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

by Robin Clifford (robin AT reelingreviews DOT com)
December 12th, 2003

"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
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+.

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