by Brian McKay
It’s a rare thing for a film to set such high expectations, and an even rarer thing for it to actually meet them. After sitting through three hours and twenty minutes of epic filmmaking, I felt the same way I do after a good, long shag: knees locked up, back sore, physically exhausted, emotionally spent ... yet content and ready for another go at the earliest opportunity.I’m not going to waste time with a plot synopsis here, and I’m not going to say that it’s a “perfect” film, either. The beginning is a tad slow, the ending could have used a bit of streamlining, a few moments here and there are redundant and over-expository (I mean, how many “Do you remember the Shire, Master Frodo?” speeches do we really need?), and some moments that are meant to be poignant are just a tad overdone, provoking the occasional inappropriate chuckle. And, inevitably, some of the favorite supporting characters, like Faramir, get short-changed a bit (until the super-long extended director’s cut, that is).
"Praise THE LORD, pass the Oscar, fetch me a cigarette and a Ham sandwich"
And yet, set all these minor quibbles aside, and only the most cynical rotten bastard (more cynical and rotten than even yours truly) can resist being caught up in the sheer grandeur and majesty of this film. Return of the King is visually astounding, emotionally stirring, with the greatest epic battle scenes ever put on film. If you thought the battle against the Imperial walkers in The Empire Strikes Back was amazing, wait until you check out the Riders of Rohan as they take on a herd of armored mammoths. Swords clash, bodies are tossed to and fro, and catapults launch debris into siege towers, which shatter and spill their contents like giant Orc piñatas. And although Aragorn’s (Viggo Mortensen) rally-the-troops speech doesn’t quite top Kenneth Branagh’s “Band of Brothers” monologue in Henry V, it certainly made me want to pick up a broadsword and throw down on some Uruk-Hai ass. Good, really good, fucking fantastic stuff.
Although the final twenty minutes of the film seem to go on a bit long, with a number of false endings, it doesn’t feel tacked on like the last 20 minutes of A.I. did. The final 100 pages of the novel dragged on a bit as well, and in Peter Jackson’s defense, he did a remarkable job of remaining as faithful to the source material as possible while making the tough narrative and editing decisions needed to make the film, and the entire trilogy, a flowing, cohesive whole. For three years he’s straddled the razor’s edge between living up to the expectations of rabid Tolkein fans, making the story accessible to newcomers, and delivering a quality product to the the profit-hungry studio suit monkeys on time and within budget. Give that man an Oscar, a brandy, and a cigar and allow him to bask in his well-deserved glory.
And speaking of Oscars, if this film is denied Best Picture over some stuffy, pretentious piece of art-house crap like last years The Hours, it would be an act of criminal negligence on the Academy’s part. If they can give Russell Crowe “Best Actor” for Gladiator (a good performance and a good film, but neither particularly Oscar-worthy), then a film like Return of the King, which required the skill, talent, love, and obsessively hard work of thousands of people, must be given its just reward.There’s a scene in the third act where the four hobbits sit down in a pub to indulge in a pint together. They all share a look between them that seems to say “After all we’ve been through, how can we ever go back to our quiet, normal lives again?” In a way, seeing this film, and the conclusion of this truly epic trilogy, begs the same question. How can any other film compare after this? I suppose it can’t, at least for a while. There may come a day when another grandiose film supplants the greatness of RETURN OF THE KING –- but it is not this day. This day, THE KING reigns supreme.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8404&reviewer=258
originally posted: 12/19/03 05:03:58