Saturday, August 27, 2016


MYTHICITY: (1) *fair,* (2) *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

20th-Century Fox's remake of the 1920 version of THE MARK OF ZORRO stands as one of the great swashbucklers of the Classic Hollywood Era. Yet in some ways it's a little too slick for its own good, and doesn't quite come up to the level of the silent film.

Fox has been called the "Tiffany's of the moviemakers." There's no denying that the 1940 MARK is a sumptuous production, projecting great glamour through its crisp black-and-white photography, and though its assemblage of stars and support cast: Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Basil Rathbone, Gale Sondergaard, and Eugene Pallette (more or less repeating his turn as the earthy Friar Tuck from 1939's ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD).

Comparisons between Power and Fairbanks are inevitable. Power was not as much of an athlete as Fairbanks, so Power's Zorro doesn't do a lot of stunt-work, though arguably the staged sword-fights in the 1940 film are better than those of the 1920 outing. But in place of the silent film's intense action, this MARK brings in more melodrama, and Power excels Fairbanks in conveying the shifts of the main character's mood.

The film provides early scenes in which Diego Vega (Power) is shown practicing the arts of war at a Spanish school for caballeros. The young man clearly hopes to distinguish himself in the military, and takes it hard when his father summons him to their home in Spanish California. He even sheathes in his sword in the ceiling, indicating his frustration that he's forced to give up a glorious career to manage an estate in sleepy California.

Frustration gives way to caution when Diego learns that his father has been deposed as the local Alcalde, and both the new Alcalde Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg) and his military aide Pasquale (Rathbone) have taken over the Vega household. Director Rouben Mamoulian may be responsible for the cagey scene in which Diego takes stock of what's happening, and slowly evolves his "scented fop" pose in order to misdirect his family's enemies.

This time, Diego's pose is inspired by a female character who appears nowhere in the novel or the 1920 film: middle-aged Inez, the wife of Quintero (and possibly a covert lover to Pasquale). Her prating about wanting to see the fashions of Spain again apparently gives Diego the idea of playing the fool-- though the young man is somewhat less than pleased to have the older woman pursuing him.

Diego also encounters Lolita (Darnell), his more age-appropriate lady love-- and in this iteration, Diego's beloved is the niece of the corrupt Alcalde: an idea somewhat reminiscent of 1935's CAPTAIN BLOOD. As in most versions, Lolita is immediately attracted to the masked freedom fighter Zorro, but scorns his gutless alter ego Diego.

The melodramatic romance keeps MARK from being as action-oriented as its predecessor, and the theme regarding the "noblesse oblige" of the caballero class doesn't come across as clearly here. However, Rathbone presents a much stronger villain than Noah Berry Sr in the first film, and the soldiers as a whole are much more venal. After Zorro has vanquished all the villains, he again sticks his sword in the ceiling, but now the context is that he has obtained his desired glory and is more than ready to settle down and "raise fat babies."

BEHIND THE MASK OF ZORRO is a pleasant Zorro-pastiche. Like many of the Italian adventure-flicks cranked out in the 1960s, this one, directed by Ricardo Blasco, has a stylistic sameness about it, but it does deliver a few strong swordfight-scenes. Tony Russel, an actor of American birth (though he had Italian roots), puts across the requisite charm, and the production manages to work in more lovely ladies than the plot technically needs.

Though the plot follows the broad outlines of the Hollywood Zorro-films, the producers rang in some changes: the hero no longer sports the name Diego Vega, and instead of being a fey caballero, he's an apparently subservient valet who waits on the very people who are plundering California. (Did the producers fear the wrath of Disney, even though the Zorro teleseries had ended six years previous?) In the dubbed version I saw, the film's climax includes one memorable humorous moment: Zorro's assistants dress up like Russians (I forget why) and their spokesman speaks in gibberish that largely consists of Russian proper names piled atop one another.

Friday, August 26, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *sociological, metaphysical*

"Errand of Mercy" isn't one of the great TREK episodes, but it assumes a pivotal role in the mythos for having introduced the villains Trekkers loved to hate, the Klingons.

The episode opens with the Enterprise crew receiving the news that negotiations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire have broken down. The ship is ordered to proceed to Organia, a planet inhabited by a simple, mild-mannered people, one which happens to be in the middle of a disputed area. When Kirk receives further news, that outright war has been declared between the two space-faring cultures, the captain compares Organia to "Armenia" and "Belgium," small, inoffensive countries that simply got caught between warring nations.

