More noise than signal

Return of the King

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Dear God.

For its faults Lord of the Rings did a reasonable job of running through the bulk of the narrative up to the battle of Hornburg, or the bulk of the first two books, even if the characterisation suffered. Return of the King struggles to tell even a portion of the book it’s supposed to be adapting, even with leaving characters out entirely. But thankfully, they’ve been cut to focus on that most important character in Tolkien’s firmament, the Minstrel of Gondor. How full of thanks we are. And he’s going to sing for us! I cannot contain my thanks! My thanks are going to overflow and drown us all.

It’s framed as Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf and Elrond sitting around presumably in Rivendell celebrating an apparently dementia-addled Bilbo’s birthday, reminding him of Sam and Frodo’s troubles in Mordor and how Frodo lost his finger in the struggle with Gollum at the Cracks of Doom, with lip service paid to the events elsewhere. Or at least the events that would be be suitable for musical adaptation, sort of, making this one of the least satisfying narrative adaptations I’ve ever seen.

So, yes, we are damned to suffer a million dittys about Frodo and the Ring, and Aragon facing down the Dark Lord’s armies, of which precisely one is not a screeching offence to the ears. Which is bad enough, but the bulk of the story narration is left to Samwise Gamgee, who sounds less like the stoic, rustic voice of courage Tolkien intended and more like a nineteen twenties gangster stereotype. Neeeeeh, we’re gonna destroy the Ring, see? I don’t necessarily blame Roddy McDowell for this – the writing is atrocious -but it’s a laughable performance. I laughed a lot, when I wasn’t swearing.

I may have idly wondered in the past as to why tales of historical fictional are littered with Old World accents, even when clearly it’s not set in, say, England or anything. The answer, it turns out, is that it sounds super-weird when it’s full of American accents. I don’t have any sort of logical back up to that statement, but it’s nonetheless unquestionably true – this film sounds super-weird, and the casting probably doesn’t help.

McDowell at least I can understand, and there’s some veteran voice talent like Don Messick around, although admittedly, he’s awful in this -The Mouth of Sauron sounding like a less-threatening Skeletor wannabe (admittedly this came well before Masters of the Universe, but don’t get fresh with me, young man). The rest of the cast are now-forgotten stand-up comedians and, of all people, John Houston, who I continually forget took up acting towards the end of his career apparently just for hell of it.

Narratively, this is a mess, and the visuals are worse. The character design is just horrible, with orcs looking like spherical cats, and even the humans looking quite odd. Subjective, perhaps, but it’s a very ugly film, almost artless, particularly in today’s company. Tonally it’s much less violent than Lord of the Rings, jarringly so if you watch them back to back.

If you’ve watched any of the “making of” documentaries on Peter Jackson’s films, you’ll no doubt remember the care, attention and consideration that they took into what stays in the film, and what must go, for myriad reasons. I’d love to have seen the equivalent meeting on this film, and how many hallucinogens were present. Particularly when they add in nonsense like “hobbits will evolve to become humans in a few generations”, which is mind-bogglingly daft.

Acid-induced additions aside, the omissions are more puzzling. To be fair, Gimli and Legolas don’t have the most to do in the source material, but the closure of their relationship arc is thematically important for the whole coming together against a foe thing. What I’m saying is, it would be nice if this film acknowledged their existence, which it does not, because it is terrible.

This film is rubbish, and its existence offends me. Not recommended.