- Directed by Peter Jackson
- December 1, 2003 (Embassy Theatre) / December 17, 2003 (US) / December 18, 2003 (New Zealand)
- Based on the 1955 novel The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
Frodo, Sam, and Gollum make their way toward Mordor to finally destroy the One Ring while Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and the rest join forces together against Sauron and his legions.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the final film in one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time and is truly epic. Perhaps one of the most perfect conclusions to any film series. Not perfect but as close to perfect as you can come on film.
And as usual for these movies The Return of the King is a deeper than most film. We get a look at the high cost of victory in war. The story touches on friendship and duty. It is a character driven film with complex relationships and stunning visuals.
This movie looks at the difference between fighting for an idea or cause and fighting for what one person wants. That’s something that films don’t often dig into. 300 did it but not nearly as eloquently as it is done here. Jackson and company show how the human spirit can fight and overcome incredible odds when it is personal and how the will to fight is broken when you are not as invested. That’s a strength of the humans have compared to Sauron’s army. The humans are fighting for their land and for their nation and for their freedom. Sauron’s forces on the other hand have no real stake in the fight. They are doing as they are commanded and thus have trouble standing against the united humans.
There might even be a touch of overcoming personal biases and becoming friends in the narrative in the relationship between Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom). The initial dislike between the two was not a clash of personalities but something more akin to bigotry. This is perhaps one of the great treats of this film and its predecessor. They were two people would not have met otherwise but found they had more in common than they did not.
Each character gets a disposition to their stories even if they are sad if not heartbreaking at times. And despite being a fantasy film we get a relatively realistic depiction of the horrors of war and what it takes to win one. Our heroes do not get to march off into the sunset with a smile on their face. The Return of the King is not a fun adventure. There is a loss and there is pain and there is suffering for all the characters.
Though Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) is in the title-he must face his destiny as King of Gondor-Frodo (Elijah Wood) is still the most important character. His struggle to not succumb to the One Ring and his mission to destroy it is what mostly drives the story. Everyone is essentially keeping Sauron’s forces busy while he and Samwise (Sean Astin) make the trip despite the desire of Sméagol/Gollum (Andy Serkis) to derail their plans and claim the Ring again for himself.
One of the weaker character spots in this film is the love triangle involving Aragorn, Arwen (Liv Tyler), and Éowyn (Miranda Otto). It just felt a little bit rushed through. I watched the theatrical version and perhaps that’s the reason it came off this way. Maybe some stuff was left on the cutting room floor.
And I’m not sure if it was in the book or not but the death of the Witch-king of Angmar (Lawrence Makoare) was a bit of a groaner to me. No man can kill the Witch-king but Éowyn CAN because she’s a woman and not a man? I think better of J.R.R. Tolkien, and this seems a bit cliché for somebody that received the fame he did to write.
It’s no great secret that Peter Jackson made some changes for narrative purposes. If that was one of them, it would be a blip since the others fit in so seamlessly. This whole film was done with respect to the material which is rather sophisticated. It was never written to be forgettable but rather to give you something to think about.
For a film and a film series known for battles and excitement, there is much more dialogue than there is action but when it hits it is just simply some of the best stuff ever put the screen. You are kept on the edge of your seats and hang on every high and low of every twist and turn. There’s just so much that it keeps you stuck. It just gives you more and more and you hunger for the next bit of story.
This is perhaps a significantly greater use of CGI in The Return of the King than either of its predecessors but that’s by necessity as there is an epic battle and several shots in the Elven kingdom that you really couldn’t do with prosthetics or practical effects. Sméagol from time to time looks rather fake and the background for moments when the remaining members of the Fellowship are saying their goodbyes in the Elven kingdom look flat.
With each film the characters ended differently than they began. This is no different. In this film as well as with all series each character is changed. Samwise has become more confident. Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) have both matured as well. Gimli and Legolas have overcome their biases and prejudices. Frodo started out hopeful and happy and ended the story somber and a bit broken having been touched irreparably by the Ring.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a satisfying conclusion to an epic film series. It is satisfying and deep and it’s nearly 3 hour run time just breezes by. This and the other films are something all movie aficionados must see.