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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: Box Set. The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy.

“The Lord of the Rings Trilogy” (Four Stars)
U.S.-New Zealand: Peter Jackson, 2001-2003 (New Line).
 Picks of the Week may come and go, but here is my choice as Pick of the Decade. My selection, for all of the 2000s: Peter Jackson’s staggering adaptation of author J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, comprising three movies, and one continuous story: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001); The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003).

Remember, Tolkien’s original trilogy of “Lord of the Rings“ novels, written during World War 2 when he was a classics professor, was conceived (and executed) as a single ongoing story. So was Jackson’s spectacular movie version of Frodo’s grand quest adventure. This film was planned from the beginning as a single work, and not in the usual “We-got-a-hit-So-let’s-make-another-one” routine that marks even some great movie trilogies like The Godfather.

That’s why I think The Lord of the Rings should ultimately be treated, in polls and elsewhere, as a single movie, and not three separate ones. Taken as a unit, the complete “Rings” is an extraordinary cinematic achievement, the contemporary equivalent of both Fritz Lang’s Nibelungen Saga and the early “Star Wars” movies. It’s made so wondrously well and does so well by its source — a pseudo-Norse saga all about plucky little hobbit Frodo Baggins’ and his heroic troupe’s great quest to return the magical ring swiped by Bilbo — that you’re never restive, never disengaged, never heavy of heart. You happily drink in all this movie’s glorious sights and sounds, even in the lengthened “extended edition” here, which runs more than 11 hours. That‘s an epic!

Here’s a part of what I said in the Chicago Tribune about The Lord of the Rings, on the release of these films separately:

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (U.S.-New Zealand: Peter Jackson: 2001) Four Stars.
Hobbits and hobbit-lovers everywhere can rejoice, along with all moviegoers with a taste for fantasy, far-off kingdoms and great swashbuckling adventure stories. Peter Jackson’s movie of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, first part of a three-film adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, is everything you might want it to be — and more.
This is a movie by a filmmaker who clearly loves his source material, but not so much that he’s been stifled or intimidated. It’s a film from a major literary work made with real reverence, but also with an impudently joyous recklessness: a work of immense range and visual imagination, of rapturous beauties, hair-raising supernatural visions and awesomely spectacular battle scenes. Jackson gives us a vast landscape populated with dozens of colorful characters, played by first-rate actors in all shapes and sizes, from tiny hobbits to towering wizards. It’s a great adventure movie that’s also great fun.


The Fellowship of the Ring can be appreciated both by audiences who have read the trilogy repeatedly and those who don’t know a hobbit from a bobbit, or Tolkien’s Middle-Earth from Middletown or Middlesex. Some confirmed Tolkienites, of course, will hate the results. They’ll find the tone too coarse, lament the absence of characters like Tom Bombadil, find the battles too bloody and the book’s lyricism and elegant mock scholarship among the many casualties of translation.
They have a point, but it matters little… (Chicago Tribune, 2001)

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (U.S.: New Zealand, Jackson) Four Stars.
The Two Towers takes us back to J. R. R. Tolkien’s amazing landscape of hobbits, myth and fury–and the return quest is even more wondrous than last year’s maiden cinematic voyage. This second installment in Peter Jackson’s extraordinary three-part adaptation of Tolkien’s trilogy proves as exhilarating as 2001’s epochal first part, The Fellowship of the Ring. Concentrating on the middle book of the Middle Earth saga, Jackson and company once again dazzle and delight us, fulfilling practically every expectation that either a longtime Tolkien fan or movie-going neophyte could want.

Just as in part one, Jackson has been enormously faithful to Tolkien’s original story–but also inventive and cinematically ingenious. Part two gives us the Battle of Helm’s Deep, Merry and Pippin’s adventures with Treebeard, Sam and Gollum’s trek to Mordor; The battle is one to rank with D. W. Griffith’s assault on Babylon in Intolerance — an amazing panorama of spectacle and violence.

Here is a movie once again packed to the brim with marvels, chock-full of rip-roaring action, breathtaking landscapes, intoxicating spectacle and full-blooded characters. (The slithery, hissing Andy Serkis-voiced Gollum is one of the top computer characters ever.) Here are visions to haunt your dreams and action to set your heart pounding: vast bloody battle scenes, whimsical comedy, macabre horrors and shimmering beauties–as heady a draught of fantasy and high adventure as the movies have ever given us. (Chicago Tribune, 2002)

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (U.S.-New Zealand: Jackson, 2003) Four Stars
One “Ring” — finally — rules them all.

