Review: The Return of the King

For those who have not read the books, this review may contain spoilers; read at your caution.
After taking the day off from work, and from blogging for the most part, I went to the first showing (in daylight hours) of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Peter Jackson’s final installment of the trilogy. And all I can say is …
Brilliant. Brilliant. And brilliant.
Jackson moves at three speeds interchangeably throughout the movie: slow and pensive, normal and tense, and breackneck action. Tolkien’s books are full of action — enormous battles, hand-to-hand combat, desperate rides at great speed … and you could probably make a two-hour movie of the last book if you just concentrated on that, and never would have to worry about pacing at all. But LotR is more than just a book about war; it’s about philosophy, about fear, about love, about friendship, and about finding courage and hope amongst the least of us. Instead of a great action movie, Jackson gives us a true epic by staying as true as possible to the source material.
He blends these different paces in such a way that they seem natural, building through each of the stages in order and back the same way, or so it appeared to me. Even at 3 hours, 20 minutes, the film maintained an incredible sense of tension. Towards the end, I shook in my seat from the constant thrill of it, even though I have read the books a number of times and knew the results. The humor did not go over the top as it did once or twice in the second movie; it was a more natural tension-breaker.
The sheer spectacle of the battle scenes stole my breath, and in these Jackson stayed truest to the sequences in the novels. The marriage of CGI and traditional filmmaking has never been better, and Jackson’s imagination of places like Minas Tirith and Osgiliath (as well as Mordor) demonstrates his unique vision and suitability for bringing Tolkien to the screen. Shelob was as menacing and true-to-life as Gollum, who was eerily well crafted and portrayed by Andy Serkis. And the army of the dead stunned me, absolutely floored me.
As far as the actors go, there wasn’t a single bad performance. Most compelling were the hobbits, of course, as they are the characters with whom we most identify. Denethor (John Noble) was probably least like my conception of the book; I had thought him as haughty and imperious, not grubby and calculating as Noble portrayed him. Theoden and Eowyn resonated best, after the hobbits. I waited throughout the movie for Eowyn’s battle with the Witch King of Angmar, and Miranda Otto did a splendid job of it.
If I have any quibbles, they are minor. Denethor’s madness is not well explained, and his death was minus the Palantir. No mention is made of Denethor’s mental jousting with Sauron. Saruman never appears in this film, which I realized would happen near the beginning when Gandalf went to Orthanc and declared that Saruman’s power had been completely destroyed. The scouring of the Shire was completely left out, but I was fairly sure that would be the case before I ever went to the movie.
But don’t let the minor quibbles keep you from appreciating the vast accomplishment of Peter Jackson in bringing this story to the screen at all, let alone in such a masterful way. This installment exceeds all expectations — find out when the next screening near you is scheduled, and go there now.
UPDATE: Welcome to all Hugh Hewitt and Instapundit readers! Have a look around, and I hope you make Captain’s Quarters a regular read in the blogosphere.

20 Good Ways to Get Beat Up Today

Spacekickers has a list of 20 things you can do to amuse yourself and embarrass your friends when you see The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King today when it opens. Go read the whole thing, but these are the two that made me laugh my tucchus off:

15. In TTT when the Ents decide to march to war, stand up and shout “RUN FOREST, RUN!”
20. Come to the premiere dressed as Frankenfurter and wander around looking terribly confused.

See you at the early show! (via Hugh Hewitt)

I Am Not This Bad

On the final evening of the countdown to the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, I looked around the Internet for a good tie-in to wind it all up. I found out that the producers of the film are into scientific research, specifically regarding bladder capacity:

For would-be Hobbits, Elves and wizards, it was a can’t-miss opportunity. Die-hard “Lord of the Rings” fans enjoyed “Trilogy Tuesday,” a back-to-back-to-back marathon of all three films, including the first public screenings of the third and final movie, “The Return of the King.” …
Ordinary moviegoers, though, may feel daunted by the New Line Cinema trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson and starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen and Sean Astin. It began with the “extended edition” of “The Fellowship of the Ring” from noon to 3:30 p.m. “The Two Towers,” also in extended form, was to follow at 4:30 p.m., leaving time for a break of an hour, and 45 minutes before the 10 p.m. start of “The Return of the King.”
But for fans, the more “Rings” footage they get to see, the better. Demand for trilogy tickets has been huge, with tickets selling on the auction site eBay and online ticket brokers for up to $250 apiece.

