Return of the King: Cinematic Achievement of a Generation - My Analysis
There are moments in life where one simply cannot fully convey the level of satisfaction and admiration with something they`ve just experienced, moments that words were not designed to describe accurately, that can only be felt and not heard or seen. While walking out of the movie theater at 3:25 AM on Wednesday, December 17th, 2003, I discovered I was knee-deep in one of these moments. The Return of the King, the final piece of the masterful work of cinematic art that is The Lord of the Rings, was so tasteful, so beautiful, so impacting an achievement, that so shortly after witnessing such an event, the proper words failed to escape my lips. Director Peter Jackson, in collaboration with a plethora of incredibly talented individuals, has splendidly adapted J.R.R. Tolkien's literary classic to the screen. Although not including every aspect of the work, nor leaving every character from the book unchanged, Jackson most definitely has captured the general spirit of it. This film shines with such dazzling elements for every minute of it that, when placed next to the other two movies, stands out as possibly the greatest achievement in cinematic history.
And on a more informal note: WOW!
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is awesome in every way, from its excellent character development and acting performances to its breathtaking digital effects and production design. The movie gratifies every type of viewer, from average Friday night moviegoers to veteran Tolkien literature fans.
Characters I Loved
In this series, every actor involved is a good one, and every character is an interesting one, but here are just a few that stand out:
Gollum/Smeagol- Wow, what a feat! The character of Gollum was realized perfectly, through the amazing digital team that brought him to life, the writing team that understood his tendencies, and most of all, through Andy Serkis' captivating portrayal of Smeagol at the beginning of the film. This prologue of sorts is not only very appropriate for that particular moment of the story, but as we are introduced to the digital version of Gollum, we come to fully grasp how much of Serkis' likeness has somehow been captured in his face. This character, apart from the films, is a pioneer into the world of fully digital characters, being the first one to give us a real acting performance.
Denethor- John Noble makes this character work, and quite fantastically. The character of Denethor in Tolkien was always a very abstract one, and just as abstract is the way in which the Denethor sequences are filmed. It comes out brilliant. The inter-cutting between his eating (and bleeding) and Faramir's ride to Osgiliath, with Pippin's song in the background, is incredible. One must also note the outstanding (but brief) performance put forth by David Wenham as Faramir, the most memorable part being his reaction to absolute rejection from his father. Even down to his very strange looking costume, Denethor is so wonderfully odd, he manages to evoke the feeling that we got from the book's steward of Gondor.
Sam- Oh my God! What an amazing performance! Sean Astin has never been this good(No offense, Sean)! After what I only thought were great performances in the first two movies, Astin brings out the big guns in by far his best acting achievement to date. The character is so well-written in Tolkien, that virtually no fundamental changes were needed in bringing this character to the screen. I must hand it to the writers (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair) that they have successfully taken every important element of the character of Sam and put it into the movie, something that took me completely by surprise. I have always held onto the belief that, although Frodo plays an essential part in the destruction of the Ring, the true hero of the story is actually Sam. By the time Return of the King came out, I had almost just accepted that in the films, well, he wouldn't be receiving his due credit. I was so wrong! He was given all the credit he deserved, and more! The writers, and the actors, have given us simply the perfect Sam for these movies. Do I smell an Oscar for Sean Astin? Maybe not, but he certainly deserves one. Congrats, Sean. That was one awesome performance.
Sequences I Loved
Please understand before reading further, I absolutely loved this entire film. However, as with the first two, there are some scenes that I will never be able to leave for the bathroom during. Here are those that come to mind:
The Beacons of Gondor- Not only did they find a way to get one of the coolest ideas from the book into the movie, they managed to make it a structural building block for Theoden, making it a catalyst for his decision to muster Rohan and ride to Gondor's aid. It was very visually satisfying, and it hints at what these films have hinted at all along: that there is a level of depth and detail within these stories that far surpasses any other fantasy tale ever told or written.
Shelob's Lair- In possibly the most suspenseful sequence of the picture, Shelob operates as the secondary digital character to Gollum, The Two Towers having put Treebeard in that position. She is very well-received, and represents the turning point in Smeagol's downfall-and Gollum's rise. In The Lord of the Rings, entertaining action sequences tend to come in two types: small scale and large scale. Shelob rules the small-scale domain, which is ironic, since she's extremely huge for a spider. She also carries a lot of influence in the way Sam comes into his character's role.
The Siege of Minas Tirith- Never before has a battle of this scale ever been attempted on film. One can only sit back and admire the sheer scope and vastness of this 200,000-orc brigade attacking The White City (one of the gorgeous miniatures created by Weta Workshop). It'll also be interesting to see how epic films of the future can effectively take advantage of the MASSIVE program used for these scenes. A major nod goes to Weta Digital and their simply astonishing effects for this sequence, truly deserving of an Academy Award (Richard Taylor, I hope there`s an empty spot on your mantle).
