The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) Review

Here it is. This is the definitive “Lord of the Rings” as cinema has decided to depict it. No, it still isn’t faithful to the books but we’ve established this. Taken on its own or with respect to the first two parts, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” is probably the most consistently entertaining picture that spans a length of 200 or so minutes that you are ever likely to see. You know how I said “The Two Towers” was better than “Fellowship of the Ring“? Well this one dwarfs both of them.

Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Astin) and a treacherous Gollum (Andy Serkis) are making their way into Mordor via a secret passage. One which contains a creature that Gollum intends to have kill Frodo so that he can retrieve his “precious”. The Hobbit scenes are not only brilliant, but also far more plentiful, they are the heroes again. Even Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) receive more screen time than ever before. Peter Jackson seems to have finally realised how to spread out screen time and as a result he shows us a story of many different parts that are equally impressive as a whole.

“Return of the King” refers to Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the descendant of the last King of Gondor. This leads into a surprisingly well done side plot depicting the steward of Gondor (John Noble) being hostile towards the idea of him being usurped as well as his relationship with his son Faramir (David Wenham), who is the sibling of the deceased favourite son. Faramir rides out into battle in an effort to please his father and even though he isn’t killed his father still attempts to cremate him. Another side plot to add to the separate strands of the story, and it does nothing to detract from the other branches.

I’ve complained before about how the travelling detracts from the cinematic franchise as opposed to adding to it as it did with the books. “Return of the King” changes this, Frodo and Sam have to travel huge distances to get to Mordor and then Mount Doom and this is all part of the struggle. Frodo feels at his wits end and you can practically fell how week he has become due to the burden of the Ring. At the same time, you can’t help but admire Samwise even though he has not been given such a momentous task as Frodo. Sam also gets to become the small-in-stature hero of the tale, and the fact we are so drawn to him makes it a genuinely heartfelt moment when he is being turned away due to Gollum’s misbehaviour.

Gollum is again the most interesting of the characters, watching him talk to his other self in a reflective pool is ingenious. Arwen (Liv Tyler) is also an important factor due to her relationship with Aragorn. She is only a worthwhile entity because of Aragorn, and without him she would be completely two dimensional and irrelevant. Unfortunately, this is the fate of many women in the Tolkien universe, but you do feel for Aragorn when it becomes evident that she will die if the ring isn’t soon destroyed.

“Return of the King” ends up being surprisingly intense for it’s entire run time, it is rare I can watch a 3 hour or so long film and not find myself checking my watch — “Pearl Harbour” everyone — so I greatly appreciate it. That said the picture would be daunting to those who aren’t familiar with the first two films but I think “The Lord of the Rings” has to be appreciated as a whole as opposed to in its separate parts. It is one single overarching narrative after all, unlike “Harry Potter” which has a plot that develops between the movies but each movie can be viewed singly with little loss of place, excluding the last few.

For those who may have faltered on “The Fellowship of the Ring” I suggest you keep pushing through it. “Return of the King” is among the very best of what the fantasy genre has to offer. A better conclusion to this trilogy is inconceivable.

9/10

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