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

by Jon Popick (jpopick AT sick-boy DOT com)
December 18th, 2003

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It's over. Finally. And I think I'm glad, too. Waiting a year between installments is bad enough, but enduring the three-hour rollercoaster rides that make up the Lord of the Rings series is almost too much to bear. They're too good. They're too emotional.

They're also too long. The Return of the King clocks in at nearly three-and-a-half hours, which has got to be close to the point where theaters would consider giving their patrons a brief intermission. You'd certainly get one if King were a play, and at a play, you wouldn't be guzzling one of those refreshing Thirsty-Two-ounce sodas, either. Those loud bangs you hear during the fight for Minis Tirith may not be coming from the Uruk-hai warriors as they beat their own chests. The sound just might be your date's bladder giving way.

King is virtually the same film as The Two Towers, only with a resolution. A really long resolution, especially if you have to tinkle. The quest of the Fellowship officially ends right around the three-hour mark, but Hobbit-like writer-director Peter Jackson spends another 20 minutes tying up various loose ends (yet very much dismissing poor Eowyn and her big ol' crush on Aragorn - she deserves more, considering her larger role in this installment). I don't know if any of this stuff was in J.R.R. Tolkien's book or not, but a 20-minute coda, let alone one viewed through yellow eyes, is a little too much to take. I understand it may have been hard to let go of the characters you've spent many years bringing to life, but you've got to be a man and cut the cord. That said, I don't know what Jackson could have possibly removed or altered, so I'll shut up about the running time already.

The other major problem with King, other than the encroaching repetition of journey and battle, is that, after the first two films, our expectations are incalculably high for the third. When it's only as good, it almost feels a little disappointing. In retrospect, of course, it isn't. King is still one of the best action films ever made, and certainly ranks among the best releases of 2003. It will garner many Oscar nominations and break box office records. And best of all, there aren't any Ewoks, saving King from the fate faced by other trilogy cappers.

King begins in the past, where a still normal-looking Smeagol (Andy Serkis) and a buddy find The One Ring To Control Them All during a quiet afternoon of fishing. Smeagol strangles his pal to get the ring from him, before King shows a quick montage of the CG-character's gradual physical undoing. It's a very cool opening, and it perfectly sets up the similar struggles Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) will face on their trek to Mount Doom to destroy the very same ring. Their journey is still lead by Smeagol, who continues to have those bi-polar discussions with himself over how far he'll go to recover his "precious."

Meanwhile, the rest of the Fellowship remains splintered into the same two groups we saw in Towers, only with Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) separated from each other for a good portion of the film. Honestly, I couldn't keep track of where Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) were, or where they were headed most of the time. Usually it centered around battles, including one involving Sam singing for the crazy Denethor that is the best action scene set to a quiet song since Face/Off's fabulously beautiful "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" slo-mo dove carnage.

3:26 - PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images

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