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13 items from 2004

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

30 December 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Although still fond of oddballs and eccentrics, Wes Anderson moves past the merely quirky in "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," his wonderfully weird and wistful adventure-comedy about a fish-out-of-water oceanographer. Following his Oscar-nominated turn in "Lost in Translation", Bill Murray brings his singularly edgy ennui to the unlikely role of a modern-day Ahab.

The writer-director's most recent film, "The Royal Tenenbaums", was a museum collection of character types that never coalesced into an affecting story. Here, sharing scripting duties with Noah Baumbach, Anderson still struggles to fuse character observation with feeling, and most of the proceedings unfold at an emotional distance. But, in the helmer's most expansive project yet, the cast's commitment and the inventive milieu, rendered with enormous care, keep the story well afloat. Given Murray's heightened boxoffice profile and Anderson's loyal following, "Aquatic", which goes wide Christmas Day after its New York/L.A. bow Friday, should reel in high midrange receipts.

Steve Zissou (Murray) is a 52-year-old American version of Jacques Cousteau but without the joie de vivre. He moves with a weary stiffness, and when a child presents him with a brightly striped seahorse -- the first of the film's many fantastic creatures -- he glances impassively at it. Later, he flicks a Day-Glo yellow lizard off his wrist with cavalier spite.

Steve's empire of all things Zissou has been in decline for a decade, and he's having trouble securing financing for Part 2 of his latest documentary. The object is revenge: He intends to hunt down the mysterious jaguar shark that devoured his lead diver and best friend (Seymour Cassel) before his eyes in Part 1.

As in "Tenenbaums", Anderson's focus is a reluctant father figure, and a familial story soon supplants the obsessive Moby-Dick angle. Just before the Belafonte, Zissou's converted World War II submarine hunter, heads out to sea, a young man named Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), genteel to the point of quaintness, introduces himself as Steve's possible son from a long-ago liaison. Responding to the admiration in Ned's eyes -- and sensing a "relationship subplot" for the documentary -- Steve invites him to join Team Zissou's expedition. Ned proves smarter than his mellow exterior would suggest, and soon he's bailing out the strapped production and provoking the jealousy of devoted engineer Klaus (Willem Dafoe, delivering a comic and touching performance).

Also on board is an at-loose-ends pregnant British journalist (a disappointingly wan Cate Blanchett) and the bond company rep, a milquetoast who turns out to be a mensch (Bud Cort, terrific). Staying behind is Steve's wife, Eleanor (a regal Anjelica Huston), who objects to the mission. Although their marriage is running on fumes, it's a blow to Steve; she's the brains of the operation. Twisting the knife, she opts for R&R at the tropical estate of her ex, Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum, an effective nemesis), a glamour-boy oceanographer whose state-of-the-art sea lab casts Zissou in the dated shadows.

Highlighting the story's melancholy are musical interludes by actor-musician Seu Jorge ("City of God"), playing a guitar-strumming member of the crew who sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese. "Ziggy Stardust" in the language of fado is a strange and beautiful thing, encapsulating the dislocation, sadness and wonder that define the film's watery world.

Anderson's deep affection for his "pack of strays" is clear, and the final moments of the film are truly moving. But much of the time the characters' specific emotions play out at a remove, filtered through ironic humor and high-seas danger. Murray convincingly conveys an existential ache, but Steve's paternal pangs lack the intended impact, and -- Wilson's fine performance notwithstanding -- Ned is more device than character.

Eschewing digital effects for hand-crafted whimsy, the film uses stop-motion animation by Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas") for such delightful creations as candy-colored sugar crabs and rhinestone bluefins. Robert Yeoman's fluid camerawork captures the expressive production design of Mark Friedberg, especially the Belafonte's faded glory. The handsome, Italy-shot production also benefits from Milena Canonero's slightly cartoony, character-defining costumes and Mark Mothersbaugh's jaunty score.


