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There has never been a cinematic endeavor based on a more daunting…or more beloved…literary work. There have never been motion pictures of the magnitude undertaken by co-writer/director Peter Jackson and his production team. The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy will endure forever as one of the most bold and audacious enterprises in the history of cinema.
It is, quite simply, a seminal event. Other projects (for example, a movie filmed in space) are already being considered ; and may someday be attempted. They may challenge THE LORD OF THE RINGS‘s logistical complexities (or, at the very least, present a comparable set of obstacles), but it is unlikely the numbers of people involved ; or the sheer duration of the creative process ; will ever equal this effort.
Jackson & Company have made believers out of millions of readers who doubted the works would ever enjoy respectable translation into a more “mainstream” media. They have changed the way production models are approached for large-scale projects. They have forged what may well be the premiere visual effects house in the business (WETA Digital). They have raised the bar for all filmmakers to follow, and reminded millions of jaded moviegoers of one simple truth: Love, attention, and genuine dedication to (and appreciation of) one’s material can overcome inconceivable obstacles, and always…alwaysshows on-screen.
And now it’s over.
With the longest running time of any film in the cycle (early indications suggest next year’s extended DVD cut will clock in at over 4 hours long), Return of the King is an all-out assault on the senses. There are times when it is simply impossible to take it all in: Armies of hundreds of thousands clash beneath towering war beasts as deadly, dragon-like bird-things strafe hapless victims on the ground. Mountainsides erupt with pyroclastic fury as lava flows labor to engulf our heroes. This film is off the hook ; gloriously so.
In tone and “feel”, Return of the King rests comfortably between Fellowship of the Ring’s penchant for character-centric drama, and The Two Towers’ colder, more mechanical “war movie” approach. What we end up with, is, in essence, an emotionally charged war movie ; sprawling in scale yet intimate in heart, its effects are frequently overpowering.
Earnest performances from all leads, combined with Jackson’s uncompromising direction, makes Return of the King one of the most visceral theatrical experiences of all time. Its emotions are unchecked. Its brutality is pushed to the limits of its PG-13 rating. This film takes no prisoners, and seems proud not to do so at every turn.
For all of its undeniable strengths, Return of the King sometimes misses a beat or two. For example: One particular effects sequence, involving Gollum (performed by Andy Serkis) jumping on the back of Elijah Wood’s invisible Frodo does not ring true (no pun intended) ; it looks awkward…even a bit silly…and undercuts the dramatic tension that should have been driving a critical sequence. There is a subplot involving John Noble’s Denethor ; and his gathering dementia ; which feels a bit tacky, and is utterly inconsequential to the overall arc of the film. The Denethor character (and his position in the scheme of things) certainly needs to exist for the story dynamic to work properly; but how he is handled, and what he ultimately does, feels more like contrived convolutions than essential narrative elements. It’s difficult not to wonder if there may not have been some better way to streamline his involvement.
Such criticisms sound like nitpicks, but they are not. Anything that keeps greatness from becoming perfection is worthy of note. But, when all is said and done, referencing Return of the King‘s shortcomings may be inconsequential: Many missteps in the previous installment’s theatrical components were addressed in subsequent “extended editions” of the films (Return of the King‘s mega-cut should be issued on home video late next year). In a way, it’s impossible to adequately review the film until the final flourishes have been added. Which brings us full circle: How can one really discuss a project of this nature? It lives by rules of its own.
Peter Jackson is moving on to his remake of King Kong ; which, like The Lord of the Rings, has been a life-long ambition. He gets to chase one dream because he chased another dream so well. Lucky man…a blessed man…and he deserves it. Audiences must now learn to cope with not having a The Lord of the Rings film in their future, and learn how to fill the void left by the trilogy’s slipstream. When there were Rings movies in our future, we always knew something of quality was coming our way at the end of the year. We can’t speak with the same certainty about Star Wars, Star Trek, or James Bond. Being a moviegoer ; and how we look at movies ; will never be the same.
There’s talk..and only talk…that Jackson and company may eventually tackle The Hobbit ; the Tolkien novel that is something of a de facto prequel to The Lord of the Rings. While many characters from the trilogy would appear, and the film would be set in very much the same universe, the experience would not be comparable. The Hobbit is small potatoes considering what we’ve already seen, although it would likely play very well…sequentially…for future generations. And, perhaps, that is the greatest reason of all to adapt that novel. But there are many perils along The Hobbit’s path the screen: political quagmires and awkward machinations that no directors or producers may ever be able to conquer.
We pretty much have to assume this is the end. If this is so, what a glorious ending it is…