by Charley Reese
If you haven't done so, "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" is well worth seeing, even on a DVD if you miss it in the theaters.
J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy was voted in a huge survey as the greatest book of the 20th century, which naturally infuriated academic critics who seem to think that the great literature is the vomit of the authors' neuroses transferred to the printed page — the ickier, the greater.
I've always believed there is one standard for any author — can he or she tell a good story? It was true of Homer, and it's true of Tolkien. He told a cracking good story about the conflict between good and evil.
But the story aside, the movie is worth viewing just for its technical accomplishments. It is the apex of moviemaking, a perfect marriage between conventional film and use of the computer. The New Zealand scenery by itself is spectacular. You would probably enjoy seeing the three films in their proper sequence, with "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers" before the climactic "The Return of the King."
As a mild warning, the monsters are too scary and the battles too violent for very small or particularly sensitive children. The story might be a fairy tale, but like all good fairy tales, it is told very realistically.
Another film worth watching is "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World." It's the best film of a sea story yet, combing two of Patrick O'Brian's novels about sea warfare in the age of Napoleon. It gives you a vivid picture of what it would have been like to fight on a wooden warship in the days of sail. The battle scenes are particularly realistic.
The only other good film of the past year, in my opinion, was Kevin Costner's "Open Range," which is a well-told story of two free rangers fighting it out with a murderous rancher and his hired gunmen.
What these three films have in common are a view of man as a hero and a clear conflict between good and evil. I don't much care for so-called realism, which amounts to nothing more than a rat fight between characters who are all lowlifes. An example is a 1999 movie called "Payback," in which the "hero," who is a professional criminal, teams up with a whore to kill people mercilessly in order to recover his share of the loot from an earlier robbery. There isn't a decent human being in the whole film.
William Faulkner, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, said it eloquently. That a writer should leave no room in his workshop for anything but the "old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice."
Faulkner also said: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. .... It is (the writer's) privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart."
I'm not paying some corporate entity $8 a ticket to be depressed. If I want to be depressed, I can read a daily newspaper or become a cop or an orderly in a psychiatric ward. The movies mentioned above — with the exception, of course, of "Payback" — will indeed lift your heart.
In these decadent times, it is important to support the good works and equally important to withhold financial support from the degrading trash — which, unfortunately, is the bulk of Hollywood's production.
It is the story that determines whether a movie is good or trash, not the technical competence of the actors, directors and cinematographers. Hollywood often marshals great talents to tell a dirty story not worth the effort.
Ayn Rand spoke truth when she said every creative work reflects the soul of its creator. There are lots of people with garbage cans for souls in Hollywood.
January 31, 2004
Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner.
© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.