The Return of the King: Extended Edition

At nearly an hour of extra footage, the extended version of The Return of the King is a serious time commitment. No biggie for those serious fans of Jackson’s film. But is it worth it to sit in the theater for 4 plus hours this Tuesday?
Probably. Unlike the extended versions of the first two films in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, ROTK is hit and miss. I wouldn’t say that the original theatrical version is superior, but there are a number of new and extended scenes that simply do not work. Here is a rundown of the major new and extended scenes, starting with some that work:
Death of Saruman: Christopher Lee was pissed when Jackson cut this from the theatrical version. For good reason. It’s a great scene. Sure, he’s not killed in the Shire (as he is in the novel), but his final impalement on a spikey waterwheel is very apropos. We also see another layer of Theoden when he offers pardon to Grima.
The Mouth of Sauron: Originally, Jackson had Sauron appearing at the Black Gate to lead his army. Luckily, he changed his mind. In this scene the Mouth of Sauron produces Frodo’s mithril shirt, “proof” that he’s been captured. The scene is set up in the tower when we see two orcs fighting over the shirt. Not sure why Jackson cut it.
Gandalf vs. the Lord of the Nazgul: This is another scene that is set up in the theatrical version, but strangely enough, finally cut. An orc asks the Nazgul about the White Wizard, who then replies: “I will break him.” In the theatrical version, we don’t see him break Gandalf’s staff. If you only see the shorter version, you might wonder why he’s not carrying it when he saves Faramir from the pyre.
Avalanche of Skulls: This scene in the Paths of the Dead isn’t in the novel, but it’s cool nonetheless!
Pelennor Fields: The best new bits include additional scenes of Eowyn and Merry kicking ass, as well as Gothmog calling for Grond after failing to bring down the gates of Minas Tirith.
Houses of the Healing: We get more than a subtle hint about the future marriage of Eowyn and Faramir when they meet in the hospital. Faramir looks a little too healthy to be not marching to the Black Gate, but I can live with it.
Frodo and Sam captured by orcs: In Mordor, Frodo and Sam wear Orc clothes. In this new scene they are mistaken for orcs and are impressed into the army. They manage to escape in a way more realistic than in the novel.
Now here are some of the scenes that don’t work:
Eowyn and Merry riding to Minas Tirith: Eowyn is supposed to be in disguise, since her king ordered her to stay behind. In the book, she and Merry ride behind the army. In the movie, she walks around in the middle of the army without her helmet. Stupid misstep.
Drinking game: This scene is kinda funny, but doesn’t really strike the right tone. And again, when I think of the scenes from the novel not included in the film, I’m extra critical about the ones Jackson adds.
Paths of the Dead: The skulls scene is cool, but when the three companions first enter the cave, we see Gimli walking gingerly while bones crack beneath his feet. The scene should be scary. Instead, it’s humorous and screws up the tone of the sequence.
Corsair ships: The Peter Jackson cameo is fine, but this is supposed to be a massive army, a serious threat to the defenders of Minas Tirith. But what does Aragorn see when he gets out of the Paths of the Dead? About ten little river boats. How many troops could be on them? 500? Given the hordes already on the Pelennor, this army would be less than a drop in a bucket. A little simple CGI could have easily fixed it.
Pelennor Fields: the added sequences before the death of the Witchking are great, but after? We see Eowyn crawling away from Gothmog. Right before he gets to her, Aragorn and Gimli slay him. Eowyn’s killing of the Witchking is one of the film’s greatest scenes. It’s been set up since the first time we see her in The Two Towers. Her desire for honor, her bravery, her resourcefulness all come to fruition. Jackson kills the significance of her role as an empowered female by having Aragorn come to her rescue. Tolkien knew better.
Aragorn and the Palintir: In this scene, Aragorn announces his presence to Sauron. It’s meant to distract Sauron, to keep his eye fixed on Aragorn, and away from Frodo and Sam in Mordor. In Jackson’s scene, Sauron turns the table and shows Aragorn a dying Arwen. So much for Aragorn’s revelation. Now he’s the one likely distracted.

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