The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Review
By Joe Lozito
Old Hobbits Die Hard
Who would have thought the man who made 1996's little seen Michael J Fox comedy "The Frighteners" would end up directing the greatest trilogy of films in fifty years? Seriously, what are the contenders? "Star Wars"? Remember the Ewoks? And who could forget "The Godfather III?" "The Matrix 2 and 3?" Perhaps it is not director Peter Jackson's technical skill that we should be surprised about, but his filmmaking prowess. Mr. Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" adaptation, culminating in this finest entry, "The Return of the King", is epic filmmaking at its best. Has any director ever undertaken such a project? You would have to think back to the pioneers of film, those who forged the uncharted territories of sound, color, music, CGI. Mr. Jackson uses it all and he wields every weapon in his directorial arsenal with grace. He combines live-action, animatronic and computer-generated effects flawlessly. This is the rare film series in which all the pieces fit perfectly into place, from the casting to the wardrobe to the music to the craft services (probably). It is clear that this is a superlative director of vision, dedication and, most importantly, passion. And above all, he stays true to his characters and his source material.
Everything that was set up in the previous films has a payoff here. The characters and relationships complete their arcs as the world of Middle Earth faces its final battle. There are surely changes from the book which will annoy certain purists, but to dwell on those would be missing the point. There is a clear love and respect for the material at work here and, when you consider the scope of this project, there is no reason to imagine it could ever have turned out this well. Most importantly, Mr. Jackson's more controversial decisions (moving the infamous Shelob scene to this film from "Two Towers", cutting "The Scouring of the Shire", to name two) are finally proven to be anything but arbitrary. This is a filmmaker who approached his source with a well-deserved reverence and an understanding that some sequences, no matter how beloved, must end up on the cutting room floor. Thanks to the wonders of the 'DVD Extended Editions', Mr. Jackson is able to add even more depth to his masterwork after the fact, thereby satisfying and masses and the cultists alike.
The actors have all grown into their roles. The camaraderie that had no doubt formed during their three-film shoot blurs into their interaction as the "Fellowship". They have been through a lot together and it shows. Again, the casting is nearly perfect. The most notable newcomer is John Noble as Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. While his role may be underwritten, he attacks it with aplomb and makes a worthy addition to the cast. As in the previous entry, the finest performance in the film belongs to Gollum. Finally a CGI character that not only works on a technical level but, thanks to Andy Serkis' brilliant interpretation, on an emotional level as well. You easily forget that you're watching a computer-generated character. Sean Astin also comes into his own as Sam, Frodo's loyal companion. Little more than comic relief at first, in "Return", as in the novel, Sam grabs his role by the reins.
"Return of the King" has none of the pacing problems of its predecessors. While "Fellowship of the Ring" tended to ramble and "The Two Towers" got bogged down in the world of the Ents, "Return of the King" is perfectly set from start to finish. As for the battles, somehow Mr. Jackson manages to top himself yet again. The siege of Minas Tirith stands as the crowning achievement of the trilogy - which is really saying something. Everything we have seen in the previous battles has prepared us for this. We may not have known it, but Mr. Jackson was teaching us a visual language. We can sit back and enjoy because we are used to his method of storytelling. During the battles he is able to concentrate on specific characters or events without ever losing sight what's going on around him. It seems as though his cameras can go anywhere and do anything. They can fly with the winged Nazgul, or shoot down the side of a mountain.
By the time the ending rolls around, and it takes over three hours, we will forgive Mr. Jackson any indulgences. Yes, there are five or six different 'fade outs', but what else would you expect from the finale of not just a three hour film but a twelve hour epic. After this, Mr. Jackson may be able to write his own ticket in Hollywood, and there's no telling what he might come up with in the future. A remake of "King Kong" is his next project and there are rumors of his tackling "The Hobbit". I don't envy him the pressure of having to follow-up this undertaking, but I'm sure he can handle it. This is a filmmaker in the grandest tradition of the word.