The Scoop: 2003 PG-13, directed by Peter Jackson and starring Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, and Billy Boyd
Tagline: There can be no triumph without loss. No victory without suffering. No freedom without sacrifice.
Summary Capsule: Hobbits sneak, Gollums gloat, Men resist, Evil advances, Chicks rebel, Kings return.
PoolMan’s Rating: My kingdom for a sword! (duck as 200,000 blades go whizzing by my head)
PoolMan’s Review: I, like most of the geek world, am pretty upset right now. The moviegoing and literature enjoying public started one helluva ride two years ago with the premiere of the long awaited, much vaunted Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The flagship title, Fellowship of the Ring, was a mindblowing success, in just about every conceiveable way. The transition from book to film of one of the most popularly loved pieces of fiction of the twentieth century finally seemed to have been done right. Fans of the source books, though jilted by the loss of a character here, a plot point there, were largely thrilled with having such a detailed and carefully crafted version of their favourite story put to celluloid. At the same time, the magnificent scope, mystery, and depth of the film created a whole new generation of fans, eagerly devouring movie after movie (generating unbelieveable box office numbers), while simultaneously turning into brand new readers of the original books. To say Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings is anything less than a masterpiece is to deny everything that quality filmmaking is all about.
So why am I upset? (“I thought the PoolMan was Buddha, that’s what Justin always says” I can hear you muttering) Because, as is the nature of a trilogy, when the third movie’s done, there’s no more (unless you’re George Lucas). Each Christmas since 2001 we’ve had a LotR movie to look forward to, and chances were good that even if everything else you’d seen that year was terrible, Jackson would come through with a beauty by year’s end. Come Christmas 2003, we see the release of Return of the King as two things simultaneously: the clockwork release of yet another movie that fans will gape over for years to come, and the end of the series as a whole.
And, nerdily quoting Theoden as I go, “We would make such an end!”. Return of the King (RotK for the lazy) is the capper to end all cappers. At a gargantuan 3 hours 20 minutes (for the theatrical release, the extended DVD is expected to be measured in whole days), we finally see the culmination of Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring, Aragorn’s quest to become King of Men, and Gimli’s quest to constantly blurt out one liners that shouldn’t be half as funny as they actually end up being. Once again we flip around between simultaneous plots like monkeys through the trees. Frodo and Sam follow Gollum into the trap Gollum alluded to in Two Towers while Aragorn ventures into a massive tomb to recruit an army of the dead to fill the holes in the armies of men while Theoden readies the Rohirrim to ride out to the aid of Gondor while its steward busily goes insane (commas bad). In and amongst all this is Gandalf, flitting about on Shadowfax and desperately trying to hold it all together long enough to let Frodo succeed in his dangerous quest. Toss in the heroics of Eomer, Eowyn, Merry, Pippin, Faramir, Gimli, and Legolas, and mix the with the new evils of Shelob, the Witch King, Mumakil everywhere, and trolls, trolls, trolls as far as the eye can see, and you’ve got an awful lot going on at once.
It’s a long ramp up to the action in this movie, but when it arrives, all hell breaks loose. Armies numbering in the hundreds of thousands clash on the fields of Pellenor and at the Black Gate. It’s almost impossible to keep your eye on everything happening. No, scratch that, it IS impossible. Even with a DVD player and a steady remote control, it could take you weeks to take in all the various things happening in the background. The detail here, as it always has been in this modern LotR trilogy, is nothing short of obsessive compulsive; it’s the stuff we geeks dream of.
However, as I’ve said about its brethren, RotK is not a perfect movie. What it achieves in spectacle and grandeur it somehow manages to lack in emotion, just a little bit. I think, finally having seen all three, Fellowship is the most emotionally involved, and Return of the King is the most action packed (with Two Towers settled in between on both accounts). There are moments in RotK that are clearly designed to put a lump in your throat, but there’s something about the gathering passion for the upcoming quest in Fellowship that stirs so much more in me than the denouement and relief of Return of the King, when all quests have met whatever end they come to. I particularly noticed this in the role of Aragorn. Viggo Mortensen does a good job of rounding out his character’s reluctant ascension to the throne of men, but once the fighting’s done, he’s a different character. Sure, he should be a changed character, but Aragorn’s final moments stirred nothing in me at all… it sounded like another character altogether. Probably my second favourite character in the first movie, Aragorn takes a big back seat in the third. Ironic, considering he’s the titular returning king.
