This post contains spoilers. I’m not kidding. If you haven’t seen Return of the King and are still planning to, this post will give away the entire end of the movie. You don’t want that, do you?
Don’t blame me if you keep reading. I’m going to talk about every ending this movie’s got. If you don’t want to know what happens, please scroll down to the next bold-faced text and continue there. This is your last warning.
Watching Return of the King last weekend, I got to thinking.
I was in second-to-last row at the Uptown theater, as historical and still alive as movie theaters get in Washington these days. The screen’s most likely bigger than your house, and the sound’s received all the upgrades necessary over the years.
Remember the Lost World trailer? The one where the lightning flash burst out of nowhere in the dark and told you something had survived? When that trailer played at the Uptown, I jumped more than any trailer before or since has made me jump.
That’s a quality movie theater right there.
It was surrounded by so much history that the neverending endings of Return of the King got me thinking. I knew all the endings were coming; mentioning their length was virtually a requirement for film reviewers this holiday season. But even still I was surprised. Fade out, pause, fade in, repeat. A movie series that was achingly sifted and synthesized suddenly couldn’t make up its mind.
Each ending had its own hue and tone, like director Peter Jackson wanted to spin each a different way but in equal amounts ““ to move ahead balanced and yet slow down. This goal was admirable. With nearly 10 hours of motion passed, carefully weighing how to cease motion was important.
But in trying for so many angles, Jackson may have lost his unique focus. Spreading his storytelling vision so widely opened the door ““ unavoidably ““ to sharing with other tales. As true to Tolkien’s vision as Jackson may have been, some of his endings came across in the movie theater as familiar.
With some analysis and without further adieu, I give you:
The List of Where You’ve Seen
All of Those Return of the King Endings Before
(in the Order in Which They Occurred)
1. Saruman is locked up. The Godfather III Ending. The ending that did and yet didn’t happen, this movie series device openly and prematurely extinquishes a character from a previous film. The purposes may be myriad: to work around an actor’s death or contract dispute, to retreat from a bad casting decision or to disentangle a convoluted plot. “Where’s Saruman? Oh, we took care of him. Don’t worry, he’s locked inside here, no need to look. Tom Hagen? Of course, inside too, no worries.”
2. Frodo destroys the ring. The Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade/On the Waterfront Ending. A two-parter! First, to achieve a greater good, our hero must rid himself of a once-desired object. The object has brought good and bad upon our hero, but now their time together must end. Almost. Our hero must also make the choice to live. Despite having endured a bloody fight and having accomplished the seemingly only objective heretofore, our hero’s livelihood has become so tied to the world’s fortune that he now must want to see the aftermath of his endeavors.
3. Frodo and Sam sit on the rock. The Hunt for Red October Ending. Two men, honorable but in jeopardy, discuss what they will do if they live beyond their situation. “I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a … recreational vehicle.”
4. Eagles rescue Frodo and Sam. The Joe Versus the Volcano Ending. Soothe persisent burning sensations with extra-strength Machina. If you have done a noble deed and are about to be killed by a volcano, a god or a literary representation of a god will ensure you survive.
5. Frodo wakes up. The Wizard of Oz ending. After completing an unbelievable adventure, a gay icon awakes to a scene that begs for psychosexual interpretation.
6. Aragorn becomes king. The Star Wars IV Ending. With the enemy finally defeated, the ensemble cast we’ve come to know and love is assembled one last time. Displaced leaders return to their rightful seats of power. Humble and unlikely heroes are honored. Where’s the wookie?
7. Aragorn kisses Arwen. The Most Movies Made Before Vietnam Ending. Tight embrace, deep kiss, the end.
8. Hobbits raise their glasses. The Abridged American Pie Ending. It’s been a long and crazy ride, but now four friends are getting ready to move on. Less than a minute later, one begins pursuit of a much older woman. (The Abridged American Pie Ending is also known as The Rudy Ending, wherein a Sean Astin character leaves behind a hardscrabble life and tries to get into an educational institution.)
9. Sam get married. The Snow White Ending. An evil person in the past has caused food-related trouble for a main character, but now this character must leave behind little person friends and get hitched.
10. Frodo works on the book. The Stand by Me Ending. Following a coming-of-age journey with friends, the central character chronicles how they defeated the old guard and grew closer together. After all, you never have any friends later on like the ones you had when you looked like you were 12.
11. Frodo heads to the Grey Havens. The Cocoon Ending. In return for aiding a mystical people, our protagonists ““ physically and/or mentally aged ““ are allowed to join a water voyage and be assumed into a creative conception of heaven.
12. Sam goes inside the house. The Spiderman Ending. Despite earlier saving the world with the help of an abnormal spider, your friendly neighborhood comparatively unrecognized hero resumes a normal life.
And that’s a cool dozen!
Peter Jackson, my hat’s off to you. You follow those breadcrumbs back like nobody’s business. Please don’t mistake my tone. I would rather you had chosen one ending and stuck with it, but I respect you for going to the metaphorical Baskin Robbins and ordering all 32 flavors.
I wouldn’t even have minded if you had gone further. You left out the whole “scouring of the Shire” ending of Tolkien’s, where the hobbits return to the Shire and have to wage one final fight against an evil overlord. (Or so I hear. I haven’t read the books.) This ending could have easily been The Back to the Future Ending. Because even after you save your world and go home, you’ve still got to deal with the Libyans and the morons in the pickup truck.
Another potential ending could be one you actually considered. According to IMDB, “the film was originally going to end with a voice-over epilogue by Cate Blanchett’s character, Galadriel, detailing the fate of the fellowship of the ring after the events of the movie.”
No sooner would she have spoken than you would have had The American Grafitti Ending. Used to prominent effect in several generational classics, this finale could have told us about how Frodo blew all his reward money hiring Van Halen to play at his birthday party.
That moment would have been boffo. Boffo Baggins. And to top it all off, to ice the cake, Peter Jackson, you could have done The Ferris Bueller Ending.
Credits roll. Credits end. Then Frodo returns to the screen.
“You’re still here? It’s over! Go home! Go!”