Return of the King review by The Grim Ringler

It is hard to believe that it’s really over. That a film I have followed since the first rumors of it appeared is finally finished. And I couldn’t shake that weird sense of sadness when I was watching the film during the midnight sneak previews. Being as much of a movie nerd as I am, it is very rare that a film, especially a series, affects me the way the LOTR movies have. It is even more rare to find films that truly get you excited about movies all over again and make you fall in love with them anew. No, these are not perfect films – they are long, are talky, are full of loads of speechifying, and can be confusing with people that haven’t read the books – but these are films that truly shall stand the test of time. Which is not a thing that can be said for many films. So yeah, it was a bit odd and sad to go to that midnights showing of Return of the King and to watch the last strands of this tale come to an end. But if it had to end, at least it ends as triumphantly as it began.

Return of the King picks up where Two Towers left off, with the Fellowship split into three factions, each one now learning that they have a new purpose to serve in order that the forces of good might triumph. Merry and Pippin, having taken up with Treebeard the Ent are now standing as guards of the outermost parts of evil wizard Saruman’s stronghold, keeping a watch out for Aragorn and the Gandalf. The greater part of the fellowship – Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli, and Legolas – having just won a battle in the land of Rohan, are heading to meet with Treebeard to find out the fate of Saruman and to gather the rest of their party. And with Sam and Frodo the travel of the Ringbearer is becoming a burden greater than either had ever dreamed. Lead by the treacherous Gollum, who has once again taken possession of the former hobbit’s body and has once again put down a revolt by the kinder side of the monster, Smeagol, the two hobbits have no choice but to place their trust in their guide and hope that he will lead them to their destination and to the ring’s destruction. In Return of the King we find the forces of good, the Fellowship facing odds that even they cannot muster the heart to claim they will be victorious against, but yet face their peril with a resignation that this is what they must do to give Frodo a chance. Everything is focused on Frodo and the ring. If Frodo fails all is lost. And while the forces of good are uniting and making their plans the forces of Sauron, the creator and lord of the One Ring Frodo carries is amassing an invasion army to crush the human resistance and to break the back of his foes once and for all. For if Gondor, the last great human city, should fall then the chaos and despair that shall come with that defeat shall flood Middle Earth.

The journey for Frodo and Sam, as difficult as it is physically is also starting to wear on their friendship as the ring begins changing Frodo moment by moment, turning his mind towards the lies that Gollum is telling him – that Sam wants the ring for himself. And all the while Gollum is laying his plans to lead the hobbits to a hidden stair etched into the side of a mountain that stands beside Minas Morgul – the dead city of the Witch King and lord of the Nazgul ringwraiths – and then into a cave where something awaits them. And when the hobbits are dead Gollum will have his precious back again. Sam senses the trickery in Gollum though and tries to put an end to the villain but is halted by Frodo, who is becoming more and more sympathetic with Gollum the longer he holds possession of the ring. Frodo and Sam, as close as they had been when the journey began, are growing apart, and it takes everything in Sam to remain true to the quest and true to Frodo, but that bond is being stretched to its limits and Gollum is the reason why.

Away in Rohan we have Aragorn and the Rohirrim, Aragorn knowing a war is coming to his people of Gondor and unsure if Rohan will answer a call for aid from them. Gondor had long abandoned Rohan and had not been there when war came to its door but the time for petty disputes is over and the time to come together against one foe is here. Gandalf has left for Gondor, taking one of the hobbits and hoping to arrive before war reaches the white city. Gondor is a haunted place now though. Dennethor, the man set to warm the king’s seat if and until one returns, is going mad, the loss of his son Boromir and the threat of open war creating a jealous, angry, foolish man. And when he is told by Gandalf that war is coming and that he must prepare, that he must call to the people of Rohan and re-unite two peoples that had once had such a strong alliance. But Dennethor will not hear of it and as the machines of war are released and set towards Gondor it seems, even to Gandalf, as if hope may truly be fading. Through trickery though the warning fires of Gondor are lit and, whether he wanted it or not, the cry for help is issued in the form of warning fires. And away in Rohan there is but one moment when it appears that they will not come to the aid of the people of Gondor but it fades quickly, the king merely liking that he has a choice.

And as the war approaches and engulfs Gondor, the waves of warriors reaching from the white city’s gates to the horizon, Sam and Frodo move closer to the Eye of Sauron and their own fate. Upon seeing the walls of the Nazgul city Frodo’s resolve begins to fail, the ring truly making its own desires known as it drags him towards those great gates, but Sam and Gollum, in a rare act of cooperation, manage to pull Frodo away and now it is to the mountain of stairs that they turn their attention. Gollum’s plan is working wonderfully and becomes even more ideal when he manages to finally sever the friendship between the two hobbits and Sam is sent away by Frodo, who now fears the treachery of Sam since Gollum has planted these seeds in his mind that Sam wants the ring for himself, and now Gollum and Frodo are alone on the quest. Gollum leads Frodo to the long, dark cave and it is here that his own betrayal becomes apparent when he leads Frodo into the cave and leaves him to find the thing that lives there in the darkness, hungry and waiting.

