Daily Herald | December 17th 2003
Conclusion of Rings' saga is one film that rules them all
by Dann Gire, Daily Herald Film Critic
And so it ends.
Not with a whimper, but a big bang, the clash of steel, cries of the victorious and vanquished, the piercing shrieks of winged dragons and a thunderous Middle-earth quake.
After seven years and $300 million, director Peter Jackson pulls off a movie miracle: a trilogy with a thrilling final chapter that dwarfs the two before it.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" trumps both "The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001) and "The Two Towers" (2002), not only in sheer scope and action, but in dramatic density and daring.
This last, greatest chapter based on J.R.R. Tolkien's cult stories of wizards and hobbits exceeds the sweeping, bravura battle sequences of "Two Towers." Then, it dives into a Shakespearean pool of betrayal, insanity and power lust.
The warrior prince Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) struggles to become the king he's destined to be. The loss of a son cripples a kingdom's steward (John Noble) and puts Middle-earth at the mercy of the evil Sauron and the horrible orcs.
Split from their friends, hobbits Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin, now nicely matured into their roles) continue their exhausting journey to Mount Doom. There they seek to dispose of the One Ring wanted by Sauron to destroy Middle-earth. Along the way, the Iago-esque Gollum (Andy Serkis in computerized skin), poisons Frodo's trust in his one true friend.
Ian McKellen's Gandalf evolves from a wizard to a formidable action figure. Miranda Otto's fighting princess takes charge as a women's lib heroine and has the film's best line: "I'm not a man!") The elfin archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom) displays action cool against a fleet of flying dragons.
When most filmmakers might be buckling under the strain of three back-to-back productions, Jackson pushes his story along full throttle, capturing a bold and brilliant cinematic vision.
He marries live-action and special effects with seamless magic and pumps up the story with unprecedented urgency.
But what happened to Christopher Lee's bad wizard Saruman from the other films? Here, he has mysteriously vanished (no doubt to be resurrected in an expanded DVD edition). Also absent: the romance between Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn, who get a hasty relationship crammed in between battles.
"The Return of the King" has many battles, and just as many endings, each one playing out as if Jackson couldn't bear to see his project come to a close.
These quibbles aside, "Return of the King" marks a true visionary achievement in cinema; a vibrant and enthralling saga of good and evil that puts George Lucas' pitiful "Star Wars" prequels to shame.