Kicking the Hobbit

Final installment of Lord of the Rings is long on astounding visuals and just plain long

STAMPEDE TO THE BOX OFFICE<br>The third in the <i>Lord of the Rings</i> trilogy, <i>Return of the King</i>, took in over $125 million in its first five days. <p></p>

The third in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Return of the King, took in over $125 million in its first five days.

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Kate Blanchett and Liv Tyler. Directed by Peter Jackson. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

Damn, where was this when I was 13? Then, it would have rocked my world. Now that I’m middle-aged and jaded, it’s a little silly. All that portent intoning with intermittent urgent whispering tends to get all Dungeons & Dragons after a while. And I’m impatient. Three and almost-a-half hours is just too damned long, not to mention having to park my ass for a half-hour beforehand just to maintain a seat.

Should it have been as long as it was? Nothing really happens for the first hour. Yap, yap, yap and lots of walking action going on. Not as much as The Two Towers with its interminable shots of the Fellowship trudging, trudging, trudging across Kiwi backdrops, but still lots of walking and climbing action going down here. Climb the volcano, already! It’s all very lovely that Liv Tyler drops by on occasion to offer up a welcome cigarette/restroom break, but I think that’s the only purpose she supplies here.

Is it epic? Hell, yeah. This is the epic that raises the bar. To be honest, nobody is gonna beat this one without breaking the bank. A CGI ocean of Orcs wash up at the foot of Rohan on the eve of eye-candy hell. Heads roll, Trolls troll and Oliphaunts (or whatever) squish panicked troops beneath their feet. All very thrilling.

The fan-boys should be happy here. Granted, there’s been sour muttering about the exclusion of the book’s “The Scouring of the Shire” and the fact that Chris Lee got shafted this turn, with his Wizard Saruman scenes not making the final edit (hey, wait for the Director’s Cut DVD!). Still, Director Peter Jackson seems dementedly determined to deliver with a slavishly faithful rendering of the book(s). It’s been 20 years since I’ve read the trilogy, but it all seems legit.

To be honest, with its running length Return of the King is a big case of sensory overload. I know that there were a handful of instances where I was literally blown away. I just can’t recall them. Aside from Jackson’s nod to Titanic (a soldier is propelled off of a parapet to hurtle down, down, down to careen off of a buttress … ba-da-bing).

Overall, the film looks great. Lots of Maxfield Parrish-inspired vistas intercut with Boschian grunge. The Shelob the Spider sequence reminds me of why I’m so damned irritated that camp-horrormeister Jackson has been out of the loop for the past five years, serving up one of the more vivid white-knuckle experiences of late (although he’s next slated to mount a big-budget remake of King Kong—Oh yeah!).

Unfortunately, there’s also those darned continuity errors. After Frodo and Sam trudge through three films to reach the foot of Mordor, Aragorn finally decides to lend a hand and shows up within minutes … which is kind of skewed, in that the two hobbits seem to spend half the film climbing the side of Mount Doom. If you had issues with the skateboarding Legalos earlier, you’ll have a blast at his approach to the behemoths this time around. Then there is the coda-after-coda after the climax that truly tests the integrity of one’s bladder (word of advice: Do not succumb to the temptation of the large Coca Cola at the concession stand).

When things start rockin', Jackson kicks down with the goods. He highlights how much of a piker George Lucas has become. Star Wars? How … quaint. At its best, Return of the King delivers with some of the most breath- taking action sequences committed to film. Too bad about all that mind-numbing nattering in between.