THE RETURN OF THE KING
A film by Peter Jackson
Starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Aston,
Ian McKellan, and too many
others to name
It can't be denied
that this film, the third in Peter Jackson's monumental Lord of the Rings
series, wraps things up nicely, is a visual treat of surpassing sumptuousness,
and doesn't have a boring moment. There are Oscar-caliber performances (and
FX) in it, and only a nasty, narrow-minded jade would quibble at the editing
Pardon me whilst I don my "Nasty Narrow-minded Jade" hat. (And I apologize for the
rather disjointed nature of this review, which has turned out to be more Impressionistic
than I had intended. Still, it is what it is.)
Ahhhh. Now, where
was we, my preciousssss?
this film is within whispering distance of three and a half hours in length.
I don't mind the length - as I said, I was never bored. But at no point are
we given respite. What the hell ever happened to intermissions? After about
two hours and change, the urgings of my bladder and stomach could no longer
be ignored. Having read the trilogy numerous times, I had a pretty good idea
of where I was in terms of plot so I felt able to sneak out, secure in the knowledge
that I wouldn't miss much. I fled the darkened theatre for a pit stop in the
men's room and an overpriced snack of popcorn and diet soda. I missed about
seven minutes of the film, including the snippet in which Theoden King exhorts
his outnumbered followers to battle, using the "This is not that day!"
line that has cropped in the trailers. I settled back into my seat feeling much
relieved, so to speak.
But here's the
crux, for me. During the entire three-hours-plus time, I never forgot I was
watching a movie. I was never swept up and carried away by the film, despite
its obvious masterful depiction of Tolkein's story. Peter Jackson has said that
this film, the third of the three, was his favorite even from the beginning,
while the live-action footage was being shot back in 1999. Personally, I'll
opt for the first one, The Fellowship of the Ring. This one, The Return
of the King, might be a case of too much of a good thing.
I'm not one of
those people who complains about the altering of Tolkein's story for dramatic
purposes. I think all of Jackson's editorial choices were good ones, aside from
omitting the book's coda, "The Scouring of the Shire," and the glossing
over of Saruman's fate. (One and the same, really.) But even I have to admit
that this change doesn't hurt the movie.
And I can't deny
that Jackson has matched my imagination and surpassed it in many places, most
notably during the battle for Minas Tirith, which is my favorite part of the
current movie. I doubt that it could have been done better by any director on
the planet. In fact, I will go so far as to say that I doubt the entire trilogy
could have been interpreted better by any director on the planet.
So what the hell
am I complaining about? Well, I am not really complaining. I am merely wondering
why I didn't like the film more than I did, especially given that I thought
the first two were masterpieces. And that's not a word I throw about lightly,
I began to be disenchanted when I noticed that Howard Shore's score seemed awkward
at moments, almost amateurish. A good score is supposed to support the film,
not draw attention to itself. But at moments Shore's music forced itself into
my consciousness and dimmed the magic spell the film was trying to cast on me.
In fact, please
note that word "trying." Perhaps The Return of the King tries
too hard, and ends up being a bit self-conscious because of the effort. Consider
Legolas's killing of the murmak -- what was the point, really, except that he
had a cool scene in each of the two earlier films, and needed one here. But
The Empire Strikes Back did that scene, and better, more than twenty
And I have to
cite what I view as some misplaced attempts at humor. Gimli isn't supposed to
be a wise-guy, is he? And early on in the film, there was one reaction shot
with Gollum (Andy Serkis) where he cowers behind a tree after being attacked
by Sam, which was right out of blackface shuck-and-jive comedy. A ripple of
laughter floated through the audience at the screening I attended, which was
surely not Jackson's intent.
And while we're
on the subject of Gollum, it's my belief that some of the scenes with him were
throw-aways, quick cuts or asides there just to show how slick the animators
have gotten at their craft. Believe me, as one who has tinkered a bit with animation,
I appreciated it. But as a movie-goer, one who is trying to get into the story,
I already knew how wretched the little bastard was - why keep pounding
that into me? I'd rather have had a bit less of Gollum and a bit more of Saruman.
And that endingthey completely overturned Tolkein's extended Shire-bound
coda in favor of an extended schtick-laden scene at the Grey Havens. I mean,
how much do these hobbit men like each other, anyway? The gay subtext in Tolkien's
work, which never overwhelms the thread of the plot, really comes more to the
fore in the film with loving glances and such. True, all that sort of thing
and more is in the book, but times were different then, and one can't escape
the relatively large homoerotic charge that builds up across The Return of
the King. All of the females, even Shelob, are somehow larger than life
and mostly magical. The one actual romance in the book, that between Arwen and
Aragorn., requires that the elf maiden give up her immortality if she is to
be able to handle her love for the human.
