Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

After nearly 6 hours (or slightly over 7 hours if you count the Extended Editions) Peter Jackson’s visionary epic comes to the third and final part with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The fate of Middle Earth continues from where we left off before.

Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Astin) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) come ever closer to Mordor with the One Ring, while the rest of the remaining fellowship are finally reunited at Isengard.

The reunion is short-lived as curious hobbit Pippin (Billy Boyd) foolishly picks up the defeated Saruman’s (a disappointingly absent Christopher Lee) globe and the eye of Sauran sees him.

With Sauran believing that Pippin carries the Ring, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) takes the little hobbit to the kingdom of Minas Tirith, where the steward of the city Denethor (John Noble) mourns the death of his older and much favoured son Boromir. His younger son Faramir (David Wenham) tries to please his father but to no avail.

With his forces gathering together a massive army consisting of orcs, Uruk-hai and mercenaries, Sauran begins to get ready to march upon Minas Tirith and Denethor seems completely uninterested with the impending attack.

The only hope of survival for Mina Tirith is in the shape of Aragon (Viggo Mortensen) who with the help of Théoden, King of Rohan (Bernard Hill) plans to ride to the aid of Gandalf in Mina Tirith. However, even with their army they stand little hope against the massive forces of Sauran who are by now gathering in the fallen city of Gondor.

A solution to even out the battle presents itself when Elrond (Hugo Weaving) present Aragon with the sword of the king and tells him to take his rightful place on the throne of Middle Earth. As king, Aragon can command the Army of the Dead (it’s good to be King) – a damned army who owe an alliance to the one true heir of Middle Earth. So with faithful companions, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Aragon sets of to find the Army of the Dead.

However, even with the Army of the Dead and Théoden’s forces and the warriors at Mina Tirith, the forces of Sauran still have the upper hand. The only hope that the people of Middle Earth have are two little hobbits marching towards Mordor, with their twisted guide – a guide who has more of an interest in seeing his wards dead than seeing them destroy his precious ring.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King does things on a much grander scale than seen before with epic battles consisting of tens of thousands of warriors – Helm’s Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was just a playground scrap compared to the battle at Mina Tirith. It’s grandness on a majestic scale, with ballistic weapons, aerial combat and huge creatures laying waste to anyone in their path. The special effects merge so well with the real actors that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the two, bar the occasional slip.

Speaking of the special effects, they are outstanding and even buildings that are obviously scale models and CGI, are impressive especially the city of Mina Tirith with its huge towers and massive scale walls built into the mountain. The landscapes are impressive and imposing as usual. Even the Army of the Dead is impressive, but does look a little weaker later on in the film. Unlike the final two Matrix films where the tone was much more ‘look at the special effects and forget the characters’ here that is never something brought into question. The special effects are here to support the characterisations and depth of the film and tend to blend very well into the background. Director Peter Jackson manages to the keep the focus on the characters even with the spectacular special effects which is no mean feat.

The performances are superb again, with Elijah Wood and Ian McKellen being beaten by one of the actors who really comes into his own this time round – Sean Astin. His portrayal of the faithful Samwise Gamgee is superb, going from disheartened and destroyed to the strength that Frodo lacks. The touching relationship between them is tested to the limit and towards the end there were at least six people spotted in the cinema with tears in their eyes (Mrs Monkey included!). Viggo Mortensen takes a much stronger leadership role and goes from quiet ranger to a leader that will do anything for his people very well.

Other characters that really come into their own too are the remainder of the Hobbits, who take a much more active role in the fighting this time round. Even Gollum is much more impressive with the advances in Digital Effects having improved over the last year or so. Surely this time round the Oscar Academy cannot ignore the performances as they have been doing previously.

There are a few weak moments the most noticeable being a fight between the Witch King and Eowyn (Miranda Otto) – the Witch King cannot be killed by an man, and lo and behold Eowyn pulls off her ‘disguise’ mid-battle and proclaims “I’m no man” – this is scene that is so full of cheese that even the Dutch would have been proud of it. Other weaker aspects are the ending or the feeling that director Peter Jackson didn’t want it to end as it seems to drag on forever – mind you, that’s not really his fault as the book tended to do that too. The overall length of nearly three and a half hours is a bit of a killer on the old backside – in fact it felt like I’d been to Brighton without any lubrication; my arse was hurting so much.

Even for its minor weaknesses, there is absolutely no denying that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a stonker of a film that surpasses expectations. After the disappointing Trilogy endings such as The Matrix: Revolutions and even The Godfather: Part III the fear of having a disappointing ending this time round is thankfully dismissed – in fact it’s a damn near perfect film. The Extended DVD Edition to be released later next year should fill in the holes – especially with the missing Christopher Lee scenes that feel like they have been hastily skipped – although Jackson has done well to justify cutting the scene (just do a search in Google for a copy of his letter justifying the removal of Lee’s death scene).

There is no comparison to this Trilogy and the fact that the film makers are such big fans of the source material is evident throughout. The small touches really make The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King hit the mark such as the one-liner delivered by Gimli after Legolas non-chantilly dismounts from a huge defeated ‘oliphaunt’ (four tusked elephant-like creatures) and the relationship between the scattered fellowship. Pippin singing mournfully while Faramir rides towards inevitable death at the foolish behest of his father is just one of many touching moments.

The bar has definitely been raised once again by Peter Jackson and here’s hoping that his next project, the remake of the 1933 classic King Kong is done with the same passion and attention.

Score 10/10 - this tops the previous two films!