[Previous entry: "SpaceShipOne goes supersonic"] [Main Index] [Next entry: "A little justice for American citizens in the War on Freedom"]
12/18/2003 Archived Entry: ""Return of the King""
LONG LIVE THE KING! I drove to the Big City yesterday to catch "Return of the King." Well, not exactly the Big City, but at least a town with a two-plex that shows first-run movies (rather than the local one-plex, which has finally quit showing "Anastasia" and moved on to a perpetual run of "Finding Nemo").
The short form of my review is: All the essential elements are fully, brilliantly intact. And none of Jackson's departures from Tolkein do harm. In fact, unlike the egregious Hollywoody changes in "The Two Towers," a few of the departures in ROTK actually enhance the story.
Currently, there are 141 reviews of ROTK online at RottenTomatoes.com. That 138 are "fresh" and only three "rotten" says it all. The trilogy has risen powerfully to its feet after the stumbles of TTT. It has ended in one grand, glorious cinematic victory.
Quibble with this detail or that (as we no doubt will, for decades), but nobody can deny that Jackson has done monumentally right by one of the most challenging stories any filmmaker could ever take on. In fact, I can't imagine any director who could have done better.
With 141 reviews already out there and more to come, I'm not going to write a formal review of my own. But throughout this morning I'll be jotting down some random impressions. Since they contain some spoilers, I'll put them behind the "more" link.
My random impressions the morning after ROTK
- Sean Astin (Sam Gamgee) is a tremendous actor. It would be a sin (though not a surprise) if he didn't get a best supporting actor nomination at Oscar time. Andy Serkis is overdue for a nomination for Gollum. In the opening scene of ROTK, we finally get to see Serkis in the flesh, rather than in CGI & it's instantly obvious how totally the computer-created character of Gollum is based on the real actor.
- What is it with all these people who keep describing Sam and Frodo's relationship as "homoerotic"? What distorting lens are they peering through? What a sad commentary on those people, and on our times, that the complex, powerful, loving relationship between these two beings is reduced in some idiots' eyes to plain old repressed lust.
- Before seeing the film, I was distressed that the Scouring of the Shire and the Houses of Healing were to be left out. Surprise. I didn't miss them at all. As most of the reviewers point out, ROTK already has about five "endings." The Scouring would have dragged things out eternally. Jackson was right to drop it -- though it's still my favorite part of the book & it was a shame to abandon Christoper Lee (Saruman). Cutting the Houses of Healing does leave a gaping hole in the Eowyn-Faramir story. One moment we see Eowyn pining with love for Aragorn, then the next she's standing glowingly next to Faramir, and if you don't already know why ... you don't know why. I expect the DVD will fill that gap.
- Despite the big-screen spectacle, I kept thinking this film was really made for DVD. There are so many places where a scene should be just a little longer, an explanation a little more detailed. It's almost as if the movie is a 3-1/2-hour long trailer for the DVD version, which you know is going to bring you all those satisfactions.
- Speaking of big-screen spectacle -- Wow. Was I worried that the Battle of Pellanor Fields would be botched? It's inflippingcredible! Far and away, it's the best thing in the movie, and the one thing above all that will make it worth going back for a second, or third, theater showing. I'm not normally a fan of battle scenes in books or movies, except for the gorgeously stylized battles Akira Kurosawa staged in "Ran." But Jackson (a Kurosawa fan, as so many other grand-scale directors are) is a miracle worker. He out Kurosawas Kurosawa. He outdoes himself, as well. The Battle of Pellanor Fields makes TTT's Helms Deep look like a rugby scrum. And every detail is worked out in perfection. One of the things that most amazed me, first at Helms Deep and now here, was how lucid Jackson's battles are. No matter how complex they become, you can always tell at any moment exactly what's going on. None of the usual, "Now which side was that guy on?" or "Uh, why did they do that?" You know
- Great moments in the battle: When the Rohirrim charge into the orcs forces -- an act that looks like sheer suicide, but is made potent by their dauntlessness. It's the only place in the movie I cried. Another great moment: Legolas taking on the mumak. You go, Elf Boy! And Grond, the great siege engine. In the book, I never "saw" what was so formidable about Grond. Believe it, in Jackson's hands, Grond coming at you would make you wet your pants in terror. And the orc captain. You thought orcs were mean and ugly before? This guy makes the Elephant Man look like Brad Pitt and makes Cruella de Vil seem as sweet as Aunt Bea. As another reviewer said, he's the kind of guy who can make "Release the prisoners!" an ominous line.
- Other great moments: Billy Boyd (Pippin) singing a sorrowful song to Denethor as Faramir and the warriors of Gondor loyally plunge into a suicidal battle. Boyd composed the song and sings it himself. It's a heartbreaker. I only wish the scene lasted twice as long. The lighting of Gondor's beacons -- yet another example of how Jackson has turned New Zealand's strange and wonderful landscape (or CGI versions of that landscape) into an integral part of the story. Minas Tirith -- stunning city. Theoden -- he's grand, having gotten over being in Saruman's control.
