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Classic Movie Review 'Lord of the Rings: Return of the King'

by Sean Patrick 3 years ago in review
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Revisiting the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, I recall now why I haven't been missing it since it first ended more than a decade ago.

The ‘Undisputed Classic’ on the December 16th episode of the Everyone’s a Critic Movie Review Podcast is our final leg in the Lord of the Rings franchise, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. I could not be happier for this to be over. I wasn’t a big fan of bringing the Rings trilogy to the show and having watched all three for the second time in my life, I am elated to leave them in the past. Don’t misunderstand, I appreciate the achievement and the artistry but I just don’t care about this fantasy universe or its soporific inhabitants.

Reading my reviews of the first two films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I will publish as soon as I can rouse myself to finish them, I sense little passion and that lack of passion is felt once again in this final entry in the trilogy. Peter Jackson's epic trilogy is truly a masterpiece of technical filmmaking from its computer-generated sets and effects to its human stunts. It's as technically brilliant as any film ever made. That said, on an emotional level, I was unmoved by The Return of The King.

Rejoining the story of the Fellowship charged with saving Middle Earth, we find the hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) following the treacherous Gollum (Computers and Andy Serkis) into a trap. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys Davies) are searching for the hobbits, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), with the aid of The White Wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen). The search party finds themselves outside of the former castle of the wizard Saruman (an unseen Christopher Lee, sadly the evil Saruman meets his death off-screen) where the Ents, led by Treebeard, have laid waste.

Traveling back to the kingdom of Rohan, we find that the Dark Lord Sauron is readying an attack on the kingdom of Gondor and the fortress city of Minas Tirith. Unfortunately, King Theoden of Rohan will not fight for Gondor unless he is asked by its ruler Denethor. Gandalf must ride to Minas Tirith to convince Denothor to ask for help. Considering the dire consequences, dark forces and all, maybe this is a bad time to hold a grudge but I digress.

Upon his arrival in Minas Tirith, Gandalf finds Denethor ready to give up the city. He is too busy mourning the death of his son, Boromir (Sean Bean, killed in Fellowship) to be bothered to raise an army and defend his kingdom. Denethor then refuses to ask for help from Rohan so Gandalf, with the help of Pippin, must ask for him. Until the army of Rohan arrives, it's up to Gandalf and the few remaining soldiers of Gondor to fight off a huge orc army.

Rohan is also having a hard time raising an army until Aragorn receives a visit from the Elf King (Hugo Weaving) and is given the sword of the king. With it, he can raise an army of the dead from the haunted mountain of Dwimorberg, banished souls who were cursed by the previous king of men after they fled from battle. These dead soldiers have been cursed to remain in Middle Earth until they fulfill their duty to the king of man. Aragorn will release them if they will fight for him against Sauron.

Of course, that fight will mean nothing if Frodo can't get the ring to Mount Doom. Unfortunately, Gollum is poisoning Frodo against Sam and leading them both into a trap, a cave where a giant spider waits to eat anything it sees. In the films most exciting scene, both Frodo and Sam individually must fight the giant Spider, easily the best giant spider in film history. Jackson’s remarkable team at Weta truly outdid themselves with this Spider which impressed even more than a similar beasty in The Hobbit franchise which was somehow less impressive from the same team at Weta.

By the time they reach Mount Doom, I was so frustrated with Sean Astin and Elijah Wood's performances that I just wanted it over. Throw the stupid thing in the fire and get it over with. Of course, they take a good long while to do it while a couple of patience-trying twists prolong the journey. I swear, if I hear Sam call him Mr. Frodo one more time... Aren't they supposed to be friends, what is with that Mr. Frodo stuff, and Frodo is his first name! Aaaahhh!!!

There are a number of spectacular scenes from the spider to the awesome city of Minas Tirith carved out of the side of a mountain of white stone. The city is awesomely realized with a number of terrific floating camera shots that give it a depth and realism that is quite surprising. The film’s battle scenes are just as visually exciting, especially a scene involving Eowyn (Miranda Otto) who has snuck into the battle against her father King Theoden's orders. Her standoff against a Nazgul and its rider is a rousing moment, if a little market testedly girl-powerish in the pop sense.

Like I've said, the whole film is visually spectacular and that is more than enough for me to recommend it for those inclined for something epic and unlike few things I've seen before or since. Unfortunately, I didn't care at all what happened in any scene that wasn't a battle. I had a well-established rooting interest in each character, however, when they weren't heroically risking their lives, I just didn't care.

This feeling makes the film’s ending intolerable. After 2 hours and 50 minutes of battle, the 30 or so minutes of epilogue that shows us what happened to each of the characters after the day is won is absolutely deathly. There are at least three good endings to the movie but Peter Jackson can’t seem to bring himself to leave well enough alone. There’s too much hugging and crying with little for us in the audience to do if we aren't supremely invested in these characters, which I wasn't.

The Hobbits are especially aggravating. Never the most macho heroes, the Hobbits nevertheless wear out the crying thing very quickly. We get it, long painful journey, lives changed forever, blah blah blah, hug it out and stop crying. I get it, these are the sensitive action heroes, a reaction to the emotionless killing machines of action movies pre-Rings trilogy. I understand it, I get it, I really do, but Return of the King presses hard on my patience for teary man hugs.

Yes, this is awe inspiring epic filmmaking on a scale we have never experienced before. Technically this film and its two predecessors have few peers. That said, I am very glad to be rid of the series now that we’ve finished with it as a classic on the Everyone’s a Critic Podcast. It will be a very long time before I ever visit Middle Earth again, until the inevitable reboot in 2024…

You’re googling that to see if I am kidding, aren’t you? Yeah.

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About the author

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. I am a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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