|In years to come, I will tell my grandchildren about this film and the two before it, and I firmly believe that they will watch it over and over as my three year old does The Wizard of Oz (1939). Beyond being the best film of the year, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (TROK) is among the great movie masterpieces of all time, standing alongside Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Citizen Kane (1941) and The Godfather, Parts I and II (1972; 1974). They will be still talking about and watching this film, and the two before it in fifty years because it brings to the screen so grand magic and pure emotions. It is my absolute belief that I will watch the films on DVD many times before the end of my days, and always remain in awe of what Peter Jackson has accomplished.|
The third in the stunning trilogy based on the fantasy story written by J.R.R. Tolkien, TROK is the crowning achievement for director-writer Peter Jackson, and should finally earn the Australian filmmaker a long overdue Academy Award for this superb work. It began in earnest in 1999 when New Line Cinema green lit the trilogy to be presented as three films, each released one year apart, though they would be filmed together. At a budget of $260 million, the risk to this small studio was considerable, yet they trusted their artist Peter Jackson to deliver the goods, which is precisely what he did. The first film, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) was the best film of the year, and The Two Towers (2002) a close second to Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002), yet The Return of the King (2003) is the best of the three, and without peer as the year’s finest picture.
Watching this film I felt giddy as it constantly reminded me why I fell in love with cinema in the first place. The scope and size of the film is staggering, yet Jackson never once loses sight of the very human elements of the tale which allows his formidable cast to shine. I had almost forgotten what it was like as a critic to be surprised and thrilled watching a film.
Opening up where the second left off, we pick up with the ring-bearer Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Astin) and treacherous Gollum (Andy Serkis) as they finally reach Mordor and Mount Doom. Yet the ring is wearing hard on Frodo, clouding his mind, and allowing Gollum’s treachery to not be seen by the little hobbit. He turns on Sam, who is only his friend and saviour throughout the film. Meanwhile Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Aragorn (Viggo Mortenson), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) reunite with their hobbit friends Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) in the wake of the battle of Isengard. At this point the film follows two trails; the first being Frodo’s progression to Mount Doom where he is saddled with betrayal and a growing sense of paranoia, the second being the others preparing for the war which will finally see Aragorn take his rightful place on the throne.
Frodo and Sam are forced to search deep inside themselves on their journey as they go to war with the vicious Gollum, who portrays himself as Frodo’s friend. Sam sees through it, yet cannot convince the little hobbit of the coming betrayal. They encounter a vicious giant spider on the way, which Gollum seems to lead them right too, and it is here that Sam proves his valour and courage.
Remember the stunning Battle of Helms Deep in the second film? It is dwarfed by the stunning battles of Minas Tirith and Pelennor Fields. You simply sit there in awe at what Jackson puts up on the screen, as it just keeps getting more astounding than before.
The film moves at a breakneck pace, with sequence after sequence to astound audiences, but again, that human element is what makes the film work.
Sean Astin steals the film with a superb performance as brave little Sam who tells Frodo, I cannot carry it for you, but I will carry you, making clear his devotion to Frodo and the greater good. Astin richly deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance here, which has deepened over the course of the two films. Viggo Mortenson shines as the Aragorn, the rightful King and true leader, and there is equally strong work from Bloom, McKellan and the rest of the cast. Elijah Wood shines throughout the film as Frodo allowing the audience to see the impact the ring is having on him, and his wanting to believe that the evil Gollum is his friend.
Jackson gives us a marvellous flashback sequence in which we Gollum as Smeagol, the hobbit, before he was corrupted by the power of the ring. It is a testament to the performance of Andy Serkis that we see two Gollums in this film, and he makes them radically different people. I know that for the most part Gollum is a creation of CGI, yet I cannot help but think that Serkis had a great deal to do with the performance and creation of the creature.
There is a twenty minute prologue that reaches as far as four years in the future at the end of the film, allowing us to see what will become of these beloved characters. There have been criticisms about the length of the prologue, yet I defend Jackson’s choice in saying that the audience wants to see what has happened to these characters, and therefore we need to see what will become of them. I would have sat for more.
The film is ultimately about courage and loyalty and possessing the courage to die for the greater cause, which is what Sam is prepared to do as well as the entire cast of characters in the film. They fight to quell an evil that will destroy their way of life and everything they know, and there is something grand in that way of thinking that this generation has lost. I was reminded of the sacrifices made by the men and women who died in the two World Wars and Korea. They know, they know, they might die, we they charge into battle anyway knowing that, that is valour.
At over three and a half hours the film never once lags or comes to a halt. The director wisely hurtles his audience through the storyline, stunning us with sheer size and magnitude of the film, humbling us with the human pathos of the story.
Peter Jackson, with this film has completed the greatest trilogy in the history of the cinema. At the time he started directing the film he was a little known filmmaker with a couple of minor hits to his credit. Now he is a world class director, a Directors Guild nominee, an Oscar nominee and likely winner this year, and able to write his own ticket in Hollywood in the same manner as Steven Spielberg. He began this series working on bringing a legend to the screen, and in doing so, has become one.
A masterpiece, the best of the year, and among the greatest of all time. Oscar awaits. There is one sad element to the release of The Return of the King, that The Lord of the Rings trilogy is finally over