The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Grade: A
Year: 2003
Director: Peter Jacson
Writers: J.R.R. Tolkien (novel)& Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson (Screenplay)
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Rated: PG-13
By Scott (Editor)

So we have come to the conclusion of Peter Jackson�s grand epic of Middle Earth brought to life from the pages of J.R.R. Tolkien. And �The Return of the King� is the way to end such an epic; a film for those of us who didn�t care too much for the previous films (I awarded both a �B�). Hopefully the Wachowski brothers took notes and learned not only how to keep the third film in a series from being bad, but making it the best of the three.

Starting where �The Two Towers� ended, we rejoin Frodo (Elijah Wood), the hobbit ring bearer, and his loyal friend Sam (Sean Astin) on their perilous journey to Morodor led by the suspicious Gollum (a most excellent digitally enhanced Andy Serkis), where the Ring of power must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom before Middle Earth falls to the dark forces of Sauron.

�Return of the King,� in my opinion, is primarily about the struggle of the hobbit race and much of the film�s focus which was neglected by the �The Two Towers� is on them. They each have an important role and without even just one of the main four, the outcome of the story could have been much different. But the title of the film tells us that we must also follow Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the uncrowned king who must lead the armies in a futile battle against the bestial orcs. We gladly follow both stories as Jackson expertly juggles them.

While Frodo and Sam slowly head for Morodor, Aragorn and his battalion, including the original Fellowship -- the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) -- fight Sauron�s advancing minions.

King Th�oden (Bernard Hill), sovereign of Rohan and his fierce niece, Eowyn (Miranda Otto), return from �Two Towers� to provide some input. You�ll understand why I use �fierce� to describe Eowyn after you witness her encounter with the frightening Witch-king, Lord of the Nazg�l on the fields of Pelennor.

Also returning is Faramir (David Wenham), brother of the fallen Boromir (Sean Bean) from �Fellowship of the Ring,� whom is sent on a suicide mission significant enough for me to describe in a latter paragraph. The Elf King Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and his daughter, Arwen (Liv Tyler), betrothed of Aragorn, also appear although their stories are given very little weight considering their significance. (Why do we not care that Arwen renounced her elfin immortality so she could marry Aragorn?)

The battle of Pelennor Fields honestly reduces Helms Deep to child�s play, minor league baseball and the last chip no one wants to eat. Mastodon-like multi-tusked giants called M�makil storm through the fields of Pelennor and scoop up warriors whom haven�t yet been crushed under their enormous feet. These large creatures are fearsome all right, but we don�t understand their booming presence until brilliant camera work shows the horse-riding soldiers bob-and-weave under and around the threatening massive beasts. One M�makil becomes the sight of the film�s greatest show-stopper and will have Legolas fans in tears (the good, happy kind of tears).

Then there�s the Nazg�l, hideous flying creatures that drop from the sky and snatch up soldiers with their razor-sharp claws and fling them to their brutal deaths. Their high-pitched shrieks terrify the men on the ground but delight the audience in crisp, clean and beautiful digital surround sound making an indescribable experience for fans of audio.

As I mentioned earlier, Faramir is sent on a suicide mission by his father Denethor (John Noble), the steward of Minas Tirith, in a scene that marks one of the most powerful moments in recent cinematic history. While Faramir rides into the path of the orcs� piercing arrows, his father eats away in a final feast and forces Pippin to sing him a song of hobbit-origin that becomes the soundtrack during this pivotal instance.

The orcs continue to move forward as their catapults hurl fireballs and the heads of dead soldiers at the defenders of Minas Tirith, the last stand of Middle Earth. All is dependent upon the tiring Frodo who must destroy the ring before Minas Tirith is completely breached.

Many will complain that �The Return of the King� is simply too long at 200 minutes, dragging on past the climax where it should have ended. And it is painfully evident that Peter Jackson, who has been completely faithful to J.R.R. Tolkien, did not want to put the trilogy to rest. But I argue that every minute of this film is necessary. Not just because it follows the story, but so that the moviegoers who aren�t students of Tolkien can share the underlying concept of the unsung hero. And if we must credit one character above all others for seeing the end of the ring and completion of the task at hand, it isn�t Frodo.

�The Return of the King� is perfect in every aspect that I found lacking in the previous installments. The acting is more convincing, which is a good thing because the script calls for more emotion and it is successfully executed despite a few corny scenes that scream MTV parody.

Still, the interactions are convincing, especially the exchanges between Frodo, Sam and Gollum. You know when the writers of a movie have successfully created deep, round characters and have provided good dialogue effectively executed at the point when you feel sympathy for the antagonist, especially when he's just a computer effect (Gollum).

The special effects need no commentary, but even the groundbreaking CGI was not the most impressive element for me. This time, Peter Jackson nailed it as the director. I know I will take heat for this, but the previous films -- as far as directing goes -- were on auto-pilot. Though still great, there was no signature. In �Return of the King,� Jackson defines himself and proves his mastering behind the camera. Along with cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, they have made this film sharper, and scarier by perfectly timing the objects that appear on screen. Whether it be Shelob, the terrifyingly hungry spider who sneaks into the background behind unsuspecting hobbits, or the Nazg�ls� jaws that lunge at the camera. And then there�s the ride under the M�makil that vibrate the theater walls. This high-octane engagement was not seen -- at least this well -- in the previous movies.

For a film nearly three and a half hours long, �The Return of the King� manages to keep us engaged throughout its duration. My biggest complaint is that so many of the characters often appear dead when they�re really not, but that fact doesn�t interfere with the overall experience. It�s loud, bold, and revolutionary on all fronts. �The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King� will do the usual damage at this year�s Academy Awards, although I doubt it will take Best Picture as its previous films didn�t. But this one -- yes, this one -- might just deserve it.

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