|Tuesday, December 30, 2003
14:33 - Repeat after me: "I will not like anything"
Damien has found this rather negative review of Return of the King by Jonathan V. Last at the Daily Standard. It raises a few good points, but it's also stuck ankle-deep in that self-righteous must-not-express-approval-of-today's-popular-movie mode that seems to grip so many academic critics, such as the armies of them who panned Titanic with such phrases as "The worst screenplay ever written". C'mon, guys. Sure, there are weaknesses. But hyperbole does not serve you any better than it does some nerd with a blog.
Last's points against RotK are as follows:
Aragorn seems "listless and passive". Okay, well, he did get that one rallying speech where he lifted his voice to an unprecedented volume; and he mustered the Army of the Dead to his reforged sword; and he led the armies of the West against the Black Gate by his lonesome. Maybe he doesn't have a huge number of lines, and he doesn't seem as cynical and sarcastic as he did in the first movie, but that's a feature, not a bug. He's supposed to be the King now.
Frodo and Sam keep making goo-goo eyes at each other. Oh, come on. You're actually going to complain about the kiss on Sam's forehead (which was in the book), when not even the surly clutch of teenaged boys sitting in the row behind me had a snigger to offer? This is called character. I say it tells us something very discouraging about our time if it was easier for Tolkien to sell Frodo's and Sam's platonic relationship in 1950 than it is to play it today without attracting accusations of "homoeroticism". Methinks thou dost protest too much?
The cinematography isn't very creative. Well, all right, I'll give you that. The examples he lists of interesting camera shots from the first couple of movies, like the Council of Elrond reflected in the Ring, and the Ring's-eye view of Gandalf reaching down to pick it up, don't really have analogs in this movie. The very tension of the air in the first film was something new and magical; the immaculate timing of the whole first half-hour was what told us just how deep Jackson's vision ran. But perhaps he only had a clear idea of that first half-hour fleshed out in his mind; he had to play the rest more or less by ear, and there was less time to come up with cool framings. Yet I'm not complaining. It's not like RotK is bereft of good visuals. I'll put the "Lighting of the Beacons" sequence up against any spectacle from the first two movies you care to name.
The movie is too fast-paced. Gee, and I thought its biggest problem was all the pregnant pauses. One reviewer I read said that one of the best pieces of wordless character in the whole movie was Gandalf's facial reaction to Aragorn's "What does your heart tell you?" But Last quotes that very line as a reason to dislike RotK. Whatever, man.
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields is colder and more impersonal than Boromir's last stand. Um, yeah. War's like that. Okay, granted, I felt a little deflated watching the Army of the Dead swarming over the field of battle and dissolving Mordor's army upon touch, giving me that slightly sick "If they'd got here ten minutes earlier, they'd never have breached the gates" feeling. But c'mon, dude-- you're going to tell me you weren't levitating out of your seat in excitement at the Charge of the Rohirrim?
Last seems to have convinced himself beforehand that the final movie of every trilogy, from Indiana Jones to The Matrix, is invariably the worst of the lot. (I don't agree with him on the count of Indy or Back to the Future, but anyway.) And what's more, he seems to be quite conversant with the books, to the point where he grumbles over the lack of the Houses of Healing chapter, and over the choad that Jackson turned Faramir into. But for someone whose Tolkienian lore is so well established, you'd think he'd have understood better the importance of keeping to the book's unflinchingly emotional character resolution between Frodo and Sam. It's the centerpiece of the whole story. Jackson understood that. It's why Sam is so central to RotK on-screen. It's all about Sam. He's the one who moves everything forward, who literally picks up the movie on his shoulders and heaves it uncomplainingly, thanklessly ahead. That's the visual Tolkien put on paper, and it's what Jackson understood was so important to amplify.
In fact, as I've said to various people, even despite the rather big chunks it leaves out, I think RotK is the Jackson movie that holds most closely to the book. Aside from the judicious reworkings of dialogue (imagine the Witch-King standing there nonplussed as Éowyn droned on and on: "No living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn am I, daughter of blah blah blah..." --he'd have thwacked her still-jabbering head straight off her shoulders, and it'd still be talking as it landed thirty feet away), and the major adjustment of plot timing surrounding Shelob, this movie stuck to the printed page like glue. For what it's worth, its tone and style is so like the other two movies-- whereas the third book is so profoundly different from its predecessors, all stilted and high-tongued-- that it's another testament to Jackson's abilities that he made it into such a well-rounded unifying piece for the story arc.
Five years from now, "Fellowship" and "The Two Towers" will be the discs that go in the DVD player when people want to cozy up to The Lord of the Rings. Purchased out of a sense of duty and devotion, "Return of the King" will sit on the shelf, collecting dust.
Forgive me, but that's the second most moronic thing I have ever heard anyone say about The Lord of the Rings in any context.
The winner on that score, naturally, is this.
UPDATE: I just remembered-- this morning, right before I woke up, I was dreaming I was watching RotK for the first time. Right after Aragorn recruited the Army of the Dead, there was a scene where Merry and Pippin went off together into the mountains, met a little guy in green with a beard (but no moustache), an Irish brogue, and one of those weird little upside-down pipes, and convinced him and all his little foot-tall cronies to polish up their shoe-buckles and hide their pots of gold and ride into battle with them.
No, I'm serious.
I even dreamed I read a review of the resulting battle scene-- a review that made up some entirely new words of horror and revulsion-- before I woke up sweating profusely.
Let us never speak ill of Peter Jackson again.