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Lord of the "Rings", New York Times (US), September 7, 2003
typed by OrliBMyFantasie

This is the time of year for epics. Some of what currently passes for large-scale filmmaking, however, is so busy telegraphing its integrity - extolling of the filmmakers' intentions and their creamy respect for the material-that watching it becomes a little like hearing the film's synopsis dutifully intoned by a pair of mismatched Oscar presenters. And these are just the kind of movies often recognized at the Academy Awards - their self-importance and their air of distinguished dolor are as integral to their conception as any plots, themes or characters. They feel just like homework. Fortunately, there are occasional departures from this annual ritual of middlebrow hand wringing. Intriguingly, one of those exceptions just happens to be a sequel to a sequel, and as such is one of the most anticipated pictures of the new season: "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," the ultimate movie in the trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's novels.

The instincts of Peter Jackson, the writer and director of the films, have proven so right for adapting Tolkien's standards - though they've been around for de3cades, it doesn't seem quite fitting to call them classics - that the superb realization of the final one, which opens Dec. 17, has been considered given.

Mr. Jackson has demonstrated an impressive ability to discern which elements could be lifted directly from Tolkien's books and which one demanded rethinking. And he's embellished and expanded the purview of the "Lord of the Rings" volumes by doing so. This skill is too easily dismissed, given how often directors are hamstrung by their overscrupulous regard for their source novels. Or how often, as with the Harry Potter movies, producers, and studios feel cowed by the legions of faithful readers, and make pictures that are as literal as possible - film versions of audio books. Mr. Jackson, however, was too taken with the sweep and power of the books to treat them gingerly and set them down of the big screen atop lave doilies. And his accomplishment has increased dramatically with each successive stanza.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" haven given me an appreciation of the grandeur of the books. Mr. Jackson treats them as an unfolding series of romantic tragedies in which the action is not an end in itself but serves to keep the plots in motion. Just as important, he's been ruthless about taking the parts of Tolkien's tweedy, exclusionary mythos that he couldn't use and throwing them into the boil of adventure anguish - he's cooked them down to demi-glace. (And the furious alacrith he's exhibited is proof positive that blockbuster audiences don't need to have everythings spelled out for them, either. You can drop them right into the story without summarizing the previous episode. It's a nonsentimental education that studios, and George Lucas, would do well to absorb.)

Over the course of the two earlier films, Mr. Jackson has been carefully applying layers of emotional density, perpetually adding new characters and surprising narrative twists and turns. He's been so intelligent about these shift that he's bound to find a way to resolve them all in "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." With his embrace of classical storytelling, and the driving impatience that compels audiences to keep up with him, Mr. Jackson has created a new king of big-budget filmmaking. Let's hope others follow his footsteps. Through his exercise of craft, he eventually arrives where the book lead their readers: "Keep the faith."