The Return of the King (1980) (part 6 of 8)

Moving on, Sam and Frodo join up with the march, which makes the Orcs look like real morons, since these two clowns don’t even come close to looking like them, based on how they’re dressed.

The Return of the King (1980) (part 6 of 8)

The song resumes, and we get some griping from our heroes in full view of the leader of the troop that goes unnoticed. A little later, a chance to break off comes as the Orcs come into conflict with an army of men. A fight breaks out, and Frodo and Sam are able to slip away.

The Return of the King (1980) (part 6 of 8)

More angst from Frodo leads to him falling down a hole. Sam follows, and this takes us to commercial. Back from the break, we rejoin Gandalf as he prattles on and on about good and evil, while the Orcs are stomping a mud hole in his army and walking it dry.

The Return of the King (1980) (part 6 of 8)

They prepare to break through the gates of the city, and Gandalf decides to basically commit suicide by facing them alone. He bids farewell to Pippin, but Pippin insists on getting killed too, so they go off. Hmm, not quite as inspiring as it was in the 2003 version.

The Orcs break through under the command of the Witch King (not named here, but that’s who the guy is) who, according to Gandalf, cannot be harmed by any living man. Of course, given what a glass-is-half-empty guy he’s been thus far, I think it’s fair to assume he’s exaggerating a little.

The Return of the King (1980) (part 6 of 8)

Men run around in a blind panic, as Gandalf has suddenly gotten his cojones back, sitting defiantly with a mean look on his face. At least, I think it’s one; dude’s got almost as much as hair as he did in the Bakshi version.

The Return of the King (1980) (part 6 of 8)

The Witch King charges forward, but Gandalf says rather weakly that he can’t come in. I hereby retract my remark about him getting his balls back. He continues on a little, to which his nemesis removes his cloak to reveal he has no head—just two glowing red eyes and a flaming crown.

He cackles evilly, and taunts Gandalf, but he’s interrupted by a rooster crowing and the day breaking. Backup has also arrived in the form of Théoden and his army, and they run towards the bad guys.

The Return of the King (1980) (part 6 of 8)

We cut away from what could be actual excitement, to more shit with Frodo and Sam, as Frodo has woken up and is now ready to kick ass… or at the very least, lift a ring and drop it.

Sam continues to be a buzz-kill, and for some ungodly reason, he recommends waiting until the next day to act. Yeah, there’s the way to keep building suspense. Have your heroes take a day off.

This leads into maybe the worst song in the film, a miserably sappy ditty called “Leave Tomorrow Till it Comes”, and it’s accompanied by a fantasy sequence where the Orcs are actually nice guys who wave at Frodo and Sam as they pass by.

The Return of the King (1980) (part 6 of 8)

Okay, now I think I’ll have trouble taking them seriously as a threat ever again.

The sequence also has a really sappy version of the ending, as the ring is tossed in with no problem and no drama. Watching this really makes you appreciate Peter Jackson, it really does.

The dream ends with Sam and Gandalf turning into Orcs, and we go back to the battle. Yes, we just had a pointless interlude that only served to waste time before the big battle scene.

Gandalf is back to narrate, as we cut from the battle to Frodo and Sam as they make their way towards Mount Doom. They get to the foot of the mountain, and after falling backwards, they decide to crawl the rest of the way up.

Hey, why the hell not? That’s about the pace the rest of the film has. This makes an Ingmar Bergman movie look like Bad Boys II! Why not have them go past a snail real slow, and have the damn thing start yelling at them for speeding while we’re at it?

As Gandalf speaks about the evil of the mountain, we get another sort-of song: a slow and ominous number entitled “The Cracks of Doom”.

Joy.

The bit itself is just a chant, while Gandalf indulges in a bunch of aimless ruminations about the evil that is Sauron. The only reason I’m even name-dropping the prick is that he gets one other mention in the movie before this, and I’m a stickler for details. And yeah, we get the stuff with him we got in the live-action movies: the all-seeing eye, and the menacing mountain he lives in, only here it means less than nothing, because over a third of the movie is wasted on setup information that has little to do with the actual story, and more to do with just killing time.

It’s rather annoying how, in trying to make this a direct sequel to their Hobbit film from a few years previous, Rankin and Bass essentially gutted an entire story, and made it amazingly dull and meandering.

Even more aggravating is that all this is played over Sam and Frodo trying to avoid detection, which could have been actually suspenseful, if not for the pointless narration.

The Return of the King (1980) (part 6 of 8)

Sam, thinking they’ve been spotted, briefly panics, only to be reassured by Frodo, which leads to him switching back to confidence so quickly it’s a wonder he didn’t get whiplash.

As they make their way up, they’re spotted by Gollum (voiced by existential comic Brother Theodore). While in the 2003 version, he looked fantastic (you know, for an emaciated wretch consumed by mental illness and corruption), here Gollum looks… Well, less than impressive. Hell, at least the ‘78 version had him looking somewhat menacing.

The Return of the King (1980) (part 6 of 8)

Here though, not so much. In fact, if it were possible for a frog to have a crack baby, it would come out looking like this guy.

Frodo and Sam see him, and Sam drones, “God help us!” Which proves that even old pros like Roddy McDowall can sometimes decide, “Hell, this isn’t even worth the effort.” Not that I blame him.

Gollum growls about Frodo cheating him, which would be coherent if we had seen him in the movie earlier, flashback to the Hobbit movie aside. Here, without any real background or context, he’s just baffling. I mean, hell, I get it, and so does everyone else who saw the Peter Jackson versions, but not everyone in the world has 9 to 12 hours to kill watching those damned things!

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)

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