STARRING: 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 quest.   —

This 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 is).

There 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. Thirteen 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.

Racist overtones 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.

Heck, 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 . . .

NOTE: 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.



blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest Headlines

Most Popular

Copyright © 1997-forward James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page (unless where indicated otherwise).