The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Laura Clifford 
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Robin Clifford 
As Frodo (Eliah Wood) begins the arduous journey into Mordor with a battling Sam and Gollum, Gandalf (Ian McKellan) begins to ready the Gondor capital, Minas Tirith, for battle with Sauron's armies while Théoden (Bernard Hill, "Gothika") gathers Rohan's forces awaiting Gandalf's call. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), accompanied by the ever-faithful Legolas (Orlando Bloom, "The Pirates of the Caribbean") and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), needs to heed his own calling and gather his own army for "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."

The long awaited capper to Peter Jackson's trilogy is expected to be a knockout, the film the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is waiting to bedeck with Oscars, but while the film is certainly an honorable ending to a series justifiably considered a towering achievement, repetition and an inability to let the film end seriously mar its impact.  "The Return of the King" is blessed with many, many moments of cinematic splendor, but all too often I was wishing Jackson would just get on with it.  When all is said and done, Frodo has become an almost annoying character and Aragorn never fully emerges.  "The Lord of the Rings's" true heroes are Gandalf and Sam, and McKellan and Astin are the two actors whose lifeblood pumps through this saga.

"Return of the King" begins by going back, revealing the transformation of the Hobbit Sméagol (Andy Serkis) into the emaciated Gollum after his murderous acquisition of the ring.  Perhaps the trilogy's only ineffective special effect comes within the first three minutes of the third film, an unconvincing shot of a hobbit being pulled along underwater by a fishing line.  This is made up for with a poetic look at the ring's retrieval from the pond bottom, the golden band encased in slime.  As time passes and Gollum is formed ('We forgot the taste of bread, the sound of trees') we can see that his giant, watery blue eyes are cousin to Frodo's own.

Back in the present, Pippin (Billy Boyd, "Master and Commander") cannot resist the pull of the palantír at Isengard, a crystal ball which Gandalf had hidden away.  The gaze into it is a physically horrific experience for the Hobbit, but when Gandalf learns he has seen Minas Tirith under siege, he gallops off with to the grand white city (production designer Grant Major has outdone himself with the spiral mountain clinger, constructed at New Zealand's Dry Creek Quarry).  There they find Lord Denethor (John Noble), gone mad over the death of his son Boromir (Sean Bean), about to make a sacrifice of his unappreciated Faramir (David Wenham, "The Bank").

Arwen (Liv Tyler) sees her human future and turns back towards a life of mortality and so her father, elf king Elrond (Hugo Weaving, "The Matrix Revolutions") reforges the Sword of Kings for her lover Aragorn.  Aragorn takes his leave from Éowyn (Miranda Otto) to call up a cursed army while she disguises herself and takes Pippin's friend Merry (Dominic Monaghan) into Pelennor Fields with her uncle to battle the Witch-king of Angmar and Sauron's armies. In the end, of course, it is not the trinity of Gandalf, Aragorn and Théoden who can save the kingdom.  What they must do is distract the Eye of Sauron long enough for Frodo to destroy the Ring.

Pairings and repairings mark "The Return of the King," with Pippin and Merry split between two different armies yet partnered with a wizard and future queen, Sam and the Judas Gollum struggling for Frodo's allegiance, and Aragorn's heart moving from human to Elf.  Former unlikely alliances are made with Rohan and Gondor and the Elf Legolas standing with the Dwarf Gimli.

Jackson achieves some great moments of humanistic drama, such as when he intercuts Pippin's plaintive singing during Denethor's supper with Faramir leading troops to certain slaughter or when Frodo forsakes Sam over Gollum's stolen bread.  There are also scenes of soaring majesty, such as Gandalf blinding flying Fell Beasts with light reflected from his staff, or anytime Gandalf rides Shadowfax for that matter.  Once again, John Rhys-Davies is relied on for the film's humor, proclaiming 'That still only counts as one!' after Legolas single-handedly takes out one of the elephant-like Mûmakil (visually reminiscent of the Imperial Walkers) during ferocious combat.  And yet, the film often goes limp for extended periods.  When Frodo is lured into Shelob's Lair, it is "The Return of the King's" misfortune that the giant spider only recalls last year's "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and the final stages of his mission are agonizingly drawn out.  Jackson may be trying to stay true to his source material, but cinematically, four endings are three too many.  If only some of that screen time had been given over to Aragorn's love life, which is too abruptly dealt with.

