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Posted on 12/06/2003 5:26:58 AM PST by ecurbh
Dec. 08, 2003
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
By David Hunter
NEW YORK -- An epic success and a history-making production that finishes with a masterfully entertaining final installment, New Line Cinema's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" is a soaring legend in its own day and destined to be cherished for many ages to come. "The Return of the King" is the longest and most complicated of the three "Rings" films and probably fated to be the biggest moneymaker. Sure to be an Oscar contender in many categories and a breathtaking argument for director Peter Jackson winning every award there is to give, "King" has none of the usual deficiencies that frequently scuttle third films.
Opening unexpectedly with a flashback to the day when the twisted Gollum was a healthy Hobbit-like fisherman named Smeagol (Andy Serkis), who commits murder to possess the powerful One Ring, "King" deftly resumes the story after the events of "The Two Towers." After a brief encounter with the talking lord of the forest Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Theoden (Bernard Hill) and other survivors of the Battle of Helm's Deep go to ravished Isengard. Within minutes, we're reintroduced to the many characters, including Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), Rohan fighters Eomer (Karl Urban) and Eowyn (Miranda Otto), Faramir (David Wenham) of Gondor and the one new human character, Denethor (John Noble), the Steward of Minas Tirith, site of the next great showdown between the mighty forces of evil Sauron and the free peoples of Middle Earth.
Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin), guided by the vengeful Gollum (again a wondrous combination of special effects and Serkis' inspired performance), finally enter Mordor, but the divisive influence of the Ring almost ends the fellowship of the two heroic Hobbits. When the three infiltrators pass by Minas Morgul (the dead city where the Nazgul reside), they watch another army of Sauron march to battle under the command of the Witch-king.
Eventually, this Black Captain of the Nazgul, who rides one of the dragonlike beasts first seen in "Towers," has a fight with Eowyn and Merry in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, outside the walls of Minas Tirith, that readers have been waiting decades to see. It's a gloriously crowd-pleasing moment, while overall the lengthy siege is tremendously exciting and visually unparalleled.
Huge elephantlike Mumakil and trolls pushing the giant battering ram known as Grond join hordes of Orcs in a gargantuan assault on Minas Tirith, a fight which faithless Denethor turns away from when he gives into fear and fatherly pride by sending Faramir to certain death. It's the leadership-tested Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who commands the defense of the city. Although Denethor comes off too as enigmatic compared to the original material, he sure has a spectacular final scene.
Jackson and co-writers Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh make noteworthy departures from Tolkien, including such crucial moments as what happens when Frodo is finally standing on a ledge over the Crack of Doom inside the volcano where the ring must be destroyed, and how Aragorn makes use of the Army of the Dead that only he can command. Whole swaths of the book have been condensed and eliminated, but Jackson and company usually realize splendidly whatever they take on.
There are only brief moments with the saga's Elvish beauties: Arwen (Liv Tyler) refuses to abandon Aragorn. Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) makes a crucial connection with Frodo near the story's climax. Dwarf fighter Gimli (Rhys-Davies) provides much-appreciated humor with his sarcastic remarks. Fearless Elf bowman Legolas (Orlando Bloom) delivers the best battlefield action, while wise Elrond (Hugo Weaving) provides Aragorn with the restored sword that defeated Sauron long ago.
The thunderous conclusion to the story of the Ring that includes the end of Frodo's journey and the battle outside the Black Gate winds down to a sublime denouement, leaving only 20 minutes to wrap up when Tolkien took a hundred pages. The extended DVD should bind "King" and the other two films into one awesome movie deserving of regular revivals in theaters. But who can resist right now a classic fantasy adventure that never drags and is simply ravishing to look at thanks to the thousands of craftsmen, performers, animals and postproduction refiners?
Anyone wishing to be added to or removed from the Ring-Ping list, please don't hesitate to let me know.