I enjoyed Gandalf’s return to warmth in this movie, however. Two Towers saw Gandalf’s death and transformation from Grey to White Wizard, and with that transformation came a much colder version of Gandalf (very true to the books, I would note), lacking many of the grandfatherly qualities that I really enjoyed as part of Sir Ian McKellen’s portrayal the first time out. Luckily, here in RotK, Gandalf’s much closer to his old ways, able to find a laugh in the darkest hour, and still carrying that demonstrable love for his hobbit friends.
Missing from the theatrical release is nearly any and all mention of Saruman, which is a shame, considering the size of the villain’s role in the first two movies (but let’s wait till the extended DVD before we cast final conclusions there). Included instead is the origin story of Gollum, a quick opening flashback to his cousin Deagol’s discovery of the Ring in the riverbed and the immediate effect it has on Smeagol. I’m glad this was put in, as it gives us a chance to see the face of Andy Serkis, the man who provides the body and voice of Gollum. Gone is the 100 page scouring of the Shire, but in all honesty, that ranks number 2 on my list of things that I’m quite glad Peter Jackson wrote out (number 1 with a bullet: Tom Bombadil). Overall though, you take what was included and compare it to what wasn’t, and no math on earth can really give you a negative result.
Mindboggling as it is, I think now that we have all three movies out in the world, it’s time we thought of Lord of the Rings as one big 10 hour movie (maybe as long as 11 or 12 hours, if you’re like me and have the extended DVD’s). It simply isn’t fair to judge each on its own as a separate entity. Heck, they weren’t even filmed that way. I’ve been offhandedly musing on the idea that I wanted to do a Star Wars Trilogy party for years, and watch all three movies in one go with my geeky buddies, but I’ve never gotten around to it. I can honestly say I’m far more motivated to do a Lord of the Rings party now, even though the time commitment to watch all three together is so much greater. So is the payoff.
There’s precious little that can be said about the Lord of the Rings Trilogy that isn’t better said by the films themselves. Jackson, his stable of talented actors, and his army of gifted crew have each and every one of them outdone themselves a hundred times over. For such an epic undertaking, the creation of these films should stand for a very long time as a collection of the most lovingly crafted pieces of work ever created.
The road goes ever on and on… but sadly, this one finally comes to an end.
Justin’s Rating: My precioussss… TiVo, that is.
Justin’s Review: So. We have come to the end. Two years ago, I staggered — literally, staggered — out of a movie theater shocked and awemazed at the genius of Fellowship of the Ring. We couldn’t wait for the next one, and when that one came, we couldn’t wait for Return of the King. Now, as I stagger from the theater (this time out of a 4am-induced sleepiness after seeing a midnight showing), I know it’s the last. There won’t be another one next year. And yet, it’s really okay; this movie was so spectacular that the end of the Lord of the Rings gave me a happy smile to last for many more years. No post-M*A*S*H pity parties for me, no siree!
Two years ago (either movie time or real time, seeing how long these films are) four pint-sized Hobbits hobbited themselves out on the ultimate FedEx journey: to get the ring of power positively, absolutely overnight to Mt. Doom. On the way they met some friends, fell in some lakes, hooked up with a renaissance fair “elvish commune”, stared Evil itself in its one bloodshot eye, learned that Orcs have yet to invent antibacterial soap, dethroned an imposter king or two, and generally got thousands of people killed on both sides for the sheer merriment of it all. Good stuff. Remind me to use their travel agent next year.
The Return of the King has a king (hint: it’s not anyone below five feet tall) and he does return. That’s a spoiler, but seeing as how it was in the title, we will only laugh at your tears if you cry. The great thing about ROTK is seeing plots and character stories come to a full and complete end. The first two films featured a load of introductions and places to such extremes that you weren’t sure if the various scenes were supposed to be in the same country, or actually in different universes with completely unrelated people. Now we know the truth, as ROTK banks away from introducing too many new characters, and tidies up the various plot lines until only post-credits bliss remains.