A space-battle between the ship and a Klingon vessel ensues, and the Enterprise destroys the enemy ship. This proves to be a far-sighted touch on the part of scripter Gene Coon, for, short as it is, the altercation keeps the audience's focused on the same "us-vs-them" paradigm that Kirk and his people believe inevitable. Once the ship reaches Organia, Kirk and Spock beam down. Their misison is to appeal to the locals, to prevent the Klingons from using the planet as a base (and, perhaps implicitly, to allow the Federation that privilege). However, as soon as the two of them have descended, a Klingon fleet draws near the planet, and the Enterprise is forced to withdraw, stranding Kirk and Spock.

The utterly pacific Organians will do nothing to help or hinder either space-empire, and Spock's scientific analysis judges that everything on the planet has been stagnant for centuries. Coon's script thus leads the audience to think they're going to see another condemnation of unchanging societies, such as "The Return of the Archons." Kirk duly lectures the Organians about all the improvements that the Federation can bring to Organia, sounding for all the world like a pitch-man for the Peace Corps.

The Klingon fleet deposits a military detachment onto Organian soil, and its commander Kor loses no time in demanding total submission, threatening to retaliate with brutal force against any insurgency. The Klingons' garb and appearance remain one of the show's best alien designs, suggesting, albeit indirectly, the look of the Mongol Hordes. Kirk and Spock attempt to masquerade as, respectively, a native Organian and a Vulcan trader, but in due time the two of them seek to undermine the Klingon mission with acts of sabotage.

Near the conclusion, Kirk and Spock have squared off with Kor, while the fleets of the two empires square off in space. Then comes one of the series' better Big Reveals: the Organians are not helpless victims, but hyper-advanced, non-corporeal beings. Such are their phenomenal powers that they are able to force both empires to sign a peace treaty. It's a great example of TREK's ability to "have its cake and toss it away too," for on one hand, Kirk has expoused all of the values of Johnsonian democracy, without any real contradiction of those values, yet on the other, the hyper-advancement of the aliens makes the ideologies of both sides seem like the squabbles of children.

"The Alternative Factor" earns its "fair" mythicity rating only for having been adventurous enough to pose metaphysical questions within TREK's SF-universe. However, it's a rambling, often confusing story, an attempt to frame such questions within the limiting context of a "Moby Dick" scenario.

The Enterprise is once more performing one of its simple exploratory missions: to make a cartographic map of an uninhabited Earth-like planet. While the ship orbits the planet, the ship undergoes a massive spatial cataclysm. After the disturbance subsides, Spock tells Kirk that it seems that the entire universe has "winked out" for a moment, and input from other Federation sources confirms this supposition. In addition, Spock declares that a single humanoid form has now appeared upon the formerly empty planet.

The humanoid, who gives his name as Lazarus, spins a vague story about pursuing a "monster" who is out to destroy the universe. In due time Lazarus's story is proven untrue, but the real tale is never too clear. All that emerges is that the "monster" seems to hail from an anti-matter universe, where he is the lookalike counterpart of Lazarus, Lazarus tells Kirk that he needs the Enterprise's dilithium crystals to recharge his ship and continue the fight, and when Kirk refuses, the obsessed scientist steals them.

The main factor of "Factor" is that, like "Enemy Within," it depends on the good guys trying to suss out the nature of two identical individuals. However, while the conflict of Good Kirk and Bad Kirk is easy to comprehend, one never really knows which Lazarus is Ahab and which is the White Whale-- and even the threat to the universe isn't overly compelling. Moreover, while I can blink at an alien's use of the name Lazarus, with its particularized cultural baggage, I don't get the sense that the writer had any well-defined goal for using the name.  A myth-analyst might venture that the Biblical Lazarus is a "double" of Jesus, since both rise from the dead-- but the two "Lazari" have no other significant Biblical associations. At most, the status of the two at the episode's conclusion-- the two mortal enemies, locked in combat for all time in order to keep the universes separate-- bears some resemblance between the Egyptian conflict of Horus and Set. But on the whole "Factor" seems like little beyond an excuse for lots of fights and histrionics.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

I've already alluded in this review to my theory about the reasons why a couple of third-tier comics properties, THE VIGILANTE and HOP HARRIGAN, made it into serial form before the first-tier SUPERMAN showed up on silver screens.

