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

by Marshall Garvey (hunter48 AT goodpeopleunite DOT com)
December 29th, 2003

"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003) Review by Marshall Garvey
Rating (0 to 5): 5 Grade: A+
Starring Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Sean Astin (Sam Gamgee), Orlando Bloom (Legolas Greenleaf), Bernard Hill (Theoden), Billy Boyd (Pippin), Dominic Monaghan (Merry), Miranda Otto (Eowyn), John Rhys-Davies (Gimli), Andy Serkis (Gollum/Smeagol), Liv Tyler (Arwen) Directed by Peter Jackson
Produced by Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, and Fran Walsh Written by Jackson, Walsh, and Philippa Boyens (Based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Original music by Howard Shore
New Line Cinema
200 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images
There is a scene in "Return of the King" where some 200,000 Raiders fans-I mean orcs-march towards the city of Minas Tirith. They engulf the whole landscape, with mammoth trolls pulling towering catapults behind them. As they approach the great city before them, the only words that escaped my mouth were:

Oh, my, god.

Yep. That's it. And the thing of it is, this wasn't even the most breathtaking part. As the battle unraveled, the excitement became so unbearable that I felt like popping out of my chair and screaming as if the Minnesota Twins had won the World Series. "Return of the King" is no pathetic and trivial "Alien 3", nor does it succeed despite a weak story and a goofy and incoherent ending (a la "Godfather III"). This film is the third leg of a trilogy that isn't just landmark cinema: it's rare cinema. Along with "Star Wars", it's a trilogy that actually strengthens its story and just gets better and better as it progresses. "Return of the King", to my surprise, didn't just surpass "Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers". It also managed to be the most thrilling and heart wrenching of the three, and outside of the surprising exceptions of Christopher Lee and Brad Dourif from the cast, this is a rare piece of modern filmmaking that can be considered perfect. The first two were flawless as well, but this one just seems to be more, if you know what I mean (and I'm sure you do).

"Return of the King" has a surprising start to its story. It begins with Gollum (Andy Serkis), but in a different way: it's a flashback to when he was simply known as Smeagol (and didn't look like a forlorn, mangy pest). We see how he took the Ring from his friend (and killed him in the process) and his life in exile as he started to take on his "Gollum" personality. Now, of course, he's the ever sneaky and scheming tour guide for the two Hobbits Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) who leads them closer to Mordor and zeroes in on taking the Ring that Frodo carries. Gollum's trickery is revealed to Sam when he finds him during a "conversation" with Smeagol, but Sam's claim of their guide's fraud is unheeded by Frodo, who knows that Gollum is their only chance of getting into Mordor. However, Gollum secretly plans on leading the two Hobbits into the lair of a spider named Shelob, who eagerly awaits a fresh meal.
At the end of "The Two Towers", Saruman's Uruk-hai army was defeated at Helm's Deep, and Isengard itself was swamped by the tree-like Ents. When Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas Greenleaf (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) arrive at the overthrown city, the other Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) are basking in their victory. The two show the others the wreckage, and as Gandalf discusses with the mighty Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies) what has happened, Pippin makes a queer discovery: a black orb with a small glow at its center. Gandalf quickly snatches it from him, for Pippin is unaware that it is the orb that Sauron controlled Saruman with.

Later that night, after a celebration in Rohan, Pippin takes the sphere from Gandalf as he lays awake entranced by it, only to discover that its powers are greater than he expected. Gandalf is angered by his foolery, but the young Hobbit does see something that could be of importance. While holding the orb, Pippin briefly saw a tree in the center of a flaming stone courtyard. Gandalf instantly perceives that this may be a vision of a possible attack on the great city Minas Tirith, so he and Pippin ride there to alert the citizens to prepare for battle.

When they reach Minas Tirith, Pippin and Gandalf find that the city's steward, Denethor (John Noble, looking eerily like Jack Nicholson with long hair), is already burdened with grief due to the loss of his son Boromir (who died in the first movie). Pippin, recognizing the heroism of Boromir, swears allegiance to the city's army. Denethor agrees, but he is not pleased to hear that the river of Gondor has been overthrown by orcs, even though his own son Faramir (David Wenham) survived the attack.

As Denethor continues to lose his senses, a last allegiance of men is gathering under the command of King Theoden (Bernard Hill) after Pippin managed to set off a warning signal. Merry gladly enlists, and in battle he gets a little help from Theoden's spunky niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto). Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, meanwhile, head off into a forbidden cave to persuade an army of dead soldiers to aid in battle, each whom had not been rested in peace because of their betrayal of Gondor long ago.