Buena Vista Pictures

Touchstone Pictures presents an American Empirical picture


Director: Wes Anderson

Screenwriters: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach

Producers: Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel, Scott Rudin

Executive producer: Rudd Simmons

Director of photography: Robert Yeoman

Production designer: Mark Friedberg

Music: Mark Mothersbaugh

Co-producer: Enzo Sisti

Costume designer: Milena Canonero

Editor: David Moritz


Steve Zissou: Bill Murray

Ned Plimpton: Owen Wilson

Jane Winslett-Richardson: Cate Blanchett

Eleanor Zissou: Anjelica Huston

Klaus Daimler: Willem Dafoe

Alistair Hennessey: Jeff Goldblum

Oseary Drakoulias: Michael Gambon

Bill Ubell: Bud Cort

Pele dos Santos: Seu Jorge

Esteban du Plantier: Seymour Cassel

MPAA rating R

Running time -- 119 minutes »

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The Aviator

30 December 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

After years of being relegated to small-screen renderings ("The Amazing Howard Hughes") or quirky supporting roles ("Melvin and Howard"), the inimitable billionaire industrialist finally has been provided with a canvas expansive enough to contain his numerous larger-than-life personae courtesy of Martin Scorsese and "The Aviator".

Working with many of his previous collaborators, Scorsese has crafted a rip-roaringly gorgeous-looking, beautifully acted biographical epic that is certain to garner Oscar nominations across the board.

But while firing on all cylinders, there's something oddly distancing about the picture that ultimately prevents the viewer from being taken along on its emotionally turbulent journey.

Still, if we have to be content to wave admiringly from the sidelines, there's an embarrassment of cinematic riches to appreciate, and Miramax should have little problem translating the inevitable awards season goodwill (Warner Bros. is handling the film internationally) into highflying numbers.

Long before Donald Trump, Richard Branson and reality TV, there was the man who wrote the book on driven, compelling billionaire businessmen, and Leonardo DiCaprio nails his subject with an assured bravado and focused energy. It's the actor's most accomplished turn to date and easily quells skeptics' worries that he wasn't the right man for the part.

Following a brief but character-defining childhood prologue, the script by John Logan ("Gladiator") dives right into the filming of "Hell's Angels" in the late 1920s, the costly aerial epic the naively ambitious heir financed with earnings from the family company, Hughes Tool.

The picture would make Hughes, barely in his mid-20s, a celebrity who would often be spotted courting glamour girls at the famed Cocoanut Grove nightclub. But despite counting Katharine Hepburn (a perfectly pitched Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (a similarly adept Kate Beckinsale) among his steady supply of amorous interests, none would be able to compete with Hughes' one true love -- aviation.

Given that Scorsese is known for a lifelong fear of flying, the director (who took on the project after Michael Mann stepped down) throws irony to the wind, and, introducing some impressive digital effects work late in his career, delivers a series of spectacular sequences, from recreations of that "Hell's Angels" footage to Hughes' devastating plane crash into a Beverly Hills neighborhood.

Despite all those lofty events, which are propelled along with the help of newsreel audio, Scorsese and Logan manage to keep the storytelling grounded, moving some events around when necessary to incorporate Hughes' disturbing behavior as it progressed above and beyond mere eccentricity.

With the exception of some of those later scenes in which he physically fails to appear convincing as a man in his 40s, DiCaprio turns in a robust, fully realized performance.

Aside from Blanchett and Beckinsale, there also are colorful turns by Alec Baldwin as Hughes' rival, Pan Am visionary Juan Trippe; Alan Alda as Hughes' adversary, Sen. Owen Brewster; and the always reliable John C. Reilly as his loyal if beleaguered right-hand man, Noah Dietrich.

Technical attributes abound, from Robert Richardson's dazzling, Technicolor-approximated cinematography to Dante Ferretti's lavish production design to Sandy Powell's stellar costumes and Howard Shore's rich but never intrusive score, all impeccably strung together by Scorsese's longtime collaborator, editor Thelma Schoonmaker.

The Aviator


Warner Bros. Pictures and Miramax Films present

a Forward Pass Inc./Initial Entertainment Group production

A Martin Scorsese picture


Director: Martin Scorsese

Producers: Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King, Charles Evans Jr.

Executive producer: Chris Brigham

Screenwriter: John Logan

Director of photography: Robert Richardson

Production designer: Dante Ferretti

Costume designer: Sandy Powell

Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker

Music: Howard Shore


Howard Hughes: Leonardo DiCaprio

Katharine Hepburn: Cate Blanchett

Noah Dietrich: John C. Reilly

Juan Trippe: Alec Baldwin

Ava Gardner: Kate Beckinsale

Errol Flynn: Jude Law

Glenn Odekirk: Matt Ross

Johnny Meyer: Adam Scott

Jean Harlow: Gwen Stefani

Professor Fitz: Ian Holm

Jack Frye: Danny Huston

Sen. Owen Brewster: Alan Alda

Faith Domergue: Kelli Gardner

MPAA rating: PG-13

Running time -- 169 minutes »

