Lord of the Rings - Return of the King

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The plot in a nutshell
Did you see the Fellowship of the Rings and the Two Towers?  No?  Then stop reading this and return to your place under that rock.  If you did, then you know that this is the final installment in the tale of Frodo, Sam and the One Ring.

When we last left them, most of the Fellowship had managed to survive the Battle at Helm's Deep, while Merry and Pippen had joined the Ents in kicking some white wizard butt.  Frodo and Sam were still wandering about with their Cybil-esque guide, Gollum.

This film finishes the trilogy, and in a grand and amazing way.  Sure to be on the ballots for Best Picture of the Year, it completes one of the greatest trilogies ever produced.  It has a few warts, but it's still a damn fine toad.

Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
I read the books when I was about 12 years old, starting with the Hobbit and then burning through the three books of LOTR.  I loved them then, and can still understand the tremendous effect these few books had on the world of fantasy for the next 50 years.

The first two films did an excellent job including much of what mattered in the books, and cutting out what didn't.  Oh, sure, I had my issues here and there with them, but overall I've been tremendously impressed and awed by the work done by Peter Jackson.

I learned two lessons watching the newest and final film.  First, Hobbits are about the weepiest bunch of creatures on the planet, or at least in Middle Earth.  If Sam, Merry, Pippen or Frodo turned on the waterworks one more time, I was willing to hold them down for Gollum to throttle.

And second, it IS possible for a film to be too true to a book.  This film clocks in at over 3 hours and 15 minutes, an amazing run time, especially if you make the mistake of having a Big Gulp early on.  And this move was at least 20 - 30 minutes longer than it needed to be.

There are some outstanding special effects, especially with beasts and nasties.  The battles are almost overwhelming, and perhaps some of the best ever put on film.  Even when a character utters a line so sappy, so trite, so ridiculous - which happens at least 3 times during crucial moments - they manage to make it emotionally powerful and meaningful.  There's plenty of heavy emotion throughout the film, but there's the occasional light moment.

Fortunately, most of these aren't as heavy handed as they were in the second film.  Poor Gimli still gets treated as the funny man, and most of his lines simply fall flat.  There's one that works great though - "That still counts as one!" - but the best humorous moments come across in sly, out of the ordinary ways.  The movie has two or three laugh out loud moments, and their pacing and timing are perfect.

There's also a tremendous amount of drama here, with every character involved in saving the world.  There's a great number of butt ugly bad guys, and even they get to do some real acting for a change.  And we are reminded that not all the bad guys are on the other side, nor are they always obvious.

Is this film the best of the year?  Well, that's a tough call.  I hope it wins for Best Picture and Best Director, not necessarily because I think it was in itself the best, but because Peter Jackson deserves the award for the overall accomplishment.  There isn't another trilogy - including Star Wars - that has this level of overall quality.  This was an amazing feat, and whether it can ever be matched again is up for debate.  There may have been better films this year than this single film, but there has never been a better set of three films telling a single story.

I did have my issues with this particular installment though.  It's definitely too damn long, and I shiver in fear at the thought of the extended edition.  There are some scenes that are simply redundant and could have been cut completely, and there are others that could have easily been cut down in time and content.

The special effects were stupendous EXCEPT for the Hobbits.  I'm not sure what happened, but the superimposed shots of the Hobbits in front and with other larger characters were very obvious.  I just watched the wonderfully cheesy 1950's film Earth Vs. The Spider earlier this week, and it seemed as though these Hobbit shots had the same rough, shimmering edge lines as that old film.  I don't know if the lighting was off between the shots, or if the film quality was slightly different between them, but something made it much more obvious that the little guys weren't really there.  On top of that, the rear shots of the children dressed as the adult Hobbits looked weak, with the kids never moving like adults, and the wigs and clothing looking somehow different.  Perhaps by the third film the Hobbit budget was growing thin, but this was one area of effects that looked worse in this installment than the other two.

I am looking forward to getting this film on DVD though.  The sound in the theater was great, and I can't wait to hear the DTS 6.1 track we get treated to.  It's a fine completion to the trilogy, even if it isn't perfect.  I think Fellowship is still my favorite, although Two Towers was awfully close.  There are some wonderful sections of Return of the King, but in the end it simply can't out run it's two older brothers.

Rating - Go See It
You want to see this on the big screen, in all it's amazing glory.  Oh, the DVD will be amazing too, but don't miss out on seeing this at a good theater, with great sound and excellent screen.  And treat yourself to some Junior Mints too, but avoid the 32 ounce drink.

Spoiler Laden Thoughts
There's plenty to spoil, but I'll only talk about a few of things...











I mentioned corny lines.  Yes, there were quite a few.  C'mon, tell your friends about the scene where Frodo can't make it up Mount Doom, and Sam yells "I might not be able to carry the ring, but I can carry you!" and tell me they don't laugh.  And yet, in the film it works with real power.  They managed to do that with several scenes, most notably the scene in which King Aragorn tells the Hobbits "You bow to no one".  Another corny line, but done with real emotion and power.  And speaking of that scene, it's a fine example of the poor effects with the Hobbits.

A scene that I wished has worked better was the battle with Gollum.  The blue screen work was very obvious here as well, and with Gollum bobbing around in the air, I suspect this is a scene that will not fair well with time.  Your kids will watch this a decade from now and wonder how you could find such a bad effect even remotely moving.

The best scenes in the film required the least effects.  The insanity of Denethor (sp?) gave the film some of it's best moments, especially when Merry sings the song as Faramir rides to a certain death.  It was Merry, wasn't it?  I can't keep those damn Hobbits straight.

Speaking of Merry and Pippen, I liked them quite a bit more in this film.  They got the opportunity to have real value and valor, with less goofy humor thrust on the.  There was less goofy humor for Gimli as well, although he ended up my least favorite character across the trilogy.

Finally, the end of this film was far too drawn out.  I'm not talking about the need for the multiple endings, because I can understand that.  You have a whole bunch of people, and if Jackson wanted to stay true to the book, he had to wrap up each story as was done in the book.  But he could have done some more editing here, and been a little more concise.  For example, the bedroom scene is completely unneeded - we get to see each of the characters alive in the next scene (Aragorn's coronation), and so parading them in, one at a time, into Frodo's bedroom was completely unnecessary.  And the scene in which Bilbo and Frodo sail off with the elves will go down in history as one of the great over extended pieces of film.  A simple bye, been nice knowing you, don't let the door hit you in the ass would have sufficed.

Still, it's a terrific film, even if it isn't the best of the year.  Jackson deserves the awards for his overall phenomenal accomplishment, and I feel sorry for some of the other directors and producers that did some amazing work this year.  Hey, Clint Eastwood already has a best director trophy anyway.

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