"The battle of Helm's Deep is over; the battle for Middle Earth is about to begin..."
Through my eyes, Peter Jackson's much-anticipated and much-glorified The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the paradigmatic example of a perfect movie. The cinematic journey that initiated on Boxing Day 2001 and quickly received worldwide acclaim ultimately came to a conclusion with this final instalment. Personally, my passion for the Lord of the Rings trilogy never ceased and to this day I continue to view them frequently.
Just like its two precursors, The Return of the King was met with a congregation of positive reviews and of course recognition from the Oscar committee. I was ecstatic during the Oscar season at the beginning of 2004 when I discovered that the film was recognised with 11 Oscar nominations. Needless to say, I was even more ecstatic when Peter Jackson and his crew walked away with all 11 in their possession. The Return of the King won literally hundreds of awards worldwide and above all it accomplished a Box Office landmark: breaking the $1 billion milestone and becoming just the second film in history to do so. With this film walking away after sweeping the Oscars and sitting at a convincing second on the worldwide box office (as of mid-2008), this is indeed a rare event when it comes to a film offering of the fantasy genre. The technical proficiency is purely the finest that money can buy. Jackson's team at WETA workshop single-handedly created and rendered all special effects shots using software they had designed themselves.
This is by far the longest instalment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy; however it never feels too long. While many will complain (endlessly complain) about the length, I see the film in a completely different light. The way I see it the length is necessary to maintain a sense of fidelity to the novel and to successfully wrap everything up. If anything, I hate it when filmmakers rush things and end up with a missed opportunity on their hands. Peter Jackson had a modest budget and some astronomically amazing special effects on his side, so the work in every other department had to be top notch. Jackson's supreme gift is that of total immersion; the breathtaking lands of Middle Earth remain vibrantly alive. The film's pace may be reasonably slow for some, but the beauty soars with opulent layers of architecture, geography and complex storytelling.
Just like both entries thus far in the trilogy, The Return of the King reinvents the word "epic" completely. Many of the battles throughout the film display rich texture, and awe-inspiring showcases of visual effects. The action is emphatically extravagant and brought to life on an exorbitantly impressive scale! But what separates this from most fantasy epics is the heart at its core. Whenever there's a battle, you'll always find a satisfying serving of emotionally-charged moments featuring intimate scenes with the central protagonists. This coupling of visceral special effects and moving moments that display deep camaraderie is absolutely spellbinding!
This third and final instalment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy starts off almost exactly where The Two Towers ended. One must remember that all three of Tolkien's novels were written to plainly be one enormous piece of literature, and it was his publisher that insisted the novel should be split up the three shorter, more convenient components. In essence, all three additions to the cinematic Lord of the Rings trilogy can be edited together and the transitions would be seamless. The films are identical to the situation with Tolkien's novels: one big chunk of storytelling that's separated into three parts. You can never watch The Return of the King without first watching the initial two parts as this was never meant to be a standalone movie.
The first section of the plot here is concerned with Frodo (Wood), Sam (Astin) and the creature Gollum (a digital character played by Andy Serkis). As they move closer to the dark lands of Mordor, towards the fire of Mount Doom where the One Ring must be destroyed, the ring is becoming a heavier burden for the troubled young Frodo. As the quest perseveres, Frodo is becoming severely tested. Faith has been placed in Gollum to lead the Hobbits to Mount Doom despite the constant mistrust that Sam holds for the former Hobbit. On the outside this seems like a simple physically straining journey, but it's also an emotionally tiring journey on the inside for the three companions. While this story unfolds, the focus also alters to the remainder of the original fellowship. Sauron's eye has shifted to the city of Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor, as the next target for his rampaging army. The fall of Gondor will mean the end of Men and the completion of his objective to clean Middle Earth of the species. A portion of the original fellowship, along with a horde of newer characters, move to the city of Minas Tirith to help build up defence for the impending attack and possible destruction of the White City. We find Aragorn (Mortensen), Legolas (Bloom) and Gimli (Rhys-Davis) through their more diverse journey into the cursed mountains to summon the legendary Army of the Dead.
