the hobbit

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 or on Twitter at @alexbad.

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Tough Questions: What Are You Most Excited for in 2014 That You’re Sure Will Disappoint You?


Every Monday we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week?

What Are You Most Excited for in 2014 That You’re Sure Will Disappoint You?

Rules are simple: what do you have hope for that you know you’re wrong about? What are you fired up for early in the year that you will be miserable about once it happens? As a note here, Brent answered before the game. His pick of the Seahawks flopping in the Super Bowl looks hilarious for that reason.

Alex Marino

I speak for a lot of people when I say that I was hoping George R. R. Martin was going to release the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series called The Winds of Winter.  But it’s looking more and more like it’s not going to be released anytime soon. With his last release A Dance with Dragons, his original goal completion date was late 2006. Then his publisher said it would be released in the fall of 2008. Then in early 2009 he said he would get it finished by June of the same year. By July 2010 he had yet to have the book finished. It wasn’t until July 2011 that the book was finally published. And in 2011 with regards to The Winds of Winter Martin said that he could have it finished in three years at a good writing pace. But given how everything went down with A Dance with Dragons, who knows how accurate that is. It’s now to the point where people are getting worried the TV show is going to catch up to the novels before they’re all finished. I still believe that the remaining books are going to be excellent, but my biggest 2014 disappointment that I’m most excited for is Martin’s eventual statement that things are taking longer than he anticipated.

Alex Russell

Every year I set four basic goals for myself. They’re simple but important, and keeping them in mind all year allows me to keep my year on track. It’s easier to quit smoking when it’s one of four things to do in a year than it is to “quit smoking.” I quit last year and haven’t had a cigarette in just under a whole year. This year? The one I’m going to miss is losing 20 pounds. I was rail thin growing up and time caught up with me in my late twenties. Through portion control, salads for lunch, and just outright misery I’ve managed to get my diet under control, but there’s just no damn way I’ll make it to 20 pounds. It’s fun to live in a world where that’s still possible, and that’s where February finds me. Oh, and stand up. There’s no way anyone can follow 2013, which had some of the greatest album releases of the last decade. The only way to go is down.

Andrew Findlay

The University of Tennessee’s football season. God. Damn. It. Go Vols.

Brent Hopkins

This is strange (because by the time this is posted it will already have passed) but I think the thing that I am most excited for this year is the Super Bowl. The reason I am so into the Super Bowl this year is because I am a huge Seahawks fan and have been for years. I got to sadly watch the last Super Bowl they were in where Pittsburgh benefited from less than stellar refereeing (yes, I know the Seahawks had quite a few games go their way unfairly this year, also). The reason I think this year will disappoint me is two-fold. One is I have work. Like any sane company though, we aren’t allowed to just sit and watch TV so I’m probably not going to be able to watch it. I will be sitting at work, doing nothing, in Korea. Second is this sinking feeling that the Manning two-headed dragon needs four rings to satiate the football gods in their family. One for the father and one for the unknown brother as well. The stars seem to be aligning for them to place their fists together in this strange Planeteer formation made with four Super Bowl rings  and Mr. Football will come down from the skies  and erase rugby and soccer from history and the new sports chairgroup will be the Mannings… or maybe I am a smidge neurotic. WOOOO HAWKS (if they won).

Scott Phillips

I always get fired up for the Olympics, but I just know that I’m going to be disappointed by this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. I mean, can Russia do anything right? There are still Olympic structures that have yet to be completed. There’s the fiasco about stray dogs and whether Russia actually believes if non-heterosexuals are “people.”

And we haven’t even gotten to the actual playing of the games. In the summer of 2008, I had the time of my life playing drinking games to the Olympics nearly every night while I was living at my Mom’s house and hanging with my friends from high school. It was fantastic. But, ever since, I can’t find good drinking partners for these games and the Winter Olympics, in particular, are a difficult sell.

Drinking games during the Olympics are fantastic and I encourage people to join me at any point during the Sochi games, I just know I’m going to be disappointed while doing it.

Mike Hannemann

The event in 2014 I’m most looking forward to being disappointed by has boiled down to the third and final Hobbit movie.  I don’t mean that in the sense that I thought the prior two were particularly bad films. Quite the contrary, in fact. They were flawed and directionless at times, but they still were fun. And as a nerd who made that large transition into adulthood during the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, any chance I get to return to that world is already a win in my book. Hell, I’m going to fight kicking and screaming to hold onto that belief when an inevitable sequel to the original trilogy comes out in 15 years. The disappointment is instead going to come from longing to return not to a place, but a time. I’m going to see this movie with my best friend at midnight in the same theater we saw the original films in, and I’m going to hope beyond hope that it’ll feel like I’m 19 again, and there’s still a whole lot about the world I haven’t figured out yet. But in the end, I’ll probably just end up mildly entertain and thinking that maybe taking the next day off of work just to see a movie was a bad idea. Also that I probably shouldn’t have drank 64 ounces of Mountain Dew at one in the damned morning.