The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

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Cast:
Elijah Wood as Frodo
Sean Astin as Sam
Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn
Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Andy Serkis as Gollum/Smeagol
Billy Boyd as Pippin
Dominic Monaghan as Merry
Miranda Otto as Eowyn
David Wenham as Faramir
Orlando Bloom as Legolas
John Rhys-Davies as Gimli
Liv Tyler as Arwen
Karl Urban as Eomer
Noel Appleby as Everard Proudfoot
Alexandra Astin as Elanor Gamgee
John Bach as Madril
Sean Bean as Boromir
Cate Blanchett as Galadriel
Sadwyn Brophy as Eldarion
Alistair Browning as Damrod
Marton Csokas as Celeborn
Bernard Hill as Theoden
Ian Holm as Bilbo
Bruce Hopkins as Gamling
Ian Hughes as Irolas
Lawrence Makoare as Witch King/Gothmog
Bret McKenzie as Elf Escort
Sarah McLeod as Rosie Cotton
John Noble as Denethor
Paul Norell as King of the Dead
Thomas Robins as Deagol
Harry Sinclair as Isildur
Peter Tait as Shagrat
Stephen Ure as Gorbag
Hugo Weaving as Elrond

Summary:
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is every bit as exciting and amazing as the first two films, and then some. It’s a satisfying ending to the series and worthy of “Best Picture” talk.

Story:
This is the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien.

As Sam, Frodo, and Gollum continue to make their way into Mordor to destroy the One Ring, Frodo continues to feel its effects. Not only does he become physically weaker, but it begins affecting his mind. While Frodo is in this weakened state, Gollum sees his opportunity to kill the Hobbits and reclaim his “precious”. Sam is wise (no pun intended) to his scheme, yet he is unable to convince Frodo of the impending danger from their guide. He can only wait for the time when Gollum will strike.

Meanwhile, Aragorn, Gandalf, and the remaining fellowship learn that Sauron is about to attack the Gondor city of Minas Tirith. It appears that the last stand between good and evil on Middle Earth will take place there. Our heroes rally the remaining human armies for battle. However, Gandalf discovers that Denethor, the king of Gondor, has gone mad with grief over the death of his son Boromir (from the first film). With the king unable and unwilling to lead, it’s up to Gandalf to manipulate events so that the humans can stand a chance in the final battle.

Aragon also finds added motivation to win the battle. As Sauron grows stronger, his elf love Arwen begins to die. If he wants to save her, he must reclaim his throne and lead the humans against Sauron. He looks for help in the most unlikely and terrifying of places. But even if he wins a new army to aid him, he knows all hope lies with Frodo succeeding. But will Frodo be able to find the strength to destroy the ring that has so enchanted him?

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images.

What Worked:
If you’ve read the books, then there are no spoilers here to worry about. Everyone else may want to avoid this review until after they’ve seen the film.

If you liked the first two Lord of the Rings movies, you’re going to really enjoy Return of the King. It’s as good, if not better than the first two films. Unlike with The Matrix or Star Wars, this is a film that concludes a trilogy with a bang rather than a fizzle. ROTK takes everything that made the first two films great and improves on them. The acting is more emotional. The battles are larger in scope and spectacle. You’ll find yourself laughing, crying, holding your breath, and gasping in awe.

Return of the King does take a while to get going. It begins by showing the origin of Gollum. It’s a powerful scene that immediately puts you back into the mood of the story and it sets up things to come later in the film. However, the next hour or so is rather slow as director Peter Jackson repositions the players for the final battle. There is a lot of exposition and drama that may make some viewers antsy. Fortunately, though, the movie kicks back into overdrive and delivers an impressive and satisfying end to the epic tale.

The most notable things about Return of the King are the spectacular battles. While they make the battle in The Two Towers look like a skirmish, it doesn’t make it any less impressive. Instead we are treated to more warriors, more creatures, and more scenes of creative mayhem that will leave you begging for more. One of the cooler moments in the battle is a fight scene between the riders of Rohan and the giant Oliphants (briefly seen in The Two Towers). Imagine the AT-AT scene in The Empire Strikes Back. This ends up being like an updated, re-imagined version of the classic battle scene. You’re going to love it. Fans of Legolas will particularly enjoy a scene where he single handedly dispatches one of the beasts. The confrontation between Eowyn and The Witch King is also quite stunning and will have the female fans in the audience cheering the warrior princess on. The arrival of the ghost army is also one of the coolest tings I’ve seen on screen all year. It’s imagery that is unique and amazing and will stick with you well after you leave the theater. Jackson also does an incredible job of including all the creatures we’ve only seen glimpses of in the previous films. Look for wargs, trolls, eagles, and more.