Don't elves go
to school precisely to learn how to deal with this sort of thing? How to keep
their emotions in check, I mean? As far as Arwen (Liv Tyler) as an elf, a supernatural,
immortal being, is concerned, Aragorn ought to be little more than a talented
domestic pet. Endearing, loveable, sure - but not acceptable as a love-object.
Just allowing her the capacity to feel that sort of emotion for a human de-elphainzes
her a bit. Is that really what Tolkein wants?
Even Elrond (Hugo
Weaving) caves when his daughter makes mooneyes at him. I dunno, all of this
works better in the books than in the film. Maybe it's the high mythopoeic content
of all of this. Tolkein is not good with individuals. He's great with sweeping
plot and history, but as far as the individuals go, he doesn't "ring"
are thrilling and almost painful to watch. The film opens with a scene in which
Smeagol and his friend Deagol discover the Ring while fishing. Smeagol murders
his friend for the seductive trinket. Thus begins his descent into degradation
and misery. It's gripping.
Also, the scene
in which the Riders of Rohan suddenly appear on the ridge overlooking orc-beleagured
Minas Tirth is a supreme moment of filmmaking. Then they drive the wedge of
their forces into the right flank of the goblin army. Outstanding!
Props to Sean
Astin, whose Sam rises above the forelock-tugging Tolkein character into something
heroic on his own. Sam's defining moment is his fight against the hideous spider
Shelob, and the movie aquits itself very well here. Shelob is as nasty as anyone
could want her to be.
My fave part
of the book was Eowyn's (Miranda Otto) confrontation with the Nazgul Lord. This
was given shorter shrift than I would have liked, but was still a memorable
moment. My complaint with the use of Eowyn is more basic. In the book she rode
out in disguise, and not even Merry knew who this slim young man was. In the
film, no attempt whatsoever is made to hide her identity, robbing her words
to the Nazgul leader (who cannot be slain by any man) - "I am no man!"
- of some of their punch, had her identity as Theoden's niece been suddenly
revealed. It is a small point, no doubt, but it would have made for a fine movie
Ah well -- I
know I'm in the minority. The movie really is good, of course, but it
could have beenand should have beenbetter.
Those Of My Blood
A novel by Jacqueline Lichtenberg
2003 Benbella Books
best known for her Sime-Gen novels, here takes up the challenge of writing a
crossover. But not just a two-way cross over: she's written a science-fiction
romance starring vampires. Her blood-drinking luren, as they're called, are
descendants of a space-faring race marooned on Earth some centuries ago. They
have some of the commonly accepted powers of media-type vampires, as well as
some of the weaknesses.
The book's lead
is Dr. Titus Shiddehara, an astronomer. Twenty years before the book opens,
Titus, then known as Darrell Raaj, had a life and a fiancée. But a car
crash ended that life. To his shock, he awoke as full-fledged vampire. Now,
having pledged never to drink human blood again, he lives on a synthetic compound.
There are other luren like Tutus, calling themselves Residents. But there are
also the Tourists, vampires who have not renounced human blood.
and the Residents have kept their clashes private over the past few hundred
years, knowing that humans would destroy them all if the truth became known.
But now an alien spacecraft has crashed on the Moon, a luren craft that proves
Man is not alone. Humans are working to contact the aliens - but Titus knows
that the aliens are luren, and that attracting their attention may have fatal
results for all mankind.
a lot of this right. It's nifty that she's staged the second half of the book
on the Moon, long associated with vampiric doings. The book moves along fairly
well, although I confess that I had a hard time getting into it - the author
drops us into the middle of events with very little preamble and it took me
a while to get my footing. In fact, the book reads as if it may be part of a
series, but I can't determine if this is true.
only real complaint about Those of My Blood is that the romantic element
is curiously muted for a book that won the Romantic Times Award for best SF
novel. My current romantic standard in pop culture is The Bridges of Madison
County. Lichtenberg's book doesn't quite have the star-crossed tragic underpinnings
of that work. I would have liked to have seen more heartaches in it. Don't get
me wrong - there are many ups and downs between Titus and his lady-love, but
I feel that they are there more to drive the sf portion of the plot. Lichtenberg
is a talented writer who's been in the business for a good long time now. I'd
like to see her do some more work with these characters, and maybe tinker a
bit more with the balance between romance and science fiction. It's certainly
a niche that can be more fully explored, and she's made an excellent start.