Screen Reviews

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

directed by Peter Jackson

starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin

New Line


At long last it ends. The three-year journey through Middle-Earth, to destroy the One Ring and stop the Dark Lord Sauron, has finished. Peter Jackson has brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic to the big screen in a way that no one thought possible just a few years ago.

So, how does The Return of the King stack up to the first two parts (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers) of the story? Well, there’s good and bad. I saw the finale of the story in a smaller theater, sans digital sound or stadium seating, and still I was taken in by the spectacle. There were audible gasps, “oohs” and “ahhs” at the various beautiful vistas. I am sure there was a drop in barometric pressure as the audience collectively drew in their breath at the first glorious shots of Minas Tirith. As before, Jackson and his crew delivered an engrossing world to more easily sell us on the story – the continued quest of hobbits Frodo and Samwise to destroy the Ring of Power, and of their friends to help the free people of Middle-Earth stand against the forces of Darkness as long as possible until the Ring is destroyed.


Jackson again manages to coax stellar performances from his actors, from the many major players to even the minor characters who only have a few lines to deliver, perhaps under heavy make-up, before moving along. Again, we feel the weight of the world around Frodo’s neck just from the tired look in Elijah Wood’s eyes. Again, we know true devotion for a friend from the concern that Sean Astin delivers as Samwise. Viggo Mortensen convincingly turns Aragorn from Ranger into King without missing a beat. And Ian McKellen brings all of the layers to Gandalf that we expect by now. But it is Andy Serkis and WETA Workshops’ collaboration on Gollum/Smeagol that takes the prize for most impressive character. Once again, they have delivered a fully realized animated character into a live-action film that has more range and emotion than most of the characters to grace your average multiplex screen, animated or live-action. A special treat is an opportunity to see the actual actor behind Gollum, as Andy Serkis plays Smeagol in a flashback scene at the beginning of the film.

What of the story? How does it end? Well, you know I won’t tell you that. But I will say that the changes from the book were most glaring in this film than in either of the two previous films. While some of my concerns about the other films were allayed by watching the extended versions on DVD, there are a few changes in The Return of the King that will obviously not be significantly affected by adding more footage. A major event that occurs at the end of The Two Towers book was put off until the film version of The Return of the King. For some reason, instead of attending to that at the beginning of the film, Jackson draws that encounter out for more than an hour while cutting back and forth to other plotlines. This quickly changed my feelings from anticipation to a “let’s get on with it already” attitude. Also, some truly classic lines from the book were changed to effect modern speech. Ironically, these were kept intact for the Rankin-Bass animated version. Go figure. And after the climactic action scene, the denouement tends to drag a bit, while the ending in the book served as a microcosm of the entire epic and would have added a little more life to the film and some more closure to a few of the characters.


However, even at three-and-a-half hours, I wanted more. More action, more creatures, more top-notch acting by all involved, more, more, more. Despite any complaints I may have had, this was still a phenomenal theatrical experience. But now it is over. Yes, I realize that the extended edition DVD is already in the works. Rumors are already circulating that there will be over 45 minutes of extra footage, at least. I imagine there will even be a super-spectacular box set with every minute of footage ever filmed eventually released. And there is talk of Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen working on The Hobbit after the rights are cleared up. But the spectacle is over. The quest is at an end. Everything after this is welcomed, surely, but there will be no more Christmas anticipation like there was for the past three years. Through the magic of DVD we can return to Middle-Earth whenever we like, but it will never be like it was the first time. Thank you Peter Jackson, for bringing a wonderful story to the screen, and for reminding me what magic could be like at the movies again.

The Lord of the Rings:

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