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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

EXTENDED VERSION DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Discs One and Two: 4 audio commentaries: The Director and Writers, The Design Team, The Production/Post-Production Team, The Cast.
Disc Three: Peter Jackson intro. 'J.R.R. Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle-earth' documentary. From Book to Script. Designing and Building Middle-earth. Design Galleries (2,123 images). 'Home of the Horse Lords' documentary. 'Middle-earth Atlas: Tracing the Journeys of the Fellowship' interactive map. 'New Zealand as Middle-earth' interactive map with on-location footage.
Disc Four: Elijah Wood/Sean Astin/Billy Boyd/Dominic Monaghan intro. Filming The Return of the King. Visual Effects. Post Production: Journey’s End. 'The Passing of an Age' documentary. Cameron Duncan.

IT’S been a little over three years since little Frodo and co set out on a journey to destroy the One Ring of Power, but what an adventure it has been!

Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy has consistently been an awe-inspiring, adrenaline-pumping, and emotionally engaging piece of cinema, and the final part in the series, The Return of the King, rounds things off in spectacular style.

Whereas previous movie trilogies have ended with more of a whimper than a bang (Matrix: Revolutions, obviously, and, to a lesser extent, Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi), The Return of the King continues to run rings around the competition, delivering a richly satisfying conclusion which refuses to compromise on a human level, while also providing the required wow-factor.

It’s epic cinema at its very best, a labour of love for all concerned, which translates supremely well to the Big Screen, so that even some of its more overblown excesses (it sometimes feels its three hour, 20 minutes running time) wither and die by comparison to the movie’s innumerable successes.

Viewers pick up the story not long after the Battle of Helm’s Deep (which brought The Two Towers to its thrilling conclusion), as Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Astin) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) continue their journey into the dark heart of Mordor, to destroy the Ring, while the fragmented Fellowship sets about re-grouping and buying the Hobbits the time they need to complete the task in hand.

 

In order to effectively do this, however, the Fellowship must rally a new army, one capable of taking on the might of the dark Lord, Sauron, a quest which takes Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), into the Paths Of The Dead, with ever-present companions, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies), in order to do so.

Gandalf, meanwhile, travels ahead to the human stronghold of Minas Tirith, to warn the caretaker Steward of Gondor (John Noble) of the impending war, and to protect his companion, Pippin (Billy Boyd), from the clutches of evil, after he has been exposed to the power of the all-seeing eye.

There is plenty more going on, too, as father-son relationships are allowed to run their course, and lost loves fight to become united against insurmountable odds - none of which is lost to Jackson, who gives his excellent cast the chance to shine, throughout.

For as impressive, technically, as the Return of the King remains, it is the traditional approach to story-telling which serves to make this saga the emotionally-satisfying experience that it is, providing a set of characters that are easy to embrace, and which will have you cheering and crying for them in equal measure.

It’s difficult to pick out an overall scene-stealer, as each are given moments to savour, whether it’s Legolas’ crowd-pleasing attempt to bring down a Mûmakil (a multi-tusked, elephant-type beast) in the thick of battle, or Aragorn’s do-or-die rallying call to his troops, as he finally begins to accept his destiny.

But special praise must go to McKellen, for his expert turn as Gandalf, as well as to Serkis, for his mixed-up portrayal of Gollum, and, especially, to Astin, for his heartfelt performance as the ever-loyal Sam, who, perhaps, is the biggest hero of the piece.

Jackson, too, deserves every prize and plaudit lavished upon him for managing to complete the tricky task of keeping things entertaining, while remaining loyal to JRR Tolkien’s novels, and for consistently being able to enthral audiences with one audacious set piece after another.

If you thought the Battle for Helm’s Deep was amazing, then wait ‘til you get a load of the Battle for Minas Tirith, which is guaranteed to have jaws hitting the floor, or even Frodo’s encounter in Shelob’s Lair, which finally exposes the level of Gollum’s deceit.

Taken back to back, the Lord of the Rings trilogy clocks in at a little under ten hours, but Jackson’s skill is such that it is a journey that audiences will want to take time and again, for this is a truly timeless movie which epitomises everything that is great about going to the cinema.

The Return of the King is, therefore, the crowning achievement in a staggering trilogy, which deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time.

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