LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE
Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin,
Bernard Hill, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis
2003, 200 Minutes, Directed by: Peter Jackson
The final battle for Middle-earth begins.
Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, continue their dangerous mission toward the
fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring. Aragorn struggles to
fulfill his legacy as he leads his outnumbered followers against the growing
power of the Dark Lord Sauron, so that the Ring-bearer may complete his
third installment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy
suffers from the same faults as its two predecessors, namely it is (1)
overlong, (2) takes itself way too seriously and is (3) a case of much ado
about nothing . . .
Three hours in, as it
was winding down to its predictable (both in general and specifics) ending,
I found that my arse was sore and numb.
There was another twenty minutes to go as we are made to sit through one
endless coda after the other. Ultimately I felt as empty as we are made to
believe some of the main characters are supposed to feel . . . and as
empty as the movie itself.
And make no mistake:
Return of the King is an empty spectacle.
Nowhere did any of its characters feel like real people with real emotions
– they were simply too nobly self-sacrificing, too evil, etc. for that –
they are mere archetypes. To be honest I found myself more emotionally
touched by the 80 minutes or so of the recent Pieces of April (shot
on digital camera for a mere $160,000) than the entire three hours of the
multi-million dollar Return of the King.
Don’t get me wrong. As far as third installments in movie trilogies go,
The Return of the King rates among the best. It is better than
Return of the Jedi, definitely better than
Matrix Revolutions and nowhere as
disappointing as Alien 3. Something tells me
that it’d probably be better than the upcoming
Star Wars pic (if Phantom Menace and
Attack of the Clones are anything to go by, that
can be no denying it: the three Lord of the Rings movies are quite
an achievement as far as sheer spectacle and special effects go – they are
truly grand to behold.
Unfortunately, the battle scenes, as impressive as they may be, become repetitious and after similar scenes in The Two
Towers, I began to suspect that maybe the whole series could have
skipped an entire movie altogether and still have gotten to the point.
"A strange homoerotic vibe between Frodo and Sam?"
And the point being? Well, that’s the other problem: it is an epic triumph
of special effects wizardry, but in aid of what?
Tolkien’s massive 1 000 page plus doorstop of a novel also isn’t about
much really. Its Manichean concepts of good and evil are too simplistic to
take seriously. Ideologues who insist that Tolkien’s novels are some kind
of fascist tract however have it wrong. While they reflect Tolkien’s
conservatism and dread of modernity (not to mention his chauvinist racial attitudes), Lord of the Rings is simply
something he wrote to pass the time.
The movies too will
pass the time, but as someone once remarked: the golden age of sci-fi is 13.
is also the best age at which to have read Tolkien’s books. Writer Brian
Aldiss mentions in Trillion Year Spree (his excellent history of science fiction) that the success
of fantasy novels is due to the absence of the one thing that their
adolescent readers are always short of: money. You never see Lord Sauron
struggling to make the mortgage payments on any of his huge castles. Or even
the dashing Aragorn slapping down a few pence for his drink of ale at the
local tavern. Or how about Frodo and Sam never having to pay any toll road
fees? Money just never figures in any of these tales, Aldiss says.
Aldiss may have been exaggerating, but he has a point: real-life adult
issues never feature in Lord of the Rings. Ah,
you say, but it is an age old battle of Good versus Evil. Actually, it isn’t. Has anyone bothered
to figure out why exactly the Orcs would support the evil Lord Sauron? Just what is in it
for them? In the novels, the Orcs’ non-White (as apartheid apparatchiks
would have it) origins are hinted at. In fact, it would seem that the Orcs
are the downtrodden
üntermensch of Middle Earth.
aside, just what is gained after all those numerous battles? As the title implies,
a monarchy is restored after fighting it out with a dictatorship.
we might as well be talking about the (decidedly undemocratic) Kuwaiti royal
family being restored to power after Gulf War I during the early 1990s.
Neither are exactly causes to get all excited about. In fact, Monty
Python and the Holy Grail has deeper insights into feudalism than all of Tolkien’s thick magnum opus. (“Oh, but you can't expect to wield supreme
executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you!”)
Also, its seriousness gets wearisome. At some point in the movie my wife
started cracking silly jokes, something she never does – anything to break
the intermittent tension she later told me.
Return of the King is like a small puppy instead of the roaring
lion it pretends to be: it wants nothing more than to be liked; and while
I admired it greatly, I found that I didn’t really like it all that much .
A site visitor wrote with the following remarks I thought I'd include
here: "another thing I noticed was a strange homoerotic vibe
between Frodo and Sam. (I feel the need to stress, in these PC times, that
I'm not homophobic.) Frodo and Sam were unusually touchy-feely (and kissy)
for two adult males, albeit two adult hobbit males. Maybe hobbit men are
simply more affectionate and meta-sexual. It was weird, though, and I have
yet to read one review in which it's mentioned." Ha-ha.