Enjoy Your Nice Oatmeal, Kids, And Stop Whining!

Those who object to criticism of the LOTR films frequently do so with the adjuration to "enjoy what's there" or "accept them for what they are" — meaning, that is, not literally, but only to focus on the good, and ignore that which is bad or lacking. I, however, do exactly that with TTT-M — and will moreover show what is there that is good, and what is there which is not, and how they stack up against each other, yielding a preliminary score-card of why it fails as a film* as well as a book adaptation.

I'm sticking with the most basic, objective stuff — I could do the plot holes as well, but those are less easily defined and would take longer, (same with the mythic overtones, like totally missing out the point of the Beren/Luthien paradigm in re. Arwen** or the loss of the Atalantë theme) — namely, characters, locations, special effects & production design. I would also deduct a significant number of points for the bad camerawork (I'm not the only one to have complained about this, btw, even film fans have made excuses for it: fixed where it should have been moving, lunging about where it should have held) and the worse editing (again the same) as well as the unthematic score, but I don't know enough about the technical terms, and most of all it would require me to watch TTT-M YET AGAIN to isolate the examples. There are some lengths to which duty cannot move me, I fear.

(I also don't nit-pick over small technical details, like the right-side/left-side things, or flaws in the CGI — I just don't notice those unless they're really glaring (unlike Just Plain Dumb things like not making the Lórien brooches beech leaves, but some sort of generic ivy thing. If I could research what European Beech Tree leaves looked like at age 8 to get a costume right, certainly the filmmakers could! Or else, they knew better that the mystic significance of the new-opened beech, quite different from ivy, and sacred to the Lady, was irrelevant in Middle-earth...))

It isn't just that these are changes from the book, it's that they're changes that a) don't improve the storyline; b) don't give us better visuals or dramatic highs; don't make sense as a film without one introduces backstory known from the book to try to rationalize them, either. This last undercuts the claims that they're "necessary" to make it appeal to non-reader audiences, or that they improve it as a film.

Key to Point Assignment:

+1 = Well Handled
+.5 = Some Good In It
-.5 = Bad But Not Wretched, or else Omitted Altogether (ie, could have been worse.)
-1 = Wretched (ie, would have been hard to do any worse)
NA = Not Applicable (doesn't count one way or other towards final score)

All elements start out with a base assumption of neutral (0) and go up or down from there. Points are tallied at the end of each section, and then cumulatively at the end.