Of these two third-tier products, HOP HARRIGAN is marginally better than THE VIGILANTE, which as I said suffers from a dull crime-solving mystery. To be sure, the heroes of HARRIGAN also engage in a lot of pointless running around, as the daredevil pilot and his heavyset sidekick seek to stop a deadly device from falling into the hands of a mystery villain. However, though HARRIGAN does not re-invent any wheels, at least this common serial trope-- keep the super-weapon out of enemy hands-- has a basic sociological persuasiveness to it.

William Bakewell plays pilot Hop Harrigan with a kind of bemused attitude, so that on those occasions when he gets into a fistfight or gunfight, he seems less than heroically equipped for the job. The aforementioned comic relief guy is no better or worse than many of his kind, but Harrigan does get some decent support from an aviation-minded kid-character who supplies some of the serial's best acting. Also noteworthy is John Merton playing a demented scientist who may be able to unleash a weapon capable of destroying the world, unless the henchmen of the unseen "Chief Pilot" get it from him first.

The action scenes are occasionally engaging, but there aren't enough of them, and the Chief Pilot stands as one of the lamest mystery villains in serials, given that he's never seen as anything but a shadowed figure.


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological, psychological, cosmological*

After the mythic depths of "Space Seed," the next three first-season episodes are merely good, albeit in a slightly workmanlike way.

It could be said that on some level "Return of the Archons" was about the Federation trying to gain a toehold on a planet where one of its ships went down, as if the ship gave the Federation some sort of metaphysical claim upon that world. "A Taste for Armageddon"-- an ironic title, since the story's point is that none of the principals possess any such taste-- seems even more aggressive than "Archons," almost on the level of "gunboat diplomacy."

The Enterprise has been charged with establishing diplomatic relations with the planet Eminiar Seven, and to this end Kirk must escort a diplomat named Fox, who has authority to overrule the captain's decisions. To the script's credit, there's no pretense that the Federation is doing this for any idealistic motives; they want the treaty with Eminiar so as to facilitate the Federation's economic expansion.

Unfortunately for Kirk and company, when they send a landing party to the planet-- despite having been given explicit warnings not to venture near-- they learn that Eminiar has for centuries been fighting a "virtual war" with their planetary neighbor Vendikar. No actual fighting takes place, for the two planets have agreed to send a computer-calculated number of "victims" to disintegration booths. Thus the wars can go on, killing citizens but keeping the infrastructure intact. The parallels to the then-current Vietnam War have been put forth by many critics and thus need no further comment.

Whereas in "Space Seed" Khan was the barbarian and Kirk the scion of advanced civilization, "Armageddon" reverses the equation. When Kirk and company are informed that their whole crew has been pronounced "war casualties" by the computers, they refuse to play along, diplomatic mission or no. Three or four times the head councilman calls Kirk a "barbarian," and Kirk clearly relishes this role, deeming that the two planets have become overly complacent about the horrors of war. The episode is somewhat hurt by many pontificating speeches, and the concluding one is conceptually weak, particularly with respect to Kirk's banal line: "We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today."

The continual banter between Kirk and Spock keeps up interest, although the episode's tacky sets and costumes may make some viewers think of old SF-serials like FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS. As a minor touch, the landing-party includes Yeoman Tamura, who seems to be the first Asian female to have any lines in an episode. She gets one nice visual moment, when Kirk tells her to stand guard over the taller Caucasian character Mea. Tamura's no-nonsense stance makes it clear that she's more than ready to handle the other woman if necessary-- one of the few times a female crewperson demonstrated physical competence.

"This Side of Paradise" is a stronger episode, both in terms of being a character-piece and providing an intriguing mystery. How did the agricultural colony on Omicron Ceta III manage to survive, after Federation resources (computers? survey ships?) discovered that the whole planet had been bathed in deadly space radiation? Kirk, Spock and McCoy are the principal investigators, trying to figure out how the colonists can not only still be alive, but far healthier than they were when they came to the planet. While none of the female crewpersons has any significant role here-- even Uhura contributes only a few lines-- the Y-chromosome contingent is well represented by Leila, a botanist who knew Spock during his Earth sojourn. Leila admits to another character that she fell in love with Spock, but that his Vulcan nature caused him to withhold any reciprocal feelings.

The military discipline of the entire crew is gradually demolished as they are covertly exposed to a unique species of space-born flowers. When the flowers spray their spores into the faces of human beings, the humans become docile and contented, uninterested in progress. Spock is one of the more remarkable converts, since in the thrall of the spores he casts all logic aside and passionately courts Leila-- which, clearly, is something he would have done earlier, had he been governed by his human half. (One is never nearly as sure about Nurse Chapel's charms, and maybe the producers weren't either, since she only made one other appearance in Season One.)