In  The Return of the King, a great mythic movie cycle gets the ending it deserves — and we can finally see this completed film trilogy for what it is: one of the major achievements of film history.

The Return of the King, and the massive 12-hour complete film that it now concludes, together become a supreme adventure fantasy epic, a staggering triumph, a movie to delight all ages, tastes and sexes — including that small part of the audience who still feel heroic fantasy with cute little hobbits, ornate language and bizarre supernatural beings is just not their cup of Tolkien tea.

Sweeping us along on a vast cinematic landscape strewn with wonders — with elves and wizards, dwarves, knights and great mythological monsters — the picture drenches us once again in spectacles and marvels. Blasted and shaken by great blazing action scenes and then becalmed by a graceful, homeward journey and resolution, Peter Jackson’s magnificent film of the J.R.R. Tolkien novels comes to a conclusion both profoundly moving and deeply satisfying.

In the end, The Lord of the Rings in toto is one of the screen’s most convincingly majestic epics. But it’s also playful, a warm adventure packed with emotion, tenderness and awe. I loved the first two episodes of the movie Ring cycle because they summoned up not just the literary traditions Tolkien mines so brilliantly, but because they shine out like some great summation of all the movie adventure classics we treasure in youth. When I left King finally, it was with real regret, finally ejected from a world I was loathe to lose. Like all great fantasies and epics, this one leaves you with the sense that its wonders are real, its dreams are palpable.

And now, through Jackson and his company — the movie’s Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Galadriel, Gollum and all the rest — they are. And will be, always. (Chicago Tribune, 2003)

Tolkien’s book is one of the most beloved fantasies of 20th century literature, a classic that deserves its cult. The movie, or movies, are worthy of the book. Here, thanks to the film trilogy’s prodigious length and the vast size of the production, Tolkien’s “Rings” gets the kind of rich, full-blooded cinematic adaptation all great literature deserves: full, faithful, lush, beautifully crafted, written and cast, brilliantly done, pulsing with narrative energy, gorgeous visuals and raging excitement.

One question that may have occurred to you: Would I rank Lord of the Rings above Citizen Kane? Or The Godfather Trilogy? Or Fanny and Alexander? Or The Rules of the Game? Or Vertigo? Or La Dolce Vita? Or Seven Samurai? Or Singin’ in the Rain? Or The Searchers? Or Intolerance? Or City Lights? No. Not necessarily. (And, in at least one case — Citizen Kane — not at all.) But they’d all be rubbing elbows, or rings, or something.In the end, Jackson‘s “Rings” becomes a movie cycle to remember — starring Elijah Wood as Frodo, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Viggo Mortensen as Aragon, and Serkis (plus CGI effects) as Gollum, backed by Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Orlando Bloom, Sean Astin, Sean Bean and Bernard Hill. Even if you somewhat dislike “Rings,“ it’s a movie that should impress the hell out of you — and remind you, as you watch, of why we love the movies, why the best of them can make us dream of all those rich interconnected possibilities of literature, art and cinema: of what they can be, what they mostly aren’t, but what, for here — for one magical journey and for three wonderful movies — they are.

Extras: Extended editions and digital copies of all three movies (30 extra minutes for Fellowship, 45 for Two Towers, 50 for Return); Commentaries by Jackson, producers Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyen, members of the design and production/post-production teams, and by 10-16 actors, including Wood and McKellen; “Behind the Scenes” documentaries on all three movies, directed by Costa Botes; Featurettes.

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One Response to “Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: Box Set. The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy.”

  1. RoyBatty says:

    At first I wanted to disagree with this assessment based on the merits of the films themselves (more on that to follow), but then had to admit that within the context you are probably, sadly, correct.

    Much like one needs to remember that the Academy Awards, although in some cases timeless, are of a specific time (namely the year in question). Was SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE a film likely to end up a for all time classic? No. But compared to rest of the field that year, one can argue that it was not a travesty that B BUTTON or THE READER did not win.

    So, okay, LOTR is one of the still-unnamed-decade of the 2000’s better films.

    But it ain’t gonna age well.

    Once the post 9/11 attitude that propelled much of its connection to the audience dissipates, the latter films after FELLOWSHIP tendency to become more and more over indulgent will become clear to all but the most ardent fans. It is staggering to me that the revised version of KING contains another 50 minutes on top of the bloat in the original release.

    Jackson didn’t make an epic film, he made a miniseries. He also, in fellatiating the fan’s actual desires in how he edited the latter films, produced not a classic epic but the first fantasy porn film.

    Just wait until THE HOBBIT arrives and he takes that simple quest story and destroys it’s charms by enlarging it to unneeded epic proportions.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon