a critiQal film review The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)

Plot: As Frodo (Wood) and Samwise (Astin) reach the conclusion of their journey, Aragorn (Mortensen) must finally accept his destiny as the true King. With Mordor's forces beginning to march on Gondor, the great battle for mankind's very survival on Middle Earth begins anew, and The Fellowship of the Ring must stand strong...or all is lost.

Reviewed
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  • ...a decent conclusion to the trilogy - even if the end drags on just a bit too long.

It seems that 2003 in films will be remembered for it’s trilogy conclusions more than anything else. With The Matrix Revolutions (2003) having just been in theaters and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in theaters now, two blockbuster trilogies are coming to a close this year.

Whereas The Matrix Revolutions (2003) seems to have become a little worse for wear by the third episode (according to reviews), The Lord of the Rings conclusion is already being hailed as one of the truly great movies of all time.

Since I wasn’t too impressed with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), but definitely enjoyed The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), I definitely wanted to see The Return Of The King as soon as possible. Would the upward trend in the quality of the films continue, or would The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) still stand out as the high point in the trilogy?

All of the major characters introduced over the course of the previous two films are back again in The Return of the King. Viggo Mortensen especially is given a real chance to shine again in the third installment of this trilogy, and proves yet again he is the perfect casting choice for the role of Aragorn. He shows real depth and intensity in his role, and becomes so much his character it will be odd to see him in any other film.

Elijah Wood and Sean Astin, on the other hand, do revert back to their original slightly annoying selves (aka their The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) performances), and do take a little bit away from the scenes they appear in.

Gimley (John Rhys-Davies) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom, recently seen in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)) are delegated to more minor characters in the film, more involved in tagging along after Aragorn than true characters unto themselves (with one exception, noted below).

Even the white wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is relegated to more of a figurehead than the know-it-all with a heart of gold that the viewer has come to know over the course of the series.

Interestingly enough, despite their faults, the supporting cast (everyone except Wood and Astin, that is) continue to show a true camraderie that helps lift the film above the norm. That, the plot, and especially the special effects, of course.

The plot is vast yet again, as The Return of the King draws the trilogy to a close. It would have been very easy for the director to lose the audience, since there are about 5 things happening at once at any given point in the movie. To Peter Jackson’s credit, he keeps the viewer aware of where they are, and won’t lose anybody as he whips from scene to scene.

He is definitely well aware of what he wanted to happen, and I’m sure that the entire trilogy has much exceeded any expectations about how close he could get to his vision. Without that overriding vision, the first film would have been the high point of the series, and the following films would have lost viewer interest long ago.

The director’s incredible vision of how the movies should be made is ever present, and it can be felt in every scene, every camera angle, every on-screen moment. It’s that vision that has made this trilogy so popular, and it’s that vision that will keep the trilogy in the minds of it’s viewers long after the movies have ended.

The special effects in Return of the King, again, are breathtaking. From the sight of a massive castle built into solid rock to the sheer enormity of the battle sequences, to Gollum’s lifelike quality, the special effects are stunning.

There is one slight discontinuity to the effects, and as it did in the second film, it centers around one of Legolas’ stunt sequences. If you recall, the odd way he mounted a galloping horse was a standout oddity from that film. In this installment, the oddity comes when he attacks a battle elephant and it’s riders. While the whole scene taking together is impressive, there are points where the special effects crew seems to have forgotten that Legolas weighs anything at all. He slides around at times as if he’s weightless, and it’s a slight oddity that pulls the viewer out of the film for a moment.

It seems this time, however, that the director thought of this, so decided a quick joke at the end of the sequence would pull the audience back in. Luckily for them, it works (and produced the only laugh in my fellow moviegoers). But that error is just a slight blip on the vast expanse of the movie’s special effects, so is not really that big of a deal.

With it’s stunning visual imagery in almost every scene, it’s great performance by Viggo Mortensen (and the decent performancs by his backup actors), not to mention it’s final conclusion to this impressive trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a must see on the big screen.

While The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) still tops this film, Return Of The King is a definite improvement over The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), and definitely gives The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) a run for it’s money.

The true downfall of The Return of the King is the entirely too long wrap-up at the end of the film. There are at least 3 spots where the movie could have ended, but didn’t. It was almost as if the director didn’t want to end the trilogy, so kept adding little bits and pieces, just to keep the film going. Most of it could have easily been cut out and the audience would leave the theater with a much better memory of the film. If I had it to do over again, I would have left before the extreme ending of the film (maybe the second time I thought it was done), and would have been better off because of it.

So, is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King going into my DVD collection when it comes out in it’s inevitable 4-Disc extended version? Probably not, but I’ll definitely pick up the 2-disc widescreen version.

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