Fantasy, Reviews

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Return of the King

Copyright © 2003 by New Line Cinema

The final installment to this highly successful franchise, the defeat of Sauron’s alliance, Saruman (Christopher Lee) sees the Dark Lord targeting Gondor as his next conquest. To prevent this catastrophe, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) sets out to seek Denethor, the Steward of Gondor (John Noble) and warn him about the attack. When word is sent of Gondor’s need for military assistance, King Théoden (Bernard Hill) gathers any remaining forces to help protect its capital, Minas Tirith from falling while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) searches for the army of the Dead to fortify its numbers. However, they realised that they cannot win the war as Sauron’s troops are far too huge and the only chance they have now of ever vanquishing him for good lies in the hands of Frodo ((Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin).

A triumphant return to the top of the charts, the conclusion to Peter Jackson’s masterpiece of three has set a few significant milestones along the way to its global success; it is the second film to earn $1 billion worldwide, the biggest Oscar sweep by winning in all the nominated 11 categories thus tying with Ben-Hur and Titanic for the most wins and the first fantasy film and second sequel to receive the ‘Best Picture’ award after ‘The Godfather Part II’. Overrated much?  Yes and no.

It is only if you read and hear the heaps of praises from critics and moviegoers all quadrants of the world piling onto the epic’s already lengthy accolades. It may also be the Academy’s way of making up to Jackson for his previous ‘losses’ in the first two parts of this tale, especially the equally deserving ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. A rather unfortunate time to be pitted against ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and not being the favourite going into the Oscar race surely must have limited the potential to grab a couple more statuettes beyond the movie’s technical realm.

Strip away all that and assess ‘The Return of the King’ on its own merits, you will find that it truly warrants all the love it is bestowed upon. Hands down the most exciting of the lot, the prologue begins with a back story of how Sméagol (Andy Serkis) comes into possession of the One Ring and his transformation into the loathsome Gollum. Within minutes, the innocence quickly turns deadly and puts in motion the depravity of his actions on Frodo and Sam to seize back the ring for his own selfish gains.

The ring’s hold on Frodo continues to deteriorate him physically and mentally, a fact Gollum uses to his advantage; Frodo is led to think that Sam will betray him for the ring. When Frodo is finally on his own to face a creature more threatening than the one in ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’, he soon realises of the trickster’s true intentions. What ensues is an intense survival of the fittest in a spidery labyrinth. Astin is in fine form and Sam’s finest qualities are only rivaled by the future king of Gondor himself, Aragorn.

While Mortensen is understated and ruggedly charming during his more tender moments, it is when he begins to accept his role as the heir to the throne that he is less impactful as compared to Hill’s Théoden whose stirring speech to his Rohirrim army is believable and inspirational for a seemingly grim outcome. His heroic actions are well contrasted with the cowardly Denethor who is driven insane after witnessing the apparent death of his second son, Faramir (David Wenham). Noble is vile but is redeemed via his love for his children, albeit a slightly underwritten character and Wenham’s performance this time around resembles more closely to the book.

Improvements also can be seen in Merry (Dominic Monaghan), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Éowyn’s (Miranda Otto) characterisations. Deemed the comedic duo, they definitely have earned the right and respect to determine a new fate in this final war between good and evil. In ‘The Two Towers’, many of Otto’s scenes were trimmed down for the theatrical version which made Éowyn’s transition to the big screen unremarkable. In the latest interpretation, more emphasis has been placed on her ongoing conflict to be the dutiful ‘daughter’ whose main desire is to fight alongside with her brothers-in-arms.

An impressive feat for Otto when she gets to actively participate in the attack on Minas Tirith. Her segment is just one of the many well edited sequences that culminate into another top-notch climatic battle no purists or casual fans can fault upon. As it draws to an inevitable end (the multiple conclusions may perplex some), it is without a doubt Jackson has masterfully crafted a coherent and singular vision that will stand the test of time, a distinction shared with its equally cherished source of inspiration.

Entirety: A+
Acting: A
Plot: A

Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images