Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 January 2004 at AMC Fenway #12 (first-run)

It's me. I know it's me. It must be. I seem to be the only person I know who sees these movies and doesn't react strongly to them. As fine a movie is Return Of The King is, there were few moments in it that I enjoyed as much as the trailer for Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow which preceded it. That's not surprising; I don't tend to be fond of sword & sorcery stories. Even ones set in a time of myth like LOTR seem to romanticize ignorance, fear, and blind loyalty to hereditary leaders.

I mean, look at the opening of this movie. Two friends are happily fishing, but, when they find the Ring, the series's substitute for technology, the made thing, it turns one of them into a murderous sociopath, and has such an effect on almost all who would come in contact with it. The object itself is evil, rather than being something designed for evil purposes that evil can be done with. The only one who survives contact with it with his mind intact is a blindly loyal servant with no interest in the world beyond his village.

Much of the movie (and series, since one really can't seperate the three films) seems to run on rules that I find arbitrary at the least and disagreeable almost as often. What was the whole thing with Liv Tyler's character about, anyway? And why should Pippin be treated like crap in the first act for displaying some curiosity? Maybe if Gandalf had just freaking told him what the spehre was and why it was important nobody else handle it, as opposed to snuggling it like a teddy bear while he slept, Pippin would have left it alone. But, no, the lesson is to listen to authority figures and not be curious about the world around you.

And, while we're on the subject of things that bugged me about the film - the last sequence before the endless epilogue. It features the clichéed return of a villain despite him taking a pretty nasty fall, as well as some extraordinarily dodgy military strategy - let's stand still while allowing the enemy who is on their home ground, has superior numbers, and air support to surround us! Brilliant! It's a good thing that this enemy army apparently just loses interest when something bad happens to their leader miles away.

Whew. Okay. Venting over. Let's get to what I liked about this movie.

Quite a bit, actually. There's some solid spectacle here, with the siege of Gondor's capital (heck, the entire design of that city, period) being a feast for the eyes. Gigantic monstrous elephants, cool trebuchet action, hails of arrows... It's all good. I liked the heck out of pretty much any scene Miranda Otto was in (liked her in Human Nature, for that matter). The scenes with the army of ghosts were fantastic.

My favorite sequence, though, was probably a scene in which a signal fire is lit, and relayed across the land. It's beautifully shot, and as the audience realizes what's happening, they take to scanning the whole frame for where the next blaze will appear, and thus soak in the beautiful scenery while Howard Shore's music plays. It's a great moment that truly hammers home how grand the scale of the threat is; before, I'd had a hard time looking at Middle-Earth as really a world to save, as opposed to a collection of sets and locations.

I admire The Lord Of The Rings more than I actually like it; there are parts that do it for me, but the genre leaves me cold. While I'm astounded by Peter Jackson's achievement, and never had less than a good time at any of the three movies, I'm glad he's finished so that he can do King Kong and, hopefully, things which are completely his.

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