ROTK: Not Your Average Classic Movie

by Tigerlily Goodbody
I just finished re-reading ROTK recently (plus the parts of TTT that weren't in the film), and also saw another big Viggo article in the new "Rolling Stone". Also, saw the story on News about CBS Early Show showing clips (were they DVD preview clips, or brand new, New Line-supplied ones?) from ROTK and the host saying he was anticipating this over all others like the rest of us. Whether true or not, it's good marketing, no?

I didn't expect all this hype to start so early, not for another month at least. It seems New Line's campaign is slowly lurching into motion. And between the book and all this, it got me to thinking about what we’re going to see. I wonder, now, about the general movie-going public--and fans who have not read ROTK and are purposely not planning to. I wonder if they're prepared for what is coming, when Peter unleashes this Greek tragedy on us. There were parts of the book that made me almost weep as an adult that I never had as a kid. There are things I understand, now, as an adult, so much better. Like Tolkien's central theme of the impermanence of joy, and how "the triumph of good is never absolute." So far, there are been a few surprises, but those surprises have been mostly resolved for the better. LOTR--the films--have not been "Hollywood" films, either in story, looks or feel, but so far, they have followed a Hollywood conventional narrative pattern, and PJ had given us glimmers of hope that were not in the book (Sam's speech for example. Sure, he borrowed a phrase from ROTK, but we may or may not see that scene in the film.) And thus, the general public will expect a classic "Hollywood" narrative and ending. Sure, our heroes go through some tough times, and even suffer, and one or two minor characters have to be sacrificed so that our heroes may win, and we will be on the edge of our seats, but the good guys win, and there is a happy Hollywood ending, right?


Has it ever occurred to anyone why LOTR is so enduringly popular is that it is so believable? That is, Tolkien was at least 50 years ahead of his time and anticipated modern disillusionment and despair, by giving us that only partially happy tale; and thus, we identify with it all the more. However, Hollywood films--and even more so the "classics"--still follow the American pattern of Introduction, rising action, conflict, climax, denouement, and fairy tale endings. Except Gone With The Wind, perhaps. ROTK will have a happy ending, to be sure--but the same way "Schindler's List" had a happy ending, or "Titanic." The difference between "Schindler" and ROTK, is this: we never got to know any of the characters long enough to weep with them, except Schindler, perhaps, whom we finally came to love at the very end--"I could have got more." The rest of the characters were Spielberg's CNN camera picking them out of the crowd. Perhaps that's not fair, as it's only a 3 -hr long film, but he could have taken one family and focused on them. It was more effective the way he did it.

With ROTK, however, we have gotten to know and love these characters over the course of 2 other films (6 hrs or nearly 7 and a half hours, depending on which version you prefer), so seeing them suffer is going to be unbearable. Even for people who have read the book. And except for Gandalf (and the possible exception of Legolas and Gimli) every single one of them, even Pippin, is going to go through a period of prolonged physical suffering, and some will literally be at death's door for long stretches of the film while the plot swings to someone else who's going through even worse, and we wonder what the heck will happen to THEM. And some of them will die. And it isn't going to be like FOTR, when Frodo is stabbed by the Nazgul and 15 minutes later wakes up in a nice clean bed in Rivendell, healed (well, physically, anyway.) And the deaths aren't going to be nice and pretty like Gandalf falling off a cliff or Boromir dying with just a faint trickle of blood on dark clothes. Some of the deaths are going to be not very pretty at all, and they're not going to be minor characters like Haldir or Hama, but people we have come to know or love. And, perhaps, we start out hating but want to survive, nevertheless. Nobody is going to swing in with a horse or a sword and save these people, and as this si the third film--and because we know they are mortals--they won't come back" like Gandalf did. In fact, I suspect PJ tinkered with the plot in TTT because he wanted to make one of these "false hope" plots even more tragic. There may be a few lines PJ takes from the book that provide comic relief, too, but by and large, this won't be alight-hearted film. it will make TTT look like a comedy. And unlike, say, "Titanic", where the really sad parts of the film don't occur until after the ship starts sinking, in the third hour of the film, these moments and scenes will be spread out through the entire film, and in between these scenes of tragedy, the comic relief will likely be few and far between. Out of all the three books, ROTK is the most Shakespearean, and so the film will be, for PJ has said that out of all the 3, ROTK is the one that sticks closest to the book. It will be so unlike the other 2 that you will wonder if you are watching the same story. There are hints spread throughout the other 2 films that PJ WILL be putting things onscreen that I didn't expect we'd see. I saw Titanic 8 times in the theater, and every single time, I didn't hear sniffling until the 3rd hour.

