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Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen
Director: Peter Jackson
Genre: Action
Year: 2003
Rating: 5 / 5

Reviewed by Guest Scribe Legend

In consideration of the final installment of Peter Jackson’s grandiose trilogy, I realize that I cared less and less about stringent adherence to Tolkien’s novel as these movies progressed. Instead of needling me, like past meanderings did, I found myself quite impressed with the film’s creativity and its extrapolation from the source material provided. In sum, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a worthy climax to a wonderful franchise.

As I may have written before, this is not a book easily translated to film. Jumping from place to place and keeping track of all that’s going on among the slew of characters is a challenge, but one that is handled well. We have Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Astin) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) inching their way to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring; Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) treading the treacherous Paths of the Dead; Gandalf (Ian McKellen) with Pippin (Billy Boyd) attempting to organize the city of Minas Tirith before a looming attack; and Théoden (Bernard Hill) and Éomer (Karl Urban) leading the Rohirrim, along with Éowyn (Miranda Otto) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) seeking the opportunity to prove themselves. For the most part, The Return of the King seems to know when to leave a plot strand temporarily dormant while switching to another, and everything blends together nicely at the proper times.

It goes without saying that the visuals and special effects are first-rate. I particularly liked the elephantine Mûmakil and the giant arachnid, Shelob. But there’s so much more of a visual feast — the ghostly Oathbreakers of Erech, the swooping draconic steeds of the Nazgul, giant eagles, monstrous trolls, catapults and trebuchets hurling boulders, and, of course, the ever-present CGI hoards present in all three chapters of the trilogy.

For those not familiar with the book, the largest omission, and probably a necessary one so as not to be anti-climactic, is the Scouring of the Shire, where the hobbits return to liberate their homeland. Tied closely with this are the fates of Saruman and Grima Wormtongue, neither present in the third film. There simply wasn’t room for this in the trilogy, thought it might make a nice epilogue. Still, Jackson manages to slip in the very ending of the book in a way that makes it cogent. I was glad this was inserted, if nothing more than the feeling of coming full circle from the first film. The films really do work well together since they are, in fact, far less episodic than installments of virtually any movie franchise I can think of. Actually, Tolkien hated the idea of the book being split up into three parts — this is owed exclusively to editorial insistence. It works for the movies only insofar as it allows a stoppage to the action. Some moviegoers were baffled by the cliffhanger endings of the first two films, but I believe now that it’s obvious that this is just one big story and not three independent parts, that any annoyance at the lack of intermediate conclusions might be abated.

There seemed to be a few niggling things, once again, that I felt weren’t fully explained. The most glaring were the stories of Éowyn and Faramir (David Wenham), both of whom are given no screen time between their serious injuries and Aragorn’s coronation ceremony. This, undoubtedly, will be explained more fully in the extended DVD edition. However, given the screen time investment in both of these characters (and especially Éowyn’s unrequited love for Aragorn, which is not in the book), they do get shoved aside and forgotten rather quickly.

Other interpersonal relationships, such as Merry-Théoden, Pippin-Denethor (John Noble), and Éowyn-Théoden seem undeveloped. The latter relationship of paternal love was clearly displaced by Éowyn’s unrequited love for Aragorn, which I can tolerate only to an extent. This robs much of the emotion from the scene where Éowyn faces Sauron’s most powerful minion in Théoden’s defense. And what of Denethor’s madness? It should have been explained that his mind was poisoned from repeated use of one of the palantiri, the set of seeing stones also used by Saruman. Denethor comes across as a mean and deranged old coot without sufficient background into how he arrived at that state. Some of these details, of course, make way for huge epic battle sequences, which isn’t altogether a bad thing.

I was a touch disappointed, as well, in Éowyn and Merry’s climactic confrontation with the Witch-King. It would have been more poignant had the foreshadowing been done far earlier (perhaps in the first movie, as in the book) that the Witch-King could be defeated by no man. Also better, perhaps, if Éowyn was disguised as a man, as in the book, so when she removes her helmet, it is something of a surprise. Here, she takes her helmet off, showing her hair flowing in the wind, but ‘revealing’ nothing — at least, not to the audience. This was a real climax of the book, and while it was clearly treated with care, it was perhaps one of the two main things I wish had been handled differently.

The other would have to be the fight between Sam and Shelob, the spider. By all rights, Sam should have been in a blind rage and simply kicked her ass. It seemed as if he was always on the defensive, got a few stabs in, and drove her away. He should have cleaned her clock in a permanent way, furious over his master’s supposed death. Once again, I didn’t much care for the elves’ dream sequences, foresight, and telepathy. It seemed, in both The Two Towers and The Return of the King, a feeble way to include female characters who really are not part of the story.

I repeat myself when I say that, in its totality, these disappointments weigh lightly in the grand scheme of things. For all the buildup taking place throughout the course of the first two films, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King delivers the payout, with interest. Highly recommended.

Cast:

Elijah Wood..........Frodo Baggins
Ian McKellan..........Gandalf
Viggo Mortensen..........Aragorn
Orlando Bloom..........Legolas
Sean Astin..........Samwise Gamgee

Certification: Rated PG-13.
Running Time: 201 minutes.

Additional Info: Internet Movie Database
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