Huzzah for Merry and Pippin, who stop riding trees and gain some valuable battle experience (as a side thought, wouldn’t it be absolutely humiliating to be some massive 250 pound Orc that gets killed by a tiny 55-pound halfling whacking away at your shins?). Wahoo for Galdalf, who might not know any actual magic outside of the “make a big shiny light” variety, but still kicks appropriate butt with both a staff and a sword in a manner that puts me in mortal fear of all senior citizens. Kudos to Aragorn himself, the big cheese, who finally puts to rest all this Wistful Reluctant Hero nonsense and starts to grow up at age 87 (his age revealed in a The Two Towers extended scene). And a surprised Howdy to The Toxic Avenger, who makes a cameo as one of the Orc commanders. Huh.
Also, apparently now Frodo goes to Middle-Earth Hot Topic, for this once straight-laced lad now appears in full-on Goth makeup, endlessly talking about “pain” and “burdens” and “my parents don’t respect me”. His bodyguard/gardener Sam doesn’t know what to make of this. Sam perhaps thinks that it might be best to waddle off to Dungeons & Dragons, where at least the Goth there is six feet tall with blue lips and some actual power.
Alas, as some character arcs grow stronger in the end, others are nudged aside. Gimli and Legolas, realizing that no affirmative action is going to put them on any sort of throne at the end, gracefully assume the supporting roles as komedy-and-killing. Gollum’s story finds him a lot less likable and funny as TTT, but I was suitably impressed with his prequel story (with Andy Serkis getting his due) as to put any grudges aside. And as much as we might have wanted to see big ol’ Sauron suit up in armor and start plowing through armies again, he pretty much resigns himself to being a somewhat-scary lighthouse for all of Middle-Earth.
There are battles in Return of the King, and there are battles. It’s bound by law that every review of any Lord of the Rings film has to include the word “epic”, so here’s mine. Truly epic battles. If you have battlelust, and I know you do, this is your fix for the next few years. Gigantic in scope and just fun to watch, we get to see the siege of Minas Tirith, the Riders of Rohan charging the field (strangely enough, they do so with little Vespa scooters, having misplaced their horses), and a nice how-do-ya-do at the Black Gate itself. I don’t know why I’m just now wondering this, but I think it’s absolutely amazing that Peter Jackson managed to film and wrangle a PG-13 rating out of a film series that’s about a hundred times more gory than Braveheart. The answer probably lies in the fact that none of the creatures in Middle-Earth appear to have any blood when stabbed, crushed, or decapitated. No, the life-force of millions of geeks runs through their veins instead, and the MPAA doesn’t have a problem with spilling that.
If you’re one of those people who keep engaging in those “which of the three is better” debates, my pity for you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, while you may prefer one of the sections to another, Jackson and company made this as one continuous story, and to pretend otherwise is pointless. It’s comparable to saying you liked the last three chapters of the latest Harry Potter book more than the first three chapters, but not as much as the middle three. If you started saying that to a friend, they’d give you a long sideways glance and silently wonder if you also analyze your shampoo by each separate chemical (Lissa does, of course, but she’s going to a therapist for it).
(By the way, for any and all complainers who whine about the multiple endings that construed the denouement of the series, I have just one reply: THBBBPT! That’s the sound of my incredulous tongue at people who actually wanted such a large tale tidied up a couple mere minutes after the climax. Nay, I welcomed any and all and more of the end stories, because this film really was about the journey of several incredible characters, and as we know that their tale is over forever, I wanted every last drop of info before the credits scrolled.)
Not that I remember from reading the books or anything, but I was pretty surprised when Aragorn rejected Blondie Warrior Princess for Moping Elf Chick. Listen, elfie, I can sit on a couch and commune with tree leafs with the best of them, but we’re just not in the same class as a girl who thinks nothing of impaling the Head Nazgul before breakfast, followed by a light witty remark. Just step aside and let the man date a real woman, and go marry a squirrel or something.
