The end has come. Peter Jackson’s unenviable task of
adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”
that began just two years ago has now officially concluded with the
release of “The Return of the King.” As sad as it is to
know that no more are coming, this final chapter of the greatest
fantasy epic in literary history now provides the single most
gratifying movie-going experience of our generation and makes
Jackson’s creation the finest trilogy in film history.

Kate Green
Courtesy of New Line
This day, we fight!

From start to finish, from the largest landscape to the most
minute detail, the end of Middle Earth’s Third Age is crafted
with perfect execution. “Return of the King” embodies
the emotion of “The Fellowship of the Ring” with
flawless performances and dwarfs the battle at Helm’s Deep in
“The Two Towers” with a massive attack on Minas Tirith,
the last stronghold of men in the realm of Gondor. Even the
lengthy, sentimental dénouement is heartfelt and impressive,
not to mention well deserved, considering it put more than 100
pages of Tolkien’s writing into a mere 25 minutes of
film.

While it in many ways has the most significant departures from
Tolkien’s novels, each transformation or omission (even
Christopher Lee’s as Saruman) is ultimately forgivable, even
laudable, in light of the fantastic result. Still, Jackson’s
faithfulness to the novel is on par with the likes of “The
Godfather,” and his visual poetry rivals even the most
emotive scenes in any tear-jerker in sheer poignancy.

“Return” opens in a past when Gollum (Andy Serkis)
was still Smeagol at the moment he comes upon the Ring, or more
exactly, when his brother, Deagol, finds the Ring. After a
startling montage of Smeagol’s deterioration into the
creature Gollum, the story continues where “The Two
Towers” concluded. Smeagol has officially been taken over by
his evil self-doppelganger and leads Sam (Sean Astin) and Frodo
(Elijah Wood) into the depths of Mordor. Though Sam suspects
Gollum’s disposition as a villain, Frodo refuses to go on
without him.

Outside the walls of Mordor, the rest of the Fellowship braces
the good men of Middle Earth for war. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) rides
to Gondor and prepares Denethor, the cynical steward of Gondor, for
the ultimate battle; King Theoden musters all his forces, and
Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) ventures under the mountains to stir an
army held to an unfulfilled oath from another age. All the while,
the dark lord Sauron sends out his evil underlings to besiege the
last bastion of hope for men.

Maintaining the intensity of Helm’s Deep, the engagement
on the Pelennor Fields and the images of thousands of marching orcs
is the ultimate expression of special effects integration.
Breathtaking and awe-inspiring seem hardly enough to characterize
Weta Workshop’s incredible creation. Even more notable,
however, the white city/fortress of Minas Tirith in both size and
intricacy is truly a sight to behold.

Still more impressive, the acting in “Return of the
King” is by far the finest. Sam’s anguish over
protecting himself and Frodo from Gollum and his despair at losing
the faith of his master — not to mention his fight with
Weta’s nasty giant spider Shelob — showcases Sean
Astin’s talent in a manner unseen in his early-’90s
heyday. In fact, each of the hobbits has his moment, especially
Pippin (Billy Boyd) as he sings in the great hall of kings while
Denethor’s son Faramir gallops to imminent death. Viggo
Mortensen displays his finest acting as he transforms himself from
Aragorn, the ranger from the north, into Elessar, King of men, and
Ian McKellen, as Gandalf, is infallible as always.

However, the cohesiveness and subtle power of the film results
from Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography and the work of the
entire sound editing crew. Following the lighting of beacons from
Gondor to Rohan and the arrival of the Rohirrim at the foothills of
Pelennor superbly visualizes Tolkien’s words. Seeing
thousands of horses lined up and striding into battle, even as some
ultra-realistically fall to their deaths, is a sight to behold for
the sake of seeing beauty through a projector. And when Gandalf
rides to the aid of retreating soldiers from Osgiliath, never have
light, color and sound mixed so perfectly. So perfect and
unnoticeable is the soundtrack that paying close attention to it
makes Jackson’s craftsmanship all the more uncanny.

Somehow Jackson undertook the most daunting task a director
could and gave the frothing masses eye candy of the highest
quality. “Return of the King” is not only the cinematic
achievement of the year but also the crowning directorial
achievement of the decade thus far. Managing an ensemble cast and a
pseudo-period-piece to such indelibility cannot be overlooked.

Alone, “Return of the King” stands as one of
cinema’s instant classics. As a single film upwards of 12
hours combined with “Fellowship” and “Two
Towers,” “The Lord of the Rings” encapsulates the
expression of film as art and mass consumer culture.

Rating: 5 stars

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