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Xpress, the Coolest Section of the St. Petersburg Times, is the home for features, news and views of interest to young readers. Most of the work in Xpress, which appears on Mondays in Floridian, is produced by the Times' X-Team. The team of journalists ages 9-17 from around the Tampa Bay area is selected every year at the end of the school year to serve during the following school term. The current team of 12 was chosen out of 150 applicants. Watch for X-Team application forms in Xpress during the month of May.


Read the reviews by Xpress Film Critic Billy Norris


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Movie review

'Lord of the Rings' makes a memorable final return

By BILLY NORRIS
Published December 22, 2003

photo
[AP photo]
Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is back in action in the final part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King.

Whether you're a fan of the popular J.R.R. Tolkien novels or not, it's easy to find yourself sucked intoThe Lord of the Rings hype.

There are two types of LOTR fans: hard core (they have read every word of every book several times, memorized the family tree of each character and seen each of the first two movies at least five times) and those who think "hey, these movies are pretty darn cool once you figure out what's going on." I fall into the latter category; I have been dragged into the intriguing world of Middle-earth. For those who fall into the first category, The Return of the King has been long-awaited. It weaves together almost all the stories from the first two movies in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, and wraps them up neatly.

Throughout the viewing of the trilogy, it wasn't always apparent that all the seemingly unrelated occurrences would make sense in the end. The downside to the final installment is that though almost everything falls into place, it is borderline chaotic up to the moment the credits roll.

Let's go back to 2001's The Fellowship of the Ring. When the immensely powerful One Ring, the greatest source of Dark Lord Sauron's power and authority, is passed down to hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) from his 111-year-old uncle, Bilbo, he realizes that the fate of Middle-earth lies in his hands. Along with a core group of other beings (hobbits, elves, a wizard, etc.) deemed the "fellowship of the ring," they set out on a journey to destroy the ring at Mount Doom, where Sauron lies waiting.

Their trek continues through the second film, The Two Towers (2002), where we are introduced to Gollum/Smeagol, a split-personality creature who was the previous bearer of the ring. Now separated from the fellowship (whose members have gone off to fight other battles), Frodo and fellow hobbit and faithful friend Sam (Sean Astin) take Gollum/Smeagol hostage as their guide when they catch him trying to steal the ring back. Situations everywhere keep getting worse as Lord Sauron's grip on Middle-earth keeps strengthening.

That brings us to The Return of the King. As Frodo nears Mount Doom, still accompanied by Sam and conniving Gollum/Smeagol, Middle-earth's fate is nearly sealed. The age of man has expired and can be saved only by the unlikely return of the king. Sauron's forces are plotting an attack on Minas Tirith (the capital of Gondor, where the king once held court). The members of the fellowship are called into battle to try to save Gondor and to deflect Sauron's attention from Mount Doom so Frodo can accomplish his task.

But Gollum/Smeagol is plotting to turn Frodo against Sam in an attempt to steal the ring back for himself, and to then kill Frodo. Everything converges in the battle of all time: good against evil in an all-out final effort to restore peace to Middle-earth.

Each film in the trilogy is impressive by itself, but as a whole, this series is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking. The movies were filmed consecutively (in New Zealand) in one massive project that lasted more than two years. That gave the cast time to bond off-screen, too. Its chemistry grew from film to film, and by this third chapter, the characters' interactions have melded so well that they give the movie unbelievable depth.

That undoubtedly is a key factor in the ability of director Peter Jackson's masterpiece to hold the audience's attention for 213 minutes. Any film capable of keeping someone entertained, intrigued and sane for that long is doing something very right.

The battle scenes in this film blow away the seemingly unsurpassable battle scenes in the first two. The effects sequences and computer-generated fights are elaborate and fantastic. I was once again awed by the realistic nature of every action scene. The surround sound, though overpowering at times, is a sensory tour de force.

There's not a doubt in my mind that this film will live up to the expectations of LOTR disciples everywhere. One noticeable problem, though, is the absence of any significant reference to corrupt wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), who was one of the main focuses of The Two Towers. Other than that character's story line being ignored, a great job was done wrapping up all the aspects.

The ending is a bit drawn out, but when it finally arrives, it stays true to Tolkien.

My only warning is to those of you who haven't seen the first two films and/or read the book, and are contemplating seeing this episode: Don't do it. You would be faced with what would probably be the most confusing and disturbing 31/2 hours of your life. You need to have solid background of all the premises of LOTR before you brave this one. Otherwise, enjoy, because this film is an awesome piece of work.

We can only hope that eventually they will decide to make the prequel to the trilogy, The Hobbit.

- Billy Norris, 16, is in 10th grade at Seminole High School and is a former member of the Times X-Team.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan

Director: Peter Jackson

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

Grade: A

[Last modified December 19, 2003, 13:55:17]

Here's the rest of today's Xpress

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  • Express yourself

  • IT!
  • Torn between two homes for the holidays

  • Movie review
  • 'Lord of the Rings' makes a memorable final return
  • Frown on 'Smile'
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