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

Release Date: December 1st, 2003 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee (Extended Edition only), Brad Dourif (Extended Edition only), Bruce Spence (Extended Edition only), Sean Bean (Extended Edition only)

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 201 Minutes, 254 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 263 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 192 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” – Aragorn

Having taken a break from seeing this for several years helped me look at this film, and the two before it, much more objectively. I loved this film when it came out and I watched the Extended Editions of all three films almost monthly for a few years. But I actually haven’t seen this now since before the first Hobbit movie came out in 2012.

My biggest takeaway from seeing it now is that this is a perfect film, at least in the form of the Extended Edition. There’s nothing I would change, add or take away from it. It is a great adaptation that took a few liberties but all those liberties worked and made this a richer story in a cinematic sense.

The acting is superb and everyone in this film was at the top of their game. But really, there are two actors who carried this film, Viggo Mortensen and Sean Astin. Mortensen was the perfect choice for Aragorn and if you aren’t willing to follow him into battle after watching this movie, you might be dead inside.

However, Sean Astin is the real star of this chapter in the franchise. As Samwise Gamgee, he is the true hero that sees things through. When Frodo, the one chosen to bear the burden of the ring is emotionally and physically drained, it is Sam who carries on, getting Frodo to the finish line by literally carrying him on his back up a flaming volcano. It’s one of the most badass and touching moments in motion picture history and really, all the credit has to go to Astin for just how damn good he was in this film. Where the hell was the Oscar nomination? I know that this was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won all eleven but it was short one for Astin’s performance.

I also can’t deny the greatness that was Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in this chapter.

The special effects are still top notch and at the time that this came out, this film had the best effects of all-time. Everything was great over the course of all three movies but the grandiose scale of this epic picture called for a massive amount of effects work. Everything was executed masterfully and it’s almost unbelievable to think that these movies came out just a year apart from each other.

This is a story about friendship, honor and loyalty and it’s hard to think of a better example of these things in any other film. The Return of the King knocks it out of the park in that regard and is pretty inspirational because of it. It taps into the best qualities of human nature, overcomes immense adversity and sees hope and goodness succeed in the face of enormous and seemingly unconquerable darkness.

Again, The Return of the King is a pillar of perfection. It’s so good that I wish I could give it an 11 out of 10 rating.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.

Film Review: Dark City (1998)

Release Date: February 27th, 1998
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O’Brien, Ian Richardson, William Hurt, Bruce Spence, Melissa George, David Wenham

Mystery Clock Cinema, New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes, 112 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“First there was darkness. Then came the strangers. They were a race as old as time itself. They had mastered the ultimate technology. The ability to alter physical reality by will alone. They called this ability “Tuning”. But they were dying. Their civilization was in decline, and so they abandoned their world seeking a cure for their own mortality. Their endless journey brought them to a small, blue world in the farthest corner of the galaxy. Our world. Here they thought they had finally found what they had been searching for.” – Dr. Schreber

Dark City wasn’t a very successful film, upon its release. However, it has gone on to have a large cult following and deservedly so.

It is directed by Alex Proyas, the man who gave cinematic life to 1994’s The Crow, which is still the best film in its franchise. With this film, he teamed up with David S. Goyer, who penned the scripts for The Crow‘s first sequel, as well as Blade, which wasn’t yet made by the time that Proyas read it and decided to bring Goyer on to help write this project. It was a pretty good marriage, as Dark City is an incredible experience, overall.

This is a sci-fi neo-noir in a similar vein to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil but it is almost dark enough to be a horror picture. Plus, it has some pretty cool monsters in the alien race that serves as this villains of this story, the “Strangers”.

Dariusz Wolski handled the cinematography. He also worked on The Crow with Proyas and also had Romeo Is BleedingCrimson Tide and The Fan under his belt. His visual style was pretty consistent with what he did in The Crow but it was even darker and had a vivid richness with his use of neon and colorful lighting to accent the scenes.

The story follows a man (Rufus Sewell) who wakes up, not knowing who he is. We soon discover that he is wanted for the murders of several prostitutes in the city. Nothing is what it seems though, as the man has run-ins with the “Strangers” and discovers that he essentially has superpowers. He is assisted in solving his own mystery by his wife (Jennifer Connelly), a detective (William Hurt) and a strange scientist (Kiefer Sutherland). There is a big conspiracy that drives the film and it is uncovering the mysteries of the strange city they live in that leads to a fantastic narrative payoff and a great finale.

Dark City is visually stunning and impressive from a technical standpoint. It didn’t have a hefty budget but the effects of a moving city, more than a decade before Christopher Nolan did it in Inception, are well orchestrated and executed. All the other visual effects may look a bit dated now but they still work well within the context of the film. It’s a strange universe where Dark City takes us but it looks magnificent and has held up pretty well.

This is one of my favorite films of the late 1990s. It is effective emotionally and it sticks with you. In fact, it has stuck with me in a way that I’ve always hoped for a sequel, even if it’s a literary one. Proyas created an interesting world that needs further exploration. I’m surprised it hasn’t been revisited, actually.

I love Dark City. It’s dark, it’s bizarre, it’s unique and it’s my cup of tea. Plus, it is a real throwback to film-noir even if it is set in a futuristic sci-fi universe: a place that is hard to explain without spoiling important plot details.

Rating: 9.25/10