There’s little to say about Return of the King that I haven’t already said about the first two installments in Peter Jackson’s trilogy of Lord of the Rings movies. To my mind, it inherits the same virtues of the previous two movies while bringing the cycle to an epic and satisfying conclusion.
This movie centers around the epic seige of the city of Minas Tirith during the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Compared to this, the battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers looks like a bar brawl. This parallels the struggle of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) to reach Mount Doom with the One Ring. Gollum leads them past the city of Minas Morgul (imagine the Emerald City as designed by Albert Speer) and attempts to drive a wedge between the two Hobbits to reclaim the “precious” ring for himself.
One routinely leveled criticism at the third film is its extended dénouement after the main storylines have been resolved. We follow the lives of Frodo and the other hobbits for a good twenty-five minutes after it seems the story is over. This provoked a bit of impatience with audiences used to the “kill the bad guy and roll credits” school of modern action movies. This reaction, however, ignores the fact that this is not simply the ending of a three-hour movie but really the final chapter of a nine-hour epic (eleven hours in the case of the extended versions). Watching all three movies as a single unit makes me appreciate the leisurely paced wind-down of the trilogy. After spending so much time and investing so much emotion in these characters, it would have been a bit of a jolt if they had simply wrapped thing up immediately after the quest to Mount Doom was over.
An ironic thing struck me after viewing these films. One sentiment that J. R. R. Tolkien imbued in the Hobbits was his mourning for the passing of the more pastoral and rural England of his youth, as well as his opposition to encroaching industrialization. I’m not sure what he would have thought of the extremely high-tech methods used to bring his epic tale to big screen. Then again, I’m not sure what he would have thought of the films being made at all. Still, there’s no way that Tolkein’s vision could have been brought to life in a non-animated movie without recourse to the computerized tools of WETA Digital.
While some may take issue with the liberties that Peter Jackson took with the source material for The Lord of the Rings, I sincerely doubt that anyone could have mounted a more faithful adaptation that would have achieved the same level of audience acceptance. Jackson seemed to have the right combination of talent, vision and insanity required to get this job done.
A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.