It’s the hundreds of finely crafted details that ultimately make Return of the King a triumphant ending to this trilogy. Power is conveyed not through the typical explosions and lightning bolts, but in inventive means: sound and air waves, a certain helmet vaccu-sucking in on itself, a gigantic Oliphant foot coming down to crush the poor cameraman underneath. Dialogue is heart-wrenchingly on target, as the characters are facing the possible end of the world as they know it, and they seemingly act more real than most of us would. Frodo’s corruption by the ring, the sheer majesty of Minas Tirith, a pretty freaky spider, the power of friendship shown fully, and the bittersweet passage of the old ways of Middle-Earth to the new… these are the moments we’ll be recalling for years to come. The king has indeed returned, and all hail one of the best movie series ever made.
Lissa’s Rating: They’re right. Sam WILL kill you if you try anything.
Lissa’s Review: At long, long, long, last, after many hours of movie viewing, I can finally tell the difference between Merry and Pippin.
Honestly. They’re both short little halflings with curly hair and mischievous personalities. They both like food and getting stoned — erm, smoking hobbitweed, or whatever that stuff is don’t talk to ME about drug use in movies — and they both are together constantly. One has sharper features than the other, but which one? (Merry, for the record.) They were a unit — absolutely inseparable — MerryandPippin. Not anymore.
Return of the King? Try Revenge of the Back-up Hobbits. This is not Aragorn’s movie. Nor is it Frodo’s. This movie belongs to Sam, Merry, and Pippin. And to some extent Faramir, but that’s just because I’m on a David Wenham kick at the moment.
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock with your fingers in your ears and singing at the top of your voice for the past two years, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is the third and final installment in Peter Jackson’s trilogy based on the book. Since I know Pooly and Justin have already written their reviews, I’m going to skip the plot summary, and even if they didn’t bother with it, odds are either a.) you know it or b.) still haven’t been able to go and wouldn’t appreciate me ruining it for you. So onward with the real review.
Butts are kicked, in a big and visual way. Oliphants, battles, Fires of Doom (or Fires within Mount Doom, or whatever they are), Gollum, orcs and trolls… it is impossible for the eye to get bored. The drama is high and there’s so much happening that the pace never slows, despite the fact this movie is 3 hours and 20 minutes. Songs are sung, people cry (a lot of people, it would have been a great time for some Kleenex product placement), and there tortured looks and an amazing number of places to insert smart-alec remarks about Legolas being Captain Obvious, and is Aragorn really just going to ride up to the Black Gate and knock? Honestly. And there are hobbits. Lots of hobbitses.
Although Frodo has the Ring and Aragorn has the sword, it’s the little guys that steal this movie. The sequence from Pippin entering Gondor leading up to Faramir’s charge on the coast (look, I read the books in fifth grade, YOU try spelling some of these names after… oh sheesh… twenty years) is intimate and moving, and the charge successfully made me cry. A bit. The song Billy Boyd both sings is extremely compelling, particularly as images Denathor and Faramir weave in and out of it. Pippin came a long, long way in this movie, and I’m delighted to see him have his own personality. And Sam finally grew on me, as he emerged as more than simply “the loyal one.” I’d love to see Sean Astin get nominated for Best Supporting Actor this year, even if I doubt it’s going to happen.
The lack of any cool character development or anything with Frodo and Aragorn didn’t really bug me, however. What I think people forget is that, like the books, the movies are not three separate, stand alone stories. The books were never intended to be a trilogy, and I think the movies reflect that concept. Sure, Frodo doesn’t get to do much besides look tortured and toss the Ring this round, and Aragorn mainly focuses on the butt-kicking aspects of his character, but we know them already in the story. We know their doubts and their fears and the things that make them human (or hobbit). PJ realizes it is best not to harp on those, because it only gets you so far. Good move.
The one character that really bugged me though was Faramir. No, I’m not talking at all about the difference between book-Faramir and movie-Faramir. What bugged me was just how much the extended edition changed my opinion of him — and I didn’t even realize it until he showed up on screen this time. I think Jackson made a big mistake cutting the scenes between Boromir and Faramir in The Two Towers, because it was information that DID change the character, and the plot. I have to wonder how you’d react to Faramir in Return of the King if you haven’t seen the extended edition of The Two Towers. Not everyone is going to go out and get the extended edition, or even necessarily watch it. If it’s that important, keep it in. (Also, I’ve been dying to say this one — I am truly impressed with the resemblance between Boromir and Faramir. When Pippin looks up at Faramir and recognizes that this is definitely Boromir’s brother, it’s not at all a stretch. In fact, it was enough to make me wonder if Sean Bean and David Wenham are somehow related.)
