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

by Mark R. Leeper (markrleeper AT yahoo DOT com)
December 18th, 2003

    (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: Peter Jackson's THE LORD OF THE RINGS completes its cycle with THE RETURN OF THE KING, a spectacular film of complex battles and breath-taking scenery. This film offers a fairly decent adaptation of the book, an engaging storyline, and high fantasy on a level that has never been matched on the screen. I don't think it makes sense to rate this chapter separately, though I will say that for me it didn't disappoint. I give the entire three-chapter story my highest grade. Rating: 10
    (0 to 10), +4 (-4 to +4)

New Line Cinema gambled their future giving Peter Jackson $300,000,000 to adapt a classic novel THE LORD OF THE RINGS to the screen. That sounds like a lot of money, but considering the resulting film was the length of six feature films broken into three double-length feature films, that was not such an astounding budget. The New Zealander had a spotty track record, and even his best films were of selective appeal. It was a big gamble. One has to admit that it paid off wildly successfully for New Line. Jackson turned out a trilogy of films that deliver on most counts. He managed to get a script that is both reasonably faithful to the novel and at the same time is flashy enough to work on the screen and to even have a wide appeal. I saw the third chapter with an octogenarian and sat near a six-year-old. Both were looking forward to seeing the film and both seemed to enjoy it. There were a teen behind me who enjoyed the film more than I enjoyed his kicking the seat.

The production design by Grant Major is first-rate, delivering some astonishing visualizations of Middle Earth. All the architecture seems fantastic, but some areas seem to borrow from Scandinavia, some from Indian hill forts. None seems out of place. Peculiar fauna was invented for the film and implemented with generally very convincing digital effects. Almost everything to look at in the film is wonderful. The acting is frequently exciting from good actors, though casting was a little heavy on the teen heartthrobs. But the film also has respected actors of the caliber of Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, John Rhys-Davies, and Bernard Hill.

This trilogy delivers its $300,000,000 directly to the screen. It has a look that is refreshingly original, at a time when so many films come out looking like THE MATRIX (UNDERWORLD and EQUILIBRIUM, to give two examples). Adapting 1960s TV shows seems to have given way to adapting Marvel Comic Books among the most popular films. But THE LORD OF THE RINGS is a genuine original. Most images on that screen look like nothing I have seen on the screen before. The film repeatedly shows vitality and

This chapter continues and completes the adventures, of course, as Frodo (played by Elijah Wood) wends his way to Mordor, the darkest and most evil place in Middle Earth. He is accompanied by the loyal Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) and the treacherous Gollum (a superb blend of ones and zeros, voiced by Andy Serkis). Much more than in previous chapters this is Gollum's film, with a lot of screen time and more coverage of his strange schizophrenic inner conflict. Gollum is a real character with depth. While they head into Mordor to face its Orcs and monsters, most of the rest of the characters move toward the mammoth battle for Minas Tirith. Through the use of CGI, Peter Jackson provides us with what is probably the most spectacular battle every put on the screen. This conflict has catapults, dragons, elephants (or the local equivalent), corsair ships, archers, Orcs, ghost armies, and a cast of tens of thousands, even if most are digital. This is not the battle you imagined when you read the book. This is the battle you wish you could have imagined when you read the book. For once the filmmaker is leading the imagination, not roughly and crudely approximating it with clunky images. The only place that the script really fails is at the very end when Jackson seems unwilling to let the story go.

I will not give this individual film a rating since it does not stand by itself. It is the final third of a very long film. In spite of the narrative occasionally being a bit dry, I give the entire THE LORD OF THE RINGS a 10 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +4 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Mark R. Leeper
[email protected]
Copyright 2003 Mark R. Leeper

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