This brief synopsis barely breaks the surface of this grandiose, all-round extremely satisfying epic film.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is an unprecedented milestone of contemporary moviemaking. If The Two Towers raised the bar with its epic battles, then The Return of the King knocks the bar cleanly out of the ground! This is so much more than just a simple fantasy epic, in fact this is multi-faceted tale about the strength of character, friendship, loyalty and love. Each shot is sizzling with visual elegance...the special effects are nothing short of breathtaking! Every battle is truly monumental in its sheer scale, as well as exciting and intense. Previously, I briefly touched on the emotionally-straining moments that this film has to offer. The cast pull off these moments beautifully and I was extremely close to tears more than once during the movie. There are several truly moving moments that still give me goose bumps at the simple thought of them. These moments are fuelled by not only the motivating performances, but the score courtesy of composer Howard Shore. The composer was recognised with an Oscar and I plainly cannot quibble with this decision. The music retains the elegance of the visuals, and even makes the epic battles look even grander.
There are only a few new additions to the cast that are introduced here, the most notable being Australian actor John Noble as Denethor who rules Minas Tirith with an iron fist. The Oscar committee barely gave any recognition to the actors (only awarding Ian McKellen with a nomination for Fellowship). I guess with so many people in the cast it'd be impossible to choose one or two for a nomination. Andy Serkis is one member of the cast that deserves particular credit. He's hidden behind digital make-up, but each line he delivers is potent and really hits home. The acting from Elijah Wood is truly a triumph to behold. His performance required a great degree of emotion to portray the ring's power to corrupt. His performance was critical in order to display the ring's influence, which needless to say is absolute. Each character has their own personal demon to confront, and each undergoes their own inner journey. Every cast member does their job stunningly.
The Return of the King has of course been filmed in Peter Jackson's homeland of New Zealand. The Kiwi landscape is vast and beautiful. Whenever one views the film we're taking a step inside the gorgeous land of Middle Earth. Peter Jackson is a visionary, and like all the preceding films the attention and care to every conceivable detail is incredible.
The Fellowship of the Ring is a build up with an even share of action and exposition. The Two Towers is more exposition and build up followed by some action. With The Return of the King, the build up is definitely worth it...every second. The exposition has already been established in the other films, so this film is short on exposition and instead stocks a great supply of action scenes that are truly a cinematic marvel. The battles are lengthy but never suffer from over-length...each second is as intense as the one preceding it. Then the conclusion to the film is wholly satisfying. Some people complain about "too many endings". Okay, so there were many instances when the film could have ended but instead moved onto something else. Fair enough, but I mean this trilogy has already gone for like 9 hours...they can't wrap everything up in a hurry and leave plot holes or stories that haven't been concluded. Instead of rushing everything, each second is lovingly created in all aspects: filming, editing, colour scheme, special effects, acting, scripting, etc. The best part is that this end remains faithful to Tolkien's original novel. Thus the fans needn't worry...for the novel has been properly transferred to the medium of film.
There are far too many pointless and vain arguments between the haters and the lovers of the trilogy. The bottom line is that we're all entitled to our own opinion, and we can't all agree. Thus labelling Peter Jackson's masterpiece as "overrated" only proves that you are too narrow-minded to accept the fact that you are just a component of the minority that disagrees with the majority.
Overall, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the crowning achievement of the fantasy genre. In terms of a conventional fantasy with wizards, magic and mythical creatures, this is as good as a fantasy film can get! Since 2003 this film has been my favourite of all time. In the number of years since the first time I saw it, I have never seen a film that can top the quality and escapism of this masterpiece. All three Lord of the Rings films score top marks from me, which is a rarity when it comes to a trilogy or series. All three films are truly an unfathomably excellent work of art. J.R.R. Tolkien's legacy that was preserved on pages is now preserved on film for the audiences of the contemporary age. The Return of the King is one of the most finely tuned and cinematically perfect films ever made. Winner of 11 Oscars including Best Picture 2003, Best Director, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup, Best Score among others. Also available in an extended edition that adds 50 minutes to the experience.