Woven around the characters is, of course, the action. Oliphants that yes, do remind some of us of the AT-ATs in Empire Strikes Back, trolls that look alarmingly realistic, catapults, epic battles of thousands on thousands… it’s amazing. However, despite the number of special effects that PJ employs, he doesn’t fall into the George Lucas trap of getting too enamored of his toys. Plot and dialogue still have a place in Return of the King, as does emotion, even if the action takes center stage. (And yes George, we realize Peter had help writing — after all, Tolkien’s the one responsible for the story and much of the dialogue. But that’s not an excuse for Attack of the Clones.)
Return of the King has action out the wazoo, that’s for sure. And it has lots of solid emotional moments regarding friendship. But that romantic subplot…. ARGH! I don’t actually object to a romantic subplot in a movie of this nature. I mean, when a guy is as hot as Aragorn is, I’d be wondering if there weren’t women lusting over him and if he didn’t have a girlfriend. That’s fine. But first of all, if this is the book Arwen is actually IN, shouldn’t she have more screen time in this movie than the other two? Minor (and I didn’t bring a stopwatch to compare), and there’s always that extended edition.
The one that really bugged me is Eowyn. Now, I quite like Eowyn, which I wasn’t expecting to because her kind of character tends to annoy me. And I could totally see what she saw in Aragorn, because if I was her, I’d probably be drooling over him too. But why was Theoden so happy for her? All’s she’d done was talk to Aragorn and cast him longing looks. Not much of a relationship. I used to drool over this cute guy on my cross country team in high school, but people just laughed at me — no one ever said they were happy for me. And after all the attention given to Eowyn’s adoration for Aragorn, there is absolutely NO attention given to the development of her relationship with Faramir. Which is a shame, because as cute as Aragorn is, I totally agree with her choice. After all, Faramir washes his hair. Hygiene is an attractive trait in a boyfriend. I’m not even asking for much here- but couldn’t we have at least seen them meet? PJ — that had better be in the extended edition! A hint: if you’re trying to win over the chick audience by including the romantic subplot, then include the romance!
These are nitpicks, however, that I make because it’s fun. Without a doubt, this was my favorite movie of the year, and in many ways, the best. It’s not a movie for everyone, but if you weren’t going to like it, you already knew that, two movies ago. However, the movies have made fantasy accessible for those who didn’t enjoy it before, and that’s an achievement right there. It has lived up to the standard set by the previous two movies. It’s fun to watch, it’s moving, and there are oliphants. What more can you ask for in a movie? (Except those of you that have monkey obsessions.)
Watchowskis, take notes. THIS is the way to end a trilogy!
- Smeagol’s voice was ALWAYS that way?
- Hey neat, suddenly the Eye of Sauron can turn!
- Gandalf is a spooky sleeper
- Pippin plays hot potato!
- Gothmog’s plastic surgeon must be rich.
- Hmmm… “no man alive”, eh? Wow, didn’t see THAT coming!
- How the heck did they haul wood all the way up those big-ass mountains?
- Eating can be very, very gross, particularly with enhanced sound
- Pippin and Merry being the second and third to charge at the final battle
- The CRAPLOAD of crying in this movie… when did I stumble into Steel Magnolias?
- “I’m going to save you” “You already have” — isn’t this word-for-word from Return of the Jedi? (PoolMan notes that this is almost identical, but not completely)
- Andy Serkis plays the hobbit carrying the pumpkin in the inn where Sam goes after Rosie
- In Cirith Ungol, four orcs come down the stairs at Sam. He only kills three before going up the stairs.
- Kevin writes, “I am pretty sure Peter Jackson is the captain on deck in a close up of one of the ships.”
- Viggo Mortensen estimates that, during the course of filming the entire trilogy and including all takes, he killed every stuntman on the production at least fifty times.
- The film was shipped to theaters under the name “Till Death For Glory”, it was even on the reels. So nowhere on the print did it read the real title of the film. Except on the outside of the boxes there were shipped in, underneath the large barcode it read in very small letters, ‘lotr3’.