As the war begins Gondor seems as if it will be lost but there is still hope, though slight, in the approaching Rohirrim of Rohan. And Aragorn, finally accepting his bloodline, leaves the Rohirrim army for one last quest of his own which Gimli the dwarf and Legolas the woodland elf take with him. A quest to call to arms a great army once sworn to serve the king of Gondor but which has been long dead, damned to a half-life until they can fulfill their oath. Hope is fading for Man but it is not lost yet, and Aragorn, now becoming the king he has always been, refuses to let that hope fade so easily.

And Frodo, hunted now by a beast, also seems to be on the verge of failing unless he can muster the last of his courage to stand and fight and finish his journey. But he still may need the aid of his closest friend and greatest ally, whose strength and resolve are finally showing how great a tiny hobbit can be.

If there was any doubt in the minds of fans that the last of the Lord of the Rings trilogy would falter I can safely say that you can consider these doubts dead. Return of the King is the kind of sweeping, magnificent, heart-wrenching finale we as moviegoers should always be so lucky to find at the end of any film series. There are no plots left open, there are no foggy resolutions, and there are no cop-outs. This is the end, and wow, what an end. In the last film of the trilogy we are finally able to see Merry and Pippin as they slowly become heroes in their own right, get to see Aragorn finally make his choice and face his legacy, and we get to see how very strong and mighty Samwise Gamgee truly is. People will have their problems with this film as they did the last two, but there is no one that can say that when all is said and done you are not tied to these characters and to this battle.

And of all the special effects, perhaps that is the one director Peter Jackson will be known for above all – that he took a grand, mighty epic fantasy series that was more of a set of history books than it was a story of little people facing down a monstrous war, and he made three films that were as much about alliance, allegiance, friendship and hope as it was about a war to end all wars. He has created an epic that rivals anything done before it and one that will be used as a measuring stick for all fantasy films to come after it.

The wars are enormous, the battle of Pellenor fields outside of Gondor being the mightiest, and you truly get a sense in these scenes how nearly impossible the task of defeating Sauron is. Wave after wave after wave of warriors crash upon Gondor’s gates, all while Ganadal tries to muster the forces of the white city and to get them to fight for their city as Dennethor, finally mad, goes to incinerate he and his son Faramir. And in this epic lies a horror film that is equally as gripping. We see how Smeagol fell under the sway of the ring and became its slave, even as it doomed him. We find Aragorn summoning an army of the dead to do his bidding. We find a great and ancient creature that has made meals of orcs and men for ages and now has a craving for hobbit blood if it can catch Frodo. But above all that there is the true horror of war, of a mindless machine that wants to consume all the lands and all the peoples. Sauron, digitial eye that he is, becomes the great villain he has always been for those that had read the books.

It amazed me while watching the trilogy to see how very well written the characters were. I mean, this is an epic war film and a fantasy with dozens of characters, how on earth could that be handled? By creating moments for each character Jackson and his co-writers Phillipa Boyens and Fran Walsh they have made the characters come to life when they could easily have all been essentially cannon fodder. And, unlike a moment or two in the first two films, I was never drawn out of the action by a special effect that felt like it was a digital creation. Here we have great beasts of war, ghost warriors, and an ancient monster and never did I feel as if I was watching an effect. These were as much characters as the rest of the cast were.

If I had a problem with the film it would be that there is SO much here that you do lose characters and do lose smaller plot lines. Some I know will be in the extended cut, but it does leave you frustrated when you cannot see what becomes of some of the lesser characters you have come to love. And yes, it is distracting that in this version you don’t know what becomes of Saruman and Grimma Wormtongue as they are locked in the tower, surrounded by ents, but this too shall be revealed in the longer version and honestly, it’s not a question you ponder too long. Which is the wonder of the film. As monstrous as it is it never seems to linger, rarely allowing you to catch your breath as it plunges headlong back into the action again.

If I had a favorite moment in the film though I suppose it would be the lighting of the warning fires in Gondor. It is a wonderfully created scene that shows that there is still hope in Middle Earth and all may not be lost. It’s a scene as epic as it is simple and is one that will be remembered over the years.

No, this is not a perfect film. And sadly, there will always be people that will hate the films as much because of their popularity as because of their content, and that’s a shame. These are amazing films made by a director reaching his true potential, as a storyteller and creating an epic masterpiece that will live on well past the days of any of us. It is very hard to imagine what a feat it is that these films are as well crafted, acted, written, and accomplished as they are. I don’t know if any of us will ever quite know what a risk these films were for New Line Cinemas (which risked their very company’s life on these films and on Peter Jackson), or will we know how close these came to not being made at all (they were once set as two films to be made by Miramax, so thank god for that not happening), but I suppose we don’t need to. These are films to be enjoyed. To be argued over and debated. These are films to show to your children and your children’s children. But more than all that, these are films that any who have dreamed of making a movie would want to make. These are the kinds of films that got all of us movie nerds into movies in the first place and made us the rabid fans we all are. For three years millions of people were childlike again in the face of orcs, hobbits, goblins, trolls, elves, and a hundred other monsters. We let go of our world and entered Middle Earth. And believed in that place.

Is there a greater compliment any of us can give than that?

The best of the three? That’s debatable. One of the greatest films ever made, that my friends, I can say with some surety is quite true. As someone who has followed Mr. Jackson’s entire career, I am very, very proud of him and what he has created.


9 out of 10 Jackasses
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