The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Seas Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

201 mins. Rated PG-13 for epic intense battle sequences and frightening images.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Director
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Song (“Into the West” by Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, Annie Lennox)
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Visual Effects

 

After pouring years of his life into an ambitious project, director Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) finally saw his vision receive the recognition it deserved after winning 11 Academy Awards (making it the most nominated franchise in history), tying the record. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was the final chapter in the trilogy based on Tolkien’s novels, and indeed one of the greatest films ever crafted. Equal parts grandeur and tragic masterpiece, our third trip to Middle-Earth.

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Frodo (Elijah Wood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cooties) and Sam (Sean Astin, TV’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Goonies) have gotten back on the path to Mount Doom, with Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas) in tow, though Gollum’s path is becoming increasingly more treacherous. Is he leading them down a trap?

Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Prisoner) and Pippin (Billy Boyd, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Dorothy and the Witches of Oz) are heading to Minas Tirith to warn the Steward of Gondor, Denethor (John Noble, TV’s Fringe, Superman: Unbound), of the war that is on his doorstep. The only problem, Denethor, who also happens to be father to Boromir and Faramir (David Wenham, 300, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole), has grown insane and weary in grief over the loss of his favorite son.

This is a spectacular film achievement, visually perfect in every way. The performances are stellar. The plot interweaves and closes off all loose ends. The cinematography is sweeping, epic in scope, and perfectly crafted.  The film’s 200-minute runtime goes by smoothly, not a moment to stop and catch one’s breath. Even the visual effects have not aged in the dozen years since its release. The film even contains the largest prop ever built for a motion picture in a battle sequence containing giant creatures called oliphaunts.

The film features another wonderful battle sequence overcut with Pippin singing a song to the eating Denthor. It is beautiful and chilling and everything that this series is all at once.

As a note to casual fans at the completion of this review for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, check out the extended editions. As terrific as the theatrical cuts are, the extended films are the supreme version of the story. They feature cameos and performances not seen in the previous incarnations, such as The Mouth of Sauron, a wholly chilling character unfortunately cut from the film.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is perhaps the greatest fantasy achievement in filmmaking that we will ever see. It excels on every level and continues the tradition of high-fantasy movies in a glorious fashion. I doubt we will see an equal for a very long time.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

[Oscar Madness] The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

178 mins. Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Music, Original Score
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Ian McKellan)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song (“May It Be” by Enya, Nicky Ryan, Roma Ryan)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

 

Some projects are doomed from the very start. Imagine filming three movies at the same time, on one budget, and having creating a trilogy between them of at least 11 hours in length. Yeah, Peter Jackson did that.

Sir Ian McKellan in a scene from THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, 2001.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring follows Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cooties), a hobbit from Hobbiton. He lives with his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm, Ratatouille, Renaissance) who is celebrating his eleventy-first birthday (that’s 111 to you non-hobbit folks) and has just left Frodo with his magical ring of power which he found sixty years earlier. What Frodo and wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Prisoner) are about to discover is that this ring is the powerful One Ring of Sauron, a dark lord who used the ring to take over the land long ago. Sauron had been destroyed, but the ring of power had passed along looking for its master to reunite and bring back an age of darkness and despair. Now it is up to Frodo, his gardener Samwise (Sean Astin, TV’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis), and their fellowship of seven others, including elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Anacondas: Trail of Blood), and the mysterious ranger known as Strider (Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence, On the Road) to get the ring of power to the one place where it can be destroyed: the fiery Mount Doom in the land of Mordor. There’s just one problem: Mordor is where the Eye of Sauron is still looking for his ring with armies of orcs at his disposal.

This film is staggering in scale. It is almost too realistic for a fantasy film, it just sucks you in. The plot here is immensely entertaining due to director Jackson’s attention to detail and knowledge of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material. The screenplay, by Jackson and fellow writing team members Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (with whom he also penned The Lovely Bones and King Kong), is incredibly engaging and equal parts exhilarating and fun.

This is Elijah Wood at his career best. His portrayal of Frodo, a hobbit who is only used to the good parts of life and used to only happiness, solitude, and relaxation, now thrust unto this great quest, is deeply personal. I saw in Wood’s performance a hobbit who looks up to his uncle for all the adventures he has been on, but also doesn’t really want to live them.

Viggo Mortensen here is another strength (of which the entire cast is). Strider is a character with deep levels of history and emotion, a true well of sadness. Mortensen plays it to perfection.

I also truly loved Sean Bean (GoldenEye, Mirror Mirror) as Boromir, a man entrusted to Frodo’s fellowship who has a weakness for power and believes that the ring holds the key to saving his homeland.

