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Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

"Hail to the king, baby."
Viggo Mortensen could get used to this royalty stuff.

© 2003, New Line
All Rights Reserved

Review: Fellowship of the Ring
Review: The Two Towers
In a recent two-part interview with Empire Magazine, "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson explained that the third film of his trilogy, "Return of the King" (IMDb listing) is his favorite. Why? Because it took "Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers" to properly set the stage, introduce his characters and weave the background story together. Now that feat has been impressively accomplished, he is free to plunge headfirst into the story and let action speak for itself. And Jackson clearly relishes this freedom to pick up the pace, jump back and forth between the story lines and bring it all neatly back together at the end. All parts of the trilogy have a distinct feel to them, but out of the three, "Return of the King' is the most different. It's a stupendous cinematic epic that pulls out all the stops physically, digitally, emotionally and, most importantly, successfully.

The Fellowship's journey is drawing to its close as Sauron amasses his forces on Pelennor Fields in front of Minas Tirith, the White City and capital of the fading kingdom of Gondor. Slowly falling apart under the listless stewardship of Denethor (John Noble), the city and people of Gondor have never been more in need of their king. The time has come for Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) to ascend to the throne to which he is rightful heir -- but will he find the strength to meet his destiny and rise to the challenge to lead his people in a battle they cannot conceivably win?

While Gandalf (Ian McKellen) tries to convince the broken forces of Gondor to mount a defense, King Theoden (Bernard Hill) and the warriors of Rohan come to their aid, but even their combined strength, their unfailing courage and fierce loyalty cannot defeat the swarming legions of enemies pouring into the kingdom under Sauron's watchful eye.

Meanwhile, Frodo (Elijah Wood) has made his way into the treacherous darkness of Mordor. Slowly succumbing to the growing weight of his burden, he must increasingly rely on Sam (Sean Astin) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) to get him to Mount Doom and the fires that can destroy The Ring, even as the trinket continues to test his allegiance and, finally, his humanity.

For the warriors, each small victory comes at a great sacrifice and immense loss, yet they charge on and challenge Sauron at the Black Gates of Mordor to the greatest battle of their lives. All in an effort to distract Sauron's unblinking eye and give Frodo a chance to complete his quest.

The film is a surprise in many ways. There is an undercurrent of almost-giddiness, which makes the commitment and sense of achievement of all involved nearly palpable. The film's 3 hours and 21 minutes (which seems to fly by, actually) are so emotionally charged as to be visceral. Despite the gravity of the subject matter and the violence of battle, there's humor aplenty, unexpected at times, but welcome and fitting. Upon first viewing, I think, the tone of the overall film will take some getting used to, and while not having read the books will not in anyway impair your viewing pleasure or the film's context, having read them will help to get a better sense of the Tolkien reality reflected so accurately here.

A terrific movie in itself, "Return of the King" is part of something bigger. United with the first two films, the whole story comes together beautifully. As a whole, the trilogy is simply the brilliant sum-total of a monumental cinematic effort. Unprecedented. Unlikely to be outdone. Ever. In that sense, it remains to be seen just where Jackson -- described by his cast in December's Empire Magazine as "rotund," "hobbit-like," "shy," and a "genius" - can possibly go from here.

And if the masses who turned out for the London premiere of "Return of the King" are any indication of the reception it will get -- a crowd that swelled to 8,000; the largest ever at a London premiere -- it'll be unprecedented, awesome and deservedly so.

Filmfodder Grade: A+

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