temporal order)
Book  Movie Points
Aragorn spends the first part of TTT agonizing over his decisions and beating himself up for poor leadership ability; when his judgment is confirmed, settles down to businesslike warmaking, but deferential to Théoden as leader here; still full of worry and self-doubt at this point.  not conflicted, just alternately high and low; played almost as petulantly as Achilles in Iliad, with none of the respect he shows towards Théoden in the book. [Due in part to the demands of plotholes in the script.]  -1
Boromir dies in a selfless attempt at rescuing Merry & Pippin, reminiscent of 'The Song of Roland.' not in film; left back at FOTR-M NA
Legolas perky, cheerful, given to goofy teasing, a little out of his element here, humble, polite, deferential, - and mostly used as a [non] human telescope: everyone points him at things and says "Hey, what's that?" and he obliges. A good marksman, but misses sometimes, too. cold, arrogant prat of a super-being, apparently a Mutant from X-Men (Archangel, anyone?); no indication of woodland origin (have we ever seen him climb a tree, much less talk about them - or to them?) who gives no indications of his current cultural dislocation and isolation, either. -1
Gimli a tough, competent, romantic warrior-poet, for whom fighting is something to do well in this age, but not as important to his heart as works of art, natural or hand-made - or his friends. an oafish, bragging buffoon, all of whose good lines are given to other characters, whose decisive character as written has been turned into stupid rashness, and whose loyalty is made soppy sentiment. -1
Éomer intense, but fair-minded, and cheerful when not under overwhelming stress; a good strategist; above all else, selfless in his devotion to family/tribe. dull, humorless, resentful, displays no leadership or grounds for his company to follow him - and no affection for his foster father at all. -1
Éothain Éomer's right-hand man, not afraid to call him on his decisions in public. not in film; Éomer has no friends, apparently, just mute minions. -.5
Pippin intelligent and intrepid, not as politically informed as his older cousin, but the one who manipulates circumstances throughout their ordeal to make their escape possible.  gets one of his book moments of cleverness (the brooch) - but no more. A simpleminded clown, otherwise; whose only "smartness" is due to the stupidity of another main character. -.5
Uglúk smart, competent NCO type, loyal to his warlord Saruman - and to the half-assed grunts who hate him that he's saddled with. imbecilic minion; the fact that accusations of cannibalism are an insult to him in book is (willfully?) misunderstood by filmmakers for "comedy." -1
Grishnákh scary secret-police type, plays intrigue games among the allied orc-factions against Uglúk, sadistic but intelligent. who? -.5
Merry politically savvy young leader, up on the world situation, not arrogant, but definitely self-confident. gets one good line, "there won't be a Shire" - otherwise interchangeable nonentity with Pippin. -1
Treebeard a wise old leader, a clever statesman, an idealist without being unrealistic; willing to risk everything for a greater good, but not to throw away lives for no purpose.  a senile, bumbling fool who does not know his ass from his elbow and must be manipulated by a creature infinitesimally younger than he to act for his own benefit. -1
Quickbeam a young radical with a real cause; whose interaction with the hobbits shows briefly the internal differences among Treebeard's people. not in film; (all the Ents are interchangeable, and interchangeably stupid, here.) -.5
Gandalf more decisive, serious now that he's died -- but also less grim in some respects, as if a weight of uncertainty has been taken off his shoulders. Still cracks jokes, which somewhat tempers his aura of Immortal power. good in the Balrog fight, but too soft and weak, for the most part, in any of his speaking roles - though this is in part due to plot [il] logic demands. After 'Richard III' I had expected a stronger and more peppery Gandalf from McKellan. +.5
Shadowfax the Horse of Legends, right out of all the folktales, who cannot be tamed or ridden except by the one destined, often wiser than the humans around. Quite possibly an incarnate Immortal as well, though this is never explicitly stated, it's well within ME conventions (qv Silm.) pretty, but not as "rarin' to go" and as much a willing partner in Gandalf's work, as in the book. +.5
Háma loyal but conflicted ranking officer, who is forced to choose between the letter of orders and the spirit - but has the intelligence and courage to make his own judgment calls.  a mindless minion who gets one garbled line, and a stupid, preventable death scene. (His real death seems to have been handed over to an inserted Elven Haldir, more or less.)  -.5
Théoden I an ill, embittered fatalist, articulate in his bitterness at the fate that world events have brought on his nation. an inarticulate mummy, aged instantly and extremely by strong magic, not apparent natural causes as in the texts.  -1
Théoden II a brave, but still prudent, semi-barbaric warrior chieftain, strong, decisive - and generous and good-humoured despite everything that has gone wrong in his life.  an embittered fatalist, passive to the extreme, illogical, and one of the worst military leaders to cross the boards in theatrical history. Played as unhealed Théoden in the books, only stupid.  -1
Gríma a plausible scoundrel, slick and able to say the most outrageously ironic things with complete sincerity to manipulate others. a cartoon villain, [over] played as the worst caricature of an Iago or Richard III that can be imagined, and badly made-up to boot. -1
Éowyn presents a face of intimidating competence and unflinching resolve to the world as she runs a great hall in wartime, covering a chronic clinical depression.  not as bad as she could have been, but with none of the competence or psychic strength (or physical) that the book describes. -.5
Arwen offstage, sends backup in the form of a standard, a horse, and good advice. A wise, well-travelled, resolute lady. wakens Aragorn with a mystic kiss, then tearfully wusses out of her commitment to him - a goopy dim-bulb as played on screen in part II. (This is all the weirder given that it doesn't fit with her character as "plucky ranger gal" established in FOTR-M, either. Pick a characterization, dammit!) -1
Elrond offstage, sends backup in the form of sons, cousins, good advice. A benevolent, generous, wise, enlightened chap. bitter and sullen, he sabotages Aragorn's relationship by guilting/intimidating Arwen into wussing out of commitment. No sign here of "the Halfelven" at all! -1
Ceorl veteran of the fighting in the Westfold, reveals mess Eorlingas walking into, presents another view of how the Rohirrim view their King. not in film. The Rohirrim just blunder blindly around Rohan without any connections, military or emotional. -.5
Gamling the Old tough, competent local garrison officer, knows tribal politics as well as he knows the terrain of the Westfold. moved to Edoras, seems to have been given Háma's role in part, but plays it as a mindless minion also. -.5
Erkenbrand non-speaking part, but important plotwise, as the rational source for the earthly parts of rescue. not in film; role in relief, siege-raising given in an incoherent manner to Éomer. -.5
Saruman skilled manipulator and weaver of lies designed to set his enemies against each other and deflect hostility; makes Gríma look like a rank amateur in terms of sincere deviousness -- and ambition; shortsighted (as many "clever" excecutive/political types are) in that he judges everyone according to his own desires and behaviour. played as written (!) but severely shortchanged for screen time; after exaggerating his power in FOTR (recall he was given the power to cause the avalanche on Caradhras) he is now forgotten and dismissed by the filmmakers.*** +1
Haldir not in book pops in out of literal nowhere to get killed in a pointless exercise. -1
Frodo Intelligent, unusually interested in things beyond his provincial background, and mature even for his being older than the rest of the hobbits, he has a resolve and maturity that makes his ultimately being overcome by the power of the Dark Side a shocking thing. alternately impulsive and passive behavior carried over from FOTR-M, added to this a wussiness and self-delusory trait that makes his book-kindness seem just stupidity here. No shock that the Ring gets to him so quickly, just that he doesn't fall over his own feet. -1
Sam common sense and practicality only mask a deeper romanticism and curiosity about the world, inspired by his role models, the eccentric Bagginses. played, shockingly, just as he is in the book; but shortchanged for screen time, which reduces the impact of his nuanced, deceptively "simple" character. +1
Gollum warped, schizophrenic, devious, murderous — and yet strangely pitiable, a lesson in what selfishness really leads to: not superior beings, but slaves to their own cravings. played, again surprisingly, just as he is written in the book. +1
Faramir friend and student of Gandalf, in former years; now a warrior and visionary defending a doomed nation with full consciousness of past mythic-historic catastrophes that have befallen his people. turned (with all the Men of Gondor) into a shallow, bullying oaf with none of the book connections or reflective capacity that make him in so many ways a peer and kindred spirit to Frodo, despite their vast difference in backgrounds/ -1
Mablung a Ranger of Gondor, who while guarding Frodo and Sam as potential spies, is nonetheless willing to talk with them as persons and treat them civilly. not in film; replaced by a geezer of another name who exists only to provide an [incoherent, implausible] infodump. -.5
Damrod smaller part as Mablung's back-up, part of the general impression of Gondor as a place of people worth saving. who? -.5
Shelob primal demi-demon of chaos, owing obedience not even to Dark Lords. not in film (moved to ROTK-M) NA
TOTALS (-31/ +31 range)

