Chris's Film Reviews

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

A review by Chris Harris, who has been going to the movies for half a century, so he's seen quite a few films in his time.

Written: 19th December 2003

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Directed by: Peter Jackson

Starring: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Sir Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortenson, Orlando Bloom & co.

Waiting outside on opening night, one of the folks I was with pointed out that the sign on the cinema read "Return of the... 21:00." How did we know we weren't about to see a film with Jedi knights and light sabres in it? The degree of excitement was the same.

Well - no, actually it wasn't. There was a far greater sense of anticipation for this movie than any other film I can remember. After the disappointment of the sequels to Lucas's first trilogy of Star Wars films, this year's complete crash-and-burn disaster of Matrix Revolutions, the trilogy has looked to New Zealand to restore its credibility. The bonehead advertising line in the poster outside for Scary Movie 3 (Trilogies come in threes) seemed to emphasise the point still more. We all had huge expectations for this film. So when the lights finally went down and the New Line logo appeared on the screen, I was sitting there thinking "please don't fail..."

It didn't take long to realise - there was no way Peter Jackson was going to let us down.

From the opening scenes (with Andy Serkis himself rather than his CGI alter ego playing the original Smeagol) the film looks gorgeous. The imagery is what sticks in my mind the most: the Rohirrim riding forth in their thousands, Gandalf's arrival at Minas Tirith and his ride through the spectacular city, the beacons being lit on the mountains, the sheer magnitude of what we were seeing burns itself into your memory. What distinguishes these films from George Lucas's recent endeavours, though, is that the technical wizardry that allows us to see Gollum twitching in his sleep doesn't overwhelm the movie. You're not sitting there thinking "that must have taken some serious computing power," you're sitting there thinking "Oh no! How's Gandalf going to survive an attack if they're using cave trolls?" The effects are used wisely to augment the already breathtaking scenery of New Zealand. The result is a beautiful, beautiful movie - far more so than the first two films, and they were superb. Howard Shore's music, too, surpasses the score for the first two films. The Fellowship theme returns again, and it changes and weaves as the heroes follow their paths through the story.

You become drawn in to the film, whether you want to or not; the battle scenes have a visceral edge that wrenches the emotions far more than Zion's last stand did a couple of months ago. When the Nazgul fly past, you flinch. When Frodo encounters Shelob, you're squirming with the tension. When Merry and Pippin become drawn into the conflict, you sense their doubt and hopelessness, and cheer as they find their destinies. All four of the actors playing the hobbits put in superb performances; Elijah Wood is almost unrecognisable from the fresh-faced youngester we encountered just three years ago. Sean Astin's performance as Sam is one of the high points of the film.

Viggo Mortenson's performance as Aragorn is also strong, Strider knows full well the role that destiny has in mind for him: when he reaches the entrance to the paths of the dead, and realises the moment has come to decide whether or not to accept his fate, you can see it all in his face.

Orlando Bloom's Legolas and John Rhys-Davies's Gimli provide the comic relief once again, and just as in the Two Towers, Bloom's character (or at least a CGI version of him) gets to pull off some outrageous stunt work. This time, the entire sequence is capped by the funniest line of the film, delivered by Gimli. I won't spoil it for you - you'll know it when you see it.

The film is very long - three and a half hours or so - but I didn't have a problem with the pacing of the film. At the end, when the credits started to roll, I sat back with a sense of satisfaction. There was no let down, no disappointment, just a sense of having reached the end of an amazing and profound three-year journey. I could write about the film in much greater detail, but it wouldn't be important. What needs to be said is simply this: that the trilogy has set a standard by which all films in the genre must now be judged. If anyone else attempts something on this scale, they are going to have to be very talented indeed to follow in the footsteps of Peter Jackson and his crew.

Chris's rating: Five Stars

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