Peter Jackson Crowns the King of All Adventure Series
"The board is set. The pieces are moving." The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King looks poised to conquer box office records, and it may be on a path that leads to Oscars. Judging from the euphoric praise offered up by mainstream press critics, it looks like director Peter Jackson has triumphantly completed the greatest adventure film trilogy ever made.
Many of you—perhaps most of you—will be seeing the movie this week. (I've got a hunch a good number of you have already seen it.) When you do, let me know your opinions: Do you agree with those religious press film critics who are heaping superlatives on Jackson's effort? Do you think it is as successful an adaptation as The Fellowship of the Ring or The Two Towers? Do you have any complaints? Further, why do you think the trilogy is striking such a chord with viewers, and what sets it apart from other films in this season saturated with epics? Send me an e-mail.
The film follows the last days of the quest of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) across the span of Middle-Earth. This hobbit from the quiet and innocent region called the Shire has been beaten down and nearly destroyed, sapped by the wicked and alluring power of the One Ring he is seeking to destroy. Helped by his faithful friend Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), Frodo has arrived at last in the blasted wasteland of Mordor. Within shouting distance of Mount Doom's destructive lava flow, the only force that can destroy the Ring and prevent the dark lord Sauron from ruling Middle-Earth, Frodo finds himself facing both his own weakness and the malevolent designs of the Ring-obsessed wretch called Gollum. Gollum has devised plans for foiling Frodo's quest. They include deceit, violence, and a particularly nasty spider.
Meanwhile, the rest of the heroes focus their attention on buying Frodo some time. The only way they can do that is by keeping Sauron's attention on the city of Minas Tirith, where a war of unthinkable proportions is being set in motion. The wizard Gandalf, Pippin the Hobbit, the armies of Rohan led by King Theoden, and a couple of warriors who disobeyed orders to join the resistance, dig in their heels for what seems to be a doomed cause. They must face fearsome winged monsters called Fell Beasts, the demonic warlords called Nazgul, and the poisonous disillusionment of their own leader—a sour-spirited man called Denethor.
The survival of these heroes depends not only on the Ringbearer, but also on Aragorn, the inheritor of the throne of Gondor. With his trusty companions Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Aragorn must enter the bone-chilling caves that lead through the Paths of the Dead. There he must wrestle his own reluctance and lay claim to the kingship, a title that could earn him the allegiance of a much-needed force that dwells forgotten within the mountain.
The last chapter of Tolkien's series plays like a three-hour finale, featuring some of the most awe-inspiring battle sequences ever created. Jackson wisely fills the film with quieter exchanges between characters so that the drama remains intimate and personal, the threats ominous and intimidating. Howard Shore's glorious soundtrack underlines the epic quality of this astonishing spectacle. In spite of the filmmakers' misguided meddlings with the story, admirable themes shine through.
Religious press critics are almost unanimous in their praise of the film. My own in-depth examination is posted at Looking Closer. (A shorter version appeared yesterday here at Christianity Today.)