December 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Return of the King New Line Cinema / Tolkien Enterprises / WingNut Films Release:
Review by
EJ McClure

Official Web Site:

Cast:  Noel Appleby …. Everard Proudfoot / Alexandra Astin …. Elanor Gamgee / Sean Astin …. Sam / David Aston …. Gondorian Soldier 3 / John Bach …. Madril / Sean Bean …. Boromir / Cate Blanchett …. Galadriel / Orlando Bloom …. Legolas / Billy Boyd …. Pippin / Sadwyn Brophy …. Eldarion / Alistair Browning …. Damrod / Marton Csokas …. Celeborn / Richard Edge …. Gondorian Soldier 1 / Jason Fitch …. Uruk 2 / Bernard Hill …. Theoden /

At three and a half hours, The Return Of The King is indeed a sprawling blockbuster of a movie. I had the fun of seeing it with an enthusiastic crowd given to spontaneous applause. If you haven’t seen it yet, go. Better yet, go at once and take a friend. Then go see it again, because it’s too much to take in all at once.

The battle scenes were every bit as stupendous as rumor promised, though military history buffs may quibble over the tactics. The rampaging oliphaunts in particular did not disappoint. Interestingly, I thought there was less gore than in The Two Towers: I would take my 12-year-old nephew to see Return Of The King without hesitation. The robust orchestral score nicely enhanced the emotional impact of the gut-wrenching drama and adrenalin-charged action sequences. For the record, Jackson has thoroughly mastered the art of inducing vertigo through dizzying computer graphics. I think I left dents in the arms of my theater seat.

As discussed in Edward Carmien’s I2 column, the decision to shoot all three installments of the saga back-to-back-to-back was probably the best option. It enabled Peter Jackson to lock in the cast and achieve a level of continuity (in funding, among other things) that would otherwise have been impossible. He also ensured himself a certain artistic control and clarity of vision untrammeled by critical reviews or fan feedback—love it or hate it, the trilogy is Peter Jackson’s conception of Tolkien’s masterpiece from beginning to end.

So, like all devoted Tolkien fans (I first read the trilogy cover to cover at age 7), I have a little list after seeing The Return of the King. Where were the Rangers? What happened to the bitter-sweet romance between Faramir and Eowyn?  Having Elrond appear seemingly out of nowhere, deliver some cryptic advice, then vanish again made it hard to push the “I believe” button. Then there was the complete rewrite of Denethor’s final scenes, stripping out the revelation of the cause of his madness.  Here I think Jackson missed the opportunity for dramatic development following up Pippin's encounter with the palantir of Orthanc—readers will recall the palantir was the means by which Aragorn first challenged Sauron.

But I can accept these edits as being within Jackson’s purview as he dealt with the challenge of condensing Tolkien’s masterpiece into a cinematic presentation targeting two disparate audiences; fans of the literary work like myself, and a visually-oriented generation that cut its teeth on Star Wars and Nintendo. I will content myself by hoping to see some of the missing scenes in the special edition DVD.

The characters are all familiar by now. Gollum’s fans in particular should be delighted by the amount of screen time the twisted little creature gets as Jackson explores the tangled relationships between Frodo, Sam and Gollum. Merry and Pippin continue to charm audiences. Gimli’s doughty heroics and gruff humor make a marvelous foil for Legolas’ suave, self-sufficient superiority (those elves:  the metrosexuals of the fantasy genre). Aragorn – the total action hero! And where would we be without Gandalf?  Unsurprisingly, the writers once again created scenes to keep Arwen’s character engaged in the plot, rather than relegating Liv Taylor’s talents to the frugal role Tolkien envisioned for the elvish maiden.  But in Eowyn we get a splendid sword-maiden in the best Viking tradition.

Edoras, the Shire, and Mordor were all as I imagined them from Tolkien’s descriptions. Minas Tirith was awe-inspiring. The elaborate costuming and lavish sets revealed a thorough understanding of the cultures from which Tolkien drew inspiration for the races of Middle Earth. A round of applause for all involved.

For my money, Peter Jackson could have ended his grand epic with the spectacular coronation scene and covered the “what happened to them afterward” with screen notes before the credits. I did not need the protracted teary scene at the Grey Havens to give me a sense of closure. You may think otherwise. But I think we can all agree that the Lord Of The Rings is one of those watershed cinematic events that, like Star Wars, changes our paradigms: in the future, we will judge fantasy movies by the resounding climax Return Of The King provides to the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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