"Film Forum: Christian Critics Hail Third Rings, Harass Last Samurai"
Many Film Forum readers already have their tickets for the third and final film in … oh, you know what I'm talking about.
I joined several Christian press film critics in Los Angeles last week to see an early screening of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The screening was an overwhelming experience—the film surpasses its predecessors in many ways, especially in the Department of Jaw-Dropping, Eye-Dazzling Spectacle. But regarding the way that Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh adapt this chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien's story, they have made many changes that must be discussed. Check next week's Film Forum for some in-depth debate.
The day after the screening, most of us were still a bit bewildered from having seen such an awe-inspiring work, so we had to struggle to concentrate on the job of the day: interviewing the cast and the crew. My full review will be posted at Looking Closer on Monday, and excerpts from the interviews are being added to the site over the next two weeks. Some of the best interview bits will be included in next week's Film Forum as well.
A particularly interesting aspect of the interviews: Tolkien's Christian worldview seems to have gone either ignored or almost entirely unnoticed by many of the cast and crew. In fact, the themes of the story seem to have had very little influence on their thinking. Indeed, actor Andy Serkis told CNN.com in an interview this week that if he had the Ring of Power in his grasp, "I would banish all religions first of all." In response, Steven D. Greydanus quipped, "The actor who plays Gollum thinks it would be better to be a Sauron than a Frodo."
Some of the religious press critics who saw the film have already posted their reviews. Steve Beard, for example, has summed up his experience at the premiere on his site Thunderstruck.
Two of them came away with startlingly different responses. (Strangely, they sat side-by-side at the same screening.) Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) says, "It's hard to overstate the soaring achievement of Peter Jackson and company in The Return of the King. To call it the grandest spectacle ever filmed is no exaggeration; it may also be the most satisfying third act of any film trilogy, completing what can now be regarded as possibly the best realized cinematic trilogy of all time. It's the most ambitious [of the three]; it may also be the most emotionally affecting, and perhaps the most flawless." But Barbara Nicolosi, Christian film blogger at Church of the Masses and the director of Act One: Writing for Hollywood, feels very differently. "This film is … the most self-indulgent of the three projects. [It] ends at least seven times that I counted, each one bringing tear-filled eyes and the loving gripping of shoulders. I'll give you that it certainly is a spectacle in the way that Cleopatra and Intolerance were spectacles. … But it isn't great spectacle in the way that Lawrence of Arabia or Gone With the Wind[were], because in the end, I just don't care too much about any of the people on the screen. The spectacle only serves itself."
Mainstream critics are, for the most part, waiting until the release date to publish their reviews, but there is a full examination posted at The Hollywood Reporter.
Director Edward Zwick knows his way around a war movie. He directed a longstanding favorite film of the Civil War called Glory. He told a tale of Desert Storm in Courage Under Fire. In 1998's The Siege, he declared a state of martial law in New York. Now, he steps into the territory ruled by master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, directing hordes of Samurai warrior—and Tom Cruise—in The Last Samurai.