For our full roundtable on the Tolkien trilogy without spoilers, click here.
Rutledge: I am distressed about the fact that movie number three will reveal the dénouement to the whole world. I found the dénouement to be so shocking and at the same time so utterly right that I will never be the same again. It saddens me that everyone will now know what happens at the Cracks of Doom and no one will be utterly staggered by it any more.
There is nothing that can be done about it now, but Tolkien did not want younger children to read the book. They would not have been able to grasp the significance of the dénouement (the eucatastrophe as Tolkien called it). A 12-year-old of my acquaintance adored the book but clearly did not grasp the revelatory nature of the climax.
Wood: As we all know, Tolkien reveals that, at the end of his arduous Quest, when Frodo comes at last to cast the Ring back into the melting volcanic fires whence it was originally forged, even this most heroic of hobbits is finally overwhelmed by the coercive power of evil. In his utmost act of resistance against the Dark Lord, Frodo is made into a virtual puppet of Sauron-defiantly refusing to destroy the Ring, thrusting it onto his own finger instead. After Gollum manages to seize the invisible Frodo and to bite the Ring from his hand, he then topples into the molten lava while dancing his jig of false joy. Thus does evil finally destroy itself, Tolkien wisely teaches, while ruining much good in the process.
Rather than giving us this tragically defeated Frodo, Jackson transforms him into a thumping soap opera success. When Jackson's Frodo spies Gollum dancing victoriously with the Ring, he wrestles the wretched creature to the ground, until finally they tumble over the volcanic brink. But of course Frodo clings valiantly to a ledge as Gollum plummets into the river of fire. Nothing of Tolkien's profound sense of providence remains, nothing of his conviction that it was first Bilbo's and then Frodo's forgiveness of Gollum which enabled the final victory over evil. "But for [Gollum]," Frodo somberly confesses in the novel but not in the movie, "I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him!" The all-permeating presence of pity-the mercy that refuses eager condemnation-is the religious leit-motif of Tolkien's book. Yet it is totally absent from this final Lord of the Rings film.
Ware: With that ending, Jackson has obscured one of the most important themes of the book. That's a huge loss.
Rutledge: If the denouement on film is as Prof. Wood describes (I won't be able to see it until after Christmas) then, no matter what else is good about the movie, it will have failed at the most crucial point.
Birzer: Parts were brilliant, parts were blah, and parts were disturbingly different from the book. I agree with Ralph that the loss of the ring in the movie is sophomoric compared to the profound moment of mercy and grace in the book.
On the good side, though, Eowyn was the best character in the movie, and the Riders of Rohan were the true heroes of the film. Their
And, there were even some nice religious moments in the third film: Denethor talking about his heathen ancestors, Gandalf asking that Aragorn's realm be blessed, and Gandalf explaining what death is like to Pippin (white swords protecting green pastures). The Eagles of Manwe were also wonderful, as were the beacon fires of Gondor. All quite moving.
But, poor Faramir. A kidnapper with some agency in "The Two Towers," he's at best a pathetic loser in "The Return of the King," and, at worst, a mere extra, taking up space on the screen. Does he marry Eowyn? Does he become Aragorn's second, clearing the remaining orcs out of the dark places of Middle-earth? The viewer is left with no answers.
Other objections: the Mouth of Sauron is absent (the debate between him and Gandalf is just brilliant in the books); there's no cock crowing during the defense of Gondor; and there's no majesty in the coronation of Aragorn, as Arwen hides behind a veil during the whole ceremony?!?!? Jackson never shows Aragorn as a healer, either, thus diminishing the significance of his office, at least as the medievals would have recognized it.
Admittedly, though, I'm still digesting much of the movie, and I'm reluctant to complain more than I have (which is already enough).
Ware: As I read Ralph Wood's and Brad Birzer's "complaints" about the new movie, I'll add that I don't normally expect much from "movie versions." There's an advantage to this in that I'm often pleasantly surprised.
Perhaps this in itself is a kind of parable of Grace. Perhaps Peter Jackson is, after all, just a mini-Melkor (at least insofar as we perceive his influence to have been negative -- in many ways I'm grateful to him for bringing Tolkien to the screen). He can't really create anything of his own. He can only embellish, enhance, twist, or mar the work of the original creator. The glory, of course, is that the creator's intentions still shine through. This, I think, is a testimony not only to the enduring power of Tolkien's creation, but to the God who informed and inspired it in so many ways.