With "The Lord of the Rings," Jackson can take his place as the literary George Lucas of his time.  Yet after his next big outing, "King Kong," one hopes for a return of the Jackson who gave us "Heavenly Creatures" as well.


Director/writer/ producer Peter Jackson picks up where he left off a year ago with book two of J.R.R. Tolkein’s epic trilogy. Now, finally, we get the end of the story with part three of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

“The Fellowship of the Ring,” you’ll remember, had split up the odd band of warriors, with Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) on the main mission to enter Mount Doom and send the One Ring to its final destruction. They are joined in their quest by the mutant Gollum (Andy Sirkis), the former holder of the Ring who just wants to get back his “precious.”

Meanwhile, human Aragon (Viggo Mortensen), elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) are off to raise an army to fight the evil collection of Sauron’s inhuman, demonic army. Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) have enlisted the help of the tree beards in the struggle and all of these Fellows of the Ring must keep the all seeing eye of the Dark Lord away from Frodo as he and his colleagues continue their frightening mission.

There isn’t much to say, from a critic’s standpoint, about “The Return of the King” that will have any bearing on whether the huge fan base will see it or not. But, being one of those fans, I’m pleased to say that Jackson and company have wrapped up their epic adventure in a fashion that compliments the series nicely. We get more of the brilliant creation of Gollum and, as a bonus, a prologue at the film’s opening where we learn how Smeagol became Gollum and how the Ring came to possess him. Gollum was brilliantly conceived in “LotR: The Two Towers” and the concept reaches fruition in part hree.

There are, of course, still the same terrific characters and more. Ian McKellen is perfect as the powerful wizard, Gandalf the White, and captures the screen every time he (unfortunately, too infrequently) appears. The best thing in “RotK,” though, turns out to be the least likely candidate to be an action hero figure. Sean Astin is wonderfully developed as the loyal friend and servant, Samwise Gamgee, who accompanies Frodo on his dangerous quest. Sam must do double duty, helping his fast weakening master to get to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring and keeping a justifiably watchful eye on the conniving and sneaky Gollum. Sam has become one of the most fully developed of all of the “Ring” characters and Astin deserves credit.

The friendship between Legolas and Gimli continues to build and the banter between the two makes for some light, comic moments, even during the thick of battle – especially the wry comment by Gimli when the elf cleverly dispatches a monstrous elephant-like creature single-handed. Bloom and Rhys-Davies have grown into their characters and, now, they are three-dimensional and more likable than ever. All the rest of the old familiar faces are there for the fans’ edification.

The companion story to Frodo’s quest has the rest of the surviving Fellowship gathering forces to battle the Sauron’s orc army. Aragon is found to be the heir to the throne of the true kings, despite the objections of the kingdom’s ruling steward, Denathor (John Noble), and uses this power to get the assistance of the Army of the Dead. The battles designed to distract the eye of Sauron are, as expected, spectacular with a more than passing nod to “The Empire Strikes Back.” Jackson pits the good guy humans, elves, dwarves, wizard and a few hobbits against grotesque orcs, giant trolls, war elephants and beasts pulling the siege towers in the evil attack on the forces of good.

Special effects are first rate with the Gollum sequences virtually flawless. There is more time spent with the Hobbits among humans and, occasionally, you can see the “effect” but, for the most part, “RotK” is an expertly crafted special F/X extravaganza. Fans, I think, will be pleased.

This is the longest of the theatrically released installments of “LotR” and clocks in at three hours and 20 minutes. This is an extremely long film made all the longer when Jackson, rather than wrapping things up neatly and succinctly, opts to tack on an extended, overly sentimental epilogue that had me on the edge of my seat, but only in anticipation that the film would end at any minute. Instead it went on for over 20 minutes more. Maybe director Peter Jackson is planning on pulling a “Star Wars” and extend the series to six or nine and we can follow the merry adventures of Frodo and Gandalf or, maybe, an episode where Sam becomes Sheriff of the Shire and must face a crisis, “High Noon” style. The ideas just bubble in my head on the possibilities. I give it a B+.

Click here for The Fellowship of the Ring review.                                                      Click here for The Two Towers review.

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