Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Year: 2003
Production Co: Wingnut/Weta (SPFX)
Studio: New Line Cinema
Director: Peter Jackson
Producer: Peter Jackson/Fran Walsh
Writer: Fran Walsh/JRR Tolkein
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortenson, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett
Like a Matrix-inspired Christmas present, Return of the King is the least impressive of Jackson's Tolkein trilogy.

For a movie franchise mile above any other this year, that's still quite a feat, but it's main failing is that (unlike) The Two Towers, it doesn't surpass its predecessor.

The Battle of Helms Deep, the revelations about the love affair between Aragorn and Arwen, the creatures that guard Mordor, were all leaps ahead of anything in Fellowship of the Ring in terms of storytelling, effects and scripting.

And while Return of the King is just as stupendous in every respect, it's no more stupendous, and leaves you wanting. The sieges at Minas Tirith and Isogoth (or whatever it was called) were as impressive as that of Helm's Deep, and the action seemed at times repetitive - there felt like on too many scenes of a king or general riding along lines of soldiers, rousing them for battle.

The Nazgul and the other creatures are all extraordinary, as well as the effects depicting enormous falling or crashing objects that the sound design and CG did such a good job in Fellowship (in the Mines or Moria in particular).

Legolas and Gimli have been relegated to virtual bit parts (not unavoidable because of the source material), and for such important characters it's a bit of a letdown (not unlike Morpheus in Matrix: Revolutions). They still have their fifteen minutes of fame with their competition for the most kills, Legolas' trademarked acrobatics to bring down an enemy stronghold (in this case, one of the giant elephantine monsters), and Gimli once again inhabiting the irritating position of comic relief with his one-liners.

The story is divided into two strands. In one, Frodo and Sam are led deeper towards Mount Doom by Gollum as he plots their demise so he can get the ring back. While there, they finally meet Shelhob (left out of Towers - even though it was in the book - so as not to appear to be ripping off the last Harry Potter), are taken prisoner by the orcs, and have to constantly find strength in themselves and each other to keep going. In fact, the 'finding the courage to go on' thing suffers a little overkill, to the point that you don't really believe any of the scrapes they get into.

The rest of the fellowship are left to run from one corner of Middle Earth to the other, dealing with the family politics among various royalties and the masses of corrupt humans, trolls, Uruk-hai and orcs marching around with enormous weapons driven by giant beasts.

The conclusion is no surprise to anyone who's read the book, but following the Ring's destruction is where Jackson (again) has more sense than Tolkein; Saruman and Wormtongue surfacing in The Shire was a horrible anticlimax in the book. Jackson shows as little restraint with Sam's cheesy marriage and Frodo's heroic departure, but it rounds the story off a little better.

Striking visuals and epic storytelling are tempered with too many seemingly 'Hollywood' moments, each emotional flourish trying to outdo the last.

And whether it was in the editing or the original shooting, you also get a sense that the entire last 45 minutes was a bit rushed, as if Jackson and Co realised how much time they had left. Important sequences like the crowning of Aragorn were little more than window dressing.

However, hopefully now that Peter Jackson is the kind of director that can command multimillion dollar budgets from major studios, King Kong will be a spectacle to behold.

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