Ossus Library Index Fantasy Movie Index

THE RETURN OF THE KING

Directed by Peter Jackson (2003, New Line Cinema)
Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, and John Rhys-Davies

Aragorn defends Gondor, