(But, wait, there’s room for a little more.) I could say that I haven’t posted here in two days because of the increased end-of-year work burden or the recent cable Internet outage at home base, and yes, those both played their part. But, to be honest, I’ve been spending most of my hours since Wednesday afternoon perusing the long-awaited Return of the King: Extended Edition. (Thank you, NYC fanboy underground…strangely enough, I ended up being one of the first to procure the precious, and have thus been answering spoiler-filled queries over at Tolkien Online the past two days.)
So, how is it? As with the FotR:EE and the TTT:EE, the Extended Edition is clearly a better film than the theatrical cut, with richer, denser characterizations, more Tolkien lore, and an improved sense of flow. Whatsmore, to my mind the two biggest problems with the RotK:TE have been rectified: 1) Denethor’s screen time has been doubled, and — while he still doesn’t get his palantir — the Steward is now much more multifaceted and grief-stricken than before. 2) Both Frodo & Sam’s journey through Mordor and the time between Pelennor Fields and the Black Gates have been extended, giving the Land of Shadow much more heft and menace. As you’d expect, there’s lots of great stuff here for fans of the book…Voice of Saruman stands out in particular as a scene laden to the brim with Tolkien’s prose, and such iconic moments as the Crossroads and Sam seeing the star in Mordor now get their rightful due.
That being said, some fans are going to be disappointed by the short shrift given to certain chapters (and by King Elessar’s blatant disregard for the rules of parley.) The Houses of Healing and the Eowyn-Faramir romance are touched on very lightly, and there is NO new footage included after the Crack of Doom. (I’d guess this is probably PJ’s payback to all the “multiple ending” critics, but still, I was very much looking forward to more Grey Havens…particularly more of Frodo’s final words. (“It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”)
In fact, the extended RotK is the first time I’ve felt that PJ & New Line may be deliberately holding back on some of the choice footage. On the writer-director commentary, PJ admits to not including certain very memorable scenes (the Watchers of Cirith Ungol, the various weddings and epilogues) in this cut for “pacing reasons” (?), and that perhaps they’ll show up on the “25th anniversary” version. I don’t want to ascribe nefarious motives to the guy after all he’s done to create these amazing films, but this sounds to me suspiciously like a ploy to sell some HD-DVD box sets in a few years.
But, still, that’s the ring talking. All in all, RotK:EE, like its predecessors, is a wonderful gift to the fans of Tolkien and Middle Earth. And, although we have come now to the end, these three DVD sets (which look great on the shelf together) will now live on forever as a beacon of hope to fandom.