U.S. Release Date: December 17, 2003
Distributor: New Line
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Philippa Boyens
Producer: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh
Composer: Howard Shore
Cast: Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett, Karl Urban, Sean Bean
Running Time: 3 hours and 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images)

A Decent End to An Epic Trilogy
by Sean Saulsbury

The third and final installment of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King has finally arrived. Director Peter Jackson's big screen rendering of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic trilogy is sure to please its fans but is not as consistent in quality as its predecessor The Two Towers.

From The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, we know that hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood), along with a fellowship of elves, humans, wizards and other hobbits, must destroy a magical ring that, if fallen into the wrong hands, will allow the evil Sauron to destroy Middle-earth. Return of the King tells the final leg of their quest to quell evil's dominance and to restore mankind as rulers of the Middle-earth.

Frodo and his friend Sam (Sean Astin) are led by Gollum (Andy Serkis), a grotesque schizophrenic creature, to Mount Doom, where Frodo must destroy the ring by throwing it into the fiery mountain. Guarded by orcs and other evil forces, the quest seems impossible. Meanwhile, the remainder of the fellowship helps to defend Minas Tirith where humanity must make its last stand against the evil that seeks to destroy them.

The cast is one of Return of the King's strongest asset. Each actor portrays his character's unique traits with depth and, despite a few hokey lines throughout the script, you feel like you know these characters well.

Human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) generate much of the excitement during the epic battle sequences. Through scene after scene of fighting and defeat, these characters, along with the beautiful and courageous Eowyn (Miranda Otto), communicate confidence, strength and honor even in the face of impossible odds.

In Frodo and Sam's struggle through Mordor to destroy the ring, director Jackson reveals the emotional and intimate side of the epic story. Astin delivers the movie's best performance as he grows from a helping friend into a hero who will do what is right at any cost. Wood is outstanding as well, and when their quest is finally over you feel a strong sense of brotherhood between them—a tragic kind that soldiers who have fought the most horrific kinds of battles might feel for one another.

Unfortunately, some of the battles are anti-climactic because they are won by accident or by pulling a victory "out of a hat." For example, in one scene the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) summons some giant eagles to help defend his army against attack. But why didn't he do this before when it would have been a prudent defense in similar attacks? We had no way of knowing he had this power, so his use of it in this particular circumstance seems arbitrary. Perhaps these kinds of powers are meant to awe us into admiring the magical powers for their own sake, but instead they undercut the dramatic tension because they create the sense that you're at the mercy of the writer's whim and not the ability of the characters to defeat their enemies.

When Return of the King feels like it has ended, don't leave the theater too quickly. There's a parade of seemingly final scenes. And just when you really think the last scene has been shown, a voiceover says "but there is still more to be written…" This may be true to the book, but it doesn't quite work for the movie.

Still, The Return of the King, like its predecessors, will please even those with only a mild interest in fantasy, because at its root it's about good versus evil and the triumph of mankind to rule the earth.

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