Friday, November 4, 2011

2004 Hugo Drama Long Form and 2003 Saturn Fantasy – RETURN OF THE KING

This is the first of the 40+ award-winning films I’ve covered here to also win an Academy Award for Best Picture.  It also won in all ten of the other Oscar categories that it was nominated for, including Best Director for Peter Jackson.  This was what we call a “phenomenon.”  The movie is impressive in a lot of ways: the battle scenes are bigger than ever, Minas Tirith looks fantastic, and there are many emotional moments between the characters.  There’s a lot of jesting about the homoeroticism of these films, but I think it is fair to say that there is some kind of love story between Sam and Frodo.  That’s clearest in this entry, as we see their ups and downs, Gollum and the Ring competing for their affections, their final triumph, and their bittersweet parting.  All of this gives the film more emotional weight than a lot of the fantasy fare out there.

So, this entry works very well, but I do consider the Academy’s recognition to be for the series as a whole, rather than just this one entry.  This particular film has some of the series’ highest highs, but I think is also has some of the biggest flaws.   The largest is the pacing: most of the first half is taken up with another giant battle; Frodo and Sam are all but forgotten, then the entire nature of the film changes at the halfway point as they take center stage.  It’s an odd flow of momentum.  And, of course, there’s the extra-long ending.

It’s as if Jackson, realizing what he had accomplished, decided to take a victory lap with the epilogue.  And then another one.  And then one more.  True, it’s shorter than the post-climax meanderings of the novel, which actually starts a whole ‘nother plot.  I’m sure Tolkeinistas could dissertate all night on how crucial the scouring of the Shire is to J.R.R.’s masterpiece, but I, and many others I know, think that cutting that plotline is one of the key areas where the films are better than the books.  Even with that gone, however, the movie still takes it sweet time ending after the big moment.  I do think that everyone fading off to the West is thematically crucial to the series, but it certainly could have been done more efficiently.

There’s also a pretty hefty cheesiness factor to all of these movies.  If you get caught up in the action, as most any fantasy fan would, it’s easy to miss some of this.  But, Peter Jackson has a lot of cornball maneuvers in his repertoire – jerky slo-mo, melodramatic slo-mo, characters gleaming in the sun, fake-out deaths, fake-out endings, to name a few.  And, he gets some of the mushiest performances that I’ve ever seen out of his actors.  As I said at the beginning of my Fellowship review though – it all works.  It’s the perfect pairing of director and material.  When adapting Tolkien, who self-consciously wrote a painfully sincere and old-fashioned story, this all works beautifully.  Remaking King Kong is another story altogether.

So, in summation (as if you didn't already know), these are excellent movies.

Grade: A


  1. Agreed, especially about the half dozen false endings before the credits finally roll. You've reached the climax, wrap it up. Say a quick goodbye and let the people out of the theater. I'm a little afraid that Jackson has become too big to edit. This scares me a little bit with the two movie 'Hobbit' coming up. The 70's animated version did it all in 80 minutes. Will Jackson come in under 400?

  2. King Kong is my most hated movie* of the past ten years for this very reason. I still have high hopes for The Hobbit though because, again, Jackson's plodding portentousness actually works for Tolkien.

    *I'm not saying it's the _worst_ movie, but I have a special hate for it, especially because I had high expectations, I think.