Mount Doom/Black Gate- "For Frodo." Those words, uttered by Aragorn, son of Arathorn, King of Gondor, pretty much sum up the entire film. All of the hardship and suffering, all of the battles fought and sacrifices made, all of it is happening for Frodo, in an attempt to give him the chance to accomplish his quest. This climactic event, towards which the entire trilogy has been building, was so artfully crafted and brilliantly realized that it truly overwhelms its audience- in a very positive manner. Since 2001, the entire fan base of Tolkien has been waiting for this moment, and the film delivers it perfectly.
The Grey Havens- Wow. This sequence was incredible. It gives us all the ultimate ending, the ultimate emotional experience that fully gratifies any hungers we ever had for resolution in The Lord of the Rings. The fans of this book and this movie could not have asked for a better Grey Havens, and I think I can speak for all of us in saying that the anxious feeling that has lingered in the back of our minds since 2001 has finally been eased. We can rest easy now. The gap has been filled. The story is finally complete.
Characters/Sequences I Missed (the few there were)
As stated before, I fully enjoyed every minute of this film, and do not presume to think that every desire of mine from the book can be fulfilled, but to live up to my role in this review as a critic, I must do a little bit of pouting.
Saruman- The former White Wizard and leader of the Isitari did not appear at all in this movie. In the books, he is confronted in a chapter called The Voice of Saruman. This sequence, it is rumored, was indeed filmed, but cut from the Theatrical version for pacing purposes (no doubt director Peter Jackson was under enormous pressure from New Line Cinema to shorten the length of this movie as much as possible). Although an interesting scene, it is not totally necessary to the story, and with the knowledge that we can look forward to it in the Extended Version of the film, I can readily accept this.
Beregond- The savior of Faramir, the representation of fundamental liberalism in the novels, was overlooked in the movie version of The Return of the King. For you uninformed ones, Beregond went against his Steward's orders, an act deemed disgraceful by Gondor, to save Faramir, who he realized was still alive. Although he went against the law of the land, he understood that what he was doing was right out of his love and respect of Faramir. He was commended by Aragorn at the end of the story for his courageous decisiveness. His absence, although missed, is fully understandable. This part of the tale was much more detailed on in the books, which gave the character the opportunity to develop. This made Beregond almost impossible to represent in the film. Also, the spirit of his act of selflessness was captured through the already-developed character of Pippin.
The Mouth of Sauron- The voice of the Empire of the Dark Lord of Middle-earth was absent from The Return of the King. He was an amazing character, and his powerful words explained volumes about the plight of the characters in the novels. However, much of his words were built around the style of Tolkien's writing: at that particular part of the books, the reader is unaware that Frodo has even escaped Minas Morgul. Since this suspense could no longer be conveyed, since we'd already seen Frodo's story line throughout the picture, he was no longer necessary as a character. Despite that, he was reported as cast for the film, and we may or may not see him in the Extended Edition.
A film like this is like a very huge puzzle. One can examine every intricate piece and how it interacts with another piece, examine the complicated structure and balance apparent in its design and creation, but when one steps back and brings into focus the sheer vastness and profoundness of this picture, they find that the are looking at a very extraordinary piece of art.
In conclusion, on behalf of fans everywhere, I must give credit where credit is due. So thank you Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, and Stephen Sinclair. Thank you Richard Taylor, Dan Hennah, Grant Major, Rick Porras, Barrie Osbourne, Howard Shore, John Howe, Alan Lee, and Bob Shaye. Thank you Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, John-Rhys Davies, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Brad Dourif, John Noble, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Karl Urban, David Wenham, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Liv Tyler. Thank you to every orc and every man, every elf and every dwarf that I have not named here. Thank you to every prop master, gaffer, and extra. Thank you to those guys that rubbed the prints off of their thumbs making chain mail for these movies, and every farmer or land owner that allowed their property to be borrowed for this film. Thank you to everyone who made this project possible. And finally, thank you eternally, from the bottom of my heart, Peter Jackson. You have made all of my hopes and dreams for this film come true.
One more person deserves credit for this film, but he never acted in a scene or held up a microphone. And he never gave any of his land or put any of his time into producing it, directing it, writing the scripts, or making the props. But he brought to us a story that affected us to powerfully, we were truly inspired, and our lives were never the same. If not for him, this fantastic achievement would never have been possible. From all of us, thank you Professor Tolkien.
In the future, people of every shape, size, and age will look back on this great work of art for inspiration, joy, and satisfaction. They will look to this classic on their shelf to bring hope and comfort to their lives. After eight years of hard work, the journey for this group of artists is finally finished. Congratulations, guys. You just made one hell of a movie!