ROTK revisitedI have been reviewing my reactions to LOTR - ROTK and have a few more points to offer. The principal reason why I stayed away from reading the books was to find out for myself how that affects the way how I react to the filmed version. In most cases where a film is based on a well-known book, I know a bit about the plot, but in the case of LOTR, I was completely ignorant of it. It was a very interesting exercise in forming an opinion of film adaptations and the difficulties in doing them - David Lean's biography (a BCL copy of which I had read a few years ago) had dwelt on the many pitfalls accompanying screen adaptations.
Most LOTR fans (those who've read the books) I know are primarily excited in seeing how the Jackson trilogy brings to screen Tolkien's grand and complex vision. They are already aware of the plot, so they can set aside any anxiety in that regard. This doesn't not hold for those who haven't read the books and they wonder what else is in store ahead. Unfortunately, I think the story in the last segment is very inevitable and everyone recognises it - it is, after all, a straightforward tale of good versus evil at its core. Even within that limitation, the grey areas as signified by Gollum/Smeagol do provide an excellent counterpoint to the plucky Hobbits and the conventional bravery of the other heroes. I think the film's plot would never have had any surprises - in a book, this predictability can be overcome with the elements of wordsmithy, character development etc without worrying too much about the length. In a film, this has to be done with the elements of locales, acting, battle scenes et al, which do need the viewer to be looking out for them. Those viewers who aren't watching out for the development of the plot can do this better, and especially those who must have read and marvelled at Tolkien's imaginative settings and character sketches, which apparently Jackson has done justice to on screen. But for viewers like me, it cannot be achieved on the first viewing where the story is always paramount - there is such a profusion of participants that it is hard work keeping up with the multitude of interwoven threads in the first place.
There is absolutely no disputing the top-notch cinematography, locales, special effects. There are some glorious cinematic moments too, some of the battle sequences, the grateful bowing of everyone to the Hobbits, the opening with a brief flashback to Smeagol are all well-done. But I still carry my criticisms of the unravelling of the plot for the last edition, and hence my opposition for a Best Picture nod for this particular film taken alone, though everyone knows it is more in recognition for all the three etc. I think the last two editions couldn't carry that section of the audience that had not read the books, and while that may be excellent motivation to read them, as a cinematic endeavour, it hasn't been quite that successful. LOTR-FOTR did a marvellous job (as one commentor rightly pointed out) in introducing us to the world of Middle Earth, the context of the conflicts, the various traits of the different races and unveiled this grand canvas that previously lived in the minds of the LOTR fans. The Two Towers, but for the Gollum development, was the weakest of the three to my mind. I'm sure a lot of details didn't make it to the screenplay from the books, and I still feel some of the last scenes (those that book fans, on the contrary, may feel aggrieved that they had been only fleetingly referred to in the film) didn't add much cinematic value and only succeeded in diluting the end to an intense plot.
I'm quite happy that my decision to stay away from the books has helped me in thinking about these things from an alternative point-of-view. When I finish reading them and watch the films again, I'm sure I'll have a completely different experience and understand even better the classic dilemma between books and film adaptations.