Every year I give this award to a movie that isn’t necessarily bad, and could even be good, but which is getting talked about non-stop, is winning more awards than it deserves, and whose crazed fans are showering it with more accolades than snowflakes in a snowstorm. 

2003 saw a movie that fits this definition to a T: a good-but-not-great film that’s been mistaken for a sign from God, made (and is still making) piles of money, and has been called “the greatest movie ever made” by otherwise respectable critics.  It carries itself with a hefty overdose of pomposity and seriousness when, in fact, it has so very, very little to say.

So…what are you hoping I’ll pick?  Are you hoping I’ll fickly forget “Pulp Fiction” and “Fargo” and jump on the “we-hate-Harvey Weinstein” bandwagon by picking “Cold Mountain?”  Not quite.  Here are just a few of the winner’s praises:

“Mere human conversation will not do it justice…how do you analyze its perfection?”
Oktay Ege Kozak,

“There can be no greater gift for a movie lover…”
James Berardinelli of

“Makes the stiff, well-mannered drones of George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’ epics look like stick figures in a bad, Japanese-made Saturday-morning cartoon…”
Dave Edelstein of MSN’s Slate
“I'll be forever mad at Roger Ebert…”
A reader at, because Ebert only gave the movie his second-highest rating.

“The most fantastical film ever to be about, simply, what it means to be alive and in the world…”
Mary Ann Johanson,
The Flick Filosopher herself, to which I must respond, “When, exactly, was that?  Between the deaths of Faceless Orc No. 5,614 and Faceless Orc No. 5,615, or did this happen when I went to the bathroom for the second time?”
So, of course my pick for the “Most Overrated Movie of 2003” Award is a no-brainer, and the winner is…

The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King

To quote
Willem Dafoe:  “I want to be crucified!”

I know, I know, I must be a beast, but hear me out.  I admire Peter Jackson’s ambition and technique in tackling the gargantuan “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and had fun watching it.  He gave the films years of his life and worked so very, very hard.  But it’s a shame Jackson could not imbue the trilogy with more soul and humanity.  For all the time he spent fawning over locations, swords, stirrups, silk curtains, petticoats, and orc makeup, the movies are simply lacking much of a human element.  There is perhaps no greater glorification of technological consumerism than “LOTR,” a movie that replaces humanity with the costumes you wear, the race to which you belong, the special effects that surround you, and, if you’re in the audience, the products you buy.  It’s rather creepy to think about that the giant stamp of approval the trilogy has gotten from awards and the public is in a way an approval of its valuing of machinery over humanity.  Should Jackson receive some sort of prize for his years of work—like an Oscar perhaps?  He has received his prize: he’s richer than God.  Let Coppola or Weir have the little gold man.

Besides, when most people make the same movie three times in a row, they’re usually criticized, not praised.

In the the following month or so this site will publish a set of mini-articles examining various aspects of the films, all trying to hide my true identity of grumbling malcontent behind big words and intellectual gobble-dee-gook.  I’ll be making several comparisons to “Star Wars,” a more playful and endearing pulp adventure, whose new editions have come under fire for their inferior revisions, and whose new episodes have been condemned for lower quality.  I will also be consulting the opinions of Dr. Dave Clayton, a professor who teaches on naval vessels (how’s that for a job!) and a friend of mine we’ll call Nathan, who is a regular contributor at LiveJournal’s “ArtFilm101:  Film Snobs Unite!” discussion group. 

More important than their credentials are their ideas, which are intriguing and hold water.  What I won’t be mentioning very much are J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels.  The most common defense used by “LOTR” movie apologists is “you haven’t read the books,” as if the entire film trilogy is merely a set of illustrations, or “you need to see the deleted scenes on the DVD.”  This is a flimsy rebuttal and can be answered quickly by pointing out that, if after 900 days of shooting costing millions upon millions of dollars to bring us ten hours of theatrical releases (TEN HOURS!), you still haven’t made a complete, independent thought that can stand by itself, then you have not succeeded.  I can’t stress that enough.

The conclusion which must be drawn from these articles is as follows:  the trilogy is too pompous, self-aggrandizing, long, and devoid of richly sympathetic characters to be great escapism (although it is good).  It lacks the great pulp adventure’s whimsy and light-heartedness.  The trilogy is too bloodless, childish, insubstantial, oblivious of its own implications, and, again, populated by characters too shallow to be considered a serious film. 

What we’re left with is a shell of a movie, a ten-hour description of “if we had something to say, this is how we’d say it.”  Like the novels upon which it was based, “The Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy has entered a place where the masses reply with adoration and many of the literati respond with rolled eyes and head-patting.  There are ideas in the films, of that there is little doubt, but the question is how much of those ideas reach the surface, how much screen time do they get, and how much is stifled by the repetition of people stabbing creatures.

Here’s my email address:  And when writing, remember, this is film criticism, not a dogmatic battlefield.  In other words, play nice.

“The Lord of the Rings” are fine films, stirring and adventurous, and it was a risk for New Line Cinema to plop its whole studio behind them (although betting the farm on films that actually say something would have been so much more daring).  I gave the entire trilogy positive reviews, and I stand by those reviews, because “Lord of the Rings” is visually exhilarating, a production of enormous scope and technical complexity, and populated by some likeable, if mostly one dimensional characters.

But really.  Come on.

Next: "The eco-friendly allegory assigned to The Lord of the Rings books in recent years does not survive into the movies . . ."




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