`Rings' returns as the holiday movie to beat

Hollywood's heaviest hitters crowd the schedule

Movies: on screen, DVD/ Video

November 20, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Talk about a tough act to live up to. ...

When The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King opens Dec. 17, it's going to have to go a long way to match the accomplishments of its older siblings. Part 1 of director Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, earned a healthy $860.2 million while garnering 13 Oscar nominations and winning four; Part 2, The Two Towers, earned an even healthier $920.4 million to go with its six nominations and two wins.

What's left? Well, there is that elusive $1 billion box-office mark. The Return of the King could finally win that Best Picture Oscar that eluded the two earlier movies, as well as the Best Director nod Jackson has, so far, richly deserved.

But whatever happens, this much is for sure: Few films have been more widely anticipated (certainly not since 1999's Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace), few have had so much riding on it (anything less than a clean sweep of February's Oscars could be labeled a disappointment), and few seem better-prepared to meet expectations (since all three movies were made simultaneously, a severe drop-off in quality seems unlikely).

Still, even if Hollywood acknowledges The Return of the King's likely dominance, no one is rolling over to let the titles of box-office and Oscar champion be won without a fight. As always, the stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year's is brimming with big-budget, high-prestige, star-power movies, titles on which all sorts of reputations will be made or broken.

Already, Russell Crowe and director Peter Weir have joined the fray; their Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World has earned some of the year's best reviews and a healthy return at the box office.

But wait, there's more: Tom Cruise as an American teaching the samurai how to fight, Mike Myers as Dr. Seuss' odd-hatted Cat, Jack Nicholson as an unlikely middle-age Lothario, Julia Roberts as an inspirational college instructor, Halle Berry as a psychiatrist turned mental patient. ...

Once again, the stars shine brightest in December. The question now becomes, how many stargazers out there are going to step inside a theater and see them?

For more film events, see page 51.

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