THE LORD OF THE RINGS:  THE RETURN OF THE KING 

by New Line Cinema 

December 2003

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


Peter Jackson's film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King is a successful combination of acting, spectacle, and story telling.  While Tolkien purists may complain that Jackson has taken liberties with Tolkien's text, the role of a film adaptation is to distill the essence of a book into a shorter period of time and in this, Jackson has succeeded admirably.

Just as Jackson's version of The Fellowship of the Ring opened with a flashback to a time millennia before the opening of his main story, so, too, does The Return of the King begin long before Frodo (Elijah Wood) acquires the ring of power.  However, whereas The Fellowship of the Ring began with a narration of a major battle, The Return of the King opens with an apparently idyllic scene of two Hobbit fishermen.  Lacking the narration Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) provided in the first film, it takes the viewer a few moments to realize what Jackson is showing.

Being the third film in a series, Jackson does not see the need to reintroduce all of his characters, which is the correct decision to make in this case.  Within a short period, the characters are delineated, even for those who may have missed the previous episodes of the film.  Jackson and his actors do such a good job portraying their characters that there is a strong sympathy between the audience and the characters.  In a few instances, most notably Denathor, the Steward of Gondor (John Noble), come off two-dimensional, however Jackson has demonstrated in the past that this could possibly change in the extended version when it is released on DVD.

While it has become standard to discuss the amazing special effects which stand out in fantasy and science fiction films, one of the strengths of The Return of the King is the fact that with few exceptions, the special effects do not stand out.  Instead of noticing the special effects, the viewer is carried along by the story and the effects are simply a vehicle which Jackson integrates into the overall effect of the film.

The film includes numerous threads and splits up the characters while following each of them on their disparate journeys.  Nevertheless, the viewer is never lost and each plotline contains not just battles, which should overwhelm the film, but donít, but also character development, perhaps most notably in Pippin (Billy Boyd).  Even at the beginning of The Return of the King, Pippin demonstrates much of the fecklessness which got him and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) into so much trouble, but as the story progresses, Pippin gains an understanding of responsibility and overshadows Merry whether the two are together or apart.

At the end of The Return of the King, the viewer is left with the feeling that, like Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Frodo, Samwise (Sean Astin) and the other characters, major and minor, he has gone on a journey.  The fact that Jackson carefully had his characters made up to actually look like they had been on the road and in battles, cut, grimy, tried, only helps to tie the fantasy world of Middle Earth to the real world and make the characters and their quest seem to matter that much more.

The Return of the King, especially when taken with The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers form a tour de force which, no doubt, other studios and directors will attempt to copy.  However, given the care with which Jackson obviously made these movies, there is a good chance that no other director will ever succeed in following him on his own epic journey.

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