Sam on the stairs? What had the hobbit done to show himself worthy of mistrust? How did this add to the story? It robbed Frodo of his dignity--for how can we believe he would champion Gollum who had tried to trick and kill him, then disbelieve Sam, who had been his solid companion for the entire trip. This, even more than the treatment of Faramir, was the film's great failing point. I lost pity and respect for Frodo when that happened. But it at least made sense when Frodo created the biggest problem . . .
--Frodo jumped Smeagol after loosing the Ring to him. The best thing about the Book version is that Frodo (and all of Middle-Earth) was saved by Frodo's compassion -- by not killing Gollum when he had the chance. In the film, he is reduced to loosing his "precious" because Frodo's greed and desire for it caused the Ring to be distroyed in a failed attempt to regain it. Anyone who would not realize that he had just been saved by Smeagol's teeth wouldn't have enough dignity to keep himself from launching at some last chance.
Frodo could have fallen into the fire and I would have walked away feeling pity only for Sam. He was the only innocent in this whole story. If a "best Actor" poll is out there, I would vote for Sean Astin. He was amazing. His story was developed better than any other, and he stayed true to his written counterpart.
So what do I think, now that PJ has been able to show me this much? I think it is a great piece of cinematography, which will change the artform. The story was good, but not as satisfying as the original, and for reasons that didn't spawn from the change of format. I would give it 4 and three-quarter stars out of 5, but I reserve the right to change my decision. Perhaps the ROTK-EDVD will change my mind . . . if any of you are still speaking to me when it comes out.