Worth A Look: 4.74%
Pretty Bad: 2.37%
Total Crap: 3.56%
15 reviews, 753 user ratings
|Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The
by David Hollands
Peter Jackson's film trilogy finally reaches an end, and I can only breath another huge sigh of disappointment. Not one to express my sadness over the fact that the trilogy has come to an end, but one to express my sadness at just how poorly these films were done.To be fair, the first Lord of the Rings film was exciting, and yet too quickly paced and featuring tons of stiff, uncomfortable dialogue. The Two Towers only went further downhill, feeling rushed and lazy, and looking as if it had been cut and pasted together with sticky tape. Epic shots were inserted haphazardly into the narrative throughout, some of the worst performances ever witnessed were featured, and the CGI kept getting more cringe-inducing and lifeless. Return of the King is a step-up from The Two Towers, though it is an incredibly small one. Even with its flaws, the first film had an energy to it and a passion that one could see oozing through every frame. That sense of energy is sadly missing from both The Two Towers and Return of the King, even though it takes the word "epic" to the extreme.
"Return of the empty epic, part 3."
In Return of the King, Sam and Frodo are still on their way to Mordor to throw the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, the one place where it can be destroyed. Along with them is Gollum, who has become treacherous and plans to feed Frodo and Sam to a giant spider, thus taking the One Ring for himself. Meanwhile, Aragorn, Gimly, and Legolas attempt to form an army that can stand up to the might of Sauron's forces. It will be an all out battle as the forces of good attempt to beat the forces of evil for the final time. After sitting in a cinema for three and a half hours watching the plot, it became evident early on that the producers must have fired the editor somewhere during the middle of filming. At three and a half hours, this film is simply too long, plodding along in many areas. These areas mostly involve pointless exchanges between a few main characters where dialogue such as "the enemy is near" is spoken often. Since we already know the enemy is near based on what we've been watching in the first two films, and since the exchanges add absolutely nothing to the film in terms of important information, they need only be jettisoned because they slow the film down.
What also could have been cut is Jackson's strange flashbacks to moments seen in the last two films. Those scenes are constructed so a character says something or sees something and then another character realises something else, and thus begins a flashback. The flashbacks themselves sometimes even head back to moments we'd just seen a few minutes ago in this film, which makes the filmmakers appear as if they don't trust their audience. I don't know about some people, but I certainly don't need a flashback going back to something that just happened about five minutes before, because I have something called “memory”. For crying out loud, Jackson even flashes back to the first scene in Fellowship of the Ring in which Isildor slices off Sauron's hand when Isildor’s sword is displayed onscreen. What Jackson may not realise is that people do remember those moments, so their inclusions here turn this into a film that feels repetitive.
The one thing I dislike the most about these Lord of the Rings films is the Arwen character. The she-Elf was hardly a part of Tolkien's original novel, but that's not the reason I don't like the inclusion of her character. It's more the fact that her character is nothing but an excuse to add poor emotional baggage to the narrative. She was a very strong character in The Fellowship of the Ring, and yet in The Two Towers and Return of the King she became dead weight. She offers nothing to this film and shows up a whopping three times. Each appearance becomes shorter than the previous one. While she actually did stuff in the first film, all she does here is stand around pouting all the time. Oh yeah, and she's going to die all of a sudden, supposedly because of the evil in the area. So why is it that the darkness doesn't affect either her father or any other elves that appear to still be hanging around? A friend informed me it was because she had given up her immortal life. Unfortunately, this seems to be something from the novel that was not included in this adaptation. The burden then is not on the viewer but on the filmmaker to present this fact as clearly as possible so it does not seem like it is appearing completely out of nowhere. Jackson, even in the Extended Edition of the film, fails in this regard. Plus, when you have a character who's suddenly going to die just to add suspense to the film and then you don't even show that character again once this has been established to attempt to sustain that suspense, the whole subplot and the character becomes pointless.
Perhaps more frustrating than what has been included is what hasn't, and I don't necessarily mean from the Tolkien novel. Peter Jackson completely removed Saruman from the film, something that seems incredibly bizarre. The opening moments of the film has Gandalf and company arrive at Isenguard, and then decide that Saruman isn't a threat anymore. There's no conclusion to the character and the fact that Gandalf and the rest simply ride off without doing anything seems unbelievably stupid. Here's a character who's been a source of evil and menace for the first two films and who suddenly just vanishes off the face of the Earth. He's locked away in a tower and has conveniently lost his powers, but the scene is so anti-climactic that it makes the film worse even with the knowledge that said climactic scene will appear in the Extended Edition. The whole thing reeks of being promised a whole cake and then only being given a sliver. Frankly, Jackson could have included the final moments of Saruman's character and gotten rid of all the flashbacks and needless exposition, or he could have at least covered up the omission in a realistic manner. Unfortunately, he doesn't do this, so the error remains. It would still be a long movie should the scene be included, but it would also be one that would have a better sense of conclusion from a character standpoint.
