Just. See. It.
Indulging my deficient Christianity, I saw ROTK today (the office closed early). Excellent film, almost exhausting in its scope. I'm going to have to see it again to take it in. And probably again after that.
Basic impressions? First, the good [a few spoiler-like items]:
1. The characterization is much improved here--the theatrical version of TTT was too frenetic and left the actors with little chance to shine. McKellen's Gandalf is back in Oscar-worthy fettle in this one, as is Sean Astin's Sam.
2. On a related note, it feels much less rushed than TTT, although the epic scale doesn't allow for the more leisurely pacing seen in FOTR. I think I could also sense where the extended version is going to fill in some blanks.
3. The charge of the Rohirrim at Pelennor Fields is unbelievable. According to the Newsweek article about the film, the first thing Peter Jackson asked about the other epics that came out this fall was "How are the battles?"
Well, Mr. Jackson sees your $25, and raises you...$1,000.
4. Shelob should not be seen by those suffering from arachnophobia.
5. The sets are marvelous. Minas Tirith is as advertised, and the Grey Havens were spectacular. Which brings me to:
6. The sense of tragedy in victory is maintained, very well so. The end at the Havens, with the sunset over a silent, empty city, is truly moving.
7. The religious overtones are still present, especially in the interactions between Gandalf and Pippin.
Now, the Not-So-Good.
1. The film Denethor is almost entirely without redeeming characteristics. Competently acted, but he bears no relationship to the character of the books, who was basically a decent, duty-bound man crippled by despair. This Denethor is a venal, deranged coward.
2. The love story angle limps to its conclusion. The least effective of the Jackson/Walsh/Boyens grafts, they seemed to recognize it this time and shuffled it off to the side. There was an interesting vision sequence where Aragorn laughingly picks up a very young Eldarion, but that was pretty much it.
3. Where's the confrontation between Gandalf and the Lord of the Nazgul? Come on! No fireworks in the book, but it would have been a fine opportunity for McKellen to bust out his "You! Shall Not! PASS!" chops.
4. Again, some scenes seemed to shout "the extended version will clarify."
5. Speaking of ROTK EE, the battle at the Black Gate was truncated. The Mouth of Sauron had better reappear, especially since Bruce Spence was cast in the role. Spence played the Gyro Captain in The Road Warrior, you may remember. I can easily picture him spitting "Surety you crave..."
6. Some of the characters--Legolas, Gimli--had less to do this time around.
7. I'm not sure about Jackson's deployment of the army of the Dead as a general rule. Then again, given his start in zombie films, I guess it was probably irresistable.
As you can see, the flaws, while noticeable, are relatively few. You'll not spend a better 3 hours and 15 minutes at the theatre this year.