Peter Jackson isn’t afraid here to get down and dirty and display epic-sized battles for his audience. This movie chooses to show, not tell, and it is totally worth it.

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In fact, just about every aspect of this film could be classified as stellar. It happens to be my favorite of the six Middle-Earth films Peter Jackson has poured his soul into. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is incredible on just about every level. Take a trip to Middle-Earth with me, and enjoy yourself along the way.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

 

Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the work that Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) and his creative team has accomplished. Six films, two trilogies, and hours upon hours of extended editions have comprised the Middle-Earth Saga.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz) and the company of dwarves have just let the diabolical Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, Penguins of Madagascar) loose on Lake Town. It’s up to Bard (Luke Evans, Dracula Untold, Fast & Furious 6) to stop the evil dragon and reclaim their lives. Tempers soon flair up as the treasures of Erebor are up for grabs and Thorin (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm), consumed by greed, has decided not to honor the agreement made with Bard and his people. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) continues his battle against the dreaded Necromancer.

The finale to The Hobbit trilogy is a far different film from its predecessors, and with a very simple plot, revolves entirely around the Battle of the Five Armies, one of the biggest battles in Middle-Earth history. It is very similar to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, where the entire film revolves around the climactic ending as opposed to standing on its own. It is definitely my sixth favorite Middle-Earth film.

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Ian McKellan is a torn Gandalf here, caught between his allegiance to the Company of Dwarves and his commitment to reason and peace. McKellan continues to impress.

Evangeline Lilly (TV’s Lost, Real Steel) is great as Tauriel here, the elf who has developed feelings for the poisoned dwarf Kili. Her relationship with Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers) and his father Thranuil (Lee Pace, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire, Guardians of the Galaxy) are further delved into in this film and helps to increase her internal and external conflicts as the story progresses.

As far as the Company of Dwarves, we get more great but wholly underutilized work from Ken Stott (Shallow Grave, One Day) as Balin, the dwarf who will one day claim Moria, and James Nesbitt (Coriolanus, Match Point) as Bofur, the dwarf who, above all else, just wants his home back.

I also loved the continual references to future events and foreshadowing from The Lord of the Rings, like the cameo appearances from Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2), Ian Holm (Ratatouille, Lord of War), Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas). My only major issue was that I wanted more. Tolkien fans will know that Balin ends up in Moria with Oin, we know that Gloin has a son named Gimli, we know Saruman’s fate, but I wanted to see more in this film.

Director Jackson continues to prove he can handle action and large-scale battle sequences, the action here is incredible. His cinematography mixed with the amazingly well-put-together sequences, and Howard Shore’s deep and thunderous score.

It took me a while to really enjoy Billy Boyd’s final song, “The Last Goodbye,” but once I did, I really felt it tied together not just this film, but the trilogy and in fact the entire saga.

If you get the chance to watch Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance capture for Smaug and the Necromancer, do it. He is incredible to watch even without the CGI placed over it.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t Jackson’s best work, but it certainly is a perfectly fine finale to an epic series. I feel like the theatrical cut of the film is missing some key details, and I hope that the extended cut has the ability to expand this on the film and show us some more connective tissues.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

169 mins. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

It took eleven years for The Hobbit to be made. I’m talking from the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring to the release of An Unexpected Journey. Difficulties with securing rights and two bankruptcies as well as shifts in director and a few actors, it seemed very unlikely that The Hobbit would ever see the light of day. Well, it took some time, but now we have not one but three Hobbit films to witness, but they certainly have a lot to live up to, so do they?

As Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm, Ratatouille, Lord of War) gets prepared to disappear from his 111th birthday, he begins writing a book of his most important physical and emotional journey, which took place sixty years previously. His story involves the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, The Prisoner) and a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger, Into the Storm) on a quest to free Erebor, the dwarves’ home in the Lonely Mountain from the treacherous dragon Smaug. Along his journey, Bilbo will come across many perils, including trolls, rock giants, and a creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas).

You can bet your ass I was first in line for the initial Hobbit film, and I walked out supremely satisfied. There was a lot of nervousness standing in line. I mean, The Lord of the Rings was a massive tome squeezed into three films, and yet The Hobbit, shorter than any of the individual volumes was crafted into three movies. I worried about pacing, and also the nine years from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King to then. So much of the film was up in the air.

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Ian McKellan worried me, as his performance, along with Christopher Lee (Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows), who portrayed Saruman, completed their performances over green screen. My worry was met with joy as I found McKellan provided another powerhouse nuanced performance yet again.