Book  Movie Points
Rohirrim independent tribal villagers with a semi-nomadic, warrior way of life. Autonomy and rugged individualism are their traditions, though responsibility to the community (seen as family) is also important. mindless, scruffy minions with no independence of thought (or thought) -- as warriors they fight like robots, and the civilians are screeching and sheeplike. Costume designs drab, ugly - and coincidentally, not like the book! -1
Orcs mutants bred to be minions of the Dark Side, they nonetheless have individuality and twisted idealism, even, or at least a rational self-interest which is often at odds with their masters' intended role as ballista-fodder. mindless indistinguishable minions, without even the sense to keep moving out of enemy territory. -1
Ents patient, with the time-sense of beings practically immortal, whose lengthy perspective makes them careful of wrong, quick decisions -- but unstoppable once their judgment is certain. indistinguishable from each other, and all mindless cravens. -1
Lórien Elves not in book here; occupied defending Lórien against invasion throughout TTT and ROTK. illogically (as well as against the text) played as High Elven heavy infantry straight out of the 2nd Age sequence, not as woodland rangers. -1
Haradrim described as very proud and spectacular in bright colors and gold and rich array, like ancient Persians. very blandly portrayed by comparison - and no sign of any competence in fighting during the battle. -.5
Ithilien Rangers veteran warriors, but as chivalric as they are efficient, for all their use of the "unchivalrous" arts of camouflage and stealth - this story was written by a battlefield survivor after all. turned into generic fantasyland warriors, with all the inarticulate thuggishness of the most stereotypical bootneck of modern times. (Plus they're wandering around in ornate armour, not camo, for most of their scenes.)  -1
TOTALS (-6/+6 range)

