At the end of all things... - The journey is over for us. Not just the famed Fellowship. And what an ending it was.
And what a way to end the series. Saying that Return of the King is a masterpiece of film-making is a simple truism. At the same time, however, let me make something very clear. It isn't perfect. At least, it won't be until the Extended Edition. It falls just short of utter perfection because of the incredible amount that the film has to cover. Three hours and twenty minutes is, as strange as this may sound, simply too brief. The time from the ending of the Battle of the Pelennor Field to the destruction of the Ring feels like a mere ten minutes. There's no time to reflect on the death of Theoden, nor to see Eowyn healed in the Houses of Healing and subsequently fall in love with Faramir. Indeed, the Houses of Healing isn't in the film. The middle of the film is the weakest.
But, for heaven's sake, I feel like such a prat nit-picking this movie. So many things are utterly, utterly brilliant. You will get chills down your spine when you see the Witch-King getting dressed for battle. You will be longing to join in the charge of the Rohirrim at the Pelennor when Theoden makes his pre-battle speech which - and it makes me so pleased to be able to type this - is exactly out of the bloody book. You will gasp in terror at the appearance of a certain multi-legged creature, and, most brilliantly, you will be an emotional wreck at the end.
Let me just elaborate on the end for a minute. Ignore anyone who says it's too long; they simply don't 'get' why it's necessary. The Lord of the Rings is, on a certain level, about the growth and losses of the four hobbits and the Fellowship. You can't build up these characters and create such a powerful connection with them and then break off the film without giving them the ending that is due. And, boy, did Peter Jackson give them that ending.
The lump in your throat builds early, in fact, soon after the Eagles rescue Sam and Frodo from Mt. Doom and the Fellowship is reunited. You'll try in vain to dislodge the lump, for fear of being less of a man to that cute girl sitting next to you. Ha! Good luck, it'll only get bigger. You still have to deal with Aragorn's coronation, where he gets reunited with Arwen (who looks damn hot, may I add) under the proud, fatherly gaze of Elrond. Jackson's wily tugging of your heart-strings doesn't end there, but, of course, I'm hardly going to give the end away.
But, as superb as it is, the ending isn't the only thing that makes Return of the King so incredible. It would take me forever to write about the "best" scenes, so I'll do a quick review of the characters. Bernard Hill absolutely NAILS Theoden. PJ must have had a soft-spot for Rohan, because they have been treated to perfection in both The Two Towers and Return of the King. Eowyn looks as lovely as ever, but Otto's acting jumps to a new level to deal with such drama as the threat of the Witch-King and the final rejection she receives from Aragorn, who is on his way to complete his character arc and become the King of Gondor and proud husband to a sexy Elf. Come to think of it, he doesn't change much in the film. Neither, obviously, does Legolas, who has a little kick-arse action set-piece in the Pelennor battle.
If I was forced, I'd say that the most important characters in Return of the King are the Hobbits. Pippin becomes so much more than the bumbling immature "fool of a Took" that he was in Fellowship and The Two Towers. He has to deal with death, with loss and with responsibility. He succeeds. So does Merry, who plays an important role in a certain battlefield event. However, neither Merry or Pippin hold a candle to the drama surrounding the quest of Frodo and Sam.
Sam. Wow. As other people have said, Sean Astin deserves an Oscar for the part he plays in this film. It is, for lack of available superlatives, incredible. He manages, through immeasurable skill, to convey perfectly his devastation at being told to go home by Frodo, thanks to Gollum's manipulation of their relationship and Frodo's weakened state of mind. He manages to show how much he cares for Frodo, as you will see in their arduous trek up Mt. Doom. Regardless of the actions of the other members of the Fellowship, the Quest would have failed without Sam. It's that simple. Sam is the true hero of Return of the King.
As you all expect, Elijah Wood also manages to shine in this film, and nothing I can really say can give him due credit for how well he manages to handle the myriad emotions that he experiences during the last stages of the Quest. Better too is Gimli. No longer a mere vehicle for comic relief, Gimli shows true heart in Return of the King. I remember an exchange that Legolas and Gimli have when standing at the Black Gates, facing Sauron's legions of Orcs. Gimli quips that he never expected he'd die fighting next to an Elf. Legolas corrects him: "No. Fighting next to a friend." Then comes the mesmerising charge. Of course, Gimli still has some bloody hilarious lines. Won't repeat them here; you'll have to discover them for yourself.
What to say about Denethor? He's one of the major character changes that Peter Jackson made. Perhaps one that I'm not too comfortable with, as it is quite a large departure from the book, but it certainly does work in the film. Quite simply, Denethor has progressed beyond despair of the fate of "his" city and has descended into mad resignation. Peter Jackson obviously hopes that you will pity him, and I suppose that I did. Oh, and he treats Faramir like crap. (Denethor, not Peter Jackson. Though there are some who would say both.) My fingers are getting rather weary, so let me just say that all the other characters are great and suffer from none of the (admittedly minor) problems that they encountered in the first two movies.
To conclude, Return of the King is undoubtedly the best movie that has come from Hollywood in a long, long time. Peter Jackson has done the impossible by doing JRR Tolkien's novel absolute justice on the big screen. I can complain and gripe about the lack of my favorite book scenes in the movie, but, in the end, The Lord of the Rings isn't a mere collection of great moments. It is a grand tale of loss, growth, sacrifice and, most importantly, friendship. The fact that I shed tears at the breaking of these friendships only goes to show how completely Peter Jackson succeeded at honouring Tolkien's themes. What an experience.