Thanks to this quiet, almost hippie-like revolution, the entire crew succumbs to this bucolic paradise, and even Kirk nearly gives in. He discovers that only strong emotions can dispel the spores' influence, so he chooses to de-program Spock by playing upon the Vulcan's memories of being a racial outcast from both sides of his parentage. Kirk has used something like this tactic before in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" Yet it might be argued that Kirk goes a  bit over the line, particularly in implying that Vulcans ought not to have congress with humans, which is clearly derived from prohibitions against relations between whites and non-whites. Still, as uncomfortable as the scene is, it's preferable to all the self-congratulatory maunderings about racial topics in the later TREK franchises. The "flower power" invasion is destroyed by human crankiness and competition, and Kirk makes closing remarks about the importance of human beings learning to escape the  blandishments of paradise.

"Devil in the Dark" has long been a favorite TREK episode for many afficianados. I find it diverting, and I give its mythicity a "good" rating thanks to the thoroughness of its cosmological myth: that of extrapolating the nature of a silicon-based life-form. However, though the Horta is one of the best aliens on the series, the episode is little more than a standard monster-hunt, even if the monster is spared the final thrust at the end.

In another of the Enterprise's "interstellar cop" assignments, Kirk and his crewmen must descend into the tunnels of the mining-colony Janus VI. (The name of the two-faced Roman deity is nicely evoked, given that the revolting face of the monster conceals another "side," that of an intelligent creature of a different species.) The monster has slain several miners in the past few months, and the situation immediately establishes a mystery, given that the colony has been present on the planet for several years previous. No one but Spock tips to the significance that the murders began after the miners broke into a particular chamber-- one that will later be revealed as the silicon-creature's egg-chamber. Spock also suspects that the many "silicon nodules" lying around the tunnels are actually the creature's eggs. And yet, despite his being the ship's science officer, he doesn't test his hypothesis by beaming up to the ship to analyze one of the nodules, and he conceals his theory from Kirk and McCoy for no good reason except that the script-writer needs to keep the "Big Reveal" secret.

Still, of these three episodes, this one has the best share of clever interpersonal exchanges, including the immortal classic, "I'm a doctor-- not a bricklayer!"

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *superior*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological. sociological*

"Space Seed" is one of the best expressions of Gene Roddenberry's position regarding the "Jekyll-and-Hyde" nature of humankind. Beside its superior mythic concept-- in which Kirk becomes the representative of altruistic civilization, and his adversary Khan the symbol of society's original state of barbarism-- the early episode "The Enemy Within" comes off like a college bullshit session regarding the nature of good and evil.

The script had its origin in a story written by Carey Wilber for an episode of the CAPTAIN VIDEO teleseries. Despite the script's separate origins, though, the story easily coheres with one of the major fears seen on STAR TREK: the fear of taking some menace aboard the Enterprise that will then be infiltrate or assault Federation society, be it the monster of "The Man Trap" or the potential "race of espers" foretold in "Where No Man Has Gone Before." Unlike the espers, however, Khan's breed represents a fear of the past, not of the future.

The Enterprise happens across an apparent derelict ship dating from Earth-civilization in the 1990s; a time of multiple petty national despots and great societal upheavals-- all of which were at some point overcome by Earth uniting in the world government of the Federation. Kirk and his crew are therefore cautious when they realize that the ship, the S.S. Botany Bay, is devoted to keeping a cargo of 84 Earth-people alive in cryonic suspension, although 12 of the 84 have already perished due to equipment malfunction. The use of suspended animation implied that the craft predates the Federation's development of the time-saving "warp drive," though the script does not emphasize the usual scenario: that cryo-sleep was the only method of space-travel for a culture lacking faster-than-light travel.

The question of the Botany Bay's destination is also not addressed in detail: Kirk is more concerned with learning whether or not Khan, the one man who automatically revives from cryo-sleep, is in truth one of the products of the Eugenics Wars, in which scientists sought to breed a race of supermen. The captain consults with one of his officers, historian Marla McGivers, in order to suss out the nature of this reticent relic of the past, but McGivers seems to be overly fascinated with the macho culture Khan represents. In due time Kirk and his officers learn, mostly from computer records, that Khan is indeed a eugenically engineered superman, as well as one of the petty despots of the past.

