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

by John Ulmer (johnulmer2003 AT msn DOT com)
January 5th, 2004


4.5/5 stars


Before I review this good movie, I have to get something that's been bothering me off my chest.

I went with eight people to see "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." All eight of them found it "good" at best. We all thought it was too long, with too many passages of dialogue explaining what was going to happen ("I ride to Minis Tirith at dawn to face the enemies of Middle-Earth!" -- just do it already!), too many scenes that most definitely could have been cut or edited, and we all found that the ending of the film stretched on too long and we didn't need to see Frodo and Sam fondly gazing at each other ninety times before we got the idea that they have an affection for each other. (Brotherly love or...something else?)

The thing is, all the "Lord of the Rings" movies are good. But none of them are great. Filmed by Peter Jackson with an epic feeling that betrays J.R.R. Tolkien's light-hearted tale, the films try to take a somewhat light idea and turn them into epics -- a problem, since the entire world is fantasy, and it is hard to take anything in the film dreadfully serious. (I thought it was just I, but some other critics have noted the same problem.)
This is the best "Lord of the Rings" movie. Even though it sounds as if I am complaining about them, I am not. I'm complaining about the way movie geeks flock to the cinemas and spread word that it's the "best film of all time," then post these comments on the Internet and try to boost the film's rating on IMDb. (Some fans have been caught in the act of making multiple usernames to do so.)

I find it almost laughable that anyone could argue that the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is the best of all time, or that it is the better than "The Godfather" (because that film stands as the number one film on the Internet Movie Database, there are heated debates from "Rings" fans claiming that "The Godfather" is trash and their favorite film is not).

It's all opinion, of course, but I sometimes wonder whether the fans of "The Lord of the Rings," those who claim they are superior to "The Godfather," have even seen that film. I also wonder whether the strict fans that claim it is the best film ever made have actually seen enough films to qualify for that assumption -- if it is their favorite film, fine, but to say it is THE best film of all time is entirely their opinion, although they seem to take it as a fact. Have they seen the films of Fellini? Kurosawa? Scorsese? Coppola? "Citizen Kane"? "Casablanca"? "Taxi Driver"? "Sweet Smell of Success"? "To Kill a Mockingbird"? "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"? "Chinatown"? "Apocalypse Now"? "2001: A Space Odyssey"? The list goes on!
Their definitions of classics range from the time of "Star Wars" to present cinema. It may sound like an old argument but it's true -- greater films are harder to find nowadays, and just because "The Lord of the Rings" seems like an achievement of some sort, it does not make it the best film of all time. I can name many better films. But, then again, it's my opinion, I suppose.
Now that I'm done with my rant, there's nothing left to say. Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) venture closer to Mordor to destroy The One Ring, while Gollum (Andy Serkis) plots to murder them both and take the Ring of Power for himself. (We get to see Gollum's background in the film, too, which is something that will satisfy Tolkien's fans that have read the stories.)

Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) returns to the throne of a kingdom (hence the title of the film) to claim his position as heir of Isildur, but first gathers together Legolas and Gimli (Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies) to help battle the Orcs venturing closer to their castle, along with Gandalf the White (Ian McKellen), who opens a can of whoop [butt] in this movie.

So does Sam, who battles a deadly giant arachnid named Shelob after Frodo's life is put in danger. )"Get away from him you filth!" is his best insult, which would probably be replaced with something a tad bit more offensive if the films were set in today's world.)

Frodo has turned totally evil in this film. His eyes conceal a tired look of bitterness and hatred -- the Ring is bearing down on his soul, and it shows. As Sam and Frodo draw closer to Mount Doom to destroy The One Ring, we get a fiery showdown between Frodo and Gollum that everyone's been waiting for.
This is the darkest film of the trilogy. You may have thought "The Two Towers" was dark, but "The Return of the King" is almost evil -- Frodo gives audiences the creeps a few times. When he says, "The Ring is mine," and grins at Sam with the Elijah Wood grin, a shiver goes down your spine.
The film picks up pace starting with the giant arachnid battle, about halfway through the film, and continues down the path of mild greatness until the last twenty minutes, which never seem to end. It is as if Jackson was afraid to close his film for a final time and kept dragging the scenes out -- I don't need to see Frodo and Sam admiring each other more than twice!

As the credits rolled, the audience poured out of the theater. "Wasn't that good?" I heard someone say. "No," was the reply. "The Return of the King" is a very good film, and certainly the best of the trilogy, but don't be fooled by the hype -- this is not one of the best films of all time. It's a case of the Emperor's New Clothes -- some day, someone's going to realize that what they're going on about isn't really there at all. And finally all the film fans will be able to say, "Y'know, I never really loved the movie all that much anyway." But for now, I guess we'll all have to put up with more unearned hype.

I liked this movie. I liked it a lot at certain points. But I would never, ever call it great. That's just me, I guess.

- John Ulmer
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