I can’t wait to see the third and final installment, but making people sit through movies one and two … the only one I know that could survive that is Saddam Hussein, who isn’t peeing these days anyway since his people are in bondage. Sheesh. I have enough trouble hanging on through one movie, let alone all three. But if I were to give it a try, I sure as hell wouldn’t be using this strategy:

At a Tampa, Fla., theater Tony Straquadine, a 29-year-old engineer who happened to have Tuesday off, said he planned to up his intake of sugar and coffee to get through the marathon. “A lot of chocolate,” he said.

But if you think that strategy’s a loser, then just try this one on for size:

“I love the books, I love to get away on the fantasy side of things,” he said, noting that he belongs to a medieval re-enactment group and often wears period costume for those events. And he suggested that the marathon also might be a good way to meet women.

The Captain remembers when he was younger and some of his friends went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and to Star Trek conventions in full costume. Perhaps some of them also felt that this would be a successful mating ritual.
Not a chance in hell.
Tomorrow: the big day, and my spectacular review.

Return Of The King Wins NY Award

As we continue to count down to the wide release of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King on Wednesday, the film has been selected for a prestigious award more commonly given to indies:

Normally a champion of arty, independent fare, the New York Film Critics Circle on Monday chose “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” as the top film of 2003.
The three-hour-plus epic, which is the final part of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels, is a sweeping spectacle of computer-generated imagery — and it couldn’t be more different from the rest of the films the group honored.

Ever since the release of the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, speculation has abounded that Peter Jackson and his trilogy would get no serious Oscar consideration until all of the films were released and could be evaluated as a whole. This news seems to indicate that the industry is ready to recognize the historical nature of Jackson’s achievement. Be prepared for an Oscar sweep next year, and Viggo Mortenson should be considered for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor.

A Silly Lord of the Rings Analogy for Today

Today’s capture reminded me of a scene from Tolkien, although it’s not the Lord of the Rings, it’s from The Silmarillion. I suppose it may be a bit silly to use this as a reference to Saddam Hussein, but it sounds oddly familiar to his capture. This passage comes from the chapter titled Of The Voyage of Earendil and describes the capture of Morgoth, who was Sauron’s leader during the First Age of Middle Earth:
… and all of the pits of Morgoth were broken and unroofed, and the might of the Valar descended into the deeps of the earth. There Morgoth stood at last at bay, and yet unvaliant. He fled into the deepest of his mines, and sued for peace and pardon; but his feet were hewn from under him, and he was hurled upon his face. Then he was bound with the chain Angainor which he had worn aforetime, and his iron crown was beaten into a collar for his neck, and his head was bowed upon his knees.
Unvaliant, indeed … his sons died fighting, a tactically stupid thing to do but a mistake that only hastened their eventual fate. Saddam, who had vowed never to be taken alive, did not even draw the pistol he carried when he was caught, and instead surrendered meekly. The Valar thrust Morgoth “through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, and into the Timeless Void“; I suspect the Iraqis have something similar in mind, if less literary and more literal.
Note: this was my 600th post since starting CQ 10 weeks ago. Thanks to all who visit!

The Countdown Begins

Folks, we are at T-minus 83 hours and counting until the official release of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the final installment in the trilogy directed by Peter Jackson and already considered by many to be the finest epic ever filmed. In honor of such an achievement, I am planning on sacrificing an entire day off at work on the 17th so that I can get in early and see it on the first day of release. Yes, I am willing to eat up a personal day (which I would otherwise lose in exactly two weeks from that date anyway) just for the ability to get in ahead of 95% of the general public — and also to avoid the crowds of children that may be at the later shows. So far as I know, school is still in on the 17th.
If any of my fellow Twin Cities bloggers have a similar idea and don’t mind going to a 10 am showing, drop me an e-mail in the next couple of days, or a comment on this post. You’re all invited. I won’t even make you pick up the tab, unlike a certain guy over at one of the group blogs. Besides, on his scoring system, I think I’d wind up around -314.
To launch this countdown properly, here’s an article on the results of the BBC’s Big Read program, which collected votes for the best books in British literature. Over 750,000 votes were cast, and the Lord of the Rings took over a quarter of those. (And Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy wound up in the top 5, which in my mind absolutely validates the entire exercise.) The best part of the article was the effect the contest had on readership.
If I can come up with anything interesting, I’ll try to post each day until I see the movie, and on Wednesday I’ll post my review.