It's never clear whether Kirk and Spock believe that Federation law has some outstanding legal quarrels with Khan's past reign. One would tend to think that some statute of limitations would have run out hundreds of years down the line, unless one were dealing with Nazi-level atrocities. The latter does not seem to be the case: in one scene Kirk, Scott and McCoy display a sneaking admiration of Khan's past reign, horrifying the prim Mister Spock. Thus it would seem that his offenses are more on the level of any 'strong ruler," rather than falling into the domain of unforgivable war crimes. Nevertheless, Kirk keeps Khan under close watch and declines to revive any more of the supermen.

However, McGivers proves the chink in the Enterprise's armor, having "gone native" in her extreme admiration of the barbaric Khan. Like most barbarians, Khan sees everything in terms of challenge, and so he dominates McGivers, bending her to his will so that she will betray the service and help Khan revive his fellows. Thanks to her betrayal, Khan subdues the ship's crew. He then tries to subdue them to his will, principally by sentencing Captain Kirk to death. McGivers recants at the last possible moment, saving Kirk and making it possible for the captain to triumph over Khan in a direct confrontation between the pure strength of the primitive warrior and the tool-enhanced skill of the modern civilized man. Yet, though Khan is defeated, Kirk gives him his due by giving him and his fellows the chance to do what they do best: taming a primitive world that frustrates the control of modern civilized men.

"Space Seed" is best known for crystallizing the essence of the barbarian ethos, even though many subsequent episodes would find it just as easy to stigmatize that same ethos. At the same time, it does offer an intriguing insight into the makeup of what I will term "the Roddenberry woman." Despite appearing in 1967, Marla McGivers conceptually predates Second Wave feminism. The scene in which she is humbled, when Khan none-too-gently squeezes her hand to make her submit to him, aligns with many similar pre-feminist fictional scenarios, some even composed by female authors like Margaret Mitchell and Ayn Rand. Certainly one will find nothing like the submission-scene in any of the latter-day TREK franchises, all very conscious of their liberal status. Yet it should be noted that although McGivers does give in to Khan and betray her Starfleet trust, she providentially rebels against Khan when she beholds him using his strong-arm tactics on her fellow crew-members. Yet by the episode's conclusion she remains deeply attracted to Khan, and he bears her no ill will for undermining his efforts at conquest. The episode's end strongly implies that they will remain together in their difficult, frontier-like exile. I'm reminded of Jung's contention that women, no matter how feminine they may be in their public personas, always maintain a male "animus" that contains their masculine aspects. Perhaps, rather than seeing McGivers as a traitor to feminism, it would be fairer to see her as a woman who succumbs to an internal weakness at first, but then finds her own strength of character, the strength of what Khan calls "the superior woman."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

I rated the mythicity of "Squire of Gothos" as poor, but not the episode as a whole. "Return of the Archons" is the first episode I consider to be poor in almost every way. The one exception is that the actors do a professional if undistinguished job with the materials given.

The Enterprise is assigned to investigate the Earth-like world of Beta III, which is also the area where another starship, the Archon, disappeared 100 years ago. (Even given the rationale that Starfleet doesn't have that many ships available-- a datum loosely suggested in "Tomorrow is Yesterday"-- this still seems like a really long time to follow up on such a disappearance.)

At the start of the episode, Kirk has already sent a couple of men, Sulu and O'Neil, down to the planet in native outfits, which look like 19th-century American garments. The investigators fail to learn anything about the lost ship, on top of which the populace becomes roused against them. The ship loses track of O'Neil, and when Sulu is beamed aboard, he has fallen into a state of intense rapture, in which he no longer recognizes his crew-mates and believes himself a member of "the Body," a stock phrase denoting absolute submission to Betan society.

Nothing daunted, Kirk takes Spock, McCoy and a few others down to the planet, again in native garb. After beholding the Betans walking around with largely vacant expressions like Sulu's, the crew-members take refuge in a nearby domicile as a ritual called "the Festival" begins-- a bacchanal in which the citizens lose themselves in an outbreak of sex and violence. Kirk and crew attempt to gather information on the society from some of the less vacant locals, but the inquires are interrupted by a pair of robed citizens called "Lawgivers."

Kirk learns that the frozen state of Betan society has endured for roughly 6000 years, when a ruler named Landru sought to banish political chaos by instituting this repressive regime. Then, one hundred years ago, the Archon visited Beta III, and Landru's machines caused the ship to make planetfall. The script never says what happened to the crew, but one must suppose that some of them survived and perhaps intermarried with the Betans. Some of Kirk's informants are members of an underground movement opposed to Landru-- or more properly, to the computer that has taken the original ruler's place for several centuries (big surprise). Evidently the Archon's crew made some sizable impression upon the Betans, for the rebels now believe in a prophecy that promises a "return of the Archons" who will abolish Landru's rule.

