Jackson Brings <I>Lord of the Rings</I> to Historic Completion

ByJoel Siegel

Dec. 19, 2003 -- Now in theaters: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Mona Lisa Smile.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

This could be it! ... Lots of Oscar buzz! ... It's that time of the year when we start hearing silly Hollywood words like "epic" and "stupendous" and "spectacular" and, of course, "cutting-edge." This time, they're understatements.

Don't miss The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. If it didn't take 45 minutes to end, it'd be my best picture of the year. As it is, it's just one of the great achievements in film history.

The effects are spectacular but the genius of director Peter Jackson is that they never get in the way of the story and the story is never more important than the people who tell it.

The saga begins with the diminutive hobbit Frodo Baggins on his way to Mordor to destroy an all-powerful ring. If he doesn't, the time of men has ended and Middle Earth is lost to evil.

Frodo and his allies battle flying dragons and armies of monsters. Just look at the care Jackson has put into Frodo's guide, Gollum. He's not real. He's a computer-generated animation. Watch the breathtaking scene as Ian McKellen, as the wizard Gandalf, enters the City of Kings. It's amazing.

Compare the Lord of the Rings trilogy with the Matrix trilogy, which sank like a stone after the first installment. Jackson has raised the bar with each of his films. Rings 3 makes Matrix 3 look like an infomercial. It's a great film. Grade: A. Mona Lisa Smile

Mona Lisa Smile is set at Wellesley College in the 1950s, and as it's depicted in the movie, Wellesley and its sister colleges were mere Girls' Schools, where our best and brightest young women went to get an "MRS" degree.

In a real movie, Julia Stiles would go to law school and fight for women's rights. She doesn't. This is a script without drama. The editor of the student paper gets the school nurse fired for prescribing contraceptives. But there's no fight, and no drama here, either.

The world since has changed so, and in spite of the all-star cast (Stiles, Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst and Maggie Gyllenhaal), Mona Lisa Smile does nothing to convince us it ever was. Grade: C.

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