LOCATIONS Book  Movie Points
Parth Galen riverside setting leading into woods and ruins not in film; left behind in FOTR-M N/A
W. Emyn Muil rocky plateau, breaking off in a series of cliff-shelves to the plains below. not clearly demarcated as different from Rohan, qv. -.5
The Mark rolling hills, plains, wetlands - all very green and fertile. steep slopes, not grassy, no wetlands, but lots of uncanon sharp volcanic rocks. -1
Fangorn a forest old, oppressive, dusty with old leaves - but still rich and beautiful in its own organic way. uniformly dark, dank, hokey - looks like it was swiped right out of the talking forest set in the 1939 'Wizard of Oz.' -1
Edoras described as sumptuous in a tribal longhouse sort of way, with carvings, painted woodwork, and lots of tapestries. not as radiant or richly semi-barbaric as written, too cold and dusty; but the set crew did an okay job; unfortunately the camera work was terribly static & did not show off what was there to good effect. +.5
Helm's Deep ancient fortress with a ditch/wall structure out in front to slow attackers' momentum, then a rise upslope a quarter mile to a curtain 20' high, with overhang, sally port, multiple stairs, and within it a tower built against the natural rock wall. Culvert is known, guarded element necessary for outflow of water source. major reconstruction/ omission of key elements of the defensive structure, making the battle even less plausible. No sense given of the layout of the fortress for tactical purposes either among the defenders for their benefit, or for those watching the battle. (Hey, there weren't any tactics, so what does it matter...?) -1
Orthanc black, futuristic (actually Atlantean) observation tower in the middle of a circular fortification, formerly surrounded by parklands. done almost exactly as described in the book, amazingly - a very impressive set. +1
E. Emyn Muil rocky plateau, breaking off in a series of cliff-shelves to the plains below. correct as far as the rocks go, but no sense of altitude or difference from the plains below, as scaled with great difficulty (and suspense) in the book. +.5
Dead Marshes gray-green zone of bogs and fens, growing up over the sinking terrain that was the site of the last defeat of Sauron in the Second Age. looks mostly all right, but the Dead are supposed to be seen at night, with the will-o-the-wisp lights that traditionally lead travellers off the path - and not at all aggressive; they're just psychic impressions left after the battle, not physical. 0 (+1 for rendering, -1 for screwing up ghosts)
chemical wasteland
dry area between Marshes and Black Gate, leading into slag pits and toxic dumps around Mordor. did I blink? Distances collapsed here or fast-forwarded through. -.5
Morannon the Black Gate is set in mountains, massively high, spiked, guarded and defended. done well, very imposing and ominous looking. +1
Ithilien mediterranean in its lushness, full of water, greenery, and bits of ruined road and monument overgrown with vines. dry, almost scrubby, except in one cut-in high shot of jungle, not reflected in ground shots. No richness of ruins of old Gondor scattered about as in the book. -.5
Morgul-vale a Lovecraftian valley of lurid, poisonous flowers surrounding a green-glowing fortress, twin to Minas Tirith but corrupted. not in film; moved to ROTKM NA
Cirith Ungol a dark, secret staircase leading past a small checkpoint in a cave-riddled cliff. not in film; moved to ROTKM NA
(-11/+11 range)