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Sideways Dominates Golden Globe Nominations

13 December 2004 | IMDb News

On the heels of critics awards from both New York and Los Angeles, the indie comedy Sideways dominated this year's Golden Globe nominations with a field-best seven nominations. The Alexander Payne wine-country flick nabbed Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Score nominations along with nods for actors Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, and Virginia Madsen, making it the movie to beat at this year's Globes, though it's competing mainly in comedy categories. The heavyweight over on the dramatic side was Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, which was awarded with six nominations, including Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio (as Howard Hughes) and Best Supporting Actress for Cate Blanchett (as Katharine Hepburn). Million Dollar Baby, Finding Neverland, and Closer were right behind with five nominations apiece.

The man of the hour, however, was neither Payne nor Scorsese but Jamie Foxx, who received an unprecedented three nominations, for Ray, Collateral, and the TV movie Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story. Receiving little or no love from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association were Spanglish (only a Best Score nomination) and The Passion of the Christ, which while ineligible for the Best Film . Drama award but allowed to compete in all other categories, was passed over entirely.

On the television side, the gals of Sex and the City, who were longtime Globe favorites, had to make room for some Desperate Housewives, as the ABC breakout hit scored five nominations (the best for any TV show), including four acting nods for its titular housewives (only Eva Longoria was left out in the cold). HBO scored big with TV movie The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and its perennial awards favorite The Sopranos, though Sex and the City only received two nods for its final season. The Golden Globes will be handed out on Sunday, January 16th, where Robin Williams is set to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

See the entire list of this year's Golden Globe nominees »

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Luhrmann, Blanchett, Karvan back Flickerfest

14 October 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

SYDNEY -- Baz Luhrmann, Cate Blanchett and Claudia Karvan are the new patrons of Flickerfest, Australia's only Academy Awards-accredited international short film festival, organizers said Wednesday. Each summer, Sydney's film glitterati descends on Bondi Beach for this festival, where about 600 international short films are screened outdoors. "With the support and encouragement of Australia's leading talent, Flickerfest continues to develop and grow, securing its place as one of the world's top-ranking short film festivals," organizers said. This year Flickerfest will run an extended program over 10 days, covering two weekends from Jan. 7-16. Festival director Bronwyn Kidd also announced the 2005 special sessions spotlighting Mexico, a horror-thriller program, a selection of music clip shorts from U.K. electronic label Warp Records and a program dedicated to showcasing the best shorts from Annecy, the French film festival dedicated to animation. »

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Blanchett Blasts Cosmetic Industry

18 August 2004 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Australian actress Cate Blanchett has hit out at the cosmetic industry, just weeks after signing a deal to promote a skincare range. Blanchett was recently unveiled as the new face of SK-II Japanese creams. But the actress insists she is very skeptical about the true power of cosmetics and is concerned about the hold they have over women. She says, "I'm always a cynical, skeptical person, and I think that women and their vulnerabilities are played on in the cosmetic industry. I do think women are encouraged to be terrified of aging." But Blanchett insists she has signed the deal with SK-II because it didn't play by the same rules. She also took the opportunity to hit out at younger models who are finding themselves out of work at the expense of Hollywood stars who are now being signed to promote cosmetics, adding, "I certainly think that when I flick through all the magazines at the hairdresser's I like to see and am drawn to images that have an intelligence and mind at work behind them. Whilst I'm sure there is a mind at work behind a 12-year-old girl, it's something different from a woman in her 30s, where there is a life experience behind it." »

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Nguyen swims with Blanchett in 'Fish'

13 August 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Dustin Nguyen is joining the cast of the Cate Blanchett starrer Little Fish, for Australian production unit Porchlight Films. Penned by Jacqueline Perske and directed by Rowan Woods, Fish follows Blanchett as a former drug addict trying to rebuild her life. Nguyen will take on the role of Blanchett's ex-lover, a onetime druggie-turned-stockbroker. Martin Henderson, Hugo Weaving and Sam Neill also star in the film, set in the Little Saigon section of Sydney's suburbs. Vincent Sheehan and Liz Watts are producing. Nguyen was repped in the deal by Alan Iezman at Shelter Entertainment. Myriad Pictures is handling worldwide rights. »

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Stefani "Backs Out of Shoot"

28 July 2004 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

No Doubt singer-turned-actress Gwen Stefani has refused to be photographed with her The Aviator co-stars Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale for the front cover of Marie Claire magazine. The shoot was to promote the release of director Martin Scorsese's new Howard Hughes biopic, in which Stefani plays Jean Harlow, Blanchett plays Katharine Hepburn, and Beckinsale is Ava Gardner. According to American website Pagesix.Com, Stefani felt her "street cred" as a musician would be damaged if she took part in the shoot. »

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Coffee and Cigarettes

9 July 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »


Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- Never a big fan of conventional feature narrative structure, Jim Jarmusch again prefers to do it his way with "Coffee and Cigarettes", a consistently amusing collection of 10 black-and-white shorts shot over the past two decades.

