Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King


Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The word trilogy, which was handed such a black eye by the Matrix movies, is restored to its proper dignity with Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It all comes together here. Peter Jackson directed the movies one after the other over a period of about a year (except for some pickups and reshoots), and perhaps this explains why they have not only thematic but emotional unity. Taken as a whole, this series derived from the Tolkien books is without parallel as a sustained piece of fantasy-fiction adaptation. I would not want a steady diet of such films—after a while, the invasions of the orcs, the severed heads catapulted into sky-high fortresses, the giant spider with its acidic pincers, and all the bloody rest of it wore me down. (Never forget that Jackson made his cult reputation directing gross-out movies.) But Jackson is rare among the makers of epic movies in that he knows how to do the small stuff, too. The Return of the King has “heart”—how else could it pump out all that blood?

I wouldn’t recommend watching it, however, without having seen the first two, even though the set pieces can be enjoyed as pure theater. The film is very plot-heavy. Let’s just say that the hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood) makes his final journey to Mount Doom, the Ring in tow, while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) wages war to distract Frodo’s enemies and becomes the rightful king of Gondor. For the audience, the return of Ian McKellen’s white-on-white wizard, Gandalf; John Rhys-Davies’s bristly bearded dwarf, Gimli; Sean Astin’s Sam, Frodo’s loyal soul mate; and the sputtery, grotesque Gollum (a computer-generated Andy Serkis) is like a convocation of old friends. I’m afraid that Liv Tyler’s elf princess, Arwen, still doesn’t do it for me—she looks like she belongs not in Middle-earth but in a soft-focus Breck commercial—but then again, I’m not Aragorn. Maybe you have to splatter squadrons of creepy-crawlies before you can properly appreciate her charms.

With George Lucas’s empire showing its age, Jackson seems poised to become the new Lord of the Ka-chings. In the past, he indicated that he wanted to get back to microbudget zombie movies, but I never believed he would—not even Frodo has the willpower to resist Hollywood’s siren song. Sure enough, he’s gearing up to remake King Kong with Naomi Watts. I’m there. (3 hr. 20 mins.; PG-13) — PETER RAINER

Opens December 17
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