CREATURES Book  Movie Points
Fell Beasts magically-enhanced, specially-bred AU 'pterosaurs' used as spy planes and special transport by the Nazgûl. inconsistencies in strength/ ruggedness levels, but otherwise beautifully (well...) rendered and most important, plausible in flight. +.5 (+1 for design, -.5 for realism)
Wargs giant demonic wolves with glowing eyes and considerable intelligence who work with the Orcs freely, not as mere brutes forcibly controlled. mangy oversized hyenas in chain harness, look more like old bearskin rugs than terrifying, parasentient minions of the Dark Side. -1
Mûmakil giant AU prehistoric war-elephants excellent design, but oversized beyond any zoological plausibility -- or logistical!
(+1 for design, -1 for realism)
Ents (as SFX) living Green Men, somewhat resembling the various tree species which they are aligned with. very robotic, not at all like the organic, bark-skinned beings with golden, light-filled eyes described in the texts. (tacking leaves on them, against the books, does not make them less robotic.) -1
Gollum (as SFX) a withered froglike humanoid mutated into this form by centuries of proximity to the Ring, granting him his desires for solitude, stealth, and mire. excellent in all respects - plausible and accurate to the texts (except his glowing eyes were somehow missed.) +1
(-5/+5 range)

-24 out of a possible range of -53/+53

What things do movies do well — better than books, even, sometimes? Dramatic moments, scenery costumes, illustrating complex maneuvers in an instant, soaring music, high romance and cool speechifying. We didn't get any of that. We got some good CGI monsters, and three good characterizations, and a couple tolerable ones. As for the rest...

Stupid villains, stupider heroes, plots that work only because of the fact that all the characters are stupid, AND that the "geography" of the film is totally fluid and more elastic than a toy balloon, stunts physically impossible as well as implausible in a supposedly-realistic AU**** — not the hallmarks of an epic, I'm afraid.

We were promised a banquet. We were assured that the finest of feasts was being prepared for us. The drinks and hors-d'oevres (ie, FOTR-M) were pretty good; enough that we were able to forgive the occasional flat vintage and tasteless canapé. And then — the long promised course was served, and —

It was oatmeal. Cold oatmeal.

Those who have been promised savories and subtleties have a right to be outraged when given bland, bitter porridge instead, and told to be grateful for it. This isn't what we were cozened into paying our money (and time!) for, and we are not going to just be happy and shut up about it. Especially when the next course looks to be more of the same.

*Well, all right, if you thought Independence Day was a good example of a solidly-plotted, well-acted movie, you probably wouldn't have a problem with TTT-M as a free-standing film. At least, that seems to be the way of it among those happy viewers who are not book-fans engaged in more pilpul and exegisis to justify changes than might be found in the whole of Paris, Oxford or Lublin...thinking viewers who are not already book fans seem to be more than a little dissatisfied with the emphasis on battles over character, though, and baffled by the edits, judging by reviews both pro and am.

**Hint, hint: "Release from Bondage" is the Elvish title of their story.

***Anyone else think Lee should have been cast as Denethor? I think he'd have been superb for the part. Of course, I think C. Lee rocks altogether.

**** Even less plausible, and less susceptible to exegesis, frex, than the now-strong-enough to carry away horses Fell Beast being driven off by a single arrow hardly penetrating at all, and the Ringwraith backing off from siezing his intended prey still only a few feet away — is the subsequent tumble down the steps! I'm sorry, but two ordinary mortals, small and light or not, cannot roll suddenly and violently down a flight of stone stairs to a stone landing and not suffer any damage whatsoever. The least that one would expect is hours' worth of limping (with days' worth of bruises), and that would be miraculous. More probable would be broken bones — tibia, collarbone, even skull — and concussion. This scene violates the Primary World aspects of ME (and Aristotle's directives regarding dramatized fantasy: the "plausible impossible" superior to the "implausible possible") as badly as the miraculous shrinking and stretching of distances, or the random discovery of the Orcs just in time to save Merry and Pippin by the exiled film Rohirrim — and any number of others.

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