• Pages

  • Site Sections

  • Tags

  • Archives

Lord Of The Rings III – Return of the King – 9 hour trilogy ends with a fade on a door-knob

winning will be a mammoth task

winning will be a mammoth task

Lord Of The Rings – Return Of The King – Peter Jackson

As the Laud of the Rings industry gears up for the Oscars, let’s get real. It will be a travesty if the Return of the King, the third and last in the Tolkein trilogy to be filmed, does not win a technical Oscar, perhaps more than one. However, it will be an even greater travesty if it wins anything else. Critical cliché it may be, but at least an hour less of LOR-ROTK might have made it the film everyone is blindly asserting it is. Almost every scene outstays its welcome; one even begins to tire of the graphical grandeur of the battles. And at least 20 minutes could be saved straight off by shooting one effective ending in place of the increasingly irritating 5 or 6 false endings with which Peter Jackson has ruined the dramatic resolution of about 9 hours of film. Long before the actual dreadful, mawkish ending (OK, if that was Tolkien’s resolution, so much the worse for him), with half the audience doing the popcorn-strewn equivalent of Mexican waves, I was mentally crying out – “Can I go now….please….”? After 3 films, 9 hours and about $300 million, even I could find a better closing shot than a fade on a door knob.

Anyway, the preposterous tosh the cast are required to utter in the relentlessly clunky bits between the breathtaking set pieces, casts doubt on whether this devoted, nerdy exercise in technical wizardry was ever redeemable as a work of popular visual art. Of course vapid actors like Elijah Wood and Liv Tyler (in her Arwen, elvish form at least) can naturally do vapid scenes with ease. But when a class act like Ian McKellen is reduced to intoning drivel into a myopic distance with an enigmatic smile playing at the corners of his mouth, we know that technical obsession left no time to develop a playable script. It’s often sub-George Lucas. Say no more. The whole cast seems to have caught a bad case of Hollywood Angel-itis. All seem afflicted by a need to deliver their lines in a kind of punctuated Buddhist mantra style but without the variations in tone. It really is extremely difficult to give a damn about anyone in the film. Sam has a certain dogged, put-upon charm but even this tempts us to think “why don’t you junk this nerd and go do something worthwhile with your life”? The hitherto broody, charismatic Viggo Mortensen blows his cover as soon as he is required to utter anything long enough to constitute a whole thought. And Orlando Bloom (Legolas) must have been grateful that he was given virtually nothing to say especially as he is made up and dressed to look like an androgynous wimp. A pair of nice pointy ears would at least have added a bit of edge. Only Bernard Hill (Theoden) and his ballsy Orc-killing niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto) add a bit of flesh and blood to the all-pervasive insipidness. Why the hell newly-crowned King Viggo should have gone for Elvy Liv instead of this feisty miss Macbeth playing Duncan in a pseudo-Shakespearian plot twist, is a genuine ineffable mystery that matches anything Tolkien’s grandiose fantasy has to offer.

Truth be told, the only interesting character in the whole soggy saga is the delightfully venal, devious, treacherous Gollum. That he is half real and half virtual, is perhaps a conceptual irony the film might have made more of. There must be something wrong with the story treatment when at the big dramatic denouement at the fiery abyss of Mordor, one is overwhelmed by a guilty desire to shout – “go Gollum, kick the little jerk into touch”. When we are allowed to hear what he is actually saying, the creepy little villain steals the show. Like the Pink Panther, Gollum looks too good a character to be commercially confined to the film that created him. His virtual existence looks set to create real franchising bucks for some time to come. Going commercially head to head with the Dopey Dobbie, I know whom my money’s on. Go Gollum.

And so to those set pieces. We must, please God, be fast approaching the stage where we have become so sated with the technically inconceivable, that it will no longer carry a film with a crap script. The progressive decline in impact of special effects in the Matrix trilogy, is perhaps another encouraging straw in the wind. Equally, in the first three Star Wars films, the special effects sub-served a great adventure story. The second series has reversed the emphasis with dire results. The fact is that most of the big set pieces in LOR-ROTK are visually very Star Wars-derivative (as were the weakest scenes in Matrix 2), especially the great Mammoth-like creatures in the final battle. The enormous cost of creating such technical scenes must militate against clean, effective editing. One hears the back office crying “put it in, put it in – it cost 2 mil and looks great”. The battle scenes also owe much to Braveheart out of Henry Vth. At least, Mel Gibson as he rode up and down putting fire in the bellies of his troops, had the forethought to give himself a couple of credible lines.

LOR-ROTK has no coherent dramatic pace or cadence. It works at two speeds: leaden (dialogue), and frenetic (action). And unless I missed it, it is almost totally humourless. There is nothing wrong with tosh but it needs a little imagination and wit, even irony, to make it work. This film is literally witless. The final test it seems to me, of a film of a book, is: does it enthuse you back to the book? Well for me, the most faithful aspect of this film trilogy is that it perfectly reflects my original feelings about the books: tedious, portentous, infinitely protracted tosh. Mind you, I did fail the Hobbit.

(December 2003)

Leave a Reply