But with ROTK, from the descriptions I've read, it seems that these moments are going to start within a half hour, and go through the entire film, and that we are in store for one of the truly great film-going experiences of our time, the one that people will be writing about for decades. A few Ringers saw the rough cut back in July, and this was the cut that Dom and Elijah saw back in the fall, where one of them said he started crying 40 minutes in and did not stop through the entire film. Even though I'd read the book, I thought he was just hyping, but now I believe it. This Ringer is apparently a media figure, and no one believed him at first either, but he apparently saw a rough cut of "Gangs Of New York" last year and reported accurate details, which turned out to be true. He wrote that never had he seen so many grown men and women sobbing out loud--and throughout the entire film. And we have to remember that this was the rough cut, that was shown to the media BEFORE the re-shoots were completed, and from what we've read, PJ has re-done those scenes and made them even MORE powerful...

And then, after all this, there is the ending. One of the reasons why it hit me like a 2-ton truck is that it is so unexpected, for Tolkien does absolutely nothing to prepare us for it. There are a couple of paragraphs and lines throughout the books that turn out later to be foreshadowing, but none of this has been seen in the films...

I feel privileged, and eternally grateful, and very lucky, to be old enough to have lived through and remember some of the other great films of my time or film-going experiences, anyway. I remember being 7 years old and watching "Star Wars" when it first came out in 1977. I remember falling in love with the film when the famous sequence fans call the "Binary Sunset" appeared onscreen, and Luke looked out at the Tatooine suns to that heart-stopping John Williams string motif. I remember loving Ben Kenobi like he was my own grandpa, and the collective gasp that rang through the theater when he was killed. (Lucas, of course, modeled him, and that shot, and his "resurrection" in Empire, on Gandalf, of course.) I remember the laughing, the cheering, the roar when the film was over, and the applause. And this was in an era when NO ONE applauded films. I remember the thrill of terror that went through the theater when the camera panned down to the snake pit of Raiders of the Lost Ark. People actually screamed! I remember "I am your father", in the days before the Internet, when we knew NOTHING of what was coming, people do not appreciate just what a SHOCK that was. It is a film moment those old enough to have seen it originally continue to count among the great movie-going memories, the rest of their lives. And how people cried out "No!" when Darth Vader--should I say Anakin?--died in "Jedi, and Luke took the mask off. And the incredible experience that was ET, in 1982. And, of course, "Titanic." Out of all the films that I can remember, before ROTK perhaps the experience of "E.T." will be the one most like ROTK. Only there may be more crying and lot less laughter. Though hopefully PJ will try to give us moments when we "among out tears we laugh."

I have read about the world premiere of "E.T" at the Cannes Film Festival in 1981. Critics and those who were there have written about it as a film experience they will remember the rest of their lives, and since then, there has never been anything quite like it. On that day, even the most hard-bitten film and media types were reduced to little children again, and throughout the film, the tears flowed freely. At the end (which I suspect Spielberg also modeled after the end of ROTK--as I wrote once before), as the spaceship took off, the audience roared and rose to give Spielberg a standing ovation that continued through the final 2 minutes of the film so that people almost couldn't hear the music (and given John William’s score, that was something.) The guy operating lights was weeping openly, and as the credits rolled, he, spontaneously, swung the light around and found Spielberg up in the balcony, and shined it on him, and the whole audience turned to face him.

Knowing what I know now about the book, and the re-shoots, and from what we've read, it may no exaggeration that we may be in store for a repeat of that experience. And I'll have been there to see it. It is not often that true cinema classics are born, but the common consensus is that, even ROTK unseen, we are seeing the completion of one of the true cinema legends. I wasn't around for the debut of some of the other classics--"GWTW", 'The Wizard of Oz", "The Ten Commandments", "Lawrence of Arabia", "The Sound of Music" etc. Bit I have seen some of the modern ones, and this will be added to the list. There are so many other ways this could have turned out. Even ROTK still unseen, I have to say, in a world of ugliness, PJ, you've given us something beautiful. I'll probably say it again in late Dec, but I'll say it now: forever, thank you, for great memories, and lasting work of art.

A reply from Varda:

Disillusionment? Despair? Tolkien was not a writer who proposed those....quite the opposite. He set himself against the disillusionment, despair and cynicism of modernism. Tolkien is not a modernist, which is why he has been almost ignored by the critical establishment. If you want disillusionment and despair you go to modern writers like Joyce. Far from anticipating modern angst Tolkien set himself and his books against them, to say 'there is something good and it is worth fighting for'

Tolkien fought in the trenches then saw the next generation succumb to a feeling that nothing was worth it. But he felt some things were worth it. He showed his characters in despair, both Frodo and Faramir give up. But it is not the dominant theme; that is hope, hope, and stil hope.

'There is always hope' is Aragorn's constant saying, and his Elvish name, Ellessar, means hope.