- The Nazgul were scarier in this movie, too. In TTT, I kept thinking The Nine had been a lot more scary when they were on horseback instead of on flying dinosaurs. Here, we get to see what some of those dino-birds can do.
- Weak moments: For the first hour or more, Jackson never gives you enough time to become emotionally involved in any scene. As soon as your heart begins to pound, he rips you away to some other part of Middle Earth. A shame. The DVD may do better. But not until Gondor's beacons are lit (by Pippin, at Galdalf's instigation, in another rather charming & effective departure from Tolkein) does the movie truly catch fire. Another weakness: Arwen. I know everybody complains that Tolkein ignored women. Well, dandy! It's a quest story, f'revens sake, not a chick flick! Anyhow, Eowyn, the warrior maid, makes up for any possible lack of women elsewhere in the story. I know I'm in the minority on this, but I'm glad Jackson's attempts to fill out the romance between Arwen and Aragorn remain pretty modest. Liv Tyler has as much onscreen appeal as a cow, the character of Arwen is vapid and empty, and the romance (however much it might inspire and motivate Aragorn) is a bore to watch.
- Oh yeah, and how the hell does Elrond turn up, just at that crucial moment? What did he do, fly in using Tinkerbell's magic fairy dust??? Hope the DVD explains that, too.
- The effects, of course, are darn-near flawless. Awesome. Gorgeous. Scary. Fabulous. Stunning. But unlike Lucas, unlike the Wachowskis, unlike almost everybody else in filmmaking, Jackson never forgets for one second that the effects serve the story, not vice versa
- That said, a couple of the effects don't quite work. Sauron's all-seeking eye -- terrifying when it remained more abstract -- becomes kind of silly when it turns into a literal searchlight. The ghostly oath-breaking warriors who follow Aragorn from the Paths of the Dead are impressive up close but are way too reminiscent of "Ghostbusters" when seen en masse. And the dino-birds of the Nazgul are scarier -- but still not really terrifying, still a little corny.
- The entire cast is very good. To praise Sean Astin and Andy Serkis shouldn't be to take anything away from anyone else. They're all (with the possible exception of Arwen -- though that may be just my prejudice) exactly right for the roles they play. And finally we get to see the hobbits (Pippin and Merry) sing and dance for a moment. And isn't that what hobbits are supposed to be about? And though I keep rattling on about Jackson's vision, don't forget cinematographer Andrew Lesnie and ... how many creative collaborators did it take to bring this vision alive? The weapon-maker, the costumers, the horse trainers, the co-writers ... and the execs of New Line Cinema who truly bet the entire future of their company on a project most Hollywood execs would have run screaming from (or would have turned into a star vehicle: Tom Cruise as Frodo Baggins, Meg Ryan as Arwen Evenstar! And featuring Eddie Murphy as Gimli! Can you imagine???)
- One of the departures from Tolkein has Gollum actively trying to turn Frodo's loyalty away from Sam. At first, it annoyed me; it seemed unnecessary. In his ring-dominated state of mind, Frodo is already coming to distrust Sam. Having Gollum plot against Sam seemed like overkill. But it works. It gives a better explanation than Tolkein's as to why Sam wasn't right there to save Frodo from Shelob. Another departure: The way Denethor dies. Yeah, it's much more Hollywoody than Tolkein's version, but whooee, pretty spectacular.
- I was most apprehensive because I heard that Jackson had changed the scene with Frodo and Gollum at the Crack of Doom. Now that's something only a heretic would mess with! Given Jackson's tendency to make his hobbits extra-heroic, I feared Frodo would do something noble at that moment. Nope. Vast relief! Frodo still "fails." Gollum still bites. The change comes after that and is really no big deal.
- "The Fellowship of the Ring" still remains my favorite of the three movies, possibly because its focus is on character development, possibly because Jackson's gorgeous vision was so new and mindblowing in that film. By ROTK, you know what things are going to look like and you have an idea how actions are going to unfold. Most of the critics have said ROTK is the best of the three. And who's going to argue, really? It's an amazing movie in its own right and amazing that all three movies make such an astonishing whole. The mere fact that ROTK isn't a let-down is something for which we should thank all our stars. Now, will the Rings trilogy stand forever as one of the great achievements in filmmaking history, as so many critics have said it will? Will we look back on it as "one of the seminal cinematic achievements," as those critics declare? Will people still be watching and loving it 50 years from now, as we still love "The Wizard of Oz"? I guess we'll have to wait 50 years and see. Or maybe 10 years from now, we'll have a pretty good feel for its place in film history. But without a shade of doubt, the Rings is a triumph and just a hell of a great thing to watch. A fitting tribute to Tolkein's vision by a director whose own vision is just as awesome in its own way.
Glory halellujah and thank you, Peter Jackson for doing it right!!!
Posted by Claire @ 06:27 AM CST