Wednesday, December 17, 2003


I was rather irritated by Roger Ebert's review of The Return of the King. He writes:
That it falls a little shy of greatness is perhaps inevitable. The story is just a little too silly to carry the emotional weight of a masterpiece. It is a melancholy fact that while the visionaries of a generation ago, like Coppola with "Apocalypse Now," tried frankly to make films of great consequence, an equally ambitious director like Peter Jackson is aiming more for popular success. The epic fantasy has displaced real contemporary concerns, and audiences are much more interested in Middle Earth than in the world they inhabit.
If he thinks Tolkien's story is "silly," I'd hate to hear what he thinks of such flights of fancy as Hamlet or Oedipus. (Consider as well the fawning review that Ebert once wrote for Forrest Gump, a movie that, while delightful, has an utterly ludicrous plot.)

And what makes Ebert think that a film is to be judged by whether it is about "the world [we] inhabit" or by its relevance to "real contemporary concerns"? What an odd criterion. Must a story be about the war in Iraq or the expansion of Medicare in order to be worthy of Ebert's approval?

Ebert continues:
There is little enough psychological depth anywhere in the films, actually, and they exist mostly as surface, gesture, archetype and spectacle. They do that magnificently well, but one feels at the end that nothing actual and human has been at stake; cartoon characters in a fantasy world have been brought along about as far as it is possible for them to come, and while we applaud the achievement, the trilogy is more a work for adolescents (of all ages) than for those hungering for truthful emotion thoughtfully paid for.
Ebert just doesn't understand the genre. To paraphrase what a thoughtful observer once said about the second film, criticizing Tolkien for a lack of "psychological depth" is like criticizing Jane Austen's books for lacking any sweeping battles or heroic rescues. It is a mistake to treat one narrow genre of artistic expression (i.e., the realistic psychological drama) as the model for all genres.


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