Dir: Peter Jackson. US / New Zealand. 2003. 201 mins.

The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

The grand finale of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy meets the high expectations set up by its two predecessors. A magnificent movie which brings the odyssey of the ring to a suitably nail-biting conclusion, it will unquestionably be the box office champion of the season. The question is: Can it secure the ultimate mark of Hollywood’s respect, the best picture Oscar, or perhaps more significantly, can Jackson, who wasn’t nominated for The Two Towers, win the best director award’.

The spectacle on show in the battle for Minas Tirith is staggering

In its favour is the grandeur of the story’s conclusion, the stunning battle sequences and the intriguing evolution in the drama between Frodo, Sam and Gollum. Furthermore, when the battle is finally won and the ring dispatched, The Return Of The King becomes a tear-jerker of the most moving variety. When the hobbits are given their due mark of respect by the human world, there will not be a dry eye in the house.

Working against it, however, and already stirring up discussion in early screenings are the final 20 minutes of this extremely long endeavour. By insisting on remaining faithful to the letter of the source material, Jackson continues the story of Frodo on beyond the resolution of the ring saga and stretches out to 20 minutes what could have been said as an epilogue in five. Audiences, and voters, who have reached a peak of extreme satisfaction after three hours, will become irritated with the slew of further endings. It is a miscalculation on Jackson’s part which could cost him the ultimate prize.

In fact, of the three films, The Return Of The King is the least disciplined in editing terms, with noticeable repetition of some motifs and dialogue slowing down the pace. The central battle for Minas Tirith which occupies much of the running time is relentless, while the hobbits’ final passage into Mordor to destroy the ring on Mount Doom seems painfully protracted.

In box office terms, these are minor quibbles. The Fellowship Of The Ring took $860m in the global theatrical market, The Two Towers took $920m and The Return Of The King will near the $1bn mark, especially as new moviegoers opt to watch all three films together. DVD and video returns will continue for years to come for New Line and its international partners in various special edition configurations. A supremely successful achievement, then, and. as the ugly Matrixsequels proved, it takes a master like Peter Jackson to make a trilogy of this magnitude work.

The film starts as it left off in The Two Towers. Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin) and their schizophrenic guide Gollum (Serkis, whose CGI-enhanced performance here is even more delicious than in The Two Towers) are entering Mordor where Gollum plans to sabotage them and steal the ring.

Meanwhile Gandalf is spurring on the forces of Gondor to unite with those of Theoden against the ultimate attack of the armies of Sauron. While Gandalf (McKellen) and Faramir (Wenham) lead the Gondor forces against the immediate attack on the walled city of Minas Tirith, Aragorn (Mortensen) rallies the Theoden army and drives it there, along the way answering the call from his lost love Arwen to take up his destiny as the true king.

The complex multiple narratives weave in and out of each other until the final showdown where the armies of Gondor and Theoden stand at the walls of Mordor just a few miles away from Mount Doom where Frodo faces his own battle with Gollum and himself to destroy the ring.

The spectacle on show in the battle for Minas Tirith is staggering, and the effects work here - which also encompasses a giant spider and an army of ghosts - is seamless and unprecedented in its scale.

Of the actors, Sean Astin comes to the fore as Sam. As Frodo starts to lose strength, Sam takes over and comes into his own; likewise Astin steps up to meet the challenges of a far more demanding role than has been required of him in the first two films when he was merely the loyal sidekick.

Prod cos: Wingnut Films, New Line Cinema.
US dist: New Line Cinema.
Int’l sales: New Line International
Exec prods: Robert Shaye, Michael Lynne, Mark Ordesky, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein.
Prods: Barrie M Osborne, Fran Walsh & Peter Jackson.
Scr: Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Jackson, based on the novel by JRR Tolkein.
DoP: Andrew Lesnie.
Prod des: Grant Major.
Ed: Jamie Selkirk.
Mus: Howard Shore.
Main cast: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Andy Serkis, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, John Noble, Karl Urban, Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett, Sean Bean