Review: The Return of the King – My Journey

by Dec 29, 2003Reviews

I originally posted this review I wrote on another website, but I want to share my thoughts with you guys as well.

“The battle for Middle Earth, has just begun!”

It has taken me a good few minutes to even begin to write this review, so lost for words am I.

For me, in the run up at least, ROTK has been a strange beast. As I imposed a ban upon myself when it came to watching trailers and looking at pictures, I’ve been somewhat detached from the hype. All my friends have been going nuts about it. I come on here most days and the excitement is also palpable. I myself however, have felt almost detached from the run up.

I did this one 2 reasons:

1) The film adaptation was always going to be slightly different from the text, so I didn’t want Jackson’s vision to be spoiled. Upon seeing it for the first time, everything would be fresh.

2) I just didn’t want to be spoiled.

I’ve always been quietly confident that this movie would blow me away though, so such apathy (if I can call it that) hasn’t bothered me.

“You have shown your true quality sir, the very highest.”

Jackson’s translation of the previous 2 stories has been incredible. It would have been impossible to show everything on screen that is in the books, it just wouldn’t work narratively. He has fearlessly skimmed away parts of the story that he has deemed to be not necessary in the grand sceme of things. The beauty of many of these cuts as well, is that most of them aren’t erased from the story as if they’ve never happened, but implied; the have happened, but they’ve just not been shown here.

After 2 films of the highest quality, we come to the final furlong. ROTK was always going to be the film that makes or breaks the trilogy. It is, technically/visually speaking, probably the hardest part of the story to tell. There’s a lot that happens and on a scale that has never been witnessed in film before, so the pressure for PJ to produce the goods was always going to be immense.

As a massive fan of the books, there was plenty that I was hoping wouldn’t be lost in translation, and I’ve been heartened by the fact that PJ has said that this is the part of the story that has been changed the least. So I am delighted to tell you that for me at least, The Return of the King has surpassed even my wildest expectations.

“The quest hangs by the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all!”

ROTK is where the fate of our Fellowship reaches it’s journies end. Frodo and Sam finally reach the land of Mordor after their long, difficult quest, where they’ve faced horrors beyond their imagining, and found friendship where least looked for. Aragorn and the the two other hunters paths are also coming to their appointed destination, where Aragorn must reclaim his Kingship to unite the land of Gondor once again. Gandlaf’s long labours against the Dark Lord are also coming to their fruition.

“You shall be The Fellowship of the Ring!”

The acting here is superb, there’s not a bad apple amongst the lot. In fact I agree with Sambrook, these people aren’t acting, they are living the parts.

Sir Ian McKellen brings gravitas, subtlety and warmth to the part of Gandalf. He is right back in the fore here, gone is long hiatus such as that displayed in TTT. With the steward of Gondor, Denethor, losing his mind, it is up to Gandalf to take the reigns and muster the soldiers of Gondor. McKellen is commanding in his role, and is the embodiment of the character on the page. For all the strength that he plays it with here, McKellen also lends a delightfully light touch to the character. My favourite moment of his (and there were many) was his speech to Pippin as it looks like Gondor will be overcome. It was nuanced and incredibly engaging emotionally. McKellen the White is still the master.

Elijah Wood is excellent as Frodo Baggins (I’m beginning to see a pattern here :grin. This is Frodo’s most difficult and emotional part of the journey yet and Wood surpasses himself. I’ve always been slightly indifferent to Wood prior to seeing the LOTR trilogy. Whilst he’s a good actor, I’d never seen anything of his that made me think “Yes, what a great actor!”. That has changed with this trilogy though.

Wood has deftly brought Frodo’s emotional journey full circle. It would’ve been an immensely difficult part to play without verging on over-acting, but that’s not on display here thankfully. He takes you with him on the journey, from Frodo’s happy-go-lucky cheer in the Shire, to the deepest pits of despair in Mordor. He brings sadness and menace to Frodo’s character here, but also displays his courage and faith. His story is bittersweet in the end, and he is utterly convincing. I hope this is the catapult on to other great things, though his performance here would be hard to top.

