The Return of the King (1980) (part 2 of 8)
Bilbo begins to get tired, as one would expect from a guy who’s been knocking around for 129 years, and it turns out he’s holding onto the book that he’s evidently been writing. Though, there has been a slight change to the title.
Bilbo begins to get nostalgic, and asks Frodo what happened to his ring, which leads to some brief flashbacks to the Hobbit movie, including Gollum, who Bilbo took the ring from, and in the version that’s actually worth watching, has a real part in the plot.
Frodo replies he lost it, and I have to say, it’s rather odd to have the same actor playing both Frodo and Bilbo here. Essentially, you’re watching a man talking to himself. If they were still supposed to be related it might work—And I’m being exceptionally generous in that assessment.
They go on about the ring for a little, until Frodo casually begins puffing on a pipe, at which point Bilbo suddenly realizes Frodo is missing a finger on his right hand. I guess the old handshake isn’t big in Middle Earth, since generally, when you shake a person’s hand, the lack of a finger is something you would more than likely notice. I know I would. Hell, if it was someone I knew was an asshole, I might consider screaming and running upon the revelation.
Bilbo asks for an explanation, and as Frodo stands to get the ball rolling, Gandalf interrupts, stating they’ve brought “someone who has written a ballad” about Frodo’s quest.
He’s introduced as “the Minstrel of Gondor”, and he turns out to be a rather dopey looking fellow with a mandolin. He’s given a round of applause that I have to say sounds just the slightest bit sarcastic, though to be honest, it could just be that he managed to be in the room the entire time without anyone noticing him until he was mentioned.
He then proceeds to sing the first of many, many awful folk songs that comprise the movie’s soundtrack. Yes, folk music, one of the many elements of pop culture that made the ‘70s suck, along with disco, disco, and disco. The songs are performed by a folk singer named Glenn Yarbrough.
As to the song, it’s titled “Frodo of the Nine Fingers”, and to be as gentle as I possibly can, it sucks. The minstrel warbles on about “the ring of doom”, and we get a recap of the previous movie, basically telling a room full of people shit they already know, because they lived through it.
Granted, it’s a not entirely awful way to get non-fans into the proceedings, but on the other hand, Peter Jackson was able to find a way that accomplished the same thing, and he did it without terrible folk songs.
The recap moves on to what roughly happened in Fellowship, with Gandalf sending Frodo off to destroy the ring, but suddenly, Gandalf takes up the narration, and while the song thankfully ends for now, we’re still in a holding pattern, as we need to be introduced to a few more characters.
Gandalf brings up Aragorn, the titular king who will be returning, and in a sign that the filmmakers really gave more of a damn about Frodo and Sam, Aragorn doesn’t even get any dialogue at this point. We just see him on a horse, and then it’s back to another verse of the song.
Gandalf is back now, noting that Frodo and Sam had many great adventures, but we won’t see them here. Hell, all we get is Frodo walking through a cave, swinging his sword at nothing. He’s captured off-screen, and Sam goes after him.
Yep, no fights with giant spiders, just an off-screen abduction, and a shot of Frodo on the floor, shirtless, surrounded by Orcs, and the ring is suddenly not hanging from his neck.
One word about the Orcs before we continue. On the one hand, they look menacing enough, with snarly faces, but outside of that, they’re not that impressive. They’re roughly the same size as Frodo and Sam, which works against the film later on, and there are one or two other things in the film that will not only hurt the credibility of these Orcs, but possibly make it very hard to take the live-action ones seriously ever again.
After a commercial break, it’s back to Sam at the foot of a huge mountain, while Gandalf natters on about what a determined, stubborn little shit Sam is. This is shown, too, as Sam repeatedly tries to crash through the huge doors in front of him, shoulder first.
Suddenly, another folk song starts up, and we get a title sequence played over a horrifically sappy song called “It’s So Easy Not to Try”. The lyrics are insipid (“move like a mindless butterfly”?), the music itself is sleep-inducing, and the entire thing reeks of wistful nostalgia of the worst kind. Even John Denver would tell the singer that he’s a pussy.
God, this movie just reeks of the ‘70s! And yes, it aired in 1980, but let’s be frank here, the decade really ended in 1981. 1981 was basically the morning after when we woke up with a major hangover and Ronald Reagan next to us going, “Well… I’m the new president! Care for a jelly bean?” And we just shook our heads, looking at each other, and going, “Man, what the fuck did we do for the last decade and change?”
I can’t imagine kids enjoying this, unless they were really easy to please. Hell, I think I was about four or five when I saw this for the first time, and even then I was checking the clock and reaching for the TV Guide to see if Star Wars was coming on.