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Return of the King poster A mighty
finish
for an
epic tale

"The Lord of the Rings:
The Return of the King"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

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At long last, the conclusion of Peter Jackson's version of the epic J.R.R. Tolkein-penned trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" is upon us, and it is everything we hoped it would be.

As with the first two movies, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" doesn't disappoint visually. The city of Minas Tirith is like a wedding cake in concrete, beautiful and imposing. On the flip side, the computer-generated Shelob is terrifyingly realistic; you could almost imagine her crawling around the dark places in your home town. A lot of sensitive people are going to have some nasty nightmares as a result of her.

The battle scenes are impressive in their scope. Thousands of computer-generated warriors move in tandem with the real actors and extras that were employed in the battles of Pelennor Field and of the Black Gate. Even the most jaded of moviegoers will be amazed and enthralled by what Peter Jackson has brought to life onscreen.

Read more
 about the making of the trilogy.

Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen

Orlando Bloom
Orlando Bloom

Elijah Wood
Elijah Wood

Sean Astin
Sean Astin

John Rhys-Davies
John Rhys-Davies

Billy Boyd
Billy Boyd

Dominic Monaghan
Dominic Monaghan

Liv Tyler
Liv Tyler

Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen
Peter Jackson, Ian McKellen

Battle
Battle

David Wenham
David Wenham

Andy Serkis
Andy Serkis

Miranda Otto
Miranda Otto

Sean Astin
Sean Astin

Bloom, McKellen, Mortensen
Bloom, McKellen, Mortensen


Viggo Mortensen has cemented his place as a star of the future. His charisma and rugged good looks have already earned him starring roles, although I daresay he'll probably always be remembered as Aragorn. Sean Astin, likewise, has pegged his stock in Hollywood up quite a bit. In many ways, this movie is Sam's story more than anyone else's. He shows growth as a character, becoming the equal of any of the heroes who have garnered more press. It is Sam who provides the movie's emotional payoff.

Elijah Wood's Frodo is a curious case. Although ostensibly the focus of the movie, Wood is curiously detached. It's very hard at times to fathom who Frodo is, although, to be fair, Frodo is undergoing drastic changes at the hands of the Ring. It's hard to imagine being less interested in Frodo than you are in Merry or Pippin, but that is the case here. Wood does a pretty good job, but that's not good enough to stand out in a cast that performs so magnificently.

Orlando Bloom is also headed in the big star direction, although Legolas is not really at the fore much in the trilogy; when Legolas is given the spotlight, however, Bloom shines. Andy Serkis provides Smeagol and Gollum with humanity; although treacherous and conniving, you wind up feeling the pity for the character that both Frodo and Bilbo had, which is crucial for the story. Supporting players David Wenham and Karl Urban both show much promise, as does Miranda Otto. Ian McKellan and John Rhys-Davies cement their reputations as top-notch actors with wonderful performances, and you can add Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan to that list as well.

Roger Ebert criticized "Return of the King" and the trilogy overall as having a "silly story," which is one of the few times I have disagreed with him. The story of the trilogy is the story of man's own ability to grow and change. Written at the dawn of the atomic era, it ascribed hope that we could overcome the desire to use an awesome weapon, and conquer the forces of darkness and despair. Not silly at all, I find it a powerful story that has as much meaning in my everyday life as do some of the smaller films Ebert prefers.

The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy has an honored place in cinematic history for groundbreaking visuals, and passionate vision. "Return of the King" is the best of these movies, not only because it should be, as the payoff of the trilogy, but because it also is so well-made and the performances well-given. Once you get past the eye candy, all you are left with is the performances and in that, you will not find a better ensemble than this one. I viewed the conclusion of "Return of the King" with a mixture of awe, wonder, sadness and satisfaction. I am sorry the trilogy is now complete, but look forward to the works of Peter Jackson, Viggo Mortensen and the rest of the cast.

The story

The movie opens with a flashback, as we see how Smeagol (Andy Serkis) took possession of the ring (or vice versa), murdering his friend Deagol (Thomas Robins) for it. Smeagol slinks into the wilderness, gradually losing his humanity and becoming the creature known as Gollum.

Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are being led for a secret way into Mordor by Gollum (Andy Serkis), unaware that the wicked creature intends to lead them into a trap. The lembas bread which has sustained them is running low, and Sam is rationing it. They need to climb a nearly vertical rockface in order to enter the tunnels that will take them into Mordor. However, Gollum displays his treachery, using the ring's hold on Frodo and some strategically placed lembas crumbs to drive a wedge between Frodo and Sam, which leads to Frodo telling the weeping Sam to go home.

Meanwhile, the other heroes of the fellowship have no time to rest on their laurels after the victory at Helm's Deep which crowned "The Two Towers." Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) ride for Isengard to take on Saruman (Christopher Lee), only to find out that the Ents have done it for them. They discover the hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), happily smoking their beloved South Farthing pipeweed and munching away on the spoils of Isengard's larder.

Once again, the group separates, with Gandalf and Pippin going to Minas Tirith to assist Gondor in the battle to come. Aragorn, Legolas, Merry and Gimli return to Rohan to await word from Gandalf and also convince King Theoden (Bernard Hill) to aid Gondor in their time of need, although he is loathe to do so since Gondor provided him with no assistance when his people needed it.

When Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Gondor, Gandlf warns Pippin not to tell Denethor (John Noble), the Steward of Gondor, of the death of his son Boromir (Sean Bean) which Pippin witnessed. However, it turns out that Denethor already knows and the news has unhinged him. Pippin offers up his services to placate the half-mad ruler. Denethor refuses Gandalf's plea to light the signal fires to call on aid from Rohan, but Pippin lights the fire anyway, and Theoden determines to go to Gondor's aid. Eowyn (Miranda Otto) pleads to go with her uncle, but he refuses, asking her to stay behind to lead Rohan if he doesn't return (he doesn't expect to, knowing the numbers of warriors he brings will be inadequate). She disguises herself as a man and goes anyway, as does Merry, whom she pledges to look after.

Boromir's brother Faramir (David Wenham) can do no right in the eyes of his father, which is further complicated when Osgiliath, the fort he is charged to defend, is overrun by a numerically superior force of Orcs. Denethor orders Faramir and his company back to retake the fortress, even though Faramir knows that neither he nor his men will survive the attempt. That proves to be the case, as Faramir's body is returned to Minas Tirith and Denethor completely loses it, extolling his men to abandon their posts and flee for their lives as an enormous army of orcs and mercernaries riding elephantine war beasts reach the gates of the city and begin to knock on the gates. To Pippin's further horror, Denethor becomes determined to cremate Faramir's body, even though as Pippin discovers, Faramir is still alive.

In the mountains of Mordor, Gollum springs his trap on Frodo, leading the defenseless hobbit into the lair of a giant spider named Shelob, who attacks Frodo and at last, poisons him with her venom, wrapping the hapless hobbit in web for eventual dining. But Sam arrives to fight off Shelob, but can't stop some Orcs from taking Frodo's body. Sam manages yet another dramatic rescue and the two emerge from the mountains, only to find that there are at least 10,000 Orcs encamped between them and Mount Doom.

As the force from Rohan encamps in the mountains, Elrond (Hugo Weaving) appears, bearing the reforged sword of the King that had once defeated Sauron and gives it to Aragorn, urging him to take up the role he had been born to play: King of Gondor, heir to Isildur and the great kings of legend. Knowing that his love Arwen (Liv Tyler), daughter of Elrond, is dying as Sauron grows stronger, having refused to leave Middle Earth with the rest of elvenkind, Aragorn reluctantly accepts the mantle he has avoided all his life. He, Gimli and Legolas go into the mountain to persuade an army of the dead to assist them. This army, led by the King of the Undead (Paul Norrell), once broke oaths to the King of Gondor and were cursed for it. They will respond only to the King of Gondor, and when Aragorn reveals his sword, he has the allies he seeks.

Not a minute too soon, either. Minas Tirith is in the process of falling, despite the heroics of Gandalf. The mercernaries, orcs and nazghul are in danger of overrunning the city when Theoden and the rohirrim arrive. They are able to hold off the hordes, but at great cost; Theoden falls in battle, slain by the Witch King (Lawrence Makoare) who had previously wounded Frodo at Weathertop in "Fellowship." Eowyn, in turn, battles the Witch King and with Merry's aid slays him, to the Witch King's surprise. Aragorn's arrival with the army of the dead, however, saves the city. Once this is done, Aragorn releases the dead to their final rest.

All is not over, however. Aragorn knows that Frodo cannot hope to succeed with all the Orcs still encamped in Mordor. He marches the combined armies of Gondor and Rohan to the Black Gate itself and lures not only the Orc Army but the attention of Sauron's Great Eye away from Mordor. Seizing their opportunity, Sam and Frodo hurry up the slopes of Mount Doom, with Sam carrying Frodo most of the way. They finally reach their goal, but by now the sway of the ring over Frodo is nearly total; Frodo refuses to destroy the ring. Just then Gollum arrives and he and Frodo battle over the possession of the Ring. Gollum bites off Frodo's finger and takes temporary possession, but in the fracas is knocked off the precipice and for the first time in the trilogy, someone who falls off a cliff actually dies. Gollum and the ring sink into the lava of Mordor and Sauron is gone from Middle Earth forever.

The movie doesn't quite end there, as there is an emotional epilogue in which some of the main characters of the trilogy take their leaves - not only from the tale, but from those of us who have followed the story from day one. It is a most satisfying ending.

AT HOME OR AT A THEATER?

It was a treat in the theater and may be again sometime in re-release. In the meantime, the DVDs are great.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" DVDs at Amazon:
Extended edition
Extended edition with gift set
Theatrical cut

See cast, credit and other details about "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" at Internet Movie Data Base.