The Return of the King Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings is a true classic and an unenviable tome to try to adapt! That said, Director Peter Jackson along with fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens have created just about the best possible movie adaptation of this master work that I would say is humanly possible. While the combination of certain characters, the juxtaposition and re-imagining of certain key events and the complete deletion of some characters and sub-plots could have resulted in a complete miscarriage of Dr. J.R.R. Tolkien's vision, the end product here is a wonderful film that rises above it's few shortcomings and Gregory Benford Moments to become one of the very best films of the year decorated with great beauty, amazing scenery, superb acting and, yes, even very good adaptation skills. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a triumphant success remarkably complete and entertaining from the first moment to the last of its 201 minutes!
There are a few moments that the literary purist might find flawed but within the long running time of this film they prove to be few. Among these is the treatment of Denethor (John Noble) as an under developed and one dimensional character as predictable as Willy Loman's fate in Death of a Salesman; the absence of the face-off between Gandalf and the "Witch-King" of the Nazgul; the combination of the army of the dead with the forest primitives; and the deletion of the human denizens of Mordor and the Saruman Sub-Plot! In fact there was a time or two that I was stunned by the changes as if Jackson had storyboarded the whole thing, then played fifty-two card pick-up with the scenes and shuffled them back in a skewed and odd order. During these times it almost felt like Team Jackson felt they knew better than Tolkien (a cardinal sin of Novel Adaptors)! Hell, it's two full hours before Frodo, Sam and Gollum do anything from the novel The Return of the King (they still apparently had that much of the action from The Two Towers left over)! The point of this is that taken as a movie, or an adaptation the film transcends the moments that would make even a true fan grimace and manages to tie up so much wonder into a great, great film! The deletions make sense, even some of the changes work! I guarantee in the end it shows itself to be a wonderful film that, in fact, mirrors the source material quite closely! And that says something because I was cynical as hell after the adaptation debacle that was The Two Towers! It was much more frequent that this literary cynic nodded in approval of what was accurate instead of shaking the head at what was wrong. Bravo!
This special effects loaded saga manages to be a treat for the eyes without ever being an insult to the mind! The acting here is superior from the pathos-ridden menace of Andy Serkis (as Gollum/Smeagol) to the dead-on desperation tempered with Duty that Elijah Wood shows in his portrayal of Frodo Baggins. The Textually accurate evolution of Sean Astin's Sam further shows what this actor can pull off with the right material. To say Ian McKellen is great is almost a cliché, but McKellen so becomes Gandalf here that it's hard to picture him as an actor at all. He is this Wizard.
Naturally Viggo Mortensen continues to shine as Aragorn! The combination of Regency and street-level brawler is matched only by his textual counterpart. Gimli and Legolas (John Rhys-Davies and Orlando Bloom respectively) continue to be fierce and dead on in their interpretations of their characters, but continue in their unfortunate comic-relief role. Naturally the part of Arwen (Liv Tyler) is built up even more in this one, but it all works out. Characters like Merry (Dominic Monaghan), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) further the plot well without letting their considerable talents upstage the main characters. It's Eowyn who virtually steals the show here. Miranda Otto could scarcely have been better as our heroine. She portrays and air of the Feminine grace yet hard as nails toughness that Tolkien endowed within the character of Eowyn! She gets your attention, and if anything, leaves one wanting more!
While I can't ruin anything with a good conscience I can tell you that some of the things that Tolkien spelled out in detail Jackson uses suggestively, and much of that which is merely suggested in the novel is spelled out here. In a long battle scene (now ubiquitous for these films) this does manage to work well. Did Tolkien spell out every Arrow fly and sword swipe? No! It makes sense that Jackson might choreograph this his own way! Is this 100% verbatim from the book? No, but I was amazed at the times it was dead on. Taken for a movie it's almost perfect, and even for a die hard fan of the text like me, it's wonderful, and amazingly done! Special praise must go to Jackson for allowing the film to continue much as the book did beyond the climax and to tie up loose ends. This even manages to make the previous two films better adaptations with the conclusions drawn here! While it's annoying to not get the resolution of the Saruman sub-plot as we do in the book, the story of our heroes does continue and it works perfectly. There are times when this is clearly Tolkien's vision, and times when it's clearly that of Peter Jackson, however the balance between Tolkien and Jackson definitely tips toward the text itself, thankfully!
This is the best of the three Lord of the Rings films without question. It's truly an Oscar Caliber film on many, many levels, and is one of the best films of the year, worth Four and One Half Stars out of five. I highly recommend this film and I'm already reserving my full length special edition to see how much better the six hour cut might be! Wow! Then again, if this film isn't your cup of tea you can always rent Rankin and Bass' low-rent rotoscoped version of The Return of the King and just Veg out with that thing. It's a must for all Casey Kasem fans, world-wide! Thank you for contributing to my delinquency! Good night!
Orcs and Hobbits and Elves, Oh My!
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