Then there was Martin Freeman (TV’s Sherlock, Hot Fuzz), newcomer to the franchise in the roll of young Bilbo, who had a lot of weight to carry. This wasn’t The Lord of the Rings, where large sections were split amongst several major characters. This was The Hobbit, and he was The Hobbit. Thankfully, given the comedy that features a lot more in the livelier of the two tales gave Freeman plenty of room to play and ultimately, he proved his dramatic chops nicely as well.

Richard Armitage’s role as Thorin was another importantly placed action, and another well-placed one. Armitage is virtually unrecognizable in the extensive dwarf makeup (for which the film was nominated for an Oscar) but still proves himself worthy of the dwarf prince.

Filling out the dwarven party are some terrific little performances for Bofur (James Nesbitt, Millions, Coriolanus) and Balin (Ken Stott, One Day, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) as well as, really, the entire party. The whole cast just fires on all cylinders here, including returning players Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, How to Train Your Dragon 2) as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) as Elrond, Elijah Wood (TV’s Wilfred, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as Frodo and Andy Serkis as Gollum.

Director Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones, King Kong) wields the camera differently in this film, taking full advantage of his cinematography grasp with RED cameras, 3D sequences exploding off the screen, and 48 frames per second (which takes a moment to get used to, but really looks gorgeous when utilized).

I also really enjoyed the musicality of the characters here. We get some great musical moments here especially in the opening with “Misty Mountains” performed by the dwarven party. It is a beautifully realized moment to open the franchise on and becomes a truly hummable song through the entirety of the viewing.

As far as the visual effects go, I would have enjoyed a little more practical work, but with the grandeur of the franchise at this point and the physical limitations of the aging cast, I can understand, and it looks just fine.

Now for fans of The Lord of the Rings, there are certainly plenty of callbacks for characters including Gloin (Peter Hambleton) who is Gimli’s father and a member of the dwarven party. Fans will also recognize Balin’s name. It is interesting to note that many of the returning characters like Frodo, Galadriel and Saruman are not actually in The Hobbit, but they certainly help with the suturing of both massive stories into one large saga.

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I loved the first installment of The Hobbit franchise and I am so happy to see Peter Jackson behind the camera again. The film deserved to be nominated for Best Picture and it pisses me off that it was the first film in the Middle-Earth Saga to be snubbed, but such is life. We move on. Home is behind…the world ahead.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, click here.

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Frankenstein (1994)

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holm, John Cleese, Aidan Quinn

Screenplay: Steph Lady, Frank Darabont

123 mins. Rated R for horrific images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup

 

After the commercial and critical success that was Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, the decision was made to revisit another gothic horror classic novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Coppola made the decision to pass directorial duties to the talented Shakespearian director/performer Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Cinderella), something he would later in life admittedly regret, but we will get to that later.

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Frankenstein 1994 is closer to Shelley’s original novel than its 1931 counterpart, showing the story of Victor Frankenstein (played by Branagh) and his making of the iconic Creature (Robert De Niro, GoodFellas, Grudge Match), much to the tragedy of friend Henry Clerval (Tom Hulce, Amadeus, Jumper) and love Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Burton and Taylor).

Frankenstein suffers from a crisis of identity. On one hand, it is trying to be a gothic horror filled with a mixture of dark realism and fantastical surrealism; on the other hand, it is too much Shakespeare. Branagh seems to have difficulty playing to anything other than Shakespeare, with a series of over-the-top performances and exaggerated jubilation during the happy moments. I just couldn’t believe the events of this film as actually realistically happening.

De Niro dominates this film with his portrayal of The Creature. He studied stroke victims and other medical cases where speech patterns can be fractured in his line delivery. He becomes a tragic figure in cinema, a man who is ultimately an angry boy with a conflict of adult attraction and childhood longing for understanding. I could watch this movie just for Robert De Niro.

The rest of the cast really struggles here with giving viewers something to attach themselves to. Nobody can decide the tone and mood of a picture like this. I’m not saying the film is a complete failure, but it certainly has more detachers than strengths.

The screenplay is pretty strong here, delivered by Steph Lady (Doctor Dolittle) and Frank Darabont (TV’s The Walking Dead, The Shawshank Redemption). I enjoy the addition of unique steps in the creation of Frankenstein’s monster; this film has electric eels rather than the toted lighting. That being said, Frankenstein’s obsession with lighting in the beginning now makes less sense and has less impact on the actual movie.

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I would say that Frankenstein isn’t a worthless movie, but it has unnecessary conflict behind the scenes that reduces the tension in front of the camera. Coppola agreed that the film was scary and that Branagh completely mishandles the picture, and I can’t say my opinion differs.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, click here.

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