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‘Return of the King’ Review!

December 4, 2003 at 12:01 pm by maegwen  - 

Hi – I am ringer ‘Hornhead’. Thought you might want to post this review

All is well that ends well? If so, Peter Jackson’s “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy has established itself in cinematic history. It ends very well. This is true for the trilogy as a whole with the third installment, “Return Of The King” but it is especially true for the final film – it ends very well.

The movie is grand. The movie is epic. The movie is historic. The movie is a spectacle. The movie is satisfying. None of those attributes matter a whit however unless the movie is personal and emotional and intimate as well. None of those things matter if a member of the audience doesn’t invest herself in the characters. ROTK’s greatest strength, by far, is the way that it gently emotes. Sure the battles are edge-of-the-seat, the heros are heroic, the bad-guys are powerful and despicable and grimy and misshapen inside and out, but the entire success of this film hinges on the wrap up.

Modern audiences are savvy and intelligent and they have traveled the road of good vs. evil plenty of times before and they realize that mostly good wins. So while there is danger and some apprehension, and the end of the day, all will be well.

Jackson, in ROTK, has delivered an emotional experience beyond the victory. He has given us characters – in two films of build up and this film of delivery – who don’t exist simply in the messy parameters of the battle-field but who exist in the battle at all because they belong to cultures and societies and communities stretch far beyond the conflict of swords and arrows. Jackson then gives us not only the exhilaration of physical victory but the emotional fallout of friendships, fears, loyally, courage, platonic love, sacrifice, romantic love, greed, jealously, hate, suspicion, nobility, despair and the occasional Gimli giggle.

Now, those are my impressions but there is a lot of detail yet. Spoilers lurk ahead and as for me, I suggest not reading them. But I know many of you will.
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I was lucky enough to have a screening with no previews. We just jumped into the spooky New Line logo and then Wingnut Films and off we go. The film opens with a worm. What hopes to be the grandest movie of our time opens with a worm? Indeed, and appropriately so. It should be noted that I went in as spoiler free as humanly possible and I think that was the right choice. STOP NOW!
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Okay, so anybody still reading probably already knows we get a Gollum flashback to start the film. This accomplishes two things: We gain some sympathy for the character who is about to turn up the nasty meter to “11.” (Nastier than 10..old movie reference) It also really drives home the fact that our creature Gollum used to be hobbitish Gollum and Andy Serkis, which increases the peril for our Frodo. WETA’s decision to make Gollum look a little Andyish was brilliant and pays off here. Great decision. Finally after the Gollum prologue, we get our title “Return Of The King” and it is full speed ahead.

The film, a bit like Two Towers, shifts character focus. This cannot be helped of course because folks are all over the place but unlike Two Towers, the changes seem less frequent and the story will linger with a particular group longer. Now, I didn’t have a stopwatch to time this, but this is how it felt to me. TTT was appropriately fractured while ROTK seems appropriately blended.

Pippin gets his palantir which was handled okay and worked inside the film as the plot progresses, but I personally did pine for Christopher Lee. Jackson made the right decision for this film, but I think the winding up with Grima and the evil wizard should have been part of the previous film. However, there really isn’t room for it here. I cannot fathom losing minutes of this film, let alone seven to accommodate the old wizard. Treebeard’s dialog does indeed leave the audience with an answer and even at this early point in the film there are far bigger things to think about. When Gandalf says that his threat is gone, we believe him. I really couldn’t help but notice a GIANT SPIKY WHEEL on set however. It looked profoundly familiar. I hope somebody we get the full story that Rings fanatics read about way back in “the day” with that TheOneRing.net spy picture from New Zealand.

So, I don’t want to rehash the movie but there were some things that surprised me a little which will not be possible if you read the next part. Turn back before it is too late!

I was surprised that Merry and Pippin were quite central to the major events of the film. They have been along for the ride in the two previous chapters and they have lightened the mood a bit, but this time they are dramatic and important, more important than I suspected. In this regard, the book is followed quite closely, which is happy news – or at least to me.

On a similar note, I was surprised how effective Shelob was in being creepy and scary and how correctly all the events surrounding Frodo, Sam, Orcs and Shelob were. Kudos to the writers in these efforts. I also feel strongly that saving this for ROTK was much better than putting in TTT. The women next two me, one familiar with the books and the other completely clueless, were both squirming around and covering eyes. Once again, this followed the text in most points. And, Shelob IS big enough. After the show a friend questioned me about the effects which I reported were very good. Then he narrowed his focus to Shelob, which stunned me because I didn’t even consider her an effect. She was so well done and so agile and real, that in my mind she was like one of those Hollywood grizzlies that live in Colorado and work in movies. It is easier for me to think of her returning to her spider cage than to think of her being animated by a computer and some fellow monster-loving geeks.

Our attention is divided into lots of groups. Frodo, Sam and Gollum are together. Gandalf and Pip on another. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli make another. Rohan and its cast is yet another and let me pause to commend Bernard Hill as the man who did the most with a modest part. He was fantastic. Unlike TTT, these stories and events between the divided group have a lot of effect on each other. These characters are aware of each other and although apart, it feels that they are working together.

I fear going on much too long and I never intended to give a play-by-play of the film. Before I leave I must highlight the ever-so-slight tarnishing on the film. I felt that after the Pellenor fields (which wouldn’t have suffered from being longer) the ride to the black gate and the events there felt rushed. No mouth of Sauron. Too rushed. The tension there just wasn’t quite as palpable as one might hope. My real problem with the film is that in those spots it didn’t get to breath properly. Already I am awaiting the extended edition!

Highlights: Witch king. Fell beasts. Miranda Otto’s Eowyn. Howard Shore’s best score of the films. Bernard Hill. Merry and Pippin becoming full characters. The last 20 minutes and woah is that Pete Jackson a tease with his conclusions.

The credits are much better this time around and you will understand when you see them.

And, before I go, since everybody talks about such things…will this film win Oscars?

Well, best director is locked I think. Best picture is a real possibility. Actors? I doubt it. There are too many excellent folks doing too much to get credit. Sean Astin has a real chance at a nomination and so who knows? If only somebody were an addict and mentally off…oh wait, Gollum and Frodo are. Technical awards are probably a slam dunk because Matrix fell so flat at the box office and therefore public/academy opinion. Nothing else, IMHO, can give it a run.

The closing hymn is great. The surest sign that I loved this film? I want to see it again, right now.

Posted in Old Spy Reports on December 4, 2003 by
Thranduil Statue

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