The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson & Phillipa Boyens

The third and final installment in the ever so famous, ever so beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, was the one film of the three films to have won either Best Picture or Best Director for Peter Jackson. In fact it won all 11 Academy Awards for which it was nominated, an amazing feat. There can be no doubt that this is the capstone film in the series, right? Well, most people may agree with that statement, and perhaps with the two-part The Hobbit coming up within the next few years there will be further room for debate, but I remained mixed not only on this film, but the series as a whole.

In this segment of the one, long journey Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin), along with Gollum/Smeagol (Andy Serkis) continue on their way to destroy the ring at Mt. Doom in Mordor. Meanwhile the reincarnated Gandalf (Ian McKellen) along with Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) must defend the human city of Gondor from the mighty and dangerous Orcs, who are trying to prevent the destruction of the all powerful ring toted by Frodo. The more and more I think about it, and now having seen all three of the films in the series, I can say that the plot is equal parts simple and confusing, and I’m not sure how that is possible. Perhaps the complicated names and large cast of characters made it difficult for me to follow, or perhaps it was my simpleton nature, but I was confused multiple times, though it didn’t have too much effect on my enjoyment of the film. But as you can tell from my short plot synopsis, it isn’t really that complex. Needless to say, the story, while super charming at many times, is not the main attraction for me to these films.

Instead, the main attraction for me is the massive technical achievements made by this series, and especially in this installment. As always, the special effects were astounding. When filming such an epic with a strange cast of characters and battles scenes and taking place in a fantasy world in Middle Earth, the special effects must be top notch to really sell it to the viewer, and the effects team does a knock up job here, along with the make-up team who make the characters quite believable. And all of this culminates in the cinematography along with the brilliant direction by Peter Jackson, whose camera seems to be in the perfect position for each shot. Jackson really was the perfect director for the series.

The acting is also solid, though I believe the only nomination for the whole series came for Ian McKellen in the first film. There is nothing astounding here and in fact I may have grown cold on Elijah Wood as Frodo, whose performance in the first film I loved. It just seems that he relied on one default expression throughout the series and I grew tired and bored of it. The massive cast of characters never really sold me either. As in the second film, I wanted more time with Frodo and Sam, as it seemed they came secondary to the huge battle scenes and the prominence of Aragorn (Mortensen). Legolas and Gimli are fun characters, as is Sam, but I wasn’t won over by anyone else except Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel, who was used way too little, as was her marvelous narrating voice, which was used superbly in the first film.

This film also seemed to be a bit more overly dramatic and cheesy when compared to the two before it. It is a minor criticism, but a criticism nonetheless. I simply grew tired of spending half the film, which runs over three hours long, involved in massive battle scenes. The battle scenes, as breathtaking as they were in their use of special effects, did not add much to the story or the characters. I felt these scenes could have been cut down dramatically to allow for a much more streamlined, taut story. And I didn’t even watch the extended edition.

The series as a whole should be viewed together, as the story is one. So looking at the series as a whole, I would say that it is overrated, with many holding it as three of the greatest films ever made. Certainly I would agree that these films are great achievements in technical terms, and they stand as very good, entertaining films, but I was not completely taken start to finish. There are many many things that will stay with me and I am sure I will voluntarily sit down to revisit these films again one day. For the record, The Fellowship of the Ring is my favorite of the series.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with most of this review. The effects are amazing, but for some reason, I haven't returned to this film much. I own the Extended Edition DVDs of all three, but have only sat down to watch the first two all the way through. This one drags a bit, and while gorgeous, just isn't as sharp and tight as the others. Nice post.


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