- The first film in the trilogy had 560 computer-generated effects. “The Two Towers” had 800 and “Return of the King” has 1500.
- Born in 1892, J.R.R. Tolkien (Tol-keen) fought in World War One, where many of his close friends were killed. Afterwards, he became a professor at Oxford University in the twenties. He was a contemporary and friend of fellow professor C.S. Lewis, who also wrote fantasy (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy). Tolkien’s Christianity influenced atheist Lewis, who converted and became one of the most famous Christian apologists of the 20th century. Tolkien studied Anglo-Saxon history and languages, and developed whole languages, mythologies, scripts, runes, and entire (fantasy) world histories from scratch. He died in 1973.
- Originally written as a children’s book, The Hobbit was published in 1937 by Stanley Unwin. Unwin afterwards asked Tolkien for a sequel, which took him many years to write and ended up being far more than a simple child’s story. The Lord of the Rings, written as one book but published in three, saw the first bookshelves in 1954-55. Its popularity really took off after the paperback publication in 1965, and was responsible for the upsurgeance of fantasy in the late 1900’s, including the birth of Dungeons & Dragons. Other famous published works of Tolkien include The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth.
Aragorn: For Frodo.
Pippin: Is there any hope, Gandalf, for Frodo and Sam?
Gandalf: There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope.
Gandalf: Lord Denethor is Boromir’s father. It would be very unwise to bring him news of his beloved son’s death. Best not to speak of it. And be careful not to mention Frodo or the ring. Or Aragorn, say nothing of him. In fact, it’s best if you don’t speak at all, Peregrin Took.
Gandalf: The board is set… the pieces are moving.
[after Legolas single-handedly kills one of the oliphaunts]
Gimli: Bah! That still only counts as one!
Gimli: I never thought I’d die side by side with an elf.
Legolas: What about side by side with a friend?
Gimli: Aye. I could do that.
Gimli: Certain death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?
[about Merry, dressed in Rohirrim armour]
Eomer: You should not encourage him.
Eowyn: You should not doubt him.
Eomer: I do not doubt his heart, only the reach of his arm.
Frodo: The ring is mine.
[after being ordered to the suicidal mission of reclaiming Osgiliath]
Faramir: Since you are robbed of Boromir, I shall do what I can in his stead. If I should return, think better of me, father.
Denethor: That will depend upon the manner of your return.
Gimli: This is something unheard of! An elf will pass under a mountain, where a dwarf dares not! Oh, I’ll never hear the end of it…
Sam: What’re you doing? Sneaking off you are!
Gollum: Sneaking? Sneaking? Oh, that’s nice, precious! Smeagol leads them to places no one else knows of, Smeagol helps hobbitses, and look how he’s treated!
Sam: I’m sorry, you just startled me, that’s all. What were you doing?
Theoden: Ride now! Ride now! Ride for ruin and the world’s ending! Forth Eorlingas!
Pippin: How far is Minas Tirith?
Gandalf: Three days, as the Nazgul flies, and you’d better hope we don’t have one of those on our tails.
King of the Dead: The dead suffer no one.
Aragorn: You will suffer me!
Sam: “A Hobbit’s Tale, by Bilbo Baggins, and the Lord of the Rings, by Frodo Baggins”. You’ve finished it!
Frodo: Not quite, there’s room for a little more.
Aragorn: I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fail… when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. This day, we fight!
Eomer: We cannot achieve victory through strength of arms.
Aragorn: Not for ourselves, but we can give Frodo a chance.
Sam: I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!
Sam: That’s for Frodo! And that’s for the Shire! And that’s for my old Gaffer!
Elrond: This is your test. Every path you have trod through, wilderness, through war, has led to this road.
Legolas: The eye of the enemy is moving!
Aragorn: My friends, you bow to no one.
Gandalf: Authority is not given to you to deny the return of the king, Steward.
Denethor: My son is dead! My line is finished! The city is taken! Abandon your posts! Run for your lives!
Denethor: Fealty with love, valor with honor, disloyalty with vengeance.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Fellowship of the Ring
- The Two Towers
- The Return of the King (animated)