Sean Astin. The heart of the movie.

His performance stole the show for me. The story is really about Sam in a way; he stands for all that is good in the world and shows that even the littlist person in the grand scheme of things can be the truest of heart. He is the embodiment of friendship, kindness and support. He is the driving force in Frodo’s quest to destroy the ring. His performance for me, as I’ve already said, is the best in the movie. He was the most emotionally engaging to watch, and effortlessly brought tears to my eyes. His stand out moment was towards the end, as all seems lost for Frodo and Sam as the mountain of fire collapses around them. His speech was heart wrenching and I only just stopped myself from really breaking down at that point. Sam is a beacon of hope, even towards the bitter end, and Astin brings this in spades to the screen. I take my hat off to him.

Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd finally get the chance to flex their acting muscles here. Throughout the other two parts of the trilogy, they have been the foil, hobbit wise anyway, to the seriousness of the quest. They started out as light characters that didn’t have a huge amount to do, but as the trilogy has gone on, they have become far more important in the grand scheme of things, and go on to win renown here.

Monaghan and Boyd have both gracefully captured the evolution of their characters from care-free Shirelings, to world wise soldiers of Rohan and Gondor respectively. Both of their stories here are very touching, and they brilliantly handled them. Monaghan in particular will finally silence his critics here I think. He’s been accused of being a bit 2D, but he is very much a 3D character here. Yet again, as with so many other actors, they brought tears to my eyes on many occasions; Pippin’s overcoming of his fears in Gondor, and Merry’s charge to battle upon horseback with Eowyn. Sterling stuff.

Orlando Bloom and John Rhyss-Davies take somewhat of a back seat here, but they are both great in their parts. Legolas gets some great actions scenes, his single-handed killing of an Oliphaunt being a particular highlight. Gimli’s humour is handled well here as well. I had worried that any insistence of PJ’s to make Gimli the “comic relief” here yet again would be unwise given the tone of the film. Thankfully though, there is no clumsiness on display. He gets some great one-liners and they are well placed amongst the action. They serve as a relief, rather than a hindrance to the action, and it was nice to see they were both still playing the tally game as well. 😀

Viggo Mortensen, as with the others, gives a great performance too; his character reaches the end of his path that has been long prepared. As with McKellen, Mortensen lends gravitas and subtlety to his role, and brings a resolve to his character that hasn’t been seen as of yet. He gets some of the most memorable lines in the film as well.

Everyone else is excellent as well, though I haven’t the time to go through every one of them. Bernard Hill is especially worthy of a mention – he is great as Theoden and his death scene is one of the greats. He should definitely be up for some kind of Oscar contention, along with most of the cast, crew, and Peter Jackson.

If there are any of the characters that suffer, then Denethor and Faramir are the names that spring to mind. They are both engaging enough and are well played, the strained relationship between the 2 being especially heart wrenching, but you get the impression that their parts have suffered at the hands of the scissors. The EE will resolve this though.

And though it in no way detracted from the movie, there is still the niggle of the lack of closure in Sauruman’s tale. This however, shall also be rectified by the EE.

“Here’s a pretty thing!”

Words cannot begin to do justice to the world that is displayed before us by Weta. The blend between CGI, minitures, and the New Zealand landscape is seamless. Before seeing this, Revolutions was the movie of the year effects wise. It’s raising of the bar effects wise was unreachable as far as I was concerned, but it pales in comparison to this. At the start of the year, I was unsure as to who would walk away with the Oscar, but my mind is made up now. George Lucas would do well to pay attention to WETA’s handling of special effects. Sure, PJ has utilised the blue screen, but he hasn’t overused it. The great thing about the entire trilogy is that PJ is aware that SFX are just a means to an end, not a means within themself.

