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|Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The
by Erik Childress
About halfway through the final chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien's, and now Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy, I leaned over and asked a fellow critic, “Can you believe what we’re seeing here?” Another subsequently leaned over to me and said, “Now THIS is cinema.” It’s amazing that we were able to sum up anything resembling a coherent sentence since awe was trickling from every pore in our bodies and consuming our every movement. Such flowery phrasing sounds like the overeager ramblings of a hopeless fanboy. But if first impressions mean anything, then I can say without agenda or remorse that The Return of the King is one of the greatest achievements in cinema history.And I just mean this film. For two years now I’ve placated my appreciation of Fellowship and Two Towers by reminding myself that I haven’t seen the complete story yet. Each film brilliantly supplanted three acts into a framework that was already designed as its own act, but the full emotional quotient wasn’t quite there yet, despite the great Samwise Gamgee giving us beautiful climaxes in both. Call it cinematic tantra, but Return of the King delivers on every promise that director Peter Jackson has been making equivalent to the culmination of every birthday wish you’ve ever made and every Christmas present you’ve ever wanted.
"One Of The Greatest Cinematic Achievements Ever & I Mean Just This Film!"
The third part of any trilogy is usually the most anticipotary since all storylines should be wrapped up and every question answered. It’s also the hardest to satisfy fans with. They’ve waited anxiously for it, been loyal to the earlier efforts and usually bow to the filmmakers’ presence. Disappointment is far easier to find then what your imagination has pent up as the ultimate amalgamation of your dreams. Return of the Jedi has quite a few detractors, and we won’t even get into The Matrix Revolutions for dissatisfied loyalists.
Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are getting closer to Mount Doom with everyone’s favorite corrupted creature, Gollum (Andy Serkis), whose opening backstory provides a disturbing glimpse into his madness for The Ring. The race of men must prepare for war with one king, Denethor (John Noble, first introduced in the Two Towers Extended DVD) sliding into madness, and another, Theoden (Bernard Hill) who must come to terms with his responsibility toward his people. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), who has not yet grasped his royal destiny.
It’s astounding to take in how many characters and story threads there really are to this series. Just reacquainting yourself with each name, can you honestly say there isn’t one you don’t care about? Gandalf (Ian McKellen) takes charge when the leaders of men fail them. The great sidekicks Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) continue their quest to outdo the other on the battlefield. Eowyn (Miranda Otto) wants nothing more than to do her part in the war and break the female barrier, except maybe to live happily ever after with Aragorn, who is already committed to Arwen (Liv Tyler), whose Elven fate rests with the destruction of The Ring. The other Hobbit pair, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), continue to gather their gumption to fight rather than eat and play the curious cat.
Peter Jackson has upped the ante in every film and with Return of the King he delivers nearly everything that I’ve been missing in movies for the past 20 years. You thought 10,000 strong was a lot to match blades with at Helm’s Deep? Try 200,000 at the Battle of Pelennor Fields. If after watching this spectacular sequence you can somehow put it into words, then please call me because I am literally at a loss. I will try, though.
Breathtaking. Stupendous. Awe-inspiring. Awesome. Magical. Stunning. Hang on while I check my thesaurus. Astonishing. Fantastic. Incredible. Out of this world! What else do the quote whores use? Doesn’t matter, because for once they’d all be right. I’ve seen some unbelievable cinematic battles in my time. Braveheart. Ran. Saving Private Ryan. Jackson has outdone them all, not with some egoistic need TO outdo them, but because the story and audiences deserved it. Take note action-conscious filmmakers out there –- you want to hold an audience’s breath? Hold the shot. Don’t cut away. Asthma patients must be prepared to bring an extra bronchodilator because Pelennor Fields is the greatest battle sequence to ever hold a big screen.
Visual effects are at an all-time high here, not because the technology has come such a long way but because Jackson and his team know precisely how to utilize it. We’re not gawking at effects shots because they immediately blend into our own consciousness, accepting them as part of the landscape and as realistic obstacles for our heroes to conquer.
The middle 100+ minutes of ROTK is dedicated to action and conflict, one never less astounding than the next. If every emotion on record can be counted, then the scale is tipped with the stimulation that every conceivable one receives. Every sequence reaches an emotional high that can only be outdone with moments so moving that you may be tasting the tears before you even realize you’re crying. Just when I thought that Fellowship had one of the greatest final lines ever, along comes Aragorn with his final words to flood the theater.
Return of the King has been destined for Oscar glory for some time now. If Best Picture somehow eludes it, I’ll be stunned. But if Peter Jackson is denied a trophy for Best Director, then I want to see recounts, strikes and boycotts on his behalf. You cannot deny the treatment he’s given to these films. Starting with one of the most beloved series of novels ever, Jackson filmed three movies back-to-back-to-back, toiled over post-production and pick-up reshoots for years after and has come out the other side with perhaps the greatest cinematic trilogy ever made. How any other name but his comes out of that envelope would be the crime of the millennium. Any millennium.
This film could (and deserves to) make Titanic-like money. Don’t be surprised if it manages to surpass it. Rightfully so it should also pick up Titanic-like Oscars. What would it take to beat the record of 11? Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Visual Effects, Film Editing, Sound and Sound Effects Editing should be locks. Cinematography, Art Direction and Costumes are all deserved bets. That’s 10. Howard Shore’s beautifully rendered score was nominated the first go-around and the Hair & Makeup Guild may follow-through on their ridiculous Makeup clause again (Two Towers wasn’t eligible since “technically” the makeup was done for one film released in three parts.) Closing song “Into the West” may have a shot and with wishful thinking one of these three will come through to make it 11.
That leaves one more for a grand total of 12 and I want every voting member of the Academy to hear me as I steer you toward the nomination you must contribute to the cause. It is the one element who, in his own way, has managed to bring something extra to every single film and that’s Sean Astin. His Sam is the heart and soul of a trilogy already bathed in it. We love him for what he stands for and how admirably he follows through on it. Nearly every tear shed in Lord of the Rings is somehow connected to Sam’s actions. The first name read for Best Supporting Actor this year should be Sean Astin.
At 192 minutes, you can search for nits and pick them out, but why would you want to? OK, perhaps the exclusion of Saruman’s big exit at the beginning deserves to be missed as will The House of Healing sequence. Gimli has come full circle as dwarf comic relief. Technically 75% of Sam & Frodo’s story comes from The Two Towers. There’s one too many endings. But when its all over you’ve just been given a Thanksgiving dinner worthy of a king and you’re thinking about the crumbs that fell off the plate; crumbs that will eventually turn up on the extended edition DVD next November anyway. I’m fully prepared to smack anyone who discusses the film with me and goes “but...” Go away, you ungrateful cave troll.Return of the King is epic filmmaking in the achievement scales of Ben-Hur, Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia. It’s Shakespearean in depth, David Lean in scope and told with the grace of Capra, Spielberg and Zemeckis. Cecil B. DeMille would have to look at The Lord of the Rings and go “now THAT is an epic.” Peter Jackson has shot into the echelon of the all-time great directors with Return of the King, which stands alone even with the backup of prologues preceding it. It’s certainly a culmination and one built-up in stature by Fellowship and Two Towers, but after watching the credits roll a final time on this trilogy, I think you’ll agree that this film bows to no one.
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originally posted: 12/17/03 10:19:19