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Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

PG-13 210 minutes

Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by J.R.R. Tolkien, Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, & Peter Jackson

 · Viggo Mortensen
 · Ian McKellen
 · Elijah Wood
 · Sean Astin
 · Andy Serkis

Review by Thom Stricklin

During the past few winters, Hollywood has been repeatedly smashed like a dwarf under a cave-troll's hammer by a name that's come out of nowhere, or perhaps from down under: Peter Jackson. From the first two installments alone, it was safe to assume that the Lord of the Rings trilogy would go down as one of the most epic film sagas and best book-to-film adaptations of all time. Suddenly, the Star Wars films--the good ones--seem less like the holy trilogy and more like a sci-fi knockoff.

It seems fitting, in a year of trilogy-enders like Terminator 3 and Matrix: Revolutions, that Return of the King should provide the last hoorah. But what of the fate of Middle Earth? Is the final chapter a crowning glory, or a royal flush? Let's see.




The greatest achievements of the Lord of the Rings series may be the extent to which Jackson and company were able to transform a wholly fantastic universe into one which is not just believable but engrossing as it plays out on screen. The hobbits and ringwraiths and orcs of Jackson's vision require surprisingly little suspension of belief, and the same goes for nearly all elements of the films.

However, as I've said before, the greatest shortcomings of the films probably stem from the original literature. For example: how is it that Aragorn and Theodan are able to amass armies of thousands of men, simply on command? At the end of The Two Towers, Rohan's army was entirely depleted, save for the fringe group that returns to save the day. Yet midway through Return of the King, their ranks have somehow increased exponentially to a group large enough to intimidate and break through tens of thousands of orcs. The same thing happens later in the film, to lesser extent. Where do these men come from? Also, during the same battle, giant eagles arrive to fight with on the side of man--or, mostly, to make for some cool aerial battles. It's hinted here, as well as in Fellowship, that Gandolf has some luck in sommoning these creatures, so why couldn't he have just strapped Frodo onto one of them to fly the ring to Mount Doom in the first place? I suppose because the trilogy would've become a pair of volumes short.

All things considered, Return of the King is still a very, very well-made film. The compelling cast alone, from King to Anonymous Troll #4, would make this film a success. Fortunately, the players have been backed by a beautiful, stunning--and seamless--use of visual effects, location choice, and set and costume design. One would expect such high production values to cost billions.




Return of the King has all one could ask for out of an entertaining film: friendship, comaraderie, romance--but more importantly, let's face it--great action, edge-of-the-seat suspense, and a healthy dose of humor for levity's sake.

If the third helping leaves any bad taste in one's mouth, it may be a slight staleness. After having so much in the first two installments to amaze audiences, at times it feels like little was held back to make the third even grander than its predecessors. Again, this is probably a flaw of the original text, one that requires Jackson to make the battle scenes and moments of sacrifice bigger, better, and more "epic", which he succeeds in doing.

The filmmaking process itself, however, is not without its flaws. King really didn't have to be three hours and twenty minutes long; the nigh-hour long resolution could easily have been cut in half through a bit of editing, with very little loss of content. If Jackson failed anywhere--the term "failure" is being used very loosely here--it was was at points where he just paid too much respect to the film. Those places, quite simply, should've been trimmed down.



Let me get one thing clear: I really, really hate having to be so critical of such a wonderful film. By all typical standards, it is an amazing film and it would be sacrilege to ask for anything more. After what Fellowship and Two Towers delivered, I was just left feeling a little underwhelmed by Return of the King. On its own, it is simply "very good". If considered as a contributing and non-competing part of a trilogy--which, honestly, it should be--it becomes a masterpiece.

Tolkien fans will obviously geek out over Return of the King--I know, as some of you were seated around me at all sides. Viggo fangirls will love it, though Orlando Bloom fans may be left wishing for a little more. Beyond a particular fanbase, anyone who enjoys good cinema, especially in the fantasy genre, should see The Return of the King. Don't miss the amazement of seeing it on the big screen, but expect a better result by watching the movies back-to-back when the third is released on DVD.

810 Words Published: 17 December 2003

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