Nightlife

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

by David Foucher
EDGE Publisher
Wednesday Dec 17, 2003
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The star of the �Lord of the Rings� trilogy is, of course, not a band of gold, nor a hobbit � but rather its hobbit-sized director. Passionate about J.R.R. Tolkien�s genre-defining novels to the degree that he (and many of his army of cast and crew) have dedicated half a decade of their lives to the films, Peter Jackson deserves a tremendous amount of respect from a film establishment � even a society � that has relegated the entire universe of fantasy fiction to the very worst of its preconceptions. Disregarded as the thematically shallow purview of the lonely pre-pubescent who long for medieval-style acceptance based on human characteristics no longer highly valued � valor, courage and honor replaced by beauty, wealth and popularity � the fantasy species long ago achieved B-class status in the Hollywood apparatus, and never recovered.

Until, that is, Jackson and New Line took the largest gamble in moviemaking history by committing hundred of millions of dollars to an audacious production schedule that would spin forth the longest running three-part film ever created. They could not have guess that hobbit-fever would grip the planet three years in a row, or that one man�s creative vision could redefine and re-energize an industry.

Sounds a little like J.R.R. Tolkien�s life story, doesn�t it?

In fact, there are parallels not only to be drawn between the author of the books and the auteur of the film trilogy, but also between the central theme of both � that courage and determination can help even the smallest of us to reshape the world � and the creative process itself. It�s a peculiar magic wielded by the storytellers of each age, the mythology of human experience more powerful than politics, stock markets and death. It�s a little bit of immortality we see on the screen once we hand over our $10 and grab some popcorn � and this film, like its predecessors, will go down as one of the most rewarding three hours you can spend watching such dreams unfold.

You don�t need a plot synopsis � you already know that little Frodo has to throw that heavy band of gold into the volcano and then run for it. And you don�t need to know if the performances are superior, since they are continuous from the first two films. It�s a joy watching Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin (whose character truly comes into his own in this final film), Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen and the rest play out the cataclysmic plot.

What you really want to know is this: have we placed our faith in a man who has the ability to see through, and hopefully surpass, the first two films into the climactic third chapter? The answer, delightfully, is a resounding yes. �The Return of the King� is every bit the fabulous conclusion we�ve waited for, spun out in glorious fashion over an exhausting three hours.

And the question naturally follows: Will Peter Jackson be finally recognized for this achievement? Is there an Academy Award in store for the man?

Humm. I regret to say probably not. Judged on its own merits, this trilogy has at least marginally failed in one important regard: its strict adherence to Tolkien�s novels to the disregard of the medium of film. The finest example occurs in �The Return of the King,� when Jackson plods through twenty minutes of concluding material AFTER the big battles have passed. It�s an old film adage: once the action has finished, roll the credits. Purists will appreciate the film�s faithful rendition, even as they scold Jackson for taking out the wizard Saruman�s death scene, which having seen the film I admit is confusing. Mythologically speaking, it�s far more important to see the bad guy meet his fate than to watch the protracted ending � not to mention the first would have been far more interesting to watch.

There are minor flaws as well � this is the first chapter in which some of the metaphorical special effects strings can be seen as they�re pulled. But they are minor, and even the ending has appeal in its emotional impact. It�s not a perfect film, but that is of such little consequence. �The Return of the King� is daring, wonderful, and ultimately one of the most satisfying films of the year.

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his husband and daughter in Dedham MA.

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