This afternoon Hubby and I dumped the kids at Grandma's and zipped off for our annual Boxing Day LotR date. 'Twas fun, and three hours went by quickly, but I have to say that I had a few more quibbles with this installment of the trilogy than I did with the first one:
Gandalf vs. the Balrog. How cool was that?
Smeagol/Gollum. Brilliantly handled, very effective, and to my mind the most moving performance in the entire film (especially when he's talking to himself). If ever a CGI-rendered creature deserved an Oscar...
Eowyn. She's tough, she's cool, she neatly proves she can handle a sword, and while not conventionally beautiful she's attractive even without obvious makeup (which I am not sure can be said for Liv Tyler).
Grima Wormtongue. He's oh so deliciously vile, and yet there's that one touching moment when he realizes the strength of Saruman's army and a tear runs down his cheek -- kudos to Brad Dourif for taking what could have been a very flat part and turning it into a virtuoso performance. (And as an aside, that greasy, stringy black hair he's got is the way Snape's hair ought to have looked in the HP movies. Humph.)
The Dead Marshes -- exactly the way I imagined them from the books. Except for the bit with the ghoulish creatures grabbing Frodo under the water, which is more Jacksonian overkill. Sheesh.
Helm's Deep. What a set! And I'm so glad that during the battle they kept one of my favorite bits of Tolkien humour, namely Legolas and Gimli competing to see who can kill the most orcs.
Swaggering!Aragorn pushing open those double doors. I'm not at all attracted to Viggo Mortensen, but I love me that scene.
The Black Gate of Mordor. My jaw dropped.
Oliphaunts! I was almost as excited as Sam.
The Ents attacking Isengard. One of my favorite moments in the books, and neatly done here as well. The enormous rushing wall of water was typical Jacksonian overkill, but it was in the interests of dealing with another bit of Jacksonian overkill (namely that gigantic orc-factory-pit-mine thing we saw so tediously much of in the first movie), so I'll forgive it.
Bits of Tolkien's poetry cleverly worked in so as not to seem either obvious or tedious. This was something I missed in the first film; I was glad to see it here.
Legolas skidding down the stairs on a shield, shooting arrows all the way. Pure cinema. Pure stuntwork. Pure fun.
David Wenham. Not the Faramir of the books. Not nearly as cool or as admirable as Book!Faramir, at least not until his very last scene. But he does the best that could be hoped for with the material given him, I think. And the nose! Phwoar.
Will somebody please explain to Peter Jackson that there is a great deal more to LotR than big battle scenes? I really felt after watching TTT that the movie could be summed up as follows: "Army A, meet Army B. [bang, crash, boom] Army B, meet Army C. [crash, boom, bang] Army C, meet Army D..." and so on for about two hours' worth of film.
MagicallyDecrepit!Theoden. More overkill, necessitating a big flashy scene where Gandalf "removes the spell" rather than merely removing Wormtongue and his poisonous lies and allowing Theoden to come to his senses on his own. Sure, it looks impressive, but it's goofy.
Aragorn went over a CLIFF!!! Oh NO!!! Is he DEAD??? Of course not, you twits, it's just a totally contrived action B-plot to create more artificial suspense and waste time that would have been better spent on character development.
Oh NO!!! Will Arwen go to the Grey Havens after all??? Okay, so I understand that PJ & Co. don't want us to forget about Arwen's character and the element of doubt is useful for playing up the chemistry between Aragorn and Eowyn blah blah blah fishcakes. But like the previous example, it's totally contrived and the attempt to add tension and excitement falls flat.
The Ents. They're too small, for heaven's sake. They look like the trees in my backyard.
Haldir's double chin. "Mae govannen! I bring you a legion of elf warriors, and ten boxes of chocolate-glazed donuts... Erm, make that three boxes. Burp." (Okay, so maybe not that bad. But his face was all the wrong shape for an elf.)
BOMBS at Helm's Deep? Hello???
Dwarf-tossing. "Don't tell the elf." Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!! Okay, so that wasn't funny. I don't mind Gimli being played for comic relief -- if you really want to lighten the mood, Gimli's one of the better candidates -- but this was just too obvious.
Elrond. Is this guy the biggest party pooper in Middle Earth or what? Plus, those knots in his hair were really distracting. It's really sad to see one of my favorite characters in the trilogy turned into a skanky-looking curmudgeon.
All those soggy dreams Aragorn has about Arwen. I'm a die-hard romantic and I love the story of Aragorn and Arwen in (the appendix of) LotR, so it's really sad that these scenes left me so completely unmoved. But all I could think was, "Yeah, we know who Arwen is. No, we haven't forgotten her. Yeah, Liv Tyler looks pretty in a semi-transparent Greek-style elf gown. Kissy kissy kissy. Excuse me while I yawn myself to death."
Legolas's little crisis of confidence at Helm's Deep. Yet another attempt to improve on Tolkien's characterization goes bust. Um, Legolas is an Elf. He is hundreds of years old. Somehow I don't think he would start panicking in that situation, no matter how hopeless it might look -- much less need Aragorn, a mere Man, to remind him what faith and courage are all about. Puhleeze.
Faramir dragging Frodo and Sam all the way to Osgiliath. Why? Whyeeeeee???
All that being said, I did enjoy the movie, and am looking forward to the final installment. But I can't honestly say that I'm all a-flutter to run out and see it again.