A Selection from My Collection: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
By Chris Kavan - 05/28/11 at 08:26 AM CT
As this is a completely random pick from the films I own, I’ll just jump right into the third part of an epic trilogy. I have to hand it to Peter Jackson, it deserves every one of the 11 Academy Awards it ended up winning in 2004.
While Two Towers will always remain my favorite film of the trilogy, Return of the King isn’t far behind. In fact, if it weren’t for the somewhat extra-long end(ings) that keep coming at you, I would put this first on the list. While the first film was all about introducing characters and motivations, the second film was essentially one giant battle – this third entry manages to find a good balance between the action and the story of the ring itself.
As always -- SPOILERS AHEAD --
Not surprisingly, since the one ring plays an important part, the film starts off with our favorite CGI character (before he become computer generated) Smeagol and how he came upon the ring and transformed into the fish-eating, split personality Gollum.
Then, because it’s Lord of the Rings, we suddenly splinter off into branching stories: the journey of Frodo, Sam, Gollum and the Ring; Pippin and Gandolf’s journey to the white city Minas Tirith where they run afoul of the steward Denethor, who had gone a little mad; then we have the Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli recruiting the ultimate Deus Ex Machina of an unstoppable undead army and finally Merry joins Eowyn to fight with the massive army of the Rohirrim in the Battle for Pelennor Fields (where the majority of our stories finally join).
Now, if your eyes kind of just glazed over at the just reading that paragraph, let me tell you better carve out a chunk of time, especially if you’re going for the extended edition (and really, why wouldn’t you?). At a 251-minute run time (or a little over four hours) it’s not just a movie, it’s a commitment. To me it’s worth the time spent.
For one, the casting continues to be great. There aren’t too many new characters this time around, but John Noble as Denethor and David Wenham in an expanded role as his forsaken son Faramir are both welcome. Noble, whom I’m fuming hasn’t won an Emmy yet for Fringe, plays his character perfectly so that you feel pity, yet at the same time don’t feel so bad when he finally meets his end.
Most of the other new characters are buried in costume and makeup – the heavily-armored Nazgul Witchking of Angmar, the ghastly green King of the Dead and his army, a wonderfully-deformed Orc leader Gothmog and the creatures – giant spider Shelob and the finally the Oliphaunts and their horse-wrecking charge. Those who view the extended edition also get to see what has to be the creepiest character in the entire trilogy, the Mouth of Sauron – brief as it may be. While Gollum still steals the show as the most impressive computer-generated feat, Jackson isn’t one to shy away from crafting some amazing visual effects.
Still, it’s approaching eight years since Return of the King graced the screen and even a film as wonderful as this can show its age. I’m sure the upcoming Blu-Ray release will put some new luster to this franchise, but I can say that the DVD version, while I won’t say suffers, clearly does not live up to the potential it can have in true HD. It just goes to show how far technology has come in eight years when I’m complaining about how the effects are lacking.
The music also continues to be a high point. While John Williams will forever remain my favorite composer, Howard Shore makes the Lord of the Rings his own. It also helps that Billy Boyd has quite a powerful solo and that Annie Lennox ends the series on a high note with “Into the West.” Also help ending on a high note is production designer Alan Lee, who crafts what I believe is some of the finest credits to grace any film.
The final film also plays heavy on emotion. You can call if friendship, you can even call it love, but the journey taken by the characters show their relationships are very close. Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin and, to a lesser extent, Legolas and Gimli – these are the pairs that drive the story. You also have Aragorn and Arwen – and Eowyn – plus Denethor and Faramir fractured relationship – these likewise have an important part to play. Finally, what may prove to be the most important relationship in the film – Gollum and the Ring – his “precious” ultimately is what determines how this story ends when he finally is reunited with his true love.
Now, while I dearly think the film deserves all accolades, it still doesn’t mean it isn’t without flaws. Even Jackson didn’t like the Army of the Dead and only included it as a nod to the books. It seems far too convenient and only serves as an easy way to kill a lot of enemies very quickly. Likewise, I don’t care how nice things turn out, the film is really too long. The ending is broken up into what I would call rescue/recovery - coronation - wedding - and final farewell (plus a sweet coda). Heck, that takes about 45 minutes right there.
I found myself nodding off (it was approaching midnight – I guess I should have started watching earlier) and maybe they could have been a bit more judicious in the editing.
Still, I have to say the flaws are pretty minor compared to most other films. At 11 for 11 Oscar wins, one of the most impressive world-wide grosses and, most important in my mind, living up the source material J.R.R. Tolkien provided, Return of the King truly proves that the third time is the charm and closes out a trilogy with grandeur and emotion. Hopefully the magic can once again be captured when The Hobbit finally makes it to the big screen.