The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Review

by Steve Rhodes (Steve DOT Rhodes AT InternetReviews DOT com)
December 11th, 2003


A film review by Steve Rhodes

Copyright 2003 Steve Rhodes

RATING (0 TO ****): ****

"Large chance of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?" the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies ) asks his fellow fighting companions. Like everyone else, what you've been waiting for is one last chance to fight with your heroes. You'll finally get it in Peter Jackson's THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING, the final film in the wildly successful trilogy, which looks to be a surefire Oscar winner. It's also the best of the three. The first was great. The second was quite good, but disappointing nonetheless. The third, however, is such a stunning achievement by Jackson that it's hard to believe that he could ever be able to surpass it even if he make a hundred more films. (Actually, most viewers are mainly interested in one more from him in particular -- THE HOBBIT, which reportedly he'd like to make. I don't believe that finding the funding will prove to be a problem.)

So epic in scale and length and so operatic in music and sound, the movie calls to mind another famous story about a ring -- Wagner's opera, The Ring of the Nibelungen. The music to THE RETURN OF THE KING is so stunning and memorable that the first thing that you're likely to do when leaving the theater is to purchase its equally incredible CD. The movie is also quite dramatic with Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) giving a speech to the troops that is reminiscent of King Henry's St. Crispin's Day charge to his soldiers in Shakespeare's HENRY V.

"We come to it at last," Gandalf (Ian McKellen) tells Pippin (Billy Boyd), "the great battle of our time." The story this time is basically one long series of battles, of which you will never tire. Trust me on this. My bladder frequently has trouble lasting even for a normal length film, but it made it through all three and a half hours of this one. My son remarked that I barely moved through its showing. If it had been six hours long, I don't think I would have complained or budged.

My favorite times during the fighting occur when the cameras pull way back, and we get aerial views of the action. God, isn't CGI great! The best of the new mythical animals used for warfare are a cross between STAR WARS' Imperial Walkers, Hannibal's elephants and prehistoric beasts.

The picture's ensemble cast is so strong and memorable that you'll wish the Academy would consider giving a special ensemble Oscar to all of the actors. A few characters do stand out, in addition to Aragorn, Gandalf and, obviously, Frodo (Elijah Wood), the lad who has the dubious honor of carrying the ill-fated ring. Again, the movie's scene stealer is a CGI character named Smeagol, whose voice and motion is done by Andy Serkis. I still think that Serkis deserves a supporting actor award.

Let me be honest. I was frequently lost. It's easy to figure out the overall outline of the story and what is happening, but you'd have to frequently consult a detailed program to figure out all of the story's various clans -- just like in an opera. Jackson's genius is that he managed to make this tale of Middle Earth grand and mesmerizing rather than hokey and silly. In lesser hands, the movie could have turned into the bomb of the century rather than the must-see trilogy of the decade.

After one ending after another, which allows needed closure, Jackson finally finds one that fits perfectly. Don't be surprised if you tear-up when the ending credits roll since you'll be bidding adieu to good friends. You been in there fighting their battles with them for three years now, and they're leaving. Goodbye. We'll miss you.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING runs a fast 3:20. It is rated PG-13 for "intense epic battle sequences and frightening images" and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.

My son Jeffrey, age 14, went on and on about how much he liked this one, his favorite of the three. Giving it ****, he gave special mention to the fighting sequences, the intricate scenery and the story itself. He couldn't find anything about it that he didn't like.

The film opens worldwide on Wednesday, December 17, 2003. In the Silicon Valley, it will be showing at the AMC and the Century theaters.

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