Everything looks great; Minas Tirith is staggeringly beautiful, the City of the Dead is haunting (suprisingly enough :tongueout, the Paths of the Dead brilliantly realised, the Nazgul and their Fell Beasts, the swarms of armies of both sides…..I could go on and on but I won’t. Suffice to say however, that this is the best effects work to hit the silver screen this year bar none!

Special mention should be made to the cinematography as well. Throughout the entire trilogy, it’s been on such a grand scale that it has at times taken my breath away. 2 locations here though are amongst the best that the trilogy has so far produced; the Valley of the Dead and the plains of Gorgoroth.

Each are eerily, stunningly beautiful, the plains especially. The land of Mordor was always a place that I thought would be difficult to find locations for, but the locations that they found and used here are astounding! New Zealand is firmly on my places to visit list, as it certainly seems like a very unique and gorgeous land to look upon.

“The Horn of Gondor!”

The sound department have outdone themselves yet again. There was some excellent work on display here, some things in particular I was very keen to hear and I’m so glad they included them; the ground trembling with the reeks of Mordor and the army that issues forth from the City of the Dead and the WithchKings piercing call to arms were sound effects that I was realy looking forward to hearing upon reading the books. It’s an aural feast throughout though.

“I can’t carry it for you Mr Frodo, but I can carry you”

ROTK is a relentless assault on your emotions. Being someone who always gets drawn into a film when watching it (how it should be), I can get teary quite easily if I’m engrossed, but I never usually out-and-out weep, I just well up.

This was completely different though.

I have never so openly wept during a movie as I have in this one. Virtually everyone’s storyline in this movie has an emotional poignancy to it, Sam and Frodo’s packing the most punch IMO. It drew tears to my eyes and down my cheeks again and again, and this was a testemant to all involved. It could be the smallest thing that was touching as well, such as the look on Merry’s face as he was being reassured by Eowyn before the charge of the Rohirrim. The part that I couldn’t cope with though was Sam and Frodo on Mount Doom, as they awaited their seeming doom. The rapport between Astin and Wood was excellent, as their fate drew towards them. Sam’s speech was especially touching, and that moment that the eagles appear with Gandalf riding on Gwahir’s back almost broke me – I had to physically catch stop myself from bursting out crying.

“A lament for Gandalf”

Howard Shore has produced yet another astounding score. His musical journey through Middle Earth has been one of the most breath taking scores of recent times. From Elvish choirs, to Dwarf Choirs, from the happiness of the Shire, to the deeps of the Mines of Moria, Shore has carved out Tolkien’s world in music brilliantly. Many of the previous themes that have been used before all make a welcome return, as well as introducing some new ones. As with the SFX, Shore’s strength with his score has been that he has not gone for an overly dramatic, loud score. He has weaved a subtle tapestry of sounds that effortlessly bring to life the peoples and realms of Middle Earth.

The use of Boyd’s and Mortensen’s singing with his score is a masterstroke as well. Both of their short songs are incorporated brilliantly into the score, and serve to heighten the connection between the books and the movies. Pippin’s song is tinged with bitterness and Aragorn’s song, though sung in a time of joy, has a bittersweet quality to it – hauntingly beautiful stuff.

He now rivals Thomas Newman for the place of my favourite composer.

Final thoughts

As Aragorn has returned as the King of Gondor, Peter Jackson has returned as the directorial King of the cinema.

The Return of the King is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. From the acting to the SFX, the film is a delight to watch and incredibly touching. Whilst some of the editing felt a little sharp early on in the film, this is a minor niggle that I shared with TTT, and will be ironed out come the extended edition.

The hardwork of everyone involved eminates from the screen, and this was so very obviously a labour of love by everyone involved.

It is with some sadness that I write this review as I realise that there will be no more LOTR in the cinema. It truly is the greatest trilogy ever filmed, and it will be a very long time until we ever see anything of its like on the big screen again.

Perhaps we never will.

As the ships sail magnificently into the West, so ends the greatest trilogy ever made.

Thank you to all involved. :thumb:



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