Though earlier episodes suggested a Federation ideal of non-interference, "Archons" is the first time a story invokes a "prime directive." Spock mentions it over halfway through the episode, some time after the Landru-computer has started to bombard the Enterprise with heat rays-- in other words, at a time when the space-sailors have no choice but to defend themselves against the malign mechanism. Kirk rebuts Spock's lukewarm caution by claiming that the prime directive only applies to cultures that are "living and growing." Most TREK episodes did not invoke this dicey sort of reasoning, preferring to utilize the self-defense rationale instead. In any case, though there are a few suspenseful moments-- such as Landru's brainwashing of Doctor McCoy-- Kirk and his crew rather easily overthrow the computer. Kirk's method of so doing-- telling the computer that it's violated its own "prime directive"-- is not well thought out, but looks forward to much better moments of computer-breakdowns in episodes like "The Changeling" and "I, Mudd."

A third justification for the Enterprise's intrusion is, of course, the loss of the Archon crew, but that's not exactly a motive with Rambo-esque emotional appeal, given that all the ship's crew-members are long dead. The word "Archon" means "ruler," though, and so it might be inferred that Gene Roddenberry-- whose story-kernel was expanded by scripter Boris Sobelman-- meant to suggest that Beta III ought to be ruled not by its own corrupt, static system but by the dynamic democratic system represented by the Federation.

The incidents involving "the Festival" are peculiar in that they would seem to contradict the image of Beta III as relentlessly conformist. I believe that Roddenberry wanted to allude to something along the line of the "steam engine" theory of society, which argued that even the most straight-laced society had to "let off steam" through rituals of controlled anarchy. However, the social function of the Festival is dropped early in the narrative, and never raised again. Still, the allusion does cohere with Roddenberry's "Jekyll-and-Hyde" concept of the human spirit, and perhaps this is the reason the computer-villain bears the name as the famed French serial killer Henri Landru, sometimes described as a "20th-century Bluebeard."


Saturday, August 20, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

I reviewed Rankin & Bass's 1977 THE HOBBIT over two years ago, and since this telefilm was written by the same scripter and directed by the same directors, there aren't many differences in the aesthetic approach of the two films. My problems with the character design and the de-emphasis of  violence are similar though not quite identical.

One matter pertains purely to my classification of works in terms of being combative or subcombative. I consider that because both Tolkien's original HOBBIT and his RING trilogy culminate in scenes of sublime violence, both are combative works. However, the former novel is more episodic and juvenile in its focus. This apparently encouraged Rankin & Bass to play down any potential violence in their HOBBIT, so that I deemed it a subcombative film.

This de-emphasis wasn't really feasible when R&B adapted the final third of Tolkien's epic. Even though the film-script omitted assorted conflicts that had been present in the third section, ranging from the near-slaying of Faramir to the somewhat anti-climactic Battle of Bywater, the animators did reproduce the broad outlines of the Orcs' assault on Minas Tirith and the city's rescue by the Rohirrim. Rankin and Bass are clearly not as emotionally invested in these violent conflicts as they are in their many musical interludes, a few of which actually derive from Tolkien. But they produce a credible version of the most outstanding one-on-one fight in the third book: the duel between the female knight Eowyn (seen above) and the Lord of the Nazgul.

The sequences dealing with Sam and Frodo picking their way through Mordor, dodging Orcs and fending off the obsessed Gollum, aren't nearly so successful. Though the animators devote considerable attention to the weariness of the travelers, the "bigfoot" character-design mitigates against any narrative assertions of suffering.

The most important failing of the two Rankin & Bass outings, though, is that they never comprehend the double-sided nature of Tolkien's work. The animators could apparently understand the author's love of simple, homey things, to judge by the general tone of the musical numbers. But grandeur and the sublime conflict of good and evil were utterly beyond them. In the novel, when Frodo is essentially possessed by the evil of the One Ring, Tolkien presents the hobbit's situation as a spiritual struggle. In RETURN OF THE KING, Frodo's lapses into the Dark Side seem more like an inconvenience than anything. Most of the celebrity voice-casting doesn't especially hurt or harm the diegesis, but Roddy MacDowall's dulcet tones are just a little too over-familiar to produce a distinctive Samwise.