While the race of men prepare for the war, Sauron unleashes an army of orcs so massive it dwarves that of the Uruk-hai in "The Two Towers". "The eye of the enemy is moving," says Legolas. Yet, despite the strength of the weapons of these armies, the fate of Middle Earth rests entirely upon Frodo and Sam in their quest to destroy the Ring once and for all. As this journey comes to a close, you might not just feel your nerves shaking and your heart racing: you may also feel the culmination of your human spirit.

When you think about it, it's truly amazing how the follow-ups to "Fellowship" have managed to elevate the greatness of the entire series rather than throw it out the window. All throughout, Jackson has meticulously envisioned and crafted everything imaginable, and now that the trilogy has finally come to an end it's impossible to believe it's over. My love for these movies has become greater and greater through repeated viewings, but "Return of the King" has an emotional impact more monumental than that of any other movie I have seen. I had expected to shoot right out of my seat at the end, but instead I simply applauded. I could hardly speak, after all, but I did slightly wave at the screen on the way out, unable to think that the journey had concluded. It was a brief but highly emotional moment, and don't be surprised if the same thing happens for you.

Do I have any complaints about this movie? Not really. Treebeard's appearance was surprisingly brief, and Brad Dourif and Christopher Lee don't make appearances, but the overwhelming perfection of the film quickly filled in those holes. One of the many flawless aspects would namely be the cast, which seems to be most like the series itself: perfect, yet it somehow manages to continually improve as the journey reaches its conclusion. Viggo Mortensen, Miranda Otto, Billy Boyd, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, and Elijah Wood are the brightest stars of the cast, and you'll cheer for each one even though, in reality, they're only on a movie screen. Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies are kind of left in the background, but they have their shining moments, as do Liv Tyler as Aragorn's love Arwen, Cate Blanchett as the Elven queen Galadriel, and Ian Holm as an aging Bilbo Baggins.

"The Lord of the Rings" films are as groundbreaking as technical achievements as they are groundbreaking fantasy films. If ever there was a film that thrilled almost entirely with CGI, this is it. Over and over again, Peter Jackson so effectively fills each frame with computer-generated wonder that respiratory problems may result due to one's loss of breath. The work put into the CGI is literally beyond description, so I won't waste your time attempting to give detail.
Since you've listened to me gush over everything else about "Return of the King", you may be wondering what my favorite part was. When I finally left the theater, I felt choosing it would be a discredit to every other great scene (yes, I liked it that much). Now, though, I would have to say the moments involving the dead army of mountain men were perhaps the best (with the ending obviously excepted, but I'm no spoiler). Moreover, given that they're already dead but can still kill others, they are quite a treat to watch in battle against the orcs at Minas Tirith.

The sense of heartbreak because of the series' end is undoubtedly not felt by just the audience. "Return of the King" has at least four different points where it seems like it will end, but doesn't. This may be a result of Peter Jackson's reluctance to finally put and end to it all, and I can't argue. These "endings", while wrapping up the story, still constitute the film's colossal 200-minute running time, which seems like forever to the average filmgoer. For me, I hardly felt the length. I didn't even yawn once, not even when the film got out past 11:00 PM. I was so enraptured and thrilled by the movie that I couldn't have been tired, and it lingered in my mind before I finally went to sleep later on.

At the showing my family attended, there was a man who sat behind us who was, not surprisingly, excited as we were. Before the projector even ran the annoying line of commercials, we wondered if "Return of the King" would be the best of the three. Three hours and twenty minutes later, I turned to him, and we briefly agreed that it was the best. No questions asked.

Now, I will say something that most snobbish movie lovers will trounce me for, but I don't care. I must say that this trilogy is the best movie trilogy of all time. Yes. Go ahead. Call me stupid, a disgrace to criticism; tell me that "Godfather" is the best saga (and it would be, believe me, if part three had stronger writing, but that doesn't matter now). What you say, however, does not change this reviewer's emotion. If you can't accept that this is fantasy, then don't bother complaining to me. If you don't like this movie, I seriously doubt you have an actual human heart.

As for the Oscars, well, one can dream, right?

This review is purely of my doing, and I do not copy off other reviewers.

So, what does this rating system mean anyway?
*****-A masterpiece of filmmaking that should be seen at all costs ****1/2-A fabulous movie. An absolute must catch.
****-An excellent show. Be sure to see it.
***1/2-A good film. Recommended.
***-Decent movie that could be a lot better.
**1/2-Average movie with a number of flaws.
**-Pretty bad with a few saving graces. Instantly forgettable. *1/2-Bad. Don’t see it.
*-As much fun as having your seat kicked for two hours. 1/2-Like drinking liters of cough syrup. Boycott it. 0-Death may come

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