The Return Of The King is the third and final installment
in the Lord Of The Rings series, and it is also the best of
the three. Even though director Peter Jackson does make some
attempt to reach out to the uninitiated or forgetful via flashbacks
to Fellowship Of The Ring, the viewer had best come prepared
with at least a partial understanding of the Tolkien universe.
The geo-politics of Middle Earth get even more confusing with the
introduction of another land of men—the oft-spoken-of, never-before-seen
nation of Gondor. With the news of the death of his favored son, Boromir
(Bean), Denethor (Noble) the steward who reigns over
Gondor until the return of the king, has lost his grip on reality.
In his madness Denethor fails to recognize the threat of Mordor or
to acknowledge the achievements of his loyal second son Faramir (Wenham).
(These father-son dynamics are more fully explained in The Two
Towers Extended DVD). The newly arrived Gandalf (McKellan)
and Pippin (Boyd) must hold the city until Theodin (Hill)
of Rohan and a few unexpected allies under command of Aragorn (Mortensen)
can try to break the siege. All the while Frodo (Wood), Sam
(Astin), and the creature Gollum (Serkis plus CGI) make
their way toward Mount Doom to destroy the ring.
Return Of The King follows its multiple plot threads evenly
and they are all equally engaging so there is never a dull moment.
The movie moves along fast enough but, even at its 3:20 running time,
certain segments have an abridged feel; some conflicts are resolved
almost as soon as they are introduced. This actually helps to up the
intensity because the audience is reminded that the characters must
overcome one trial after another for there to be any hope of victory.
Director Peter Jackson deserves credit for being able to cram so many
disparate plot points into one cohesive and entertaining movie. The
last 20 minutes amount to one long epilogue, but considering that
nine hours have been spent following the plight of the protagonists
the journey would not feel complete without knowing their final destination.
What a journey it is at that. Return Of The King features
some of the most breathtaking visual moments in the series, all set
to a rousing score suitable for the climactic battle between good
and evil. The mailed fist of 6000 silver-helmed knights charging into
the center of the orc horde easily dwarfs the battle of Helms Deep
and it is only one of many action set pieces. The city of Minas Tirith
is created using models, CGI, and (gasp) real sets, which stand as
a reminder that currently computer effects are best used as complements
for good set design not as substitutes. When the film is forced to
rely on computer creations they interact well with the live action
and convince the audience of the protagonists’ mortal peril.
Most importantly the special effects serve to advance the plot and
never the other way around.
Despite the fact the movie is plot- and not character-driven it still
finds time for drama filling the slower scenes with psychological
tension. Denethor’s dysfunctional relationship with his son
Faramir is something new and Frodo, Sam, and Gollum’s classic
love triangle is as compelling as ever. Gollum is better looking and
more devious than before as he takes advantage of Frodo’s weakened
state while in thrall to the power of the ring. The movie is aided
tremendously by Gandalf, who lends a certain gravity to the proceedings
helping to prevent them from degenerating into a three-hour hack-and-slash
All of the series’ seemingly superfluous characters have a
chance to rise to the occasion. Lady Eowyn (Otto) finally comes
to grips with the enemy; Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin grow beyond
their roles as mere comic relief; and Sam proves that physical stature
is no substitute for courage and compassion. The added focus on the
hobbits is time well spent because they are the trilogy’s moral
center and stand-ins for the audience. Indeed a time does come when
hobbits shape the fortunes of all. Even Gollum has some part to play.
Return Of The King is one of those rare films where the expectations
are impossibly high and yet it manages to exceed those expectations
on every level. This doesn’t have any super cute ewoks or meta-physical
ramblings to bring down the movie, just pure 24-carat film gold. Hats
off to Peter Jackson and company for doing the impossible and saving
the best for last in the conclusion to this groundbreaking series,
a series that will without a doubt become precious to many more generations
of movie watchers everywhere.
Very seldom does a sequel live up to the movies that come before it
and almost always, the third movie is one of the worst. However, three
movies are almost never filmed at the same time, and this rare occurrence
has resulted in a series of movies that have become better as the series
It is hard to review Return Of The King as a stand-alone movie.
It’s clearly the ending of an epic series and very few people
will go and watch a three hour and ten minute movie without having first
watched the first two installments of the series. Even taking the movie
by itself, it’s very impressive. Character development, story,
CGI, music, and acting are all of the highest caliber. The battle sequences
are easily the best fantasy battle scenes ever filmed. Taken as a single
movie, it spends far too much time on the denouement, lessening the
dramatic impact of the battles. It seems a fitting conclusion, however,
if you consider the last hour of Return Of The King as the last
hour of an eight-hour, three-film epic.
Readers of the books will notice several things that are missing or
done differently. Most fans should be happy, but if you were disappointed
with the prior movies for taking liberties, Return Of The King
will give you more to argue about. It does fix some events from the
first two movies, but the way it’s done will probably just aggravate
purists even more.
Sean Astin (Sam) and Andy Serkis (Gollum/Smeagol) give
two of the best performances. Their interactions with each other and
with Frodo (Wood) show a wide range of emotions and prevent the
film from stalling when the action turns to the ring bearer. The pretty
boy elfin fan club will get to see Legolas (Bloom) do more superhuman
tricks in battle, while Gimli (Rhys-Davies) snidely cheers him
on in competition. There is not a flat performance in the movie, and
with more than 20 important speaking roles that’s a huge tribute
to the direction of Peter Jackson.
Jackson had almost unlimited resources in finishing the third installment.
The first two films had already grossed more than a billion dollars
between them and the budget on the post-production work is evident.
The computer effects are all state of the art. Gollum is the most realistic
computer-generated character brought to the screen. The hoards of fantasy
creatures and troops in the battle scenes are breathtaking. The modeled
city of Minas Tirith and the computer-rendered Paths of the Dead are
done expertly. In a movie filled with effects shots, there were only
two places I noticed that could have been better.
Composer Howard Shore’s score improves on the work he
did for the first two films. The score’s martial atmosphere and
depth add greatly to the overall feel and draw the viewer even deeper
into the story. Shore could follow up his Oscar win for Fellowship
Of The Ring with another Academy Award.
Who should see this movie? Anyone who likes an epic adventure. There
are amazing battles, heroic actions, dark villainy, romantic love, and
even a bit of philosophy. There’s something for almost everyone,
but that does lead to the film’s main drawback—the running time.
At three hours plus, it’s a long sit-down in one place. If you
stay to the end of the credits, the length is closer to three hours
and thirty minutes. Since there’s no pause button or good place
to miss a couple minutes, avoid those large drinks. Readers of the books
will love the time spent on the aftermath of the battle for Middle Earth,
but fans who have only seen the screen version might get fidgety during
the last third of the film. Shifting some of that material into the
inevitable special edition DVD might have made for a better theatrical
release, but I was very pleased to see it on screen.
Return Of The King is the culmination of a series that has already
won six Oscars and been nominated for 19. The battles are grander, the
characters even more heroic, and there is a fulfilling sense of completion.
It is a wonderful end to a superb trilogy and deserves to be watched
on the big screen.