ARCHIVE REVIEW: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens (screenplay), J.R.R Tolkien (novel)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, and Andy Serkis

An epic by any standard and a finale to this behemoth of an undertaking, LOTR: Return of the King continues the evolution of Peter Jackson’s vision.  Bigger battles, higher stakes, and a conclusion drenched in emotion wrought the team behind this movie 11 Oscars, including Best Picture.   Does this make it the best one of the trilogy?  Not by a long shot.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to call Return of the King a disappointment, it is the weakest film of the three.  Though it is still excellent in many ways, most notably the battle sequences, it is held back by Jackson’s refusal to end it.  It essentially has an ending for each Oscar it won, also putting it in contention for the longest denouement in film history.  One of the biggest strengths of the Lord of the Rings movies was Jackson’s willingness to skim it down and make it fit a movie.  The last 45 minutes of this one are almost painful even if it is shorter than in the book.

That being said, Jackson, along with his fellowship of co-writers, forge yet another grandiose adventure for audiences to embark on.  Frodo and Sam continue with Gollum, again played brilliantly by Andy Serkis, toward destroying The One Ring.  This chapter finally gets its due, becoming just as interesting as the huge battle scenes.  When Gollum lures Frodo into the cave where the giant spider Shelob lives, it will freeze your blood.  It’s orchestrated beautifully, like a suspense scene straight out of a Hitchcock movie or Alien.  Gollum taunts as Frodo struggles through endless walls of cob web and dead animal carcasses.  Hitchcock and Ridley Scott would be proud.

There aren’t many who could be proud of the other segment in the story, simply because Jackson kind of plowed his own path in terms of scope and cinematography.  Following the Battle of Helm’s Deep, if you can believe it, is an even larger battle that puts the entire human race at stake.  Sauron moves to destroy their capital, Minas Tirith, and the people either need to band together or risk being destroyed. An onslaught of gigantic elephants, cave trolls, and thousands of shrieking orcs assault both the gates and the audiences’ senses.

This battle takes up almost the entire middle third of the movie, and thanks to terific acting by Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn it never gets boring.  We’d follow these characters anywhere now.

As the movie’s many plot strands spiral toward each other, they inevitably reach Mount Doom, where everything ends.  This harrowing sequence is perhaps the film’s finest, and one of the best overall in the entire trilogy.  As Aragorn leads a distraction effort at the gates, Frodo and Sam head into the cave to end it all by destroying the Ring, or so we think.  It’s edited for maximum suspense and emotion, and you may find yourself leaning forward, eyes glued to the screen.  It’s movie-making at its finest.

Unfortunately, after this beautifully done sequence come the endings I mentioned earlier.  Not to worry, it doesn’t hold the movie back from attaining the greatness Jackson sought with these movies.  He achieved his purpose masterfully, even if he didn’t need to spend weeks and months on these last scenes.

When it finally does end, you’ll feel bittersweet about it.  You did just finish watching one of the greatest movie events of all time, but alas, it is over.

Grade: B

Read our other LOTR reviews:

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Two Towers

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