December 29, 2003

Return of the King - Review

This is a love story. Not the film, this review. I loved this film, and if I were without so many obligations, I would be off to the theatre a number of times to plop my cash down and see it again.

Films must stand apart from the books they are based on. Jackson's success is that he has not become distracted by fanboy pressure to stay too close to the book. "But, James (or JP) -- he did stay extremely close to the book! And that's why the films are so good."

No, no and more no.

A film is a thing of vision and emotions, and every one starts out with a blank page for a screenplay and a blank screen. In other words, every film starts from scratch, no matter what it is based on. Jackson has done the same thing nearly every bad adaptation you've ever seen did. He re-imagined the story for your viewing pleasure. The difference is, the filter of Peter Jackson's mind was able to take the characters and convey each of them to you. He was able to evoke emotions with great special effects and characters you cared about not only because of the lines they spoke (which were nearly all written by Tolkein) but in their expressions and their movements.

Okay, enough of my amateur analysis of how a film is made. What I mean to say here is that Jackson tread a fine line amazingly well and has pleased fan-boy and general audience alike. RoTK was the best of the three films in much the same way that "Return of the Jedi" was the least of the three Star Wars films.

Thanks to Tolkein's great writing, Jackson had a wealth of characters to choose from, and an embarrassment of riches when it came to the hearts of those characters. It seems almost magical, but Jackson chose to show us things that reinforced the heart of each character. Merry and Pippin's whimsey as Hobbits juxtaposed with all they will see later on in the Pelenor Fields. Aragorn's resolve, and the self-sacrifice that makes him a natural leader of men. Eowen's fire as a woman and as an individual. Gandalf's well of paternal strength, even as it reaches its limits. The list is long, so choose your own character and watch how Jackson reinforces the themes he set up earlier in the series, and in some cases turns them back on themselves.

Jackson even gives us colorful orc characters. There is variation among the troops, and the orc leaders we get to meet are memorable. Making orcs interesting? That alone is an accomplishment.

The SPFX, of course, are stunning. If your jaw doesn't drop I suspect you're on some tranquilizers. But the best SPFX in the world (which, coincidentally, these are) wouldn't save this story if Jackson had screwed up. The real special effect of the Return of the King is its ability to evoke. It evokes the imagination. It evokes camaraderie. And it evokes some overpowering emotions. How else would you explain the number of people who have told me that they cried. I have to admit that I cried a number of times, and held back tears at others. How often does that happen in an action film, or a fantasy film? Not often for me.

I'm not a great review-writer. Other people are going to write about this film and tell you something useful about it. Unabashedly, I'm going to tell you that my hat is off to Peter Jackson. I think him for this great bit of entertainment that washes away so many bitter disappointments in action, adventure, sci-fi and fantasy over the past few years. And for all who love such films, I hope jackson soon finds another story he loves as much as he obviously loves The Lord of the Rings.

Posted by James at December 29, 2003 5:24 PM
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Your review is fine! It captures what you felt, and that's what a review should really be about.

My wife loved the movie, but I don't think it stole away her breath like it did mine. It was a glorious epic adventure that will be hard to match for years to come.

Unfortunately, Saruman was robbed of some key scenes (both at his tower and back at the Shire), but something had to go, I guess.

Loved it! Absolutely loved it!

Posted by: Brandon at December 29, 2003 9:16 PM

Saw it on Friday, and loved it. I'm not sure if I liked it as much as the first two-- it's too soon for me, the movie still has to sit and steep a while in my brain, and perhaps additional viewings will help. I got the soundtrack for Christmas, and now "Into the West" is stuck in my head.

My theory about making films from books is that it has to be like translating something from a foreign language into English. You can't go word by word with a direct translation, because not only will the end result be incoherent, you'll have lost a great deal of meaning in the process. What you do is read the whole thing, then figure out what words you will use in order to best get across both literal meaning and significance... Okay, enough of my scattered philsophy. :)

I think Jackson stayed true to much of the spirit of Tolkien, even if he strayed from the facts. I don't necessarily agree with all the changes made, but overall, it's still the best damn fantasy film/trilogy/epic I've ever seen. If I should be so lucky to see another as good in my lifetime, I will count myself truly blessed.

Posted by: Ariane at January 4, 2004 11:16 AM

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