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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King


Year of release

Directed by
Peter Jackson

Written by
Peter Jackson (script)
Fran Walsh (script)
Philippa Boyens (script)
J.R.R. Tolkien (novel)

Billy Boyd
Miranda Otto
John Noble
Karl Urban
Liv Tyler

The Return of the King

Plot – The battle for Middle Earth comes to its conclusion. Frodo and Sam close in on Mount Doom with the ring, but they still have Gollum in tow and he has plans for separating the friends, and then separating Frodo from the ring. The remaining members of the fellowship are preparing for the battle of their lives on the Pelennor Fields. Merry has joined Eowyn in the Rohirrim, Pippin and Gandalf are part of the force protecting Minas Tirith, while the trio of Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas have travelled into the Paths of the Dead in aid of some unusual back-up in the form of an army of ghosts.

And now here we are at the end of all things.

It's a funny thing revisiting the films. As much as I love going back to watch them again, by the time Return of the King comes to a close I am left with a real sense of sadness and melancholy. I just love visiting this world so much that when it comes to an end it's an experience tinged with somber tone. I remember especially feeling that way the first time I saw it at the cinema. After two years of waiting, while I was absolutely desperate to see it, by the time I actually did I kind of wished I could get the anticipation back. It was a real shame that it was over. Just as it was now. Oh well, until next time Frodo and the gang. Before then however, onto my long ass ramblings!

More than anything this entry in the series really highlights the immense strength of the hobbits. Merry and Pippin complete their transformation from bumbling eejits of comic relief, to noble heroes possessing a courage that far outweighs their small frame. Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan are both of fine form here to portray this evolution. I also adore the little moment where Pippin sings “Edge of Night” for Denethor; mournful and heart-wrenching it's a beautiful scene. And then of course there is touching and legendary friendship between Sam and Frodo. Their scenes with Gollum continue to be amongst the most entertaining the films have to offer. I love how his rivalry with Sam continues to develop, and the way in which he plays the hobbits off against each other. With Gollum in his head, and the ring poisoning his soul Frodo's descent into darkness continues. But Sam will never give up on him, and as a result Frodo is able to return to the character we know and love. The strength of both men as they get closer and closer to Mount Doom is extraordinary, and who couldn't help but feel like cheering at the moment where Sam picks up an exhausted Frodo and carries him the final steps.

When it came to the performers I received a little added treat this time round which I had never received before. As I mentioned in my Fellowship... review it has been a few years since I revisited the trilogy, and at that time I had never seen the TV show Fringe. Now that I have watched five seasons of it (well four and a half), it was a great little bonus to see John Noble – Dr Walter Bishop in Fringe, and here as Denethor. And he provides a terrific performance as the selfish, demented Steward of Gondor. A lot of characters display the strength of man, Denethor is one of those who highlights man's weakness. I've got to say I had forgotten how awesome Miranda Otto's Eowyn was. When I think about the characters from the series those that usually come to mind are the members of the fellowship and Gollum. However she is fantastic; a character of great strength and bravery, but also of grace and beauty. And I love her friendship with Merry and the moments they share. She's just such a lovely character, I felt myself kind of falling in love with her this time round. And all of the series' old timers (McKellen, Mortensen, Astin, Wood etc) continue to uphold the high quality of performances that had been on show in both Fellowship... and The Two Towers. Just so many of the people seemed perfectly cast. And Andy Serkis is still an absolute treat as Gollum. It's wonderful to see his actual face as we are given the chance to see Smeagol and the normal being that he was before the ring entered his life and he was transformed into the creature that is Gollum. The voice Serkis imbues Gollum with is tremendous. And surprisingly infectious. Perhaps it's just me but I find myself occasionally talking like Gollum after I've watched the films!

While on the technical side of things the high standard that had been set in the previous two efforts is most certainly held up. Jackson's direction is still excellent, his inclination towards sweeping camera work is just a perfect fit for this kind of epic venture. Howard Shore's wonderful score continues to delight and move me, while the CGI continues to astonish.

