The holiday season is here and I've found myself watching too many movies. Movies I've already seen, or didn't really want to see again.
This has been a long time coming...
I finally figured out why Peter Jackson's third installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, THE RETURN OF THE KING, leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Don't get me wrong.
The first two movies are incredible, not just visually, but in terms of storytelling, scope, power, and the ability to balance multiple stories and still carry a main protagonist.
The books are phenomenal. Before I even knew that I wanted to write, I knew that I wanted to tell stories on par with The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.
You can't argue with source material that inspired countless films, books, writers, filmmakers, artists, video games... you name it.
When I exited the movie theater, departing from Middle Earth, I felt that something was not quite right. Maybe my expectations were too high. Or the eight endings were just too much for me to handle.
I eventually rationalized the feeling as a side effect of the movies being in excess of 3 hours a piece. Stretching 9+ hours of conflict and struggle to deposit this One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom can't possibly have a satisfactory climax... Can it?
But that's not what happened. What happened is...
The movie made me HATE Frodo.
THE RETURN OF THE KING artificially forces Frodo to be the hero. The problem is that every single heroic action that happens, in this movie, on the path to Mount Doom is a result of Sam's heroism. Not Frodo's.
Frodo has become nothing more than luggage. A vessel that carries the ring. Hell, Sam even has to carry him up the side of Mount Doom.
Sam you're my hero!
But why is Sam treated like a secondary character? Why is Frodo the one they celebrate? If it wasn't for Gollum, Frodo would have doomed all of Middle Earth. Let's face it, Sam can only save the day so many times.
And this is where the book worked, where the movie did not...
In the book, we were able to be with Frodo. To see the agony and inner turmoil he was going through carrying the ring. The burden that was baring down on him. The heroic self-sacrifice of being the one, and only one to carry the ring. In the book, Frodo has carried the burden so long that when he is at the edge about to toss the ring into Mount Doom, he is filled with conflict.
Not only is the ring calling to him, but the sacrifice of the ring also means Frodo's journey will come to its end.
This moment is ripe with strife.
In the movie, it simply appears selfish.
Sam saved your butt, how many times? He gave you his last few drops of water so you could make it to the fiery precipice and now you simply won't throw the ring into the pit? Who do you think you are, little man?
Sam saved you from Gollum how many times? You cast Sam aside because he was protecting you from Gollum and he still comes back in the nick of time to save your life, twice! And somehow, through all of Sam's self sacrifice, you manage to decide, nah, the ring's mine, suckers, and let Gollum blindside Sam with a rock to the noggin?
For a trilogy that hits so many story beats in stride with Star Wars (not surprising as Lucas was a big fan of the books, but that's a whole 'nother thread) something is lost in RETURN OF THE KING, that RETURN OF THE JEDI manages to put on screen.
In Star Wars, Luke has a similar opportunity to delve into the deeper reaches of his own "dark side." In the heart of enemy territory, the Death Star, Darth Vader and The Emperor issue an ultimatum to Luke. Join us or die!
That's a tough decision.
So, The Emperor makes it an even tougher one... scratch that... kill your father and take his place by my side.
On the one hand, the two most powerful villains in the universe are telling you to submit. So, you'd live. The last time you fought the weaker of the two, you lost a hand. Only got one of those left (pun!). If you join, you could be an uber badass like Vader. Cool capes. Neat voicebox trick. A planet or five. And hot dames, I'm sure.
On the other hand... Well... Really, the only reason for Luke to say no, is simply because he couldn't live with himself if he chose the path of evil and killed his father. He is the embodiment of good. And as much as we are all our father's sons (unless you're a girl), it is rare that we want to grow up and be our fathers. Usually it is a rebellion from said cause.
RETURN OF THE JEDI ends on a note of a universal theme. I am not my father!
Despite the insurmountable odds, Luke, much like the end of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, chooses death.
And guess what?
Luke's act of heroism and sacrifice is so completely over-the-top heroic, that the most evil and inhuman (as well as best dressed) bad guy in the universe, Darth Vader, becomes good.
By the end of their journeys:
I LOVED Luke.
I HATED Frodo.
And I LOVED Sam.
All platonically, of course.
Isn't it funny, that Sam's journey in RETURN OF THE KING is more closely related to that of Luke's than Frodo's is. Whatever the odds, Sam takes heroic action.
There are many genres in which the hero can fail, can be a bad guy, or can even take steps that are unheroic. But...
For the EPIC TALE, a hero must never submit to an unheroic deed, no matter the cost. That's what epic heroes are made of.