Just like The Two Towers, this film has a problem with crosscutting. There are different storylines going on here, and Jackson and his editor just don’t know how to juggle them. Just when one scene appears to be getting intrusting, Jackson quickly cuts away to something else. In that other scene, the interest level builds again, and then Jackson cuts to something else. This is constantly happening throughout the narrative, and it is annoying. I'm not saying that it's just because there's crosscutting in the film that it is bad, but that the crosscutting here could definitely be better. Plus, sometimes Jackson cuts away from another situation for too long, so when he cuts back to it some twenty minutes later, the effect is extremely jarring. And occasionally the cutting occurs so haphazardly that often a moment is required to remember where one is. Even the most attentive viewer will be thrown off by this, and it is nothing but asinine.
Part of what made Fellowship of the Ring fun at times was how Jackson and company unrelentingly portrayed evil. Evil was thankfully never cartoon-type evil. Tension was never spared and I was actually scared of the antagonists inFellowship. However, things quickly began to disintegrate when The Two Towers appeared. Evil was still pretty scary, but the more cartoon-like aspects began to seep through. In this film however, evil is an absolute joke. I swear that the evil minions are so laughably overdone that you'll be in heaps of laughter. Take the ones that always sneer into the camera lens as if they were in a comic book and speak in extremely gnarly and overdone voices. Plus, notice that what they say is extremely laughable. Stuff like individual Orcs having their moment to say something supposedly evil along the lines of "there time will be up" or basically just describing what they are about to do with freakishly funny "evil grandeur". I'm truly not making it up when I type that one of the head Oruci sounds like Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. Embarrassingly enough, the filmmakers feel he is actually menacing enough to justify giving him moments in which he actually speaks.
Much of this film revolves around concepts of friendship, good versus evil, etc., and there are moments that attempt to show us said concepts. Sadly, many of these moments just dissolve into extreme stupidity. Take the moment when Sam carries Frodo up to Mount Doom when Frodo is too tired to go on. I realise friendship in this film is strong, but seeing Sam who was tired and weak just moments before carrying Frodo up a mountain like Arnold Schwarzenegger is just too funny and unbelievable for words. Also ridiculous are the extreme moments of contrivance that run rampant throughout this picture. The film naturally features more than a few of the type of moments in which a protagonist is threatened and right before the blow comes, another protagonist kills the antagonist. These moments are of course done as if they represent huge concepts of loyalty and friendship. Can we all say "safeguard"? The message these moments are supposed to convey is washed away by all the contrivance. Sometimes characters literally pop into the screen. Take a moment when Gollum falls off a cliff and then conveniently shows up later to intercept Sam and Frodo as they near Mount Doom. This also occurs when a pack of giant eagles inexplicably show up out of nowhere to fight against dangerous flying monsters. There isn’t even a scene in which they are summoned, so them simply materializing into the narrative is lazy at best and utterly idiotic at worst.
Speaking of stupidity, there are some completely horrendous mental gaffes going on in this film, the biggest one concerning what's been happening in The Two Towers as well. The evil is constantly being portrayed as strong and terrifying. Hell, whole armies of good guys are crushed and slaughtered...so why do these characters let Sam and Frodo go off alone to throw the ring into the fires of Mount Doom anyway? Surely they would try to give them more protection? I mean, the two little Hobbits are heading onto enemy land armed only with small swords while the other good guys could hardly win with huge numbers and large weapons. Mount Doom is in Mordor, where the entire enemy army is located. Not one protagonist realised this when they sent Frodo and Sam off to destroy the ring? Sure, the good guys may have been a little pressed for time at the end of Fellowship of the Ring, but surely they would send someone with more fighting experience along with Frodo and Sam. But that's not the only thing. There's the moment in which the Eye of Sauron sees Frodo blatantly and than focuses its attention on the army, and completely looses attention with Frodo. That's EXACTLY what I would do if I just saw the one with my One Ring heading towards the one place in which my One Ring could be destroyed.
While The Fellowship of the Ring was flawed, you couldn't deny that Peter Jackson did a pretty good job. Despite some very poor close-ups, things were sound. Here however, direction has been thrown right out the window. As in The Two Towers, Jackson feels the need to cut to panoramic extreme long shots as if he wants it to go out of style. Every two minutes there's an extreme long shot, usually coming at moments that separate the audience from the characters. Often, we are caught marvelling at the shot rather than what's happening in the shot, because these wide shots are mostly filled with poorly animated CGI characters. Take the moment in which Gandalf and Merry ride into Minas Terith. Epic shots are inserted haphazardly to the extreme, and most of the time they even have severe continuity problems like movements not matching or characters suddenly disappearing from shot to shot. Then there are the moments during the battle scenes in which Jackson cuts from close-ups of characters in battle (obviously in front of blue screens) to huge shots of lazily animated CGI armies. The cuts unfortunately betray the special effects for what they are.
