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One ring to end it all 

It's over. Finally. And I think I'm glad, too. Waiting a year between installments is bad enough, but enduring the three-hour roller-coaster rides that make up the Lord of the Rings series is almost too much to bear. They're too good. They're too emotional.

            They're also too long. The Return of the King (opens Wednesday, December 17) clocks in at nearly three-and-a-half hours, which has got to be close to the point where theaters would consider giving their patrons a brief intermission. You'd certainly get one if King were a play, and at a play, you wouldn't be guzzling one of those refreshing thirsty-two-ounce sodas, either. Those loud bangs you hear during the fight for Minis Tirith may not be the Uruk-hai warriors beating their own chests. The sound just might be your date's bladder giving way.

            King is virtually the same film as The Two Towers, only with a resolution. A really long resolution, especially if you have to tinkle. The quest of the Fellowship officially ends right around the three-hour mark, but Hobbit-like writer-director Peter Jackson spends another 20 minutes tying up various loose ends (yet very much dismissing poor Eowyn and her big ol' crush on Aragorn --- she deserves more, considering her larger role in this installment).

            I don't know if any of this stuff was in J.R.R. Tolkien's book or not, but a 20-minute coda, let alone one viewed through yellow eyes, is a little too much to take. I understand it may have been hard to let go of the characters you've spent many years bringing to life, but you've got to be a man and cut the cord. That said, I don't know what Jackson could have possibly removed or altered, so I'll shut up about the running time already.

            The other major problem with King, other than the encroaching repetition of journey and battle, is that, after the first two films, our expectations are incalculably high for the third. When it's only as good, it almost feels a little disappointing. In retrospect, of course, it isn't. King is still one of the best action films ever made, and certainly ranks among the best releases of 2003. It will garner many Oscar nominations and break box office records. And best of all, there aren't any Ewoks, saving King from the fate faced by other trilogy cappers.

            King begins in the past, where a still normal-looking Smeagol (Andy Serkis) and a buddy find The One Ring To Control Them All during a quiet afternoon of fishing. Smeagol strangles his pal to get the ring from him, before King shows a quick montage of the CG-character's gradual physical undoing. It's a very cool opening, and it perfectly sets up the similar struggles Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) will face on their trek to Mount Doom to destroy the very same ring. Their journey is still lead by Smeagol, who continues to have those bi-polar discussions with himself over how far he'll go to recover his "precious."

            Meanwhile, the rest of the Fellowship remains splintered into the same two groups we saw in Towers, only with Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) separated from each other for a good portion of the film. Honestly, I couldn't keep track of where Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) were, or where they were headed most of the time. Usually their movement centered around battles, including one involving Sam singing for the crazy Denethor. It is the best action scene set to a quiet song since Face/Off's fabulously beautiful "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" slow-mo dove carnage.

Only one prominent architect may have had a more messed-up death than Antoni Gaudi (he was a bit eccentric and dressed like a bum, so when he was hit by a Barcelona streetcar, people just let him lay there and bleed to death), and that person is the subject of My Architect (opens Friday, December 19, at the Little Theatre). The film is a documentary made by Nathaniel Kahn, who just so happens to be the son of Architect's focus: renowned engineer Louis I. Kahn. He created, among other concrete monstrosities, La Jolla, California's Salk Institute, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, a series of governmental buildings in Bangladesh, and the First Unitarian Church of Rochester on South Winton Road.

            Louis Kahn, who died bankrupt and alone in a Penn Station men's room in 1974, was a short, uncompromising man with Coke-bottle glasses and scars covering his hands and face from a childhood accident in Estonia. Despite those physical flaws, he was still quite the ladies' man, carrying on two long-term extramarital relationships. The spawn of one of those philanderings was Nathaniel, who didn't really know his father all that well when he died. He was only 11 at the time.

            Architect is really two films in one. Nathaniel Kahn's film is both a standard doc in which we are educated about a person we may not know much about, but it's also the story of a son searching for information about what kind of man his deceased father was. Architect is full of interviews with Kahn's family and co-workers: colleagues to cabbies to the guy who found his body in the crapper. Other luminaries in the field, like I.M. Pei and Frank O. Gehry, pop up to talk about Kahn's impact and his fusion of modern architecture with that of the heavy stone constructions of ancient Rome.

            My favorite, though, was an interview with Kahn's old Philadelphia nemesis, the still-angry Edmund Bacon, who tells a great story about Kahn's proposal to rezone the city's downtown area to have no roads. A very interesting documentary but one without much resolution. It won the Audience Award at the High Falls Film Festival.

Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.

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