Movie Review: Auto Focus (2002)

What an odd film; it plays like a twisted version of Rock Star without the third act. If it weren’t a true story, you’d almost suspect it was written by Focus on the Family as an R-rated Afternoon Special-sort of cautionary tale. Don’t peek at nudie magazines because this could happen to you!
Greg Kinnear plays Bob Crane, the star of “Hogan’s Heroes” whose TV success haunted him until his murder in Phoenix in the mid-70s. Kinnear is excellent, as is Willem Dafoe as John Carpenter, the man whose sycophantic friendship allowed Crane to give free reign to the worst of his sexual demons by supplying him with the video equipment and the girls to keep a constant party rolling. Where most movies of this type use drugs or alcohol as the addiction, Auto Focus uses sex and pornography. The entire movie centers on the sick relationship between Crane and Carpenter, right up to the murder that Carpenter’s always been suspected of committing.
Other cast members include Rita Wilson as Crane’s first wife, Maria Bello as his second wife who discovers that the first wife may have had the right idea, Ron Liebman as Crane’s agent, and a dead-on impersonation of Colonel Klink/Werner Klemperer by Kurt Fuller. None of these performances matter much, although all are good; what matters is Crane, Carpenter, and as many naked women as you can fit into an R-rated movie.
While I found the relationship between Kinnear and Dafoe compelling — both men give outstanding performances in outside-the-box roles for each — it wasn’t enough to overcome two big problems with the movie. First off, it wasn’t difficult to see where the movie would be heading. We’ve seen the addict-hitting-bottom trope in many movies now, and as a result, Auto Focus is almost deadly predictable. The second problem is the constant sex and nudity. I’m no prude, or at least I don’t think I am (do prudes ever think they’re prudes? Probably not). Nudity doesn’t bother me, and neither does sex in cinema. But there was just so much of it, and it was so relentlessly tawdry, that each new sexual encounter invoked dread, rather than sympathy or titillation. Not this again! The movie wants to show Crane as a man trapped by his sexual obsession, which it does, but I also felt trapped by it.
In the end, Crane can’t manage to escape his obsession; it kills him, just as surely as it destroyed his career and his personal life. Auto Focus can’t escape it, either. It never transcends its essentially voyeuristic position, clucking its tongue at Crane’s sexual excess while exploiting it at the same time. Worth a look, but don’t spend a lot of money on it.

I Owe Ed Asner a Partial Apology

This demonstrates a problem with blogging — when a source turns out to be incorrect, you wind up having to apologize to people you’d rather not. If you scroll to the bottom of Kevin McCullough’s partial retraction, you’ll see that Ed Asner was not expressing admiration for Stalin and was in fact quite open about putting him on the same plane as Hitler:

“Well, you know something, they’ve played Hitler, nobody has ever really touched Stalin, it just occurred to me. It’s not because I am a liberal or anything like that. Stalin is one big damn mystery, I wonder why nobody has tried it? Many people, you know, speak of the fact that he killed more people than Hitler – why does nobody touch him? It’s strange. So, and he was about my size, my height – with a wig I probably could do it.”

In fact, in his way he asked the same question that the Reason article attempted to answer: why doesn’t Hollywood cover Communist atrocities the same as Nazi atrocities? So for reposting McCullough’s careless (in the extreme) errors, I apologize, Mr. Asner.
Note, though, that McCullough stands by his reporting of Ed Asner’s comments about Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

Alex Kingston — Airhead

I don’t know who the hell Alex Kingston is, but she gets a royal Fisking over at Give War A Chance. Kingston is apparently one of those spoiled Hollywood brats who think that the First Amendment provides freedom of criticism, or in other words, free speech for me but not for thee. What a joke. I’m glad Emily had the time for this. Nice job.

Requiem for a Dream (review w/spoilers)

I haven’t absorbed the movie Requiem for a Dream in enough detail to give a thorough review, but I can give some impressions of it from two viewings. The primary feeling I got from the movie is hopelessness. There is no redemption in RFAD. From the first moments of the film, you know that the lives of its characters are sad and wretched, and the strong impression that they won’t be going anywhere but down is quickly validated.
This is a terrific movie nonetheless, and I think if you can handle the subject material and some graphic scenes of violence and sex (especially towards the end), you can’t help but carry this movie with you. Both Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly do great work, but Ellen Burstyn really walks off with this movie. Maybe it’s because hers is the most sympathetic character and her destruction is so unbearably sad, but that’s true because of Burstyn’s brilliance. Marlon Wayans is also exceptional in a smaller role; he should do more dramatic work in the future.
This is ranked #46 on IMDB. Definitely deserves to be in that neighborhood, although some reviewers say it doesn’t measure up to Trainspotting. I haven’t seen that one yet, but Trainspotting would have to be almost unbelievable great to top this.