on April 18, 2004
The extended version of The Return of the King, due out at the end of 2004, includes a reported extra 50 minutes (!!!) of material. Good stuff, by all reports. If you've never seen the movie or read the book, the extra material will probably help you understand the story better, just as it does for newbies to the first two installments of the trilogy. It seems waiting would be the thing to do. And yet, in spite of getting almost an extra hour of story with the extended version, you might very well be sorry you waited, for disappointment lurks....
Before I go on, I'll temper the coming diatribe with the admission that I'm a huge Tolkein fan. I enjoyed and admired The Fellowship of the Ring--a very fine film indeed, and I'm one of those rabid fans who watched all three of the films, back-to-back, in the movie theater. There, I marvelled anew at The Fellowship and The Two Towers--but then I sat fuming as the ROTK's credits rolled.
Where is the Scouring of the Shire?
I can tell you where it's not. Reportedly, Peter Jackson says he never liked that chapter when he read the book, so he decided not to film it. Like, at all! Zippo. Gone. Never mind that the vast majority of readers view the Scouring as the culmination of the entire point of the entire trilogy: that the small and good can overcome the mighty and evil.
Aided by the Wise, the Hobbits get on quite well for thousands of miles of peril. But when they go home to their beloved Shire, they drive off the ensconced evil riff-raff with no help at all. And the Wise knew the Hobbits were capable of it, else the Wise wouldn't have sent them on to the Shire alone.
In the book, when the hobbits first arrive home, so much have they changed inside that none of the Shire-folk recognize them. In the movie, however, there's scant reaction from the Shire-folk--a few looks of surprise that quickly give way to bemused sneering, that's it.
Yup, Mr. Jackson, you missed the boat. And what did you supstitute for the measly 20 minutes the Scouring of the Shire should have had devoted to it? Instead of the Scouring, we get seems like hours (though it was probably "only" 45 minutes or so) of battle scenes.
Now, I know the battles were important, and I'm glad they were included, of course. But Jackson could have left about half of what made it into the movie on the cutting room floor. He ~should~ have left it on the cutting room floor. The battles are absolutely thrilling--for a few minutes. But there are only so many times can one can watch an Orc get skewered, decapitated, or crushed before it gets boring. Jackson was too in love with his battles to do the right thing, alas. His brilliant FX notwithstanding, the extra time devoted to the battles would have been better spent on the story, i.e., the Scouring of the Shire.
I would have loved the movie but for that one, terrible omission which, ultimately, leaves the trilogy unfinished.
And speaking of love...where is Faramir/Eowyn's story? Not here in the theatrical version! Instead, we get extended--and Jackson & Co. fabricated--Aragorn/Arwen mush. Fortunately, I'm a lover of mush--I'm a multi-published romance novelist!--so I don't find this Arwen stuff all that offensive--even though it wasn't in the original story. Still, it's unnecessary, pure and simple--whereas the Scouring of the Shire was essential. And it didn't hurt anything to add it--whereas the entire trilogy was hurt by taking out the Scouring.
Someone drag me away from the keyboard, please! <g>
Reportedly, the extended version will also include an extended scene of the battle before the Black Gate, a scene where Frodo and Sam join the line of marching Orcs for a time, a scene where Gandalf confronts the "Witch King" (I guess "witch king" sounds more exciting than "leader of the Nine"), a scene at the Houses of Healing where Faramir and Eowyn meet and fall in love and Merry is healed, a scene depicting Saruman (Yesss!), a scene where Aragorn looks into the palantir to confront Sauron, a scene where Merry takes his oath to Theoden--all great characterization scenes that clarify the plot.
And--oh, yeah--no pesky Saruman death scenes to distract our focus on the lucious gore of the much more important, action-laden battle scenes!
Yup. Apparently, Saruman doesn't meet his end at the hands of Wormtongue in the extended scenes as he does in the book. In fact, it's reported that he doesn't die at all. Jackson must have thought he needed that five minutes of screen time to show the lopping off of a few more orc's heads. "Sorry, Mr. Tolkein, your work is deeply flawed. Too much characterization, not enough action! We'll have to cut somewhere. Call in the extras, and spray on some more fake blood over there!"
Okay, my diatribe's over. Bottom line: wait for the extended version that's coming out at the end of 2004. I own the extended versions of the other two movies, and I consider the extra material in those movies as not just a nice extra, but as an essential. The extended version of The Return of the King will 25% or so longer than its theatrical version. That's a lot of film time, and it's well worth the wait.