Each film has a few breakout characters and this one is no exception. This time around the award goes to Samwise Gamgee played by Sean Astin. His utter devotion to Frodo and their powerful friendship ends up giving him plenty of opportunities to show emotion through the film. He shows anger when confronting Gollum. He shows despair when turned away by Frodo. He shows determination on the slopes of Mt. Doom. He even shows bravery and his fighting skills when facing the giant spider Shelob. When he finally returns home and sees the girl he has had a crush on, you cheer him on when he confidently decides he’s going to marry her. All in all, he has one of the best performances of the film.

Other breakout characters include Miranda Otto as Eowyn. Her transformation from potential love interest of Aragorn to warrior princess was quite a sight to see. She provides many of the moments worth cheering in the film. Ian McKellen also shows us a new side of Gandalf. He turns from wizard to warrior and commander in the film. He has some impressive fight scenes where he battles with his staff and sword. However, one of Gandalf’s most impressive moments comes when he pauses in the midst of battle to tell Pippen about the adventure after death. It’s quite a touching moment and you see how they all turn from despair to hope even in the face of certain doom. Bernard Hill is also excellent as Theoden. He delivers a pre-battle speech worthy of Braveheart in the film. Finally, Andy Serkis is wonderful yet again as Gollum and Smeagol. We finally get to see his real face in the prologue. As the CG character, he’s still impressive. His effects are even more amazing when shown close up. The fine attention to detail really makes him come alive. This is one CG character that can act.

Rounding things out, the score by Howard Shore is probably the best of the series. He not only utilizes previous themes, but he produces new ones that make the final battles even more exciting. The final song during the credits by Annie Lennox is my favorite of the lot. (Look for drawings of each of the characters during the final credits. It’s a nice touch.) The special effects are all first rate. Not only is the CGI awesome but the traditional miniatures help make it all the more realistic. The CG Shelob also sets the new standard for movie spiders.

There has been a lot of talk about Return of the King deserving “Best Picture” at the Oscars. I think this film is worthy of the buzz. The writing is superb. The acting and characterizations are spot on and you truly care for them. When the movie wraps up you really feel like you’re saying goodbye to friends you won’t see again. The picture is epic in scale and it is destined to become a classic. Peter Jackson and his cast and crew deserve recognition because they’ve made a landmark achievement on many levels.

What Didn’t Work:
As awesome and wonderful and satisfying as this movie is, I recognize that it does have a few minor problems (though they are easily overlooked).

First off is the running time. At over three hours long, this movie will test the bladders of even the toughest moviegoer. An intermission may have been appropriate for ROTK. Still, I’d rather have more running time and have them get the movie right than cut it short. And even as long as the movie is, there are portions towards the end that seem rushed. When Aragorn finally takes the mantle of King and leads the army into battle, it sees to happen a little too quickly.

There has also been discussion of the multiple endings of the film. There is scene after scene in the movie where it looks like everything is going to end. This will annoy some viewers because they won’t know when to run out to take a leak. However, I found these multiple endings totally necessary in order to wrap up the story and keep loose ends from developing. After all, this is a world we aren’t ever likely to revisit (except in a Hobbit prequel) and there are a lot of questions to answer. And anyone that’s ever read Return of the King knows that half of the book is the epilogue after the main battle is won.

In every one of the movies die hard LOTR fans have griped about what was changed or cut from the book. Besides the obvious inclusion of Shelob from the Two Towers, there aren’t a whole lot of changes. The scouring of the Shire where the Hobbits return home to drive off invaders is now gone. The final confrontation with Saruman and Wormtounge is also nowhere to be found. In fact, Christopher Lee is not in the movie at all. We also don’t get to see Faramir and Eowyn hook up. Hopefully, though, hints of these will be added back into a special edition DVD of the film.

My only other gripe was the look of the Orc commander. He looked like Sloth from The Goonies. Every time he came on screen I had to snicker at the resemblance and it ripped me out of the moment. Ugh! I also wish they had put “Frodo lives!” hidden somewhere in the credits.

The Bottom Line:
Return of the King is a worthy conclusion to the series and one of the few satisfying endings to a trilogy. I’m really sad to see it all end, but it has been a really fun ride. I walked out hoping more than ever that Peter Jackson will get to do “The Hobbit”.

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