Featuring many of the actors and musicians who have appeared in his previous films, the anthology is assembled around a very basic foundation -- a couple of people meet in a diner/lounge/dive over a cuppa joe (or, in a couple of cases, tea), light up a smoke and let life unfold.

Given the filmmaker's penchant for the gently absurdist, the results actually aren't as potentially numbing as might be anticipated, especially when those inspired eccentric matchups include Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright (circa 1986), White Stripes bandmates Jack White and Meg White accompanied by a spark-generating Nikola Tesla invention and Wu-Tang Clan hip-hoppers GZA and RZA dispensing holistic medicine tips to a coffee pot-chugging Bill Murray.

Those names and Jarmusch's well-deserved following should ensure domestic distribution for the as-yet-unattached film, which was screened as a Toronto International Film Festival Special Presentation.

Stylistically something of a throwback to the director's earlier black-and-white work, the monochromatics have been impressively furnished by several cinematographers, including Frederick Elmes ("Blue Velvet"), Robby Muller, Ellen Kuras and filmmaker Tom DiCillo.

Unsurprisingly, not every encounter turns out to be a gem. The ones that work most effectively are those that reveal some sticky truths about the trappings of celebrity, including partially improvised discussions between Waits and Pop, British actors Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan and, in the picture's terrific centerpiece, a hotel lobby meeting between Cate Blanchett (playing herself) and her bitter Aussie rocker cousin (also, remarkably, Blanchett).

In Jarmusch's capable hands, the mundane has never been so delightful.

Coffee and Cigarettes

United Artists

Smokescreen Inc. presents in association with Asmik Ace and Bim Distribuzione A film by Jim Jarmusch


Director-screenwriter: Jim Jarmusch

Producers: Joana Vicente, Jason Kliot

Directors of photography: Frederick Elmes, Ellen Kuras, Robby Muller, Tom DiCillo

Production designers: Mark Friedberg, Tom Jarmusch, Dan Bishop

Editors: Jay Rabinowitz, Melody London, Terry Katz, Jim Jarmusch


Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Joie Lee, Cinque Lee, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Joe Rigano, Vinny Vella, Vinny Vella Jr., Renee French, E.J. Rodriguez, Alex Descas, Isaach de Bankole, Cate Blanchett, Meg White, Jack White, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, GZA, RZA, Bill Murray, Bill Rice, Taylor Mead

Running time -- 96 minutes

No MPAA rating »

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The Gift

8 July 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Any film genre -- even the Southern gothic melodrama with its wayward belles, mental misfits and backwoods misbehavior -- can stand only so much hokum. But the makers of "The Gift" lay on the rustic nonsense awfully thick, peopling the tiny town of Brixton, Ga., with more "colorful" characters than any town -- or movie -- can tolerate.

A fine cast headed by Australian star Cate Blanchett struggles futilely to give life to these characters. Meant as a psychological thriller but more likely to be received by audiences as a burlesque of Southern stereotypes, "Gift"'s only chance theatrically is to be mistaken for high camp. The film opens this month for Academy consideration in Los Angeles before its Jan. 19 national rollout.

The script is by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, who know their way around this neck of the woods. Together, they wrote that fine Southern crime drama "Once False Move", and Thornton, of course, won an Oscar for his astonishing screenplay "Sling Blade".

But "Gift", whose central character possesses supernatural clairvoyance, emerges as a kind of "Sling Blade" meets "What Lies Beneath", and this proves to be a meeting that should never take place. Along with terrifying visions of a murdered girl's body, the movie traffics in nastiness ranging from adultery, child molestation and abuse of women to homicide, suicide and patricide by immolation.

Director Sam Raimi hues close to horror-film conventions, the kinds where a threatened woman enters a dark house alone or accompanies a potential killer into the woods without thinking these might be unwise moves.

