Friday, December 26, 2003

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Review by Sombrero Grande

For most of you out there, there’s only one thing you’re looking to glean from this review before you run off and buy your tickets to the concluding installment of this epic trilogy: is it as good as the previous two films? The short answer (so that you can secure your place in line and still get a decent seat) is “yes”.

Okay, for those of you still sticking around, let me elaborate a bit.

While I’m not sure if The Return of the King will end up being my favorite film of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it certainly doesn’t disappoint. The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers have rewritten the definition of “epic filmmaking”, making enormous running-times not only bearable but thoroughly engrossing for their entire durations, and The Return of the King follows in suit. It’s Jackson’s unbelievable attention to detail and adeptness at creating remarkably inventive cinematic gestures that makes three three-hour-plus films more engaging than most singular two-hour films.

There’s a moment in The Return of the King where Denethor (father of Boromir and Faramir) eats a cherry tomato and, because of how it is acted, filmed and edited, the simple act becomes a powerful and moving cinematic gesture. It vilifies him as killer of the men he's sent off on a suicide mission in a manner in which only clever cinematic montage could convey. Tiny moments like these, which take place amid epic battles over the fate of Middle Earth, bring a kind of human accessibility to the films that many other filmmakers would gloss over in favor of merely showing vast armies of CGI warriors brainlessly thrashing each other.

Speaking of CGI armies, I didn’t think it would be possible to top the battle scenes of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers, but The Return of the King does. Again, the success of the battle scenes stems from the attention to detail. The numerous arrows caking the legs of the Ohliphaunts like muscles encrusted on a pier piling tell of the tireless yet fruitless attempts of humble warriors to bring down the enormous beasts. When gigantic stones are lobbed at Minas Tirith, the camera stays with the men on the battlements that the stones are aimed at. While one might expect the camera to cut away at the last moment before impact to show some explosion, here it’s as though the audience is there alongside these doomed souls, making the impact all the more powerful through an almost documentary-like feel as the stones tear through the rock walls and fling bodies into the air.

This ambitious journey is not without its missteps, however. Purists of the novels may feel otherwise, but I felt the ending, and in particular the scene of Frodo’s farewell, seemed to drag on a bit too long to the point where I began to lose interest. But rest assured knowing that any missteps in the film are merely hobbit-sized in scale compared to the Minas Tirith-sized towering triumphs. Any criticism of The Return of the King is mere nit-picking. This is a film well-deserving of its role in a trilogy that will be easily welcomed into the pantheon of all-time great and classic cinema.


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