Just as with The Two Towers the film features a truly staggering battle between the forces of good and evil. This time the setting is the Pelennor Fields, and while it may lack the moody atmosphere of the battle at Helm's Deep, it most certainly makes up for it with its sheer scale. Right from the moment where the armies begin to gather on the field the atmosphere begins to build and even for the Lord of the Rings films the scope is amazing. The battle features all manner of creatures and devices of war; from dragons to immense towers full of orcs, oliphaunts to trebuchets, a marauding army of ghosts to the evil Witch King himself. As with the battle at Helm's Deep the momentum sways back and forth between the duelling sides, and features a number of great sequences such as Gandalf taking charge and laying a serious smackdown on his foes, or Eowyn and Merry joining forces to take down the Witch King. Oh and I love the moment where the cavalry arrives in the form of the Rohirrim led by Theoden. Bathed in the golden light of the sun, Theoden delivers a rousing speech and backed by a wonderfully heroic piece of Howard Shore's score (which has a very celtic vibe to it) leads his men into battle as they mow down all the orcs who stand before them. It's just such a stirring moment that makes me want to stand up and cheer everytime I see it. The whole thing takes place outside the white city of Minas Tirith, another remarkably realised addition to this world. It's a regal and spectacular piece of architecture.

There's a great sequence which allows Peter Jackson to tap in to his horror roots more than any other moment in the trilogy. With Gollum having driven a wedge between the bond of Frodo and Sam, the wretched creature then lures Frodo into a trap. Leading the ringbearer to a series of dark, dank caves Gollum abandons Frodo to his fate. A gigantic spider begins to stalk little Frodo through the nightmarishly creepy caves, the walls thick with webbing. Shelob herslf is a truly foul and disgusting creature, really makes the skin crawl. Another vaguely horror-ish sequence occurs when the trio of Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas come to face to face with the army of the dead and find themselves caught up in an avalanche of skulls. The army of ghosts that Aragorn recruits also bear a strong similarity in appearance to the ghosts featured in Jackson's The Frighteners.

And now we move on to the issue of the 17 endings, or whatever exaggerated number of endings the haters would have you believe there are. Personally I have never understood the criticism that the film and Jackson himself receives over the multi-stranded close. After all how exactly are you going to wrap up a story that has spanned eleven hours (extended edition running times) and encapsulated dozens of characters in one neat little scene? And what exactly should have been axed then? The joyous reuniting of the fellowship when Frodo wakes? The union of Aragorn and Arwen and Aragorn's crowning as king? The hobbit quartet getting their due as everyone bows down before them? The hobbits returning to the Shire and Sam getting married? No none of these moments should have been lost. The characters that we have followed deserve these moments for all they went through, and we the viewers deserve these moments after going on this journey with them. And for the most part, people who are watching Return of the King will have seen and liked/loved the two previous instalments of the series, so why would you complain about having more time in this world with these characters? It also provides us with the joy of a return for Ian Holm, before providing an emotional close for the fellowship.

And the film is given the suitably majestic end that it deserves with the closing credits. While Annie Lennox's beautiful “Into the West” plays we are presented with a series of gorgeous sketches of the main characters who have graced the series. Oh and just a little side not – I'm so glad that no more of the main characters died here. After spending such a long time with them and coming to care so much I don't think I could have handled losing any of them, would have broke my heart!

Conclusion – Well there we have it. After 682 minutes of visual perfection; based on over a 1000 pages of literary source material, which accrued a total of 17 Oscars from 30 nominations and made a combined box office killing of $2.91 billion, I have once again reached the end of the Lord of the Rings' epic story. And I still find them to be the amongst the most extraordinary achievements in the history of cinema. Peter Jackson created something truly astonishing; adapting a seemingly unfilmable book, corralling a series of impeccable performances from a massive cast and producing something for the ages.

Oh and to add to the numbers I was throwing about above, combined my three reviews encapsulated over 5000 words. So if you were able to read through all of them you have my respect and congratulations. Especially as they weren't perhaps reviews in the traditional sense, just inane fanboy ramblings.