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.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Sean Bean, Andy Serkis

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philipps Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson

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

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound

iMDB Top 250: #16 (as of 12/7/2015)

We had to wait a whole year to find out what happened to Frodo (Elijah Wood, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Cooties) and Sam (Sean Astin, TV’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Goonies). That, or just read the book.

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Let’s just focus on the film. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers furthers Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor to destroy the One Ring. The fellowship has broken, and friends Pippin (Billy Boyd, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Dorothy and the Witches of Oz) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan, TV’s Lost, I Sell the Dead) have been taken by the orcs to Isengard. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence, On the Road), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Anacondas: Trail of Blood), and Legolas (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Three Musketeers) follow the orc pack in an attempt to free them. As Frodo gets closer to his goal, he comes across help in the form of the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas), who held the ring before Bilbo found it sixty years previously, but is Gollum truly a friend or a foe?

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is based on the second book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and proved to be the most difficult in adapting. First of all, the book is split in two. The first half covers Aragorn and company on their journey. The second half focuses on Frodo, so careful planning and rearranging was taken to make the film chronological in nature. As I’ve said before, Tolkien was a great storyteller but his structure left something to be desired. Then came the difficulty of too much climax with two stories running concurrently. So some events from the second book had to be relocated to the first and third film.

The acting here is tremendous again. Newcomer Bernard Hill (Titanic, ParaNorman) joins as King Theoden of Rohan, who has a warped mind due to the hold Saruman (Christopher Lee, Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Dark Shadows) has over his mind. Theoden is confined to his throne and being further distorted by the slimy Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif, Dune, Curse of Chucky). Frodo gets to interact with Faramir (David Wenham, 300, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole), brother of the recently slain Boromir (Sean Bean, TV’s Legends, GoldenEye).

Peter Jackson’s vision is further explored in sweeping visuals during the battle of Helm’s Deep, the film’s main set piece. The score continues to impress, giving each character its own nuance. Again, the costumes are gorgeous.

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The faults with this film are few. The pacing is difficult from the screenwriting difficulties. It is clear that the middle act of the film muddles a bit in trying to realign itself to the story. Really, that’s about it. This film has, since its release, been considered to be much better than initial reviews gave it, even though initial reviews were still damn good, and while I enjoyed it, it certainly wasn’t as good as the first and third. Still, take this journey to Middle-Earth. You won’t be disappointed.

4.5/5

-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 Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, 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: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Orlando Bloom.

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

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

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Peter Jackson continues his return trip to Middle-Earth with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, a more fun follow-up to An Unexpected Journey, which showed up in late 2012 to polarized reactions. The Desolation of Smaug falls for some of the same pitfalls that troubled its predecessor, but all in all, it is a worthy addition to the epic world created by J.R.R. Tolkien many years ago.

We meet up with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, Hot Fuzz, TV’s Sherlock) and his Dwarf company (consisting of Thorin Oakenshield, Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur) as well as Gandalf the Grey, played once again by Ian McKellan (X-Men, Stardust) to rescue the dwarven city of Erebor from the beastly dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, also of Sherlock fame). This is the part of the story where we really get to the meat of Tolkien’s epic journey.

The performances here are at the top of their game. McKellan makes me fear for the beloved wizard for the first time since The Fellowship of the Ring. I can honestly say that I was unsure that we would be seeing Gandalf again after he breaks away from the group to hunt down the location of the foreboding Necromancer we keep hearing about. You can tell Freeman is getting more comfortable with the weight he now carries in this franchise, as Bilbo is now more comfortable with his stake in things as well. Bilbo definitely takes a step back though, for a sizable amount of this film so that we can focus on other characters. Richard Armitage (Captain America: the First Avenger) has more to do in this film than just brood, which is a welcome addition.

Let’s get to Benedict Cumberbatch, who has received a lot of talk since this film was release barely over a month ago. Other critics of this film claim that he is nothing more than a name tacked on to this film and that his voice-work for both Smaug and the Necromancer could have been done by anyone. I will disagree with this claim, let us not forget that Cumberbatch also did performance capture for the characters and I feel like he adds a layer of tone and inflection to what could’ve been stock bad guys in a fantastical backdrop.

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Lee Pace is finally given the chance to boast some acting chops in this film, after completing what could be thought of as a mere cameo in An Unexpected Journey as the Elvenking Thranduil, father to Legolas, who also returns to the series played again by Orlando Bloom.

Desolation also brings some new faces to the world of Middle-Earth, one in particular, Tauriel, portrayed by Evangeline Lilly, is a completely original character, who gets some nice screen time with Aidan Turner’s Kili. We also meet Bard the Bowman, who is introduced much earlier and given more to do than in Tolkien’s original work. For those of you who are fans of the book, we will be seeing Bard again.

The Hobbit’s gorgeous cinematography and high-frame rate compliment this more-actionier installment, especially when Bilbo and company take a rather exciting barrel ride down a river. The music is definitely owed dues once we encounter Lake Town. Howard Shore really creates some new auditory wonders for us as we edge closer to Erebor. As per usual, the visual effects are stunning and magical without taking us away from the real reason that Thorin and Bilbo have come all this way.

Really, the only thing I can see film-goers not loving about this film is the length. Jackson and fellow writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro (who worked on the script when he was originally attached to direct) have bulked up this story a lot more than the 300-page novel had, we will call it Epic-sizing it up to turn a novel shorter than that of any of the individual Lord of the Rings books into a 9-hour love letter to Middle-Earth. I am a big fan of Tolkien’s original work and Jackson’s storytelling, so the length really doesn’t bother me, but I can see how casual viewers may not be as swept up as I was.

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The film ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, and I have to say that I’m not sure I can wait a year to revisit this world, but fans fear not, I’m sure we’ll get an extended edition of Smaug soon enough.

4/5

-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 Battle of the Five Armies, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, click here.

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, click here.

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

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