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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (*****)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson, based on the epic by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Principal Cast
Elijah Wood -- Frodo Baggins
Ian McKellen -- Gandalf
Viggo Mortensen -- Aragorn
Sean Astin -- Samwise 'Sam' Gamgee
Liv Tyler -- Arwen Undómiel
Cate Blanchett -- Galadriel
John Rhys-Davies -- Gimli
Billy Boyd -- Peregrin 'Pippin' Took
Dominic Monaghan -- Meriadoc 'Merry' Brandybuck
Orlando Bloom -- Legolas Greenleaf
Hugo Weaving -- Elrond
Miranda Otto -- Éowyn
Karl Urban -- Éomer
Bernard Hill -- Théoden, King of Rohan
Andy Serkis -- Sméagol/Gollum
Sean Bean -- Boromir
Marton Csokas -- Celeborn
Ian Holm -- Bilbo
Bruce Hopkins -- Gamling
Ian Hughes -- Irolas
John Noble -- Denethor
Paul Norell -- King of the Dead
Bruce Phillips -- Grimbold
Thomas Robins -- Deagol
David Wenham -- Faramir
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Good beyond hope!

The third film in the trilogy takes even more liberties with Tolkien than the second did, but all in the service of a great cinematic experience. Taken as a whole, the three films are even better than other high points of modern cinema, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and will be remembered as long and as fondly as Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.

The only complaint I have heard is that The Return of the King is too long. I was aware, two hours into the film, when most movies would be over, that there were major plot elements that had not even been introduced yet. I wondered if Peter Jackson was just going to skip them -- and he does, wisely, skip some. Saruman does not appear. For Saruman's story, we must wait for the expanded DVD. This is a good thing. The film is just long enough, too long for some. More would be too much. But this is, after all, an epic. Peter Jackson never rushes a scene -- in fact, to great effect, just when you think a scene is almost over, he will extend it. I am thinking particularly of the battle with Shelob and Legolas's assault on the mastodon. We never feel that Jackson is just telling the story. This is drama, fleshed out with detail and character.

It is inspired by Tolkien but fundamentally different from Tolkien in certain respects. One way to describe the difference: Tolkien writes in the classic mode -- the primary emotion he evokes is awe at the grandeur of the characters and the beauty of the setting; Peter Jackson works in the romantic mode -- the primary emotion he evokes is sympathy for the characters and excitement in the action.

The other great adaptation of Tolkien is the BBC radio drama, which retains Tolkien's classicism. There is a speech, "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn,..." which always raises goose bumps. That speech is not in the film. There is, however, a brief but poignant speech in which Aragorn dismisses Eowyn. Their parting in the book is very different from their parting in the film. The film, taken as a whole, produces tears instead of goose bumps, the romantic in place of the classic.

Another scene, among many reworked for the film, is the scene where Gollum says, "Sneakin'" In the book, we sympathize with Gollum. He is feeling a fondness for the hobbits. When Sam accuses Gollum of sneaking around the camp, Sam's suspicion helps turn him toward his worse nature. In the film The Two Towers, we saw both sides of Gollum. In the present film, Gollum is almost entirely a villain, and when Sam accuses Gollum of sneaking that is exactly what Gollum is doing, plotting to turn Frodo against Sam, an element entirely absent from the books. This is one of several points at which a highly emotional scene from the books is changed to shift our sympathies from one of the characters to another.

A change from the books that did not sit well with me is when Gandalf tells Pippin that they will be reunited in the afterlife. Elves and maiar are immortal. Hobbits, like men, are mortal. Death, the gift of Iluvatar, is a mystery to elves and maiar both. When Arwen chooses to become mortal and marry Aragorn, she is lost to Elrond forever. So, too, are Frodo and Sam sundered for eternity, when Frodo chooses the Undying Lands and Sam remains behind in Middle Earth. Gandalf and Pippin will not meet in the afterlife.

There would be no point in a film that did no more than remind us of the books. If there were such a film, we would do better to reread the books than to watch it. Tolkien is not perfect. If the film misses some of the grandeur of Tolkien, it also fixes some of his flaws. For example, the arrival of the eagles and the cleansing of the Shire are weak points in Tolkien. Both bothered me from the first time I read the trilogy. Jackson wisely reworks one and skips the other. I am a bit upset that Peter Jackson has Gandalf create the eagles -- Gandalf does not have the power to create. That power is Iluvatar's alone. If Gandalf could create eagles, would he have suffered so long on Orthank? On the other hand, I cannot think of any other way to make the arrival of the eagles less a deus-ex-machina, and so Jackson probably did the best he could.

Before seeing the film, I could not imagine how the climax could be presented in a visual medium. Peter Jackson is not entirely successful, but he does better than I ever dreamed.

My son Rob went to a back-to-back showing of all three films in the trilogy, with extended editions of the first two. If The Return of the King was too long for some, imagine the stamina needed to enjoy all three at one sitting.

Copyright © 2004 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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