On Visiting an Old Friend

Yesterday was the anniversary of the fall of Barad-Dûr, and in commemoration of that I decided I would watch The Return of the King.

I hadn’t watched the film in far too long — nearly two years — and I found that I missed things from the Extended Edition, as it was the theatrical edition that I watched.

Still, I enjoyed it, and it really was like visiting with an old friend I’d not seen in far too long.

There are things I could so easily quibble with — distances being the major thing — but I won’t.

Now I feel like pulling out The Return of the King game for the XBox and mercilessly slaughtering thousands of orcs. Maybe this afternoon…

As I watched the film, a recurring thought came to the fore.

In the documentaries on the making of the film in the Extended Edition, Peter Jackson describes the “lost” ending to the film. What they had scripted, storyboarded, and even filmed, was that, at the Battle of the Morannon, Sauron himself would appear in his angelic, Maiar form, and fight Aragorn.

There’s some evidence of those scenes in the film itself. There’s a few shots of some sort of bright light shining on Aragorn — that’s Sauron’s angelic glow.

Why was it taken out? Jackson felt like it took away from the real drama, which was Frodo, Sam, and Gollum in the Cracks of Doom.

The problem is, when viewed in the trilogy as a whole, taking out the Aragorn/Sauron battle leaves a bit of a hole in Aragorn’s storyline.

Look at the way the film story develops. Aragorn constantly expresses his fear that he’ll succumb to the same weaknesses that his ancestor, Isildur, did. Arwen says to Aragorn that he will face the darkness and triumph over it. The idea that Aragorn would have to confront the failings of Isildur and triumph over them is a current that runs through the first two films. And because the pay-off for that current — Aragorn vs. Sauron — is cut from the film, it has no pay-off.

In terms of keeping the film in tune with what Tolkien had written, I understand Jackson’s decision to restage the climactic battle. Jackson had already made some significant changes in The Return of the King, like the growing tension between Frodo and Sam. Having Aragorn and Sauron meet in single combat was, in Jackson’s mind, a change too far.

Yet, I think the justification for such a scene was present in the film. And I think that Jackson erred in cutting the scene. It was the point to which the films were building, and then it wasn’t there.

For those who follow the “This Day in Middle-Earth” feature in the footer of my website, events cited will be few and far between for the next few months, now that we’ve reached the anniversary of the fall of Barad-Dûr.

But there is an exciting event coming up next week, on March 25th — Tolkien Reading Day. Read some Tolkien that day. Share your love of Middle Earth with others. Drink some ale. Smoke some pipeweed. :)

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