The Return of the King (1980) (part 4 of 8)

Onto the siege, as rocks are hurtled at walls, explosions go off, and folks run screaming. And if this sounds in any way, shape or form exciting, you must be watching the 2003 version.

We segue to inside the main building in the city, as Lord Denethor (voiced by William Conrad) has apparently gone hopelessly insane and has ordered his own execution. Now, in the Jackson films and in the book, he had a bit more to do, as we had met his two sons, along with all the baggage that little plot point brought along.

The Return of the King (1980) (part 4 of 8)

Here though, he’s just some crazy old guy who looks like the Emperor from Return of the Jedi if he had Botox injections.

To read the rest of this article, support the Agony Booth on Patreon.
This post is available to our patrons who pledge $2 or more per month on Patreon. Click the “Unlock with Patreon” button below to sign up with Patreon or to log in with your existing Patreon account.
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.

Ed Harris

A fan of less than great cinema since childhood, Ed divides his time between writing scripts, working an actual paying job and subjecting himself willingly to some of the worst films society has produced.

Multi-Part Article: The Return of the King (1980)

You may also like...

  • MichaelANovelli

    I love this movie!  :-)  Good job, Ed!

  • DrWheelz

    If I may be nerdy here, there actually is a part in the book where Sam is tempted by the ring. It happens right before he enters Mordor and what he sees is basically what is described in the recap, just with less LSD. It’s a small and easily overlooked bit that wasn’t even included in the Jackson movies (which was probably for the best). Just thought I’d bring that up for your consideration.

  • Hal_10000

    You know, you really should skip the “this isn’t in the book comments” when you admit you haven’t really read the book.  Denethor’s palantir is in the book; the three-headed watchers are in the book; Sams’s temptation is in the book.  It was a fine recap, but those little notes annoyed me a bit.  End Nerd Rant.

  • Even in the Peter Jackson film, Denethor makes it pretty clear to Gandalf that he’s got a palantir: “Do you think the eyes of the White Tower are blind? I have seen more than you know” For Jackson’s adaptation, there really wasn’t any need to spell it out beyond that.

  • Chimaera

    Oh, good lord, I remember this! I don’t think it quite hits the level of badness of the Bakshi movie (few things have scarred my memory like Pantsless Viking Boromir), but still, it is…not good. Thanks for this writeup (my only quibble is, as others have noted, much of the stuff you say isn’t in the books actually is). How sad to think that for so many years, this was the closest thing to a “Lord of the Rings” movie we geeks had…

  • Thomas Stockel

    Good review.  I remember not being entirely offended by this adaptation, but I think that was due more to nostalgia than anything else.  Watching it reminded me of how much I liked Rankin/Bass’ Hobbit adaptation.  That, and I was, like, thirteen and easily amused.

  • Voyagrvi

    Thank Xenu, someone else who thinks the Tolkien books are over-written.  Unlike this palooka, I HAVE read the book…twice…and while it is indeed a work of art, it’s a pretty bloody fruity one.  100 pages coulda been hacked out just by removing every time someone says “Behold!” at something.  Our man Jackson (Go NZ!) was right to remove the Tom Bombadil bollocks…whaaaaat a dick…and while fans foamed at The Scouring Of The Shire being excised in favour of 19 separate sub-endings, PJ was spot on again.  “I think I’ll shoehorn some forced comedy into the already bloated conclusion, and along the way patronise the working class of Britain.”  STILL a magnificent book, though.  Bakshi’s film is not that bad, but this one is a *shower* of goose testicles.  Makes you wish the 1968/9 Beatles version that (the soundtrack LP aside) would have been a total disaster had been made instead.

    • fantasywind

      Well it seems that Tolkien books are as it often is with literature or anything really, is a matter of taste, if there are people who don’t like it, sure why not, pity for them! :) Maybe they can’t get full immersion while reading :). I read The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and even tome of in-universe poetry Adventures of Tom Bombadil (I even read fragments of History of Middle-earth which are loosely tied notes and texts of Tolkien gathered and published by Christopher Tolkien, they contain even many version or early drafts of some of the stories and I still enjoyed reading this :) but each to his own). I also read some of the stories outside of famous Legendarium of Middle Earth and that is Farmer Giles of Ham :). Well so praised PJ’s movies sometimes fell short in comparison to the source material (but the latest Hobbit movie, dear God what a travesty!! Real Desolation…but of plotlines, restrain and common sense). Also the descriptive style or linguistic stylization never really bothered me (I actually quite liked the descriptions of nature or landscape).

  • Damanoid

    I can’t imagine what moved Rankin/Bass to produce this abortive semi-adaptation.  It couldn’t have been just the money, could it?  Say what you will about them, the studio’s overall body of work had a painfully sincere quality that seemed inconsistent with raw commercialism.  I don’t doubt that they could have easily spun off their more successful product into all manner of skeevy ’70s merchandising, but they always seemed disinclined to do so; and so we were spared the horror of “Rudolph’s Shiny New Disco Favorites” on LP and 8-track, or “The Last Unicorn Meets Shaun Cassidy (with Special Musical Guest: ABBA).” 

    Maybe they were hoping that Bakshi’s adaptation rights would lapse, and they would be able to retroactively incorporate their RoTK into a complete animated trilogy.  Or maybe it can simply be chalked up to vast quantities of drugs, the Occam’s Razor of the 1970s (see also: the Krofft Brothers). 

    Also: Saying that the Rankin/Bass adaptation of Tolkien is unrelentingly horrible is a perfectly arguable opinion.  Saying that it is just as bad as the Bakshi version is something else altogether.  Frankly this raises the suspicion that you have never actually watched the Bakshi movie.  Or if you did, you prepared for it by getting so drunk that you remember nothing about it (which, granted, is also perfectly understandable). 

    Yes, the Rankin/Bass production is full of dreadful folk songs; but that doesn’t excuse the claim that the Bakshi version of Gollum is scarier, which is patently untrue. (Seriously, go check.) Don’t allow the folksinging to distort your critical judgment!  We enjoy these reviews too much for that to happen.

    • edharris1178

       I was saying the Peter Jackson version was better, not the Bakshi one.  Glad you enjoyed the piece.

  • AndyK

    Having known the Peter Jackson movies first and gotten used to them, it’s so downright weird to see Tolkien’s characters rendered like this.
    But I may give this cartoon a chance if I come across it, especially since, having less than half the runtime of its live-action counterpart, I may be able to enjoy the story (say what you will, but I’m not too fond of overlong movies – especially those that clock in at over 3 hours).