Blanchett tiptoes through a minefield of unmotivated actions and implausible predicaments to deliver a credible performance as a widow with the "gift" of psychic vision. Among her clients are an emotionally unstable auto mechanic (Giovanni Ribisi) and the abused wife (Hilary Swank) of a redneck hothead (Keanu Reeves).

When a pretty, promiscuous young woman (Katie Holmes) goes missing, her fiance (Greg Kinnear) and father (Chelcie Ross) come by to see what Blanchett's visions tell her about the disappearance.

Reeves' character also drops by frequently to deliver threats against Blanchett and her three children in retaliation for her suggesting to his battered wife that she leave him. So when her psychic visions lead police to the body of the missing woman on Reeves' property, everything points to him as the murderer. Only Blanchett has second thoughts about her second sight.

There is little logic or plausible human behavior in most of the plot's erratic twists and turns. Courtroom scenes make little sense, and a climax between Blanchett and a potential killer might satisfy horror-thriller conventions but is not like to satisfy audiences.

Technical credits are pro, though Jamie Anderson's camera setups and Neil Spisak's production design tend to aid and abet Raimi's penchant for the predictable.


Paramount Classics

Lakeshore Entertainment/Alphaville

Producers: James Jacks, Tom Rosenberg

Director: Sam Raimi

Screenwriters: Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Epperson

Executive producers: Gary Lucchesi, Gregory Goodman, Sean Daniel, Ted Tannebaum

Director of photography: Jamie Anderson

Production designer: Neil Spisak

Music: Christopher Young

Costume designer: Julie Weiss

Editors: Bob Murawski, Arthur Coburn



Annie Wilson: Cate Blanchett

Valerie Barksdale: Hilary Swank

Donnie Barksdale: Keanu Reeves

Buddy Cole: Giovanni Ribisi

Wayne Collins: Greg Kinnear

Jessica King: Katie Holmes

Gerald Weems: Michael Jeter

Linda: Kim Dickens

Running time -- 105 minutes

MPAA rating: R »

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Liu inks overall rep deal with WMA

4 June 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Lucy Liu has signed with WMA for representation in all areas. Since making her name on TV's "Ally McBeal", Liu has built up a big-screen repertoire with credits including the "Kill Bill" and "Charlie's Angels" films, "Chicago", "Payback" and "Shanghai Noon". Liu also has signed to star in and produce the upcoming "Charlie Chan" film franchise for 20th Century Fox. Liu joins WMA's roster of actresses including Halle Berry, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Kirsten Dunst, Salma Hayek, Scarlett Johansson, Ashley Judd, Queen Latifah, Reese Witherspoon and Carrie-Anne Moss, Meg Ryan and Sharon Stone. Liu, who most recently was represented by CAA, also has been represented by ICM. She is managed by Mary Ellen Mulcahy at Framework. »

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Kapur Makes Blanchett Queen Again

4 June 2004 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Indian director Shekhar Kapur is ecstatic about his plans for a sequel to Elizabeth with Hollywood beauty Cate Blanchett reprising her Oscar- nominated role as the virgin Queen of Britain. The film's makers are using the working title Golden Age for the movie which focuses on the middle years of the controversial royal's reign - she sat on the throne from 1558 - 1603. The 58-year-old legend says, "It is about the battle between Elizabeth's life as a monarch and her personal life. It ends in the destruction of the Spanish Armada on the larger level when the English navy defeated the Spanish invasion fleet in the English Channel in 1588." A start date has yet to be set because of the commitments of director and star - according to British film magazine Empire. »

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S.F. int'l fest taps 175 films

24 March 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco International Film Festival, running April 15-29, marks its 47th year with 175 films from 52 countries. The program, unveiled Tuesday, displays the festival's customary emphasis on world cinema and an impressive roster of documentaries. There is a strong slate of Pacific Asian films as well as commercial and art house films, expanded Latin American and Middle Eastern sections plus Extreme Cinema, a midnight series geared toward a younger crowd. "The whole focus of the festival and what we're seeing from the filmmakers is an expression of underground culture," executive director Roxanne Messina Captor said. Emblematic of that counterculture aspect is the festival opener, Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes, featuring Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi, Tom Waits, Iggy Pop and Cate Blanchett. »

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

6 February 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Opens Wed., Dec. 17

NEW YORK -- An epic success and a history-making production that finishes with a masterfully entertaining final installment, New Line Cinema's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" is a soaring legend in its own day and destined to be cherished for many ages to come. "The Return of the King" is the longest and most complicated of the three "Rings" films and probably fated to be the biggest moneymaker. Sure to be an Oscar contender in many categories and a breathtaking argument for director Peter Jackson winning every award there is to give, "King" has none of the usual deficiencies that frequently scuttle third films.

