REVIEW: ‘The Return Of The King’ Is Satisfying Conclusion
Published: December 18, 2003
“The Return of the King,” the much-anticipated third installment of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, will not disappoint the fans of the first two movies. It is a compelling combination of adventure and emotion, a worthy conclusion to the trilogy.
This epic, based on the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, concludes the adventures of the hobbit Frodo Baggins as he seeks to destroy the one Ring of Power. His friends, meanwhile, battle the armies of Sauron, the dark wizard, who is trying to gain control of Middle Earth. Even for viewers who have not read Tolkien’s books, the movies are very accessible and engaging. For those who have not seen the first two movies, however, a make-up session with the DVD player is definitely in order. “The Return of the King” begins with little explanation of what has gone before and plunges immediately into the story.
The film opens with a flashback in a pastoral setting, with two hobbit-like creatures fishing peacefully. The discovery of the Ring of Power, an eruption of violence, and a descent into madness indicates from the very beginning that the evil inherent in the ring is an immediate and mortal threat to the inhabitants of Middle Earth. The major players are assembled, and their journeys continue. Frodo, his faithful companion Sam, and the creature Gollum resume their trek to Mordor, and the remaining members of the Fellowship prepare to face Sauron’s forces in battle once more.
Like the first two episodes in the trilogy, “The Return of the King” is magnificently presented and wonderfully acted. Peter Jackson and his team present exactly what is now expected of them: stunning scenery, astonishing special effects, amazing makeup and costumes, and a thrilling epic story. In short, they make the fantastical land of Middle Earth utterly believable on the screen.
Scenes such as the apocalyptic eruption of Mount Doom or the massive battle of Pelennor Fields are breathtaking. From Gollum chomping on a still squirming fish, Frodo crunching across skeletons and becoming caught up in huge spider webs in Shelob’s lair, to the evil Nazguls swooping down from the sky and tossing away the warriors in their paths like toys, the filmmakers have created this extraordinary world in visceral, credible detail.
Although the world of Middle Earth may be alien to the viewer, the story is not. The struggle of good against evil, the power of friendship and faith, the quest to define the purpose of a life: these themes make for a very recognizable tale, even if the protagonists are elves and hobbits, wizards and dwarves, kings and warriors.
“The Return of the King” shows more character development than the first two movies. The main characters are coming to the end of their quests and are struggling with their fates. They must decide, as the wizard Gandalf says, what to do with the time that is given to them. In an excellent cast, there are some standouts. Viggo Mortenson does an exceptional job of showing the maturation of Aragorn. In “The Fellowship of the Ring,” the ranger was tentative and reserved about his leadership, but in this film, he fully accepts his role as the titular king and takes charge with authority and vigor, even when facing an unbeatable force.
As Aragorn grows stronger, Frodo the hobbit becomes more and more fragile. Elijah Wood plays Frodo with a delicate grace, revealing his sapped strength with every step he takes with the ring. He makes the compassion he shows to the creature Gollum understandable, even as it leads him into mortal danger. Gollum, computer-generated and voiced by Andy Serkis, is a completely and creepily convincing character.
The heart of the story, however, is the character of Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s loyal friend. Sean Astin invests Sam with an earnestness and sweetness that never becomes cloying. He makes Sam into a true hero.
As we learn the ultimate fates of the characters and as their adventures turn into legend, the film moves from adventure to sentiment. The end of the tale is bittersweet because it demonstrates how the events of the tale have altered the characters’ lives irrevocably.
More than anything else, “The Return of the King” is about trying to hold onto hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and then finding the strength and courage to continue when all hope is gone. All of the primary characters linked to the race of man (humans, wizards, hobbits) undergo some sort of resurrection during the course of the three films. Each faces a near-death experience or is thought to be dead, but returns to continue the quest. In each case, the experience strengthens that character’s resolve to do what is necessary to defeat the evil forces. As the story progresses, each makes a vital contribution to the downfall of Sauron’s forces; in a way, they are the saviors of Middle Earth.
At several points in the movie, characters refer to a life after death. Most poignantly, the wizard Gandalf describes his vision of an afterlife to Pippin the hobbit as they are waiting to do battle with a horde of orcs storming the city of Minas Tirith. The image gives Pippin comfort and the strength to face a foe several times larger and stronger than he. This illustrates one of the greatest appeals of this story—it demonstrates the potential that is within even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant being, and it shows the power to be found in resolve, courage and friendship.
Jane Wilson, a local writer and movie enthusiast, holds a doctorate in English from the University of Georgia. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Conyers.
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