Alan Dale is a peerless reviewer and a treasured asset of Blogcritics – his erudition and range of references, which appear to be effortlessly on hand, are staggering. But regarding Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, this time, I do believe he (to be cliched) missed the point.
His review certainly helped me come to terms with some of the reasons I was dissatisfied, to a certain extent, with The Return of the King, but I find The Fellowship of the Ring, in particular the extended DVD version, to be nearly perfect within its own terms. I love the extended, visually stunning exposition of the bucolic life the Hobbits lead, which is neither overly-sentimentalized nor dismissed as delusional, and the long slow build of tension as the truth of the ring is revealed and the defenders gathered at Rivendell.
I found the fight with the orcs to be painful and frightening and very specific – I could FEEL the trees the Hobbits hid behind and worked their way around. The underground scenes in the mines were astonishing in their scale, yet I never lost the sense that I was confined, cramped – I could smell the place. I also had a very real sense of the character’s personalities – perhaps the benefit of their long, slow introduction.
The Two Towers also had many strengths, though it was saddled with the burden of being the middle rung of a trilogy, and the grand scale of the Helm’s Deep battle took away some of the hard-won specificity of the first film, but I still cared when the elf Haldir was killed in battle (almost at random, just the way battle is), still cared about Theoden’s transformation – the righting of his soul – and thrilled when, in the face of almost certain defeat, the warriors charged out on horses and took the fight to the enemy.
All of this began to fall apart for me in the third – especially the specificity I mentioned – but not to the extent that it rendered the whole experience a disappointment.
I also think you have misread the critical praise of the film: rather than a celebration of technical film achievement, most critics I’ve read – and certainly myself – are praising the scope of the trilogy’s achievement: the judgment that Jackson held this whole unwieldy tale together with aplomb and high style and wasn’t done in by the bulk and literary-ness of much of the material. Wide swaths of the books are just people talking in a rather stilted, arcane manner.
He was able to capture the essence – and I totally agree with Alan that the underlying theme is that our way of life must be aggressively defended, be championed, that enemies must not only be defeated but be CRUSHED AND DISCREDITED, that evil is real and must be recognized as such – of the trilogy without holding himself slavishly to it, and most importantly of all, to bring it ALIVE. This is what, I think, people are responding to, and the foundation of the films’ success.
As I have said before, it is easy to forget that this material is but a hair from self-parody in written form – that hair is at the core of its greatness – and Jackson has somehow transformed this to film with the hair intact. Now that is a cinematic achievement.