Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The Return of the King

Well, finally saw the damn thing and, I have to say, I was a little disappointed. To confess, I'm not a Tolkien fan and I've never read the books, so my relationship to these movies is decidedly not of the fanatical brand. However, I do love movies and there's no question that, in terms of pure cinematic ambition, these films have to rank with the likes of Intolerance and Greed as some of the gutsiest movies ever made. I was also fascinated, particularly in The Two Towers, by some of the themes involved in these films: the duality of Tolkien's moral universe, the anti-modernism of his sensibility, the extolling of midevil values, all come through in the movies brilliantly well. I also have to count myself as among those who feel that these are amazingly timely movies, particularly with their emphasis on the virtue of courage and the weak, vascillating monarchs who realize all too late that war is at hand and, in the end, bring evil upon themselves through their weakness. One can't help drawing parallels to our current situation, as well World War II and the Cold War, although I understand that Tolkien himself hated such speculations.

These strengths are definately present in The Return of the King ("I bid you stand, men of the West!", someone should send it to Jacques Chirac), but overall I wasn't as moved by this one as by The Two Towers (particularly Sam's speech at the end of the film: "That there's something good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and its worth fighting for!" I was very moved by that moment when I saw it the first time, in our age its almost a cry of defiance). A lot of it seems like a repeat of the second film, but on a larger and more grand scale, which doesn't make it much more exciting. There were some extraordinary moments (Gandalf's speech on the afterlife springs to mind) but overall it lacked the emotional core of the other two films, and at the end it simply descends into banality (its also far too long, half of its last half hour could have been cut). I also have to confess to a sincere dislike for the character of Golum, who is meant to be profound but ends up simply annoying, and I felt the special effects lacked the verisimillitude they displayed in the previous two films.

Of course, there's a lot to like. The acting is excellent, particularly on the part of Ian McKellan and Elijah Wood, and the look of the films is extraordinary, especially as its sustained so consistantly throughout the trilogy. Some of the imagery almost harkened back to the age of silent cinema, its all so extraordinarily visual, which is really a triumph when adapting a dense literary work. And, of course, there's Tolkien's mythology, which appears to have survived mostly intact, and raises the films above simple adventure stories into something sublime.


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