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The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)
Director: Peter Jackson

review by Hugh Slesinger

In Peter Jackson's final installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy Lord Of The Rings, we are privy to a captivating and engaging film classic, complete with cliffhanger climaxes such as the battle for Minus Tirith, and the amazing spectacle of Mount Doom's hastily determined destruction. The now infamous battle scenes and continuing quest for control of the One Ring take center stage as we travel into the gritty and foreboding land of Mordor. Mordor is Tolkien's own version of hell, a place where everyone is nearly ruined by the pain and terror of Sauran's ever-watchful eye, a place where no one remains unaffected or unscathed. Only the will to survive keeps what is left of the Fellowship moving forward, in this land of darkness, war and brutality. In many ways, The Return Of The King evokes qualities similar to other epic odysseys such as Ben Hur, Braveheart, and Lawrence Of Arabia.
   This is due in part because Tolkien himself was a survivor of trench warfare stationed on the Western Front in the days of WWI. Like his characters, Tolkien himself experienced firsthand the horrific realities of the Great War, including hand-to-hand combat, armoured artillery attacks and sword wielding mounted cavalry charges. As an infantry officer who went on to become a military scholar and lecturer, Tolkien was first and foremost an educated intellectual, well versed in the study of Anglo Saxon myth and culture. He understood much of the traditions, lineage and strategic methods of Middle Age warfare. He had a wealth of linguistic and historical knowledge from which he so dramatically spun his own realistic imaginary world. Among the story's many interwoven archetypical themes, which Peter Jackson highlights so brilliantly in the movie, is the struggle of men to overcome their own mischievousness and malice, alongside their own self induced fears and lust for control and power. It is these traits that ultimately lead to war, with little regard for moral or environmental ethics, or patterns of social normalcy.
Gondor's army
Lord Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) leads the legions of Gondor to the final battle at Mordor's Black Gate. 

During the sequence leading up to the well choreographed battle of Minus Tirith, a particularly disfigured Uruk-hai warrior observes that the besieged city is "ripe with fear," and that "fear is [ultimately] power." Despite the bravery and military prowess of the armies of Gondor and Rohan, these men too are at times made vulnerable by the power of fear. Perhaps none are forced to face that fear more than the beleaguered characters of Frodo and Sam (played remarkably well by Elijah Wood and Sean Austin, along with Andy Serkis who was animated into the believable likeness of Gollum), but lest we not forget that much of the film's success is due to Jackson's superb casting, inventive wizardry of special effects and dramatic displays of digital animation. Along with exceptional performances from his cast, Jackson propels the film into a realm of monumental if not mythic proportions. It is with a warm and melancholy heart that we depart at the end of our long journey with the fabled reunion of the elvish princess Arwen (played by the inciting Liv Tyler) and the reluctantly inspirational Aragorn (played flawlessly by a charismatic but somewhat mysterious Viggo Mortensen). Jackson truly captures the eloquence and grandeur of Middle-earth, the way Tolkien intended it, which allows the script to stand autonomously by itself in the process.
   Some critics might choose to focus on and dissect the discrepancies between the film and the book, or ignore the work and undervalue it based on its status as a blockbuster action adventure fantasy. However, it is Tolkien's very realism of man's own past which mirrors a history that causes diverse audiences to respond with overwhelming emotion and approval. The lady sitting next to me in the theatre was literally perched on the edge of her seat, hand covering her mouth as she squirmed back and forth. During the ending there were numerous sniffles of sadness among the crowd during the intentionally drawn out stages of the film's well-paced conclusion and epilogue. (After so much dramatic tension has been built up, more than just one scene is necessary to allow the audience a measured sense of relief in order to settle down.)
   While some might interpret or label Jackson's work as a post 9/11 pro-patriotic piece of propaganda - justifying the use of violent force to further one's own agenda - others may say that force is necessary to maintain the balance of good over evil. But no matter which way you slice this argument, from Tolkien's perspective, it is important to remember that only through trust and alliance, not unilateralism, can the contributions of the meek and the wise fully be recognised and utilised to their utmost potential. And furthermore, that by overcoming fear and despair with personal integrity and action, that the race of men can save themselves from the conflicting forces of shadow and light. There can be no doubt that fear is indeed power, as underscored by the film's underlying message, but more importantly, that power can corrupt anyone, absolutely. In short, Return Of The King demonstrates that power should never be assumed lightly, just as it is never parted with easily. And in parting from the realm of elves, wizards, hobbits and dwarves, into the age of men now responsible for the fate of Middle-earth, the viewer has no choice but to come away affected and transformed by the power of this amazingly compelling and relevant story.
Return of the King

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Frodo
Ring bearer Frodo Baggins
(Elijah Wood) finds his way
through Shelob's lair.

Gollum
Skulking Smegol plots the
the next phase of his
circuitous strategy.

Gandalf
Gandalf the White (Sir Ian
McKellan) toils in the
trenches of Mordor.

Aragon
The rightful rise and
return of the King of Middle-earth's men.


Read our reviews of -
The Lord Of The Rings:
The Fellowship
Of The Ring


The Lord Of The Rings:
The Two Towers


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