Nine minutes of footage of various scenes.... (RotK spoiler thread)
Frodo (Elijah Wood) is a complete and utter mess, making his way slowly to Mount Doom with Hobbit best-pal Sam (Sean Astin) and bi-polar freakazoid Gollum (Andy Serkis) in tow. The film begins with a sinister backstory that sets up the allure of the forbidden fruit that now hangs from Frodos neck: Serkis, as Smeagol, kills for his precious and slowly wigs out over time. Many years later, hes every bit as calculating, cooking up a deadly encounter with you-know-her but not before plotting an elaborate mix-up between Frodo and Sam using breadcrumbs (Give us this daily bread, so to speak). Gollums last-ditch attempt to reclaim his old drug is the Christ-like Frodos only chance to destroy his oft-mentioned burden. But this is just one of many jittery interplays in the film.
While Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) wake the dead, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) prepares to fight the Witch King over at jaw-dropping Minis Tirith, where the white wizard must navigate Denethor and Faramirs fiery father-son disconnect. Behold the lighting of pyres on mountainsides, an awe-inspiring evocation of primal communication. This is how tightly the inhabitants of Middle Earth are connected. In Return of the King, the magic is in the details, and Jackson works overtime to get everyone in on the action: Pippin sings a song (ostensibly for Denethors pleasure, its also a dreamy musical backdrop for one of many battles in the film), and its a nosy Merrys vision of a lonely tree in a garden that brings the fellowship to Minis Tirith.
Much of the films problems are, of course, relative (Uruk-hai leaders shouldnt be allowed to talk!). Fans of Christopher Lees hot air will probably miss Saruman the most. (Jackson wisely understood the characters potential to distract, so its assumed that the dark wizard fell along with his kingdom at the end of Two Towers.) Jackson puts the cock-tease into the films sweltering, geometric cross-cutting, but the films 200 minutes still feel overstuffed. The dead army doesnt bring the film to a screeching halt in the same way Treebeard did Two Towers, but theres now a hurried, going-through-the-motions quality to these and many other scenes. Treebeard and Galadriels cameos are small, but the characters could have been easily excised without being missed. (Cate Blanchetts catwalk strut from the first film was endearing, but her breathy delivery is cloying when her dress isnt flowing sensually behind her.)
Because Jackson spends considerable time fulfilling quotas, crucial melodramas are undervalued. Jackson is ill-prepared to handle the Aragorn-Arwen-Eowyn love triangle. Jackson knows this, which might explain why he avoids the shot of Eowyns face when Aragorn returns and snags the eternally lovelorn Arwen (Liv Tyler, more asthmatic than Blanchett). The nondescript Eowyns curious empowerment ritual is seemingly informed by a broken heart first, political-correctness second. Jackson does a poor job evoking the womans genuinely breathtaking success in battle as a personal mission. Womanhood seems almost beside the point, when it really should be the true impetus. The Eowyn-Merry tagteam outside Minis Tirith is essentially Jacksons promise to Tolkeins female and outré fans. Of course, it all successfully points to the inclusiveness of the authors world. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has appealed to girls, boys, straights, and queers alike, and theres plenty of worship in Jacksons film for everyone whos good--regardless of sex, size or how long Sam stares into Frodos eyes.
Jacksons majestic longshots and extreme close-ups will make you swoon. Wind and fire are their own characters, and theres a primordial wistfulness to many of the films power shots (namely the sight of a defeated Frodo and Sam at Mount Doom while fireballs whisk by their heads). Because of their elegiac stillness, its as if were watching daguerreotypes from an audacious, ridiculously dramatic neverland. The films best (often simplest) fantastical flights of fancy (an impromptu beam of light from Gandalfs staff, the flight of savior eagles) are those that smooth out the roughest battle scars and evoke losses being rewarded from cosmic beyonds. We permit the CGI madness because theres an unmistakable transcendental quality to the films images, and Jackson respects and authenticates Tolkeins core principles of sacrifice and spiritual ascendance.
This more of a mini-review.
2 The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Directed by Peter Jackson
After the Matrix sequels imploded, you may have feared big-time for the final chapter of Rings. No worries. It's now official: Peter Jackson has created the mack daddy of all movie fantasies, and Return of the King brings the film version of Tolkien's trilogy to a combustibly exciting close. Prepare to be wowed by the giant spider, the charging Mumakil, the Army of the Dead and the battle of Pelennor Fields. Prepare also to have your emotions wrung out as you watch the coronation of Aragorn (fiery Viggo Mortensen), consider the fate of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and the fellowship, and then get deeper into the character of Sam (Sean Astin comes into his own with this brave, questing performance). The dominance of effects-driven spectacles hasn't been a boon to film -- hello, Haunted Mansion -- but in the hands of a master like Jackson, who respects Tolkien's passion for action and character, it's an art form. Jackson hits a grand slam.
As a non-purist wrt the films, I was disappointed to hear that the "Scouring of the Shire" was not to be included in the film. The greatness of the LoTR lies not just in the majesty Middle Earth, and the affirmation of eternal verities, but very much in showing the evolution of the world (the ending of the Third Age) and the costs imposed. This is most satisfyingly done in the return to the shire by the transformed hobbits. Perhaps it is asking too much of a movie audience to attend to--but I'm begging you, if you like the films, and haven't read the books, please do so.
"PROMISE you - you have never seen what you are going to see in this film. I work in the industry IN GRAPHICS, and my jaw was on the floor (that is, when I wasn't saying "Oh my gosh!"). Helm's Deep truly is now nearly dull! The film is epic, sweeping, a vast grand saga in the truest vein. I had high high hopes and expectations, and they were not only met, but SURPASSED. The balance between top-notch action and truly small, personal, touching moments makes this film an incredible narrative. It IS exhausting, but in a very very good way. It is thurough (as thurough as a film with this much in it could be). This film truly delivers, as a final film in a series never has. Not Indy, not Jedi, not Aliens, and certainly, CERTAINLY not Matrix."
I know. I thought the same thing. But there is some plausibility if you understand the powers of all the Elven Rings and the One Ring. I reallyt don't understand why the story has to be tampered with, even here, but... we'll see.
Consider also: Think about how many people you actually see wearing the One Ring in the books. It's surprising how many there really are. But they really did! My point is that it's often easy to forget what was or wasn't in the story. Precedence implies possibility. Exploring the possibilities gives plausibility.
That said, now how on earth can they have changed what happens at Mt. Doom? I'm really rather nervous about this final film after reading all the changes that were made not only in the storyline, but in the characters themselves. I have a feeling that they became rather enamoured of Andy Serkis' Gollum and put too much emphasis on him.
But there is hope! Forgive me if this was already posted, but check out this comment, can it be our dearest hope may come to pass?
New Zealand designer Ngila Dickson (who also designed the costumes for Last Samurai) is quoted as saying .....
"I would love to have had more technical expertise on the Rings, but what I did have was people willing to destroy their lives. On a project like that, heart and soul were more valuable when you needed people 24 hours a day seven days a week. And it was 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a very long time."
By a long time, Dickson means "we just finished pickups (late reshoots) last July."
And then she drops a teaser - "and I'm already hearing rumours about next year." Pressed, she will say only it's for a "vast, gigantic" future DVD release of the entire trilogy.
*sigh* ahhhhhhhh.... all is right in the world.
It was posted at NRO's The Corner yesterday.
LOTR III [John Podhoretz]
I just saw the third Lord of the Rings movie. I am no LOTR nerd, found the books excruciatingly boring, and was not blown away by either of the previous films. But this movie does have the greatest line of the decade. On the eve of battle with the forces of evil, king-in-waiting Aragorn declaims to his assembled troops, "I bid you stand, men of the West!"
I don't know if the line appears in Tolkien, but it obviously has amazing resonance today. It's bitterly ironic that the actor who speaks it, Viggo Mortensen, is very, very, very bad on the War on Terror and Iraq.
Posted at 11:50 AM
(Obviously, the line is not in the book - but it's a great line anyway.)
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