Worst Best Picture: Is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Better or Worse Than Crash?


Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. All posts should be considered to have a blanket “spoiler alert” on them. Today’s installment is the 2003 winner The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Is it better than Crash?

You’re not supposed to read comments online. Everyone knows that. I try not to, but I had to see what people hated about one of the most decorated Best Picture Oscar winners of all time.

There are 15 negative reviews for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on Rotten Tomatoes. One review says that the epic story of orcs, hobbits, and elves lacks “believability.” One calls it racist. One says it “lacks substance.” None of these are actually reviews of the movie, they’re reviews of the book masquerading as movie reviews. They are all written from a perspective wherein the reviewer either isn’t aware of the wildly popular source material or doesn’t care. All 15 are varying degrees of mad at Peter Jackson for supposedly making “The Lord of the Rings” idea up, and they all seem to believe he shouldn’t have bothered.

Whenever you can’t stand something that everyone likes it can be easy to entrench yourself. All 15 reviewers there saw a movie that made a billion dollars and tied Titanic and Ben-Hur as the most decorated Academy Award-winning movie of all time. They saw this movie, they hated it, and they demanded the world know of their hate. Awards and box office totals aren’t the only measures of a good movie – Crash won three Oscars and made nearly 100 million dollars and the entire point of this series is to prove that it is a very specific kind of awful movie – but it is easy to see how those 15 people had to swing for the fences.

The final Lord of the Rings movie went up against Lost in Translation for its Best Picture award. The contrast there is interesting, and I have to wonder if there’s a bigger possible disparity between “loud” and “quiet” in two movies. The Return of the King was a slam dunk in many ways, especially because its award seemed like destiny after A Beautiful Mind and Chicago beat the first two installments.

It’s a strange experience to rewatch it in 2014. It’s very hard to avoid the Lord of the Rings movies in our world. There has to be some broadcast law about one of them being on TNT or FX every single day. I sat down and watched it again and was left with a feeling of great contentedness. I was glad to see that a movie I remembered as a masterpiece held up. It’s strange at times and wonderful in unexpected ways at others, but it is a mammoth achievement of filmmaking that deserves the accolades it gets.

I also briefly considered exploring how Faramir’s attempts to earn his father’s respect parallel the attempts of Terrence Howard’s character in Crash, but then again, life is way too short to think about that even long enough to finish this sentennnnnnnnc ugh ugh ugh ugh.

The Best Part: The fight at Minas Tirith feels huge and important, and the shifting perspective from inside and outside the castle walls makes it feel more like a fully realized fight. There are multiple “starts” to the fight that all allow for different discussions of heroics and bravery. There’s nothing to not like about how the whole thing is handled, and the most fascinating part of it is just how early it happens in the movie. There’s an entire hour of “climax” after Minas Tirith, but it’s in that battle that the movie won its Oscar. Watch something like Troy try to do the same thing and you will gain more respect for it.

The Worst Part: It’s tempting to call this the length – the unextended version is well over three hours – but it’s more just the ending itself. The movie is great at pacing until it absolutely is not, at all. This is especially telling because the actual end to the novel has even more than the movie does. It seems like if they had already decided to cut off a big part of the ending, then what’s the harm in going even farther?

Is It Better or Worse than CrashCrash has no hobbits in it, so of course it is a lesser movie. No, but really, it’s possible to consider The Return of the King an oversized popcorn movie or to judge it on length. It’s also worth discussing to question if it represents the source material completely; there’s a lot left out that some viewers might see as worthy of inclusion. Whatever stones you turn over to try to pick apart the best of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, though, you will not find a problem that helps you compare it to Crash.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

 Image source: Oscars.org


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