Jackson's direction is equally catastrophic during even quiet moments. The camera usually cuts from angle to angle, focusing on characters for no reason or cutting wide when there are many other things that could have been done. Plus, when Jackson wants an emotional moment, he usually sticks a camera right up the actors' nose in an oppressive close-up that looks just plain ridiculous. Close-ups are such a cheap way to get reactions, and they also show that a director doesn't trust his actors to be able to actually perform. Jackson appears to be one of these directors, as he constantly tries to manipulate the performances with the camera when the wise choice would be to simply let the set of talented performers breath. Also overdone is the extreme number of slow motion shots here. Seriously, slow motion is also a very cheap thing to do (most of the time - when done properly, it can be awesome) and Jackson just milks the slow motion for all it's worth. If I remember correctly, the entire final twenty minutes of the film were in slow motion. This comes off as extremely silly and obvious.
Then there's the botched battle scene filming. Sure, big battles are exciting although it really would be nice if I could actually see what was going on. Jackson hardly makes any use of his 2.35:1 widescreen compositions (well, except for the excessive panoramic shots of course) during the battle scenes, instead putting his camera in tight on the battles, possibly to achieve a "you are there" feeling. This backfires though, because not seeing what the Hell is going on more than separates the audience from the onscreen action. Then, there are the moments that Jackson treats as being utterly serious when they actually look quite stupid onscreen. Orcs leering into the lens at random intervals is stupid. Merry swinging a glowing ball around and screaming while sound effects go wild is stupid. Many more moments like this are stupid. And there are many more moments like that.
The performances are very good this time around, a real change from the incredibly forced stuff in The Two Towers. Elijah Wood finds his bearings playing Frodo. He brings a real sadness to the role this time around and is actually compelling during many scenes. He reacts with the special effects here extraordinarily well, as witnessed by the moments when he must share the screen with the completely animated character Gollum. Sean Astin, always excellent, is fantastic as Sam. He plays the loyal friend role very well, and the scenes in which he breaks down and cries are emotionally draining. Viggo Mortensen does a great job as Aragorn, with expressive facial movements and much depth behind his eyes. Of course, John Rhys-Davies and Orlando Bloom are good in their roles and the rest of the cast does a good job. And as usual, Ian McKellen is awesome as Gandalf the Wizard. If he doesn't win an Oscar for his work, something is seriously wrong with the Academy.
The special effects unfortunately have some problems. They look obvious, although not because of the effects creators. Really, they do their all to make the effects look spectacular. It’s just that the special effects are betrayed by director Peter Jackson's tendencies to make them look as obvious as possible. Now, the film Blade 2 feature my one of favourite uses of CGI special effects. They're great because director Guillermo del Toro had live footage blending into CGI in the same shot, thus making it appear more seamless than is typically the case in effects-heavy films. Jackson even did a bit of that in Fellowship of the Ring, but here he doesn't even try. He simply cuts to an effects shot from a close-up of real people and vice versa. That unfortunately draws extra attention to the effects which just look completely vacant all of a sudden. When soldiers are shot down or carried away by mutant birds, one just doesn't care because they know that effects are in front of his or her eyes.
Of course, no special effect has been praised more than Gollum. Hailed as a landmark of animation, Gollum has been praised the world over...and I just don't buy it. Gollum is not a well designed creation. It could be good, but I can always just tell that it is actually digital. Gollum's skin never looks exactly right. It appears too smooth and the ripped portions of cloth hanging off Gollum never swing around properly. Plus, there's just something odd about the way Gollum moves around, almost as if he's floating slightly. Those are all signs of a totally digital creation, and Gollum has officially become my personal example of way CGI should never be used in favour of the moments when a latex creation would have functioned better. What pains me the most about the CGI Gollum is that during the prologue to this film there is a special effects prosthetic appliance on Andy Serkis (the actor who plays Gollum) during an intermediate stage of Gollum’s transformation that looks amazing. It is EVERYTHING Gollum could have been, and it pains me all the more to realize that that’s exactly what it was not.
The music is again provided by Howard Shore, and it is hardly at the same quality level as his work on The Fellowship of the Ring. Many moments come off sounding kind of lazy, with Shore often using the same musical shtick he's used on every Lord of the Rings picture. I do believe in keeping musical similarity to have a sense of continuity between films in a trilogy, yet I did expect something more than what is presented here. Shore is unfortunately limp here with his music, scoring scenes without much true emotion. As a result, many of the supposed emotional moments are rendered mute and there are even moments when the music completely smothers the performances in total schmaltz. Whenever something sad happens, you can count on a typical sad score coming into the mix unoriginally and hardly letting up to allow the audience to experience the sadness themselves. Instead, we are just smacked with intense music that eventually hurts the ears. In a pivotal scene in which Sam discovers Gollum's plan to betray both him and Frodo, the music isn't exactly menacing or subtle. It simply roars at us without mercy, forcing us to block our ears and being absolutely "shocked" by the scene. Unfortunately, an audience member is not so much shocked by the events in story but by the horrible music attempting to support it.Peter Jackson had a monumental task helming the Lord of the Rings films, something I just don't believe he was up to. Sure, the first film has a special energy to it, but it is an energy that quickly dissipates as the films go on. It's as if Jackson just lost energy all throughout this trilogy (which is really strange given that all three films were shot at the same time), and it's a loss of energy that unfortunately translates to the screen as well. With the trilogy at a close, I can safely say that it was a noble task but ultimately a futile one.
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originally posted: 01/13/04 08:46:23