THE LORD OF THE RINGS : THE RETURN OF THE KING
aka The Return of the King : USA (US-NZ) 2003 : Peter JACKSON : 200 mins
For once, the global hype is justified: this last and longest instalment of Jacksons epic trilogy based on J R R Tolkiens novels is also, without any doubt, the best. The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, while far from flawless, were undeniably impressive achievements. But now we can see that they were just extremely elaborate preludes to this spectacular and spectacularly entertaining pay-off. The two main plot-strands the against-all-odds quest of hobbits Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) to destroy the all-powerful Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, and the great battles between good (led by Viggo Mortensens Aragorn) and evil across the face of Middle-Earth finally reconverge at the climax of a film which is itself one very long climax. The Oscar for Best Picture is the least it deserves.
As before, Jackson and script-collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens can’t (or perhaps wont) do much to alleviate the burden of Tolkiens semi-intelligible stream of cod-Arthurian dialogue, nor the books crudely anti-democratic, pro-monarchist subtexts. This time, however, its much easier to overlook the dodgy political angles that mar so much of the source material – because, while Jackson is so often held back by his fan-boy fidelity to Tolkien, he now has much more scope to let his imagination run wild. With the centrepiece battle of Pelennor Fields, his jaw-on-floor visuals explode thrillingly across the screen, comfortably exceeding anything previously attempted in the genres of action, fantasy or war.
Return of the King makes just as much impact in the smaller character-based moments: the nonchalant dismount of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) from the mighty oliphaunt he’s just slain; warrior-princess Eowyn (Miranda Otto) fearlessly confronting the seemingly-invincible Witch-King (Lawrence Makoare); Sam movingly hauling the knackered Frodo on their journeys final leg. Over the course of these 200 amazing minutes, the director himself displays the aplomb of a Legolas, the audacity of an Eowyn, the endurance of a Sam not to mention the magic of wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the flinty good humour of dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and the born-to-do-it confidence of king-in-waiting Aragorn. Jacksons achievements here set a benchmark against which all future blockbusters will be measured – and, surely, found severely wanting.
12th December, 2003
(seen 11th December : Odeon, Leicester Square, London [first UK press screening])
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by Neil Young