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

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

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That's a lot of horses. And spears. Wonder what they'll use them for?
That’s a lot of horses. And spears. Wonder what they’ll use them for?

Twitter Plot Summary: The final part of the trilogy sees the quest come to an end and a final climactic faceoff between good and evil.

Five Point Summary:

1. Origins of “Preciousssss…”
2. Denethor’s gone a bit loopy.
3. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
4. The quest comes to an end. For Frodo!
5. So many endings. And more endings. And yet more endings.

And so the journey of the ring bearer comes to an end in The Return of the King, and the stakes are increased ever higher for the final leg of the journey. The er, minor disagreement with Sauron comes to a head, and the fate of all the characters is unveiled. Will Faramir finally gain the approval of his father in the wake of Boromir’s death? Will Arwen and Aragorn finally stop skirting around their romance? Will Eowyn finally be considered on equal footing with the men? Will Frodo and Sam elope and leave Middle Earth behind them so their bromance can blossom? Well, you’ll have to just watch the film and find out, won’t you?

Return of the King suffers from having a final set piece that is very similar to the Battle of Helm’s Deep as seen in The Two Towers. That and having about fifteen endings, which in the home video market isn’t so bad, but after nearly 4 hours sat in the cinema it’s not helpful. This is perhaps the only serious criticism you can aim at the film, other than the fact you really need to have seen the previous two films in order for most of it to make sense or have at least a modicum of context.

That final battle at Minas Tirith and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is a well balanced escalation of the conflict with Sauron’s forces, taking the siege element of Helm’s Deep and expanding it tenfold. The armies are so vast in number, Minas Tirith itself so vast in scale, that it can be quite difficult to take it all in. The army of Sauron is given a face, albeit a deformed one, in Gothmog who represents evil given a snarly voice. The appearance of Oliphaunts, and vast numbers of them too, also serve as indication over the odds stacked against the Men of Middle Earth.

Frodo didn't take well to the food in Mordor.
Frodo didn’t take well to the food in Mordor.

Gollum’s story is nicely prefixed at the start of the movie as Jackson takes us back to see how Smeagol originally came to be in possession of the One Ring, and it’s his overall arc that is perhaps the most compelling of them all – driven to insanity through his obsession, at heart a kind soul corrupted by the Ring’s power – a story that is reflected in Frodo’s slow degradation from holding the Ring even for a comparatively short period of time.

Peter Jackson is not afraid to hearken back to his origins and play up the horror aspects of this story, which is appropriate given that the stakes have been ramped up almost exponentially. The Witch King makes a horrifying appearance in the battle at Minas Tirith, whilst elsewhere Frodo and Sam must deal with Shelob, a giant spider residing in Mordor. Meanwhile, just to make things even more epic and ambitious, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas head down the Path of the Dead and try to gain the assistance of an undead army. Whilst all of these elements are inherently dark and a touch creepy, they also serve as a clear indication that there is a lot going on. Throw in all of the non-horror aspects and there’s dozens of other threads and pieces of narrative that are ongoing, and it’s a testament to Jackson’s skill as a filmmaker, and the skills of his production team and fellow writers, that it all makes sense to the audience and we don’t need to have our hands held at every juncture.

It’s easy to see why Return of the King performed so well in the 2004 awards season, but then you could argue that it only did so on the back of the two previous films, on which Jackson and his team learned from their mistakes and honed their storytelling. Still, even with this in mind it’s an exceptionally well made film that brings the trilogy to a graceful end and thoroughly deserved the accolades handed to it. Once more it’s not absolutely faithful to the source material, but then if it was too slavish it would lack much of the impact that Jackson and co’s interpretation of the text has, and would have made for a far less interesting movie. Just do away with the multiple false endings and it would be pretty much perfect.

Score: 4.5/5

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