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  • Post last modified:September 3, 2022

Return of the King: At Journey’s End


Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen. Photo: New Line Cinema

We’ve reached journey’s end. Peter Jackson’s final chapter of his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy won almost everything at the 2004 Academy Awards and many chose to see the overwhelming praise as some kind of summary reward for the whole trilogy. They have a point. There’s nothing in this film that makes it any better than the other two. It’s another glorious adventure. That may sound casual. It is anything but. 

Guided by Gollum
Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood, Sean Astin) are getting closer to Mount Doom, guided by Gollum who has a sinister plan. He reckons his only chance to get the Ring back is to lure the hobbits into the lair of a giant spider that will surely kill them. Frodo and Sam are further jeopardized by the power of the Ring, which is poisoning Frodo’s mind, making him trust Gollum rather than Sam. 

Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) comes closer to accepting his destiny as king, which is crucial to the survival of Middle-earth. The evil wizard Saruman may be defeated, but Sauron is preparing for the final battles and the bloodiest of them is to take place in Gondor, in the city of Minas Tirith, where the most powerful of the Nazgûl, the dead kings, will lead Sauron’s forces. Aragorn realizes that he will also need help from the undead.

Conveying a feeling of agony
Ghosts and spiders. Can this freakshow get any better? The huge arachnid may arguably one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s sillier ideas, but Jackson knows how to make those sequences absolutely thrilling, especially the one where Sam comes to Frodo’s aid. There’s a stunning beauty to the visual effects. The Minas Tirith battle has an eye-popping bit where Legolas (Orlando Bloom) jumps up on a gigantic, elephant-looking animal, takes out the soldiers who are riding it and then kills the dangerous animal itself. There’s a lot in this epic for many different creative departments to handle.

That Saruman doesn’t even make an appearance is a little strange; difficult decisions regarding details of the story had to be made, but the filmmakers’ approach is wise. The important theme here is the end of all things. Death is present and the whole film conveys a feeling of agony; hope is about to prevail, but it’s going to take a toll. The ones to suffer the most are without a doubt the brave Ringbearer and his best friend. What started out as a joyful depiction of the hobbits in Shire has now become a dark tale about a quest that looks certain to ruin the once carefree Frodo and Sam. Wood and Astin give convincingly exhausted performances. As in The Two Towers, Andy Serkis, in the guise of Gollum, deserves kudos. 

I should also take a moment and praise Howard Shore, whose majestic work for this trilogy rendered him three Oscars. His music, alternately potent, discreet and playful, has reinforced the emotions of the story and planted memorable tunes in the minds of the audience. The best of the songs he co-wrote is the one featured in this film, “Into the West”, unforgettably performed by Annie Lennox.

Saying goodbye is emotional.

As the story draws to a close, we realize that it is not only the characters who must bid each other farewell. We have been following these people and creatures in three movies – saying goodbye is emotional. The cast worked together for a long time during the back-to-back shoot of the trilogy in New Zealand and we can only imagine how close they became. Jackson himself can’t seem to bear the thought of separation. The ending is much too drawn-out. I lost count of how many times this movie ended only to present another final sequence. Ah, well. Jackson is forgiven for being overly generous. After all, these nine hours were a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 2003-U.S.-New Zealand. 200 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh. Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson. Novel: J.R.R. Tolkien. Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie. Music: Howard Shore. Song: “Into the West” (performed by Annie Lennox). Editing: Jamie Selkirk. Art Direction: Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee. Costume Design: Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor. Visual Effects: Richard Taylor, and others. Cast: Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Liv Tyler (Arwen), Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett… John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Sean Bean.

Trivia: The alternate version of this film, where Christopher Lee and Brad Dourif make appearances, runs 250 min.

Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Original Score, Original Song, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Makeup, Sound Mixing. BAFTA: Best Film, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Special Visual Effects. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Drama), Director, Original Score, Original Song.

Last word: The Return of the King is the most enjoyable, because in the structure of the movies, it is nothing other than pay-off, there is no more setting up to do, no more exposition, no more introducing characters. From my point of view it was always great, because we were heading toward an ending, a climax which we never had in the other two.” (Jackson, Total Film)

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