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

by David Sidwell (dsidwell AT netspace DOT net DOT au)
December 19th, 2003

Return of the King

A film review by David Sidwell.

Only twice before, in 30 years of going to the movies, has it happened whilst I was there. The first was during Indiana Jones, when he was faced with that sword-wielding opponent. Indy seems gone for all money as he is unarmed. Suddenly he whips out a gun and bang, he shoots the enemy and wins. The audience spontaneously applauds. Mid-film. Last night, during a preview of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, it happened again.

No, I won't spoil the what, who and how, but hopefully when you get to see this extraordinary, breathtaking movie, it will happen for you.
Peter Jackson is a cyberweaver. Sure he sets a new benchmark for brilliant CGI visual effects, but they are interwoven with emotional and involving human elements. The effects themselves are jaw dropping, but they add to the mix, rather than dominate. It is CGI in context.
I can't really go into the storyline too much as 1) you probably know it or 2) if you don't, it would spoil it. Suffice to say, we jump back and forth between the "Frodo" , "Gandalf" and "Aragorn" threads. It's done with care and skill and - at over three hours - we also have enough time to close out this complicated story and yet still provide an enthralling and entertaining experience.

The Battle scenes - as the producers had hinted - seem to be an order of magnitude larger than The Two Towers. As per the books the character focus shifts in the final installment with Sam and Pippin having larger roles. Other ones: Shelob, the giant spider; The Dead Oathbreakers; The Oliphants and the flying Nazgūl are literally awesome. A slight hint - if you are scared of spiders, you may feel the urge for a sudden popcorn feast coming on. Or a full bladder.

As if these aren't stunning enough, it's the human (et al) scale that brings home the achievement. In a number of shots we witness a character interacting with the CGI world in stunning way. In one example, we see Gandalf on his horse, riding around the winding pathway up the huge Minas Tirith. It's all done from a continuous, sweeping, 'helicopter' viewpoint and from a distance that shows the sheer scale of things in Tolkien's world.

<inevitable Matrix Trilogy Comparison>

To be fair, Peter Jackson and team had extremely strong source material, but that is only the input to the movie algorithm. Give me the same marble block and I couldn't carve a David statue.

Having said that, I was very disappointed with The Matrix Revolutions. My only comment on this is that the bar has now been set for George Lucas for his next film. He should watch Return of the King very, very carefully.

Whiz bang effects mean nothing without heart. Computer silicon is cold, but it can combine with gifted filmmakers to produce a heartwarming, thrilling and satisfying masterpiece.

Memo: P Jackson c/- New Zealand. So long and thanks for all the films. Seriously: ta muchly. You've worked magic. By the way, what about The Hobbit? The Silmarillion? Come on. You're on a roll, mate...

5 out of 5

David Sidwell
(Melbourne, Australia)

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