The followers of this epic tale who enjoy producer-director Peter Jackson's
film adaptation will love this final installment as it brings our
warriors into final combat against the hellish hordes of Sauron while the
Hobbit half of The Fellowship treads its dangerous way into certain danger
and hell itself. The fight is for nothing less than the future of man.
Jackson manages to keep all combatants engaged and alive in this
many-charactered struggle and complex narrative. Through balanced cutting, he
sets off the big scale combat actions against the relative modesty of the
Hobbits' mission-- modest in size but not in importance. The opening
sequence, through a clever bit of serendipity, explains the creation of the
dual-sided DGI character, Gollum (Andy Serkis) out of the two unworthies,
Deagol (Thomas Robins) and Smeagol (also Andy Serkis).
After Sauron's troops of 10,000 fell in defeat at King Theoden's Helms Deep
in Rohan, Sauron still seeks to vanquish Middle Earth and the human kingdom,
and, in a final siege, sends out his full Orc army of over 200,000 against
the 700 foot, seven-level white-stoned kingdom, Minas Tirith in Gondor. As
they march, we are introduced to the caretaker and would-be king of this
White City, a self-absorbed tyrant Denethor (John Noble) who laments the loss
of his favorite son in the prior battle. His agony impairs his judgment and
he rejects the counsel from wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) that he needs to
call on other armies for the defense of his kingdom.
The odds, ugliness and sheer power of the Orc legions are evidemt as they
reach the city and assemble in attack formation before the city-fortress. We
stand in awe as their giant Trolls assemble the massive slingshots that will
start their invasion. As it does start, Sauron unleashes his support force
of flying dragons, the Fell Beasts.
Valiant human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and brave Elf archer Legolas
(Orlando Bloom) lead the army of the nobles against them with Gandalf
at their backs. Gandalf, who set The Fellowship's quest in motion
and influences the strategies, bolsters the men of The Fellowship and summons
special powers when needed. He calls on his eagles to neutralize Sauron's
flying pterodactyls. The foreboding sense of ultimate failure, however, and
the consequent defeat of Middle Earth pervades the dramatic landscape as they
fight against the superior invasionary army.
While the battle is being waged, Frodo the ringbearer, and his faithful
sidekick Sam make their barefooted way across stony mountains and overrun
forests in pursuit of their goal to reach Sauron's cauldron on Mount Doom in
Mordor, the only place where the ring and its power can be unmade. Frodo
insists on using the sniveling Gollum as a guide, even against Sam's
counsel that he's deceptive. Sam senses clearly that Gollum's overriding
interest is in obtaining the ring and the power its wearer obtains. Under
the burden of bearing the ring, Frodo weakens and becomes disoriented, until
he accepts Gollum's repeated assertion of Sam's disloyalty, putting himself
and his mission in grave danger.
The charge of the gigantic mumakil elephants, the Tolkien-Jackson equivalent
of an Abrams tank, is a ferocious display of overwhelming might, providing a
delicious opportunity to exploit Elf Legolas' unique combat skills, among
other things. This rowdy, menacing sequence adds to the insurmountable odds
against our heroes, prolonguing hopelessness and despair and evincing great
courage, as when Eowyn (Miranda Otto) faces the Fell Beast, a seemingly
invincible monster, with nothing but her sword.
Mystifying his army, Aragorn leaves just when the Orcs' final assault seems
imminent. He goes to enlist the aid of the terrible mountain men, the
ephemeral, green-hued army of the Dead to whom the promise of release from
their curse is the only thing that can arouse them to remanifest themselves
in order to help defend the Kingdom.
Frodo is betrayed by Gollum, who brings him into the grasp of the giant
spider, Shelob. The terrifying encounter, ending with Frodo being cocooned
alive and in agony, leads to a rescue that becomes capture and imprisonment.
Will he ever reach Mount Doom? If and when he does, what will he be up
against? Will he be up to the challenges? We witness his terrors and pain
as the grown up Wood's maturity in the role increases the level of emotional
It all comes together in this episode, with all the players reaching their
final destinies. It's bold and heroic Aragorn to whom the title refers, a
man who has been struggling against what his destiny seems to be because of
the corrupting influence of power. His return is one that becomes possible
only after he resolves doubts and fears about assuming the highest
responsibility among men.
Those who anticipate this final episode as one that will outdo what came
before can look forward to satisfaction in all areas. This chapter achieves
the strongest emotional tie to the characters. The fields are stages for
some fiercely original designs to convey power, with all the magic of CGI and
aural accompaniment to render them awesome. The effects are at least as well
conceived and created as in the two previous episodes, with some that are
Cate Blanchett is her loveliest and most enchanting as Gladriel whose role in
the drama seems more comprehensible than in previous installments. Similarly
with Elf princess Arwen (Liv Tyler) in her new and susceptible mortality as
she and Elvin leader Elrond (Hugo Weaving), her father, exerting their
influences on the fate of civilization. (I must say, it's disconcerting
seeing Weaving in this context after his multiple appearances as the arch
villain of that other event series, "The Matrix.")
"The Return of the King" is the best in the series and not so much because of
the knock down action and original creations. It's more because of the
clarity that Jackson achieves in the story progression and its characters,
and the ultimate fulfillment of their roles.
The final coda of the story changes the pace and becomes indulgently
extended, bringing to mind that I'd been in my theatre seat for well over 3
hours -- more than enough time to strain my attention span. I expect "Ring"
fans and fanatics will love every second of it.
Jackson's devotion to Tolkien and his state of the art construction of a
1,000 page mythology deserves our praise for a hearty job well done. It's a
phenomenon of energy and dedication, and an achievement he'll not soon
improve upon. Perhaps, in the finale, he should have been just a mite less
enchanted. It's as though he simply couldn't let go, a feeling, I suspect,
that will be shared by more fans than Sauron's army. But, despite that small
carp about the ending, this is a movie that's not to be missed for
~~ Jules Brenner