Editor’s Note: “The Lord of the Rings” has just been released on Blu-ray as a trilogy. Below are reviews of each film.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” Blu-ray: The first film in Peter Jackson’s $300 million trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1,000-plus-page opus features a furry-footed hobbit named Frodo (Elijah Wood), who is entrusted to save Middle Earth from the evil looming deep within Mordor and high atop Mount Doom. It won’t be easy. With the Ring of Power given to him by his 111-year-old uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm), Frodo must somehow keep the ring from its vicious creator, Sauron, while bringing it to the fiery pits of Mount Doom so it can be destroyed. Only there, where the ring was originally forged in a gathering of evil and hate, can its seductive powers of world domination be fully extinguished. You don’t have to be a wizard to realize that the task at hand will be nearly impossible to execute. But Frodo, with the help of his friends, all of whom comprise the Fellowship of the Ring, does the best he can with the sudden twist of fate life has handed him. After a terrific opening that compresses the thousands of years leading up to the film’s present, the film’s first hour drags a bit, but its final two hours are far more lively and entertaining. Giving the film an addition lift are the performances, particularly those by Ian McKellen, Wood, Viggo Mortensen and Cate Blanchett — all of whom are terrific. Rated: PG-13. Grade: B+
“Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” Blu-ray: The second film in the “Rings” trilogy finds the quest to save Middle Earth pressing on as the Fellowship of the Ring — divided so spectacularly in the last film — comes together again in a story that conspires to keep them apart. The film earns its title from the two towers looming high at the film’s start. In one tower is Sauron, dark lord of Mordor, a mysterious figure responsible for creating the coveted Ring of Power, which its grim bearer, the hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood), is fighting to bring to the fiery pits of Mount Doom. In the second tower is the wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), Sauron’s powerful ally, a vicious beast who has created an army so great, it promises to obliterate the Fellowship and crush all of civilization in the process. Shot in Jackson’s native New Zealand, the movie improves on the first installation, seamlessly blurring the line between what’s real and what’s computer generated as Jackson mounts some of the most thrilling reenactments of war shot for a movie since D. W. Griffith’s “Intolerance” or Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran.” Particularly memorable is the character Gollum, the former hobbit whose lust for the Ring of Power has turned him into a freakish monster divided between the good and evil boiling within himself who reluctantly agrees to take Frodo and Sam (Sean Astin) to Mordor and Mount Doom. Completely computer-animated, Gollum, voiced by Andy Serkis, is a feat of showmanship. When he’s on screen, there is nowhere else to look but in his wide, troubled eyes, which reflect all the drama, danger and intensity of Frodo’s quest and which give this second film in the series the emotional depth it needs. Rated PG-13. Grade: A-
“Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” Blu-ray: Midway through the spectacular final installment of Jackson’s trilogy, the director unleashes an extended battle sequence that’s among the best ever captured on film. That’s no overstatement. It’s fantastic, bloody and exhausting, an orgy of carnage that’s stunning in the sheer audacity of its scope and the ferocity of its vision. As was the case with its predecessors, the film features a literate soul cast with a commercial eye. The first hour is just as uneven and as occasionally plodding as the first hour of the two previous films, but when Jackson digs in to deliver the goods, he does so with masterful flourishes that are undeniably great. Seamlessly blurring the line between what’s real and what’s computer generated, “The Return of the King” is deserving of the Academy Awards it won, including Best Picture. If the movie errs, it is, in fact, in its ending — or to be more accurate, in its series of endings. Jackson doesn’t know when to stop this cinematic child of his and, as such, he lets it run loose onscreen, dragging out several false conclusions (and honoring “The Wizard of Oz” and the first “Star Wars” series in the process) before his movie — all 3-plus hours of it — finally comes to an end. Still, what an achievement. Some Tolkien purists remain disappointed at all that was lost in the translation, but they always have the books, which haven’t changed, and they can turn to them should they need solace. Jackson has covered more territory than anyone could have hoped for or imagined, and he has done so in a series of films that have raised the bar for moviemaking. With the clarity Blu-ray provides — and with the insight the set’s seven hours of special features offers — this trilogy is beyond impressive. Rated PG-13. Grade: A-
“Poseidon” Blu-ray: Wolfgang Petersen’s “Poseidon” is pure popcorn bombast, with its script and its good-looking cast (Josh Lucas, Emmy Rossum, Kurt Russell) rolled in so much ham and cheese, their robust performances are unexpectedly enjoyable. The film doesn’t rise to the level of the 1972 original or the best movies made by disaster king Irwin Allen, but it is lean and tight, with Petersen offering audiences a no-nonsense version that’s as heavy on all the special effects a $160 million budget can buy. Rated PG-13. Grade: B
“The Thomas Crown Affair” Blu-ray: When Rene Russo is on screen in “The Thomas Crown Affair,” a surprisingly good remake of the 1968 original, the camera seems to exist only for her, which is high praise considering she shares the film with the ersatz movie star Pierce Brosnan, whose thick head of hair, blue eyes and square jaw surprisingly didn’t get second, third and fourth billing. Together, these two make a great team — they have better chemistry than Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway had in the original, which isn’t entirely McQueen and Dunaway’s fault. The original’s script was more interested in dune buggy chases and roiling clouds of dust than it was in giving its leads something interesting to say. Not so with this version, which nicely features Dunaway in a throwaway role. Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer’s script is a pleasure of smart writing hooked on style. As billionaire Thomas Crown, Brosnan holds his own — he’s supposed to look great in a suit, and he does. That there has never been anything about the actor that suggests depth is actually what makes him perfect for these sorts of superficial roles. He’s a showpiece for style, window dressing that moves, a catalyst for illusion in a post-feminist film who needs someone like Russo to take off her clothes and rough him up in bed — which she does. And does. And does. Rated R. Grade: B+
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle.