Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King opened today, and I managed to get tickets for an afternoon showing. I'm not usually that anxious to catch a movie on opening day itself, but if you've caught LotR I and II, then you'll understand why I just had to see LotR III as soon as I possibly could. I had already planned on re-watching it prior to reading any of the reviews, but now that I've been exposed and influenced by them, I think I might need to watch it way more than just twice. After all, it's not everyday that a movie released in December manages to bag the Best Film of 2003 award.

Warning: Spoilers dot the following paragraphs. If you've read the books however, you should already know everything that I'm about to state.

Anyway, my verdict: brilliant. It more than lives up to all the hype surrounding it. For the breathtaking scenery and cinematography alone, the movie deserves five stars out of five. New Zealand must be a beautiful place, from everything that I've seen in the trilogy so far, and the sets - wonderful. I have no idea how much time they took to build up the city of Minas Tirith, but it was most entirely worth it. The city - carved into part of a mountain - is awesome, and the scene when they show all the beacons lighting up from Minas Tirith all the way to Rohan. The scene jumps from city to snow-capped peak, from snow-capped peak to another mountain. The enormity of the distance between the two areas is highlighted by the darkening of the sky as the scene jumps along. Such a simple effect, but utilised brilliantly. In another example of good cinematography, the part where Frodo is terrified in the cave of the Spider Queen, Shelob, as he runs into the webs and trips over skeletons, the camera spins around and around, making the audience as dizzy and disoriented as Frodo must surely be when he attempts to flee, unable to see anything in the darkness.

Acting-wise, Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee was incredible as usual. Throughout the scenes, we see his dedication to Frodo shine through. He is extremely convincing as the concerned friend who's hurt and bewildered, yet understanding, of Frodo's obsession with the ring and the effects the obsession is having on his behaviour. Some of the best parts of the movie occur when Sam comes to Frodo's rescue, such as when he battles the Spider Queen and when he urges Frodo on towards the peak of Mt. Doom. "I may not be able to carry your load," he says, "but I can carry you!" It's such a sweet and powerful declaration of friendship and loyalty that one cannot help but cheer. With such people by your side, how can you possibly fail?

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, the brooding, mysterious, charismatic ranger who has long renounced his royal birthright, is good as well. Although his facial expressions are rather limited, his eyes somehow manage to convey so very much. We see Aragorn's nobility and dedication towards a people he never knew and yet was destined to lead shine through. Moments of brilliance included the scene when he confronted the undead ruler with the re-made sword of Isildur, as well as when he was giving the speech to the forces of Rohan and Gondor just before they charged towards the black gates of Mordur, in his bid to clear the paths for Frodo to make his way to Mt. Doom by sacrificing himself and his army. The part I loved the most was when he said to the hobbits, who had bowed to him in homage after his coronation as king of Gondor, "My friends, you bow to no one," and proceeded to kneel to them, the little halflings who ended up being the saviours of man. One scene in which we see how amazingly soulful his eyes are is when he sees Arwen. His eyes widen in surprise and joy as she slowly approaches him, then narrow just a tiny bit in unrestrained passion as he lunges forward and captures her in a passionate kiss.

On a side note, Viggo's speaking voice and accent are very nice indeed. The way he pronounces "Sauron", "Legolas" and speaks Elvish is really... nice. Slightly raspy and definitely sexy. Of course it does help that Elvish is part Finnish, part something else, seeing as he's Scandanavian. There's just something about the Scandics that makes them sound so nice. There are times when he doesn't sound that great though - the parts when he's shouting to be heard.

Eowyn (Miranda Otto) was fantastic. Singlehandedly bringing down an oliphant and facing down - and destroying - a Nasgul, she kicked butt, baby. Otto was believable as the lady of her people who yearned to be able to "fight for those [she] loves" and yet, by virtue of being born into the wrong gender, was denied that right. Though I thought she was a little selfish to be abandoning her people in a sense as she was supposed to be ruling the people of Rohan in Theoden's absence but instead she disguised herself as a man to join those who rode worth to fight the dark forces, she showed that she was, without a doubt, one of the better fighters on the field.

I liked Faramir (David Wenham) too, as the devoted son and brother who strives to win his father's love even though the father, Denethor, steward of Gondor, constantly belittles him, even going as far to admit that he wishes that Faramir had died and Boromir lived. I swear, at that moment, I thought "Bastard!" and was going to throw rocks at the screen. Anyway, in spite of knowing that he, if he does his mad father's will, will surely die, as will the rest of his men, he agrees, telling his father, "If I return, think better of me." His father's callous reply, "That will depend on the manner of your return."

The special effects, as usual, are spectacular. The battle scene between the orcs and the men of Gondor is superb, and although the leader of the orcs is undoubtedly the ugliest orc ever seen on film, nothing is too outlandish as to be unbelievable. The vast hordes of the dark forces are amazingly rendered. Each and every time we pan up and see just how large Sauron's forces are, my heart cringes in pain and despair at the odds that the men face.

There were points in the film when I was close to crying or did cry. For instance, when the riders of Rohan are shown on the hill at sunrise just when the orcs overrun the city of Minas Tirith, it's so... intense that I did almost cry. When we see the tiny army of Rohan and Gondor about to take on the tens of thousands of orcs as they're surrounded on all sides, I was in tears. One great highlight was the part when Theoden declares that they will ride to the aid of Gondor after having stated in an earlier scene that he had no wish to ride to their aid since Gondor did not come to their aid during the battle at Helm's Deep. Aragorn, after seeing the beacon lighted up, runs into the hall of Theoden, saying, "The beacons of Minas Tirith are lit! Gondor calls for aid!" There is a pause as everyone looks at Theoden and you can see the momentary conflict in his eyes before he staunchly declares, "And Rohan will answer!" I held my breath waiting for the answer, and I almost jumped out of my seat cheering once he said that.

Others included the scene when Sam carried Frodo, when Frodo was reunited with all of his friends, when Aragorn paid tribute to the hobbits and Frodo's final farewell to the rest. It's my belief that any good movie will make me want to cry at any one point in time. (It doesn't necessarily follow that I only cry at good movies though!)

The movie does feel like it has close to half-a-dozen endings, but to Peter Jackson's credit, he does manage to tie up possibly every loose end. We see Sam's domestic bliss, what happens to Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, Aragorn and Arwen's reunion, and so on.

Ultimately, LotR is a trilogy about friendship, loyalty, honour and courage, about how people who have these will ultimately conquer evil. Without the honour of Aragorn, the men of Rohan and Gondor would not have survived the battles. Without the friendship and loyalty of Sam, Frodo would died, and darkness would have conquered Middle Earth. Without courage, lesser men would have fled and given up hope long before they even entered into battle. Yet enter into battle they did, and against unbelievable odds, they triumphed. This could be seen in Eowyn's battle with the Nasgul, managing to best he-who-could-not-be-killed-by-any-man (with the help of Merry), and delivering the most girl-power-ish, yet most fitting of lines, "I am not a man," before killing him. This might be a fantasy movie set in a fantasy world, but still, the underlying messages are simple and inspirational.

However, the homosexual overtones of the previous two movies remain. To quote from The Philadelphia Inquirer's movie review: "Perhaps it's the Jungian cornucopia of homoerotic symbolism (the swords! the staffs! the towers!) and the endless moony, moist gazes between members of the all-male Fellowship as they gird their loins for battle. There are times in Return of the King, as halfling faces halfling or king faces elf, when you want to stand up and shout, 'Kiss him already!'" Elijah Wood is incapable of imbuing his gazes with anything resembling heterosexuality, and even during the final farewell, when he kisses Sam's forehead, and then moves off, I could have sworn instead of moving away, he took a small step forward towards Sam. During that moment, I thought he was going in for the kill, and heading straight for the lips. Seriously. There are some seriously gay moments in the movie, this time even between Merry and Pippin. (After the battle with the oliphants, Pippin is searching for Merry and finds him under the body of soldier, barely conscious and blood on his face. Pippin: Merry! Merry: I knew you'd find me. Are you going to leave me? Pippin: No, I'm going to take care of you.)

Not that I'm a homophobe, just that it kind of distracts one from the story at hand.

There are some parts with which I have a quibble. Legolas's constant pronouncements (which I classify as being of the "Master of the Blindingly Obvious" category do kind of grate on me. They're supposed to sound mystical since he's an elf, but still - "The horses are restless and the men are quiet." (when they're encamped the night before the riders of Rohan ride to the aid of Gondor) strike me as being a little... shall we say, duh? Granted, he goes on to make a valid point - that they're behaving this way because they're in the shadow of the cursed mountain, but still, there's just something about the way he says it.

And Aragorn's speech to the men before the forces of Mordor attack from the black gate: "I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fail . . . when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. This day, we fight!" To which I thought so you mean it's all right if I betray you tomorrow then?

But these are very minor details indeed. The movie is awesome. In fact, towards the end of the movie, I found myself thinking, don't end! Please don't end! It is a marvellous movie and has everything you could possibly ask for: beautiful scenery, great special effects, good acting. Go watch it. Go watch it NOW.

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