Apr 17, 2015

[Movies] The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

By the time The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King came out in December 2003, a lot of us fans were both excited to see how things would turn out but also sad that this real-world adventure was about to end. After all, this mark three years of having some pretty geeky epic fantasy entertainment to look forward to every Christmas. And now things had come to an end.

In many ways, one can't help feel that everyone was also waiting for this final movie to fully evaluate the franchise. As much as the individual movies were pretty respectable on their own, the real measure of things was to look at the entire epic as a complete story. And it was a lot easier to look at things in this manner given how Peter Jackson had also filmed the movies in fairly quick succession.

Personally, I certainly felt a sense of fulfillment once we had gotten to the end of things. Sure, this third movie isn't necessarily the best one in the trilogy, but it at least gave things a fitting end. It got a little crazy at times and it left you with a weird feeling of things just not wanting to end, but then that's just part of the quirks of this particular fantasy franchise.

Synopsis: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the third and final installment in Peter Jackson's epic fantasy trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. The movie was of course based on the novel of the same name written by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The movie starts with a rather unexpected flashback for a pair of Hobbits named  Déagol (Thomas Robbins) and Sméagol fishing near Gladden Fields. But when Déagol comes across a ring, Sméagol is overwhelmed with a deep sense of envy and he ends up killing his fellow Hobbit for possession of the ring. Of course we know that this is actually the infamous One Ring and Sméagol is the Hobbit cursed to become the creature known as Gollum (Andy Serkis), the same creature who is now supposedly guiding Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) into Mordor and hopefully to Mount Doom itself. But the power of the Ring is strong and Gollum is almost fated to betray the Hobbits sooner or later.

Meanwhile, the Ents have all but taken Isengard with Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif) trapped inside. Thus we see the heroes of Helm's Deep finally reunited with the other Hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), who had been in the company of Treebeard the Ent (John Rhys-Davies). However Pippin manages to fall under the spell of Saruman's palantir and thus Gandalf takes Pippin with him to Minas Tirith in the North to aid in the defense of Gondor, which is potentially under threat as revealed in the palantir.

As the end of the trilogy, the movie naturally has an obligation to get all the pieces in play for the final confrontation of sorts and only has so much time to accomplish that. But the story of The Lord of the Rings has always been one of multiple fronts. And while we have our more debonair heroes fighting battles in Helm's Deep and Isengard, the greater struggle was that of Frodo and Sam traversing Middle-earth and hoping to slip into Mordor and into Mount Doom. Their mission feels like one doomed to failure given their lack of knowledge of the area and the sheer power of the One Ring that they bear, but their perseverance is what drives them forward. It's all rather inspiring, even if a bit of a heavy-handed morality piece. Thank you very much for that, Tolkien.

Of course the big battle sequences are potentially the more fun bits with greater appeal to a wider audience. This installment had some pretty crazy moments though, the best example of this being Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and his efforts to take out a giant Oliphaunt. It's a pretty daring fight to be sure, but it also features a ridiculously campy CGI Legolas sliding here and there. And these little embellishments are there to make things more fun somehow, but at times they do look a little cheap.

The movie also has an almost perfect repeat of the troubles of Rohan. There King Théoden (Bernard Hill) had been under the sway of Grima, and thus would not lead Rohan to war. Here we have the Steward of Gondor Denethor II (John Noble) overwhelmed with grief, and thus once again unable to mount a suitable defense of Gondor. I get the parallels and the extent of Sauron's unfluence on the land and ultimately everyone's morale, but this felt a little too soon compared to the last sad kingdom that needed a wake-up call. Thanks again, Tolkien.

But the movie is still full of amazing moments like Frodo and Sam fighting the giant spider Shelob. We also have Éowyn (Miranda Otto) and Merry facing the Witch-King of the Nazgûl on their own with the madness of war all around them. And yes, we can also count Aragorn's (Viggo Mortensen) side-quest to the Paths of the Dead in order to recruit the spirits of warriors long ago to aid in the fight against Sauron. These were all wonderful moments that looks pretty amazing on-screen.

The movie ends with what feels like multiple endings since Jackson wanted to include more content from other books and appendices. It certainly told a complete story, but I think we could have filmed all this in a tighter, more efficient manner or something. But hey, everything is clearer in hindsight.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is still a great movie and a great end to an already amazing epic fantasy trilogy of movies. It runs a bit longer than anyone's bladder can handle effectively but it's still a lot of good movie fun in such a grand setting as well. Thus the movie gets a great 4 crazy beauty shots taken in the middle of battle out of a possible 5.

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