Opening unexpectedly with a flashback to the day when the twisted Gollum was a healthy Hobbit-like fisherman named Smeagol (Andy Serkis), who commits murder to possess the powerful One Ring, "King" deftly resumes the story after the events of "The Two Towers". After a brief encounter with the talking lord of the forest Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Theoden (Bernard Hill) and other survivors of the Battle of Helm's Deep go to ravished Isengard. Within minutes, we're reintroduced to the many characters, including Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), Rohan fighters Eomer (Karl Urban) and Eowyn (Miranda Otto), Faramir (David Wenham) of Gondor and the one new human character, Denethor (John Noble), the Steward of Minas Tirith, site of the next great showdown between the mighty forces of evil Sauron and the free peoples of Middle Earth.

Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin), guided by the vengeful Gollum (again a wondrous combination of special effects and Serkis' inspired performance), finally enter Mordor, but the divisive influence of the Ring almost ends the fellowship of the two heroic Hobbits. When the three infiltrators pass by Minas Morgul (the dead city where the Nazgul reside), they watch another army of Sauron march to battle under the command of the Witch-king.

Eventually, this Black Captain of the Nazgul, who rides one of the dragonlike beasts first seen in "Towers", has a fight with Eowyn and Merry in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, outside the walls of Minas Tirith, that readers have been waiting decades to see. It's a gloriously crowd-pleasing moment, while overall the lengthy siege is tremendously exciting and visually unparalleled.

Huge elephantlike Mumakil and trolls pushing the giant battering ram known as Grond join hordes of Orcs in a gargantuan assault on Minas Tirith, a fight which faithless Denethor turns away from when he gives into fear and fatherly pride by sending Faramir to certain death. It's the leadership-tested Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who commands the defense of the city. Although Denethor comes off too as enigmatic compared to the original material, he sure has a spectacular final scene.

Jackson and co-writers Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh make noteworthy departures from Tolkien, including such crucial moments as what happens when Frodo is finally standing on a ledge over the Crack of Doom inside the volcano where the ring must be destroyed, and how Aragorn makes use of the Army of the Dead that only he can command. Whole swaths of the book have been condensed and eliminated, but Jackson and company usually realize splendidly whatever they take on.

There are only brief moments with the saga's Elvish beauties: Arwen (Liv Tyler) refuses to abandon Aragorn. Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) makes a crucial connection with Frodo near the story's climax. Dwarf fighter Gimli (Rhys-Davies) provides much-appreciated humor with his sarcastic remarks. Fearless Elf bowman Legolas (Orlando Bloom) delivers the best battlefield action, while wise Elrond (Hugo Weaving) provides Aragorn with the restored sword that defeated Sauron long ago.

The thunderous conclusion to the story of the Ring that includes the end of Frodo's journey and the battle outside the Black Gate winds down to a sublime denouement, leaving only 20 minutes to wrap up when Tolkien took a hundred pages. The extended DVD should bind "King" and the other two films into one awesome movie deserving of regular revivals in theaters. But who can resist right now a classic fantasy adventure that never drags and is simply ravishing to look at thanks to the thousands of craftsmen, performers, animals and postproduction refiners?

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King


New Line Cinema

Wingnut Films


Director: Peter Jackson

Screenwriters: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

Based on the book by: J.R.R. Tolkien

Producers: Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson

Executive producers: Robert Shaye, Michael Lynne, Mark Ordesky, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein

Director of photography: Andrew Lesnie

Production designer: Grant Major

Editors: Jamie Selkirk, Annie Collins

Costume designers: Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor

Music: Howard Shore

Visual effects supervisor: Jim Rygiel


Frodo: Elijah Wood

Gandalf: Ian McKellen

Gollum/Smeagol: Andy Serkis

Aragon: Viggo Mortensen

Sam: Sean Astin

Gimli/Voice of Treebeard: John Rhys-Davies

Merry: Dominic Monaghan

Pippin: Billy Boyd

Arwen: Liv Tyler

Legolas: Orlando Bloom

Elrond: Hugo Weaving

King Theoden: Bernard Hill

Faramir: David Wenham

Eowyn: Miranda Otto

Eomer: Karl Urban

Denethor: John Noble

Galadriel: Cate Blanchett

Running time -- 200 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13


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