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|Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The
by MP Bartley
There was such an immense pressure for Peter Jackson to deliver the goods in the concluding part of the trilogy. Even after having conquered all expectations with the first two parts, could even he achieve the scale needed for 'The Return of the King'? Could he give us the emotional payoff that we all needed? Film history is littered with sagas and trilogies where the final part just wasn't it, just wasn't the send-off that a series needed. Couple with this the amount of flops and average films we've already seen this year - The Matrix Reloaded fired blanks and Revolutions didn't bother to answer any questions raised, Kill Bill was pretty toothless and didn't actually kill anyone of note, Hulk turned out to be pretty puny and only Johnny Depp gave us something to cheer about as he sailed around the Carribean. So the big question was - could expectations honestly be fulfilled?And the answer to that is a resounding yes, yes, YES! Jackson's done it, he really has. Oh we all knew he had the special effects down to a tee, but any lingering doubts as to whether he'd lose the character interest in the sheer scale of things have been firmly dispersed.
"One King to Rule Them All"
Beacause 'Return of the King' is a great thing to behold. The kind of film that turns up un-invited to the coolest party in town in a mercedes, smashes the door down, drinks a gallon of beer, roars "I AM SOMETHING VERY MIGHTY INDEED!" before grabbing the best-looking girl in the room and driving off into the night with the silverware.
Plotwise, this is where it all gets tied up. Frodo and Sam are in the final stages of their journey to Mount Doom where Gollum evidently has a nasty surprise in store for them as part of his plan to snatch the ring for himself. Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli and Legolas, fresh from their victory at Helm's Deep are re-united with Merry and Pippin, but before they can draw breath learn of Sauron's final plan to smash mankind - the fall of Minas Tirith, a city that will also re-unite them with Theoden, Eowyn and Faramir as well as Faramir's mad father Denethor (John Noble) who is patently not up to the task of defending this city.
The defence of the city will instead fracture the fellowship once more as they embark on different plans to save mankind and finally see the destruction of the ring.
In a way it's hard to review 'Return of the King' because simply put, it's everything that the first two films were except bigger and better. Thought Helm's Deep was the most impressive battle you've ever seen? That's a cat-fight between two teenage girls compared to the battle of Pelennor fields here. As an army of 200,000 orcs descend on Minas Tirith, boulders are catapulted through the air smashing towers to pieces, elephants the size of apartment blocks lumber into the fray and into this our intrepid hero's and a force of 250 horsemen ride knwoing full well that victory is almost impossible.
Words simply cannot do justice to this extended action sequence. The use of CGI is simply jaw-dropping giving you a sense of the scale involved but never seeming remote or distant. As well as being awe-inspiring it's simply beautiful to look at. You have never, ever seen anything like this and quite probably never will again for a good few decades to come. Take the defence of Zion from 'Matrix Revolutions' multiply by ten and actually put some characters in and you'll have a good idea of how to start to describe this middle part of the film.
But best of all Jackson, never loses sight of where the characters are at any given time, which gives the battle the sense of peril, that 'Revolutions' for example, never had.
And that's the other trick: these are characters that we have grown to care about. Whereas Neo, Trinity, Morpheous and the like were too cool and aloof to fully engage with, the 'Rings' has people we have engaged with fully. So whether it's Legolas taking on an elephant carrying a squad of orcs or Sam and Frodo about to become part of Shelob's lunch, it's thrillingly, emotionally intense. That full feeling that you get in your mouth at regular intervals? That's your heart taking residence in it's new home.
Are there faults? Yes there are, the elf scenes of Elrond and Eowyn are at it's most draggiest here and more than the others you can see where Jackson has edited out scenes for the special edition - some characters seemingly come and go from place to place with no explanation, while others have completely disapeared by the end. And there is an argument that Jackson has dragged the ending out for perhaps ten minutes too long.
But the hell with that. After giving us films for us to feast our eyes and hearts on for the last three years I'll give Jackson another ten minutes to do what he wants with the characters. I'll give him an hour quite gladly.
It's now getting to the point where everyone is starting to choose who their favourite characters and performances are. There's certainly room for Frodo and Sam here. Those who doubt Woods performance should contrast his final scenes on Mount Doom to his first back in the Shire in 'Fellowship'. This is a man who has quite clearly gone through hell and back, and we're with Wood every step of the way. As is Sean Astin as Sam. There's argument here that this becomes Sam's film by the end as he holds the hope of everyone when all hope seems lost at the end. His undying loyalty to Frodo gives a real heart to their section and pulls your tear-ducts without ever being manipulative.
Mortensen and Gandalf have just got more and more intense with each film and this is a suitably grand finale for them as they both give rallying calls to their down-hearted troops and friends that will get cheers and sniffles from the audience. It's only perhaps Legolas and Gimli that have perhaps suffered in the final third, as they have a less developed character arc than anyone else. But even then, one of their final conversations together at the Black Gates is one of the best lump-in-the-throat moments in the film.
But for me the final film is stolen by Billy Boyd as Pippin and Dominic Monaghan as Merry. When the trilogy first started they were the bumbling comic relief, but here they're friends forced apart and forced into battle, riding into peril with people a thousand times more experienced than them. Basically they're us and they ask the question what we would do forced into a war where death is almost certain. And these two are what gives the film it's heart amongst the carnage and the bloodshed. You're there with them through every swing of a blade.
And ultimately that's why Lord of the Rings will go down as one of the greatest trilogies ever made. Sure, it's jaw-dropping spectacle and unparalleled ambition realised on screen, but it's more than that. It's about friendship and about friends, the best of friends, being there for each together in the blackest of moments and being prepared to sacrifice themselves for each together. That sentiment is more clear than ever in 'Return of the King' and combined with the visual and thrilling treats that Jackson unleashes ensures it's the best of the trilogy and quite simply one of the greatest films of our time.I left 'Return of the King' quite sad. Sad for what I'd seen and because I was actually exhausted by the end of combat, but also sad because this long journey with characters you emphasised with and worried about, was finally over. Just say to yourself "next Christmas...there is NO 'Lord of the Rings' to look forward to". How depressing a thought is that? It's almost enough to make me give up film criticism, as I sincerely doubt I'll ever see anything to rival this, Peter Jackson and a great set of actors has raised the bar 'that' high. But then I think about just what they have provided over the last 3 years, and how epic cinema and unfettered emotions aren't dead yet, and I just think...thank you. The greatest film ever made? Possibly, and no amount of Oscars could do this justice. They'd have to give them the Oscars that were robbed from them from the last 2 years to do 'Return of the King' anything approaching justice. This is the kind of film we all live for.
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originally posted: 12/23/03 11:40:55