Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (A) has such a graceful finale, director Peter Jackson ends it three or four times. But it’s hard to admonish this visionary for wanting to take an extended curtain call to send off such a magnificent cast of characters at the end of what has become such an epic film trilogy about Hobbits and other inhabitants of Middle Earth. Viggo Mortensen gets his best showcase this time around, and the characters get to truly stare evil in the face as they end their quest. The film sustains moments of charm, introspection, delight, full-blooded adventure, wonder and thrills. Because of the goodwill developed for these characters, the film can plumb truly dark territory as the titular ring works its soul-crushing magic. By the end of Jackson’s three-part masterwork, he has reinvented film fantasy.
Even richer in its themes about the importance of telling stories, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (A) centers on the friendship between the Hobbit characters played by Elijah Wood and Sean Astin while continuing to build a mosaic of characters preparing for a battle for the ages. The adventure in this installment is a wonder to behold. The sequences with Treebeard slow down the film a bit like the Yoda sequences do in another famous trilogy, but it’s mainly forward momentum all the way here as the merry band of adventurers encounter new obstacles.
Despite access to a treasure box of imagination in the wildly popular source material, Chris Columbus’ tale of a boy wizard going to school, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (C+), rarely takes flight. Filmed in dim halls and corridors and employing too frequent a use of clumsy CGI effects, the film maps out an interesting world but is uneven in inhabiting it. The kid actors led by plucky Daniel Radcliffe are fine and often given gravitas by a slew of veterans (Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith and nearly every employable British actor). This is the film that sets the template for a franchise that ups the stakes considerably. There are some funny and enchanting moments and some nice action set-pieces, but this rather creaky movie should have been an absolute spectacular. In and of itself, this first film in the series is only beginning to understand its powers.
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (A) is an epic fantasy that transports viewers to Middle Earth where a band of Hobbits, dwarves, elves and more must transport and destroy an enchanted ring that brings great power to those who wear it before it falls into the hands of dark villains. Elijah Wood is charming as Frodo the Hobbit and Viggo Mortensen dashing as human Aragorn in this adventure that starts the epic journey. Jackson is reverent to J.R.R. Tolkien fans but adds his own twists and turns to make the work more muscular. Sir Ian McKellen is towering as Gandolf, the wizard who provides a touchstone for the film’s characters and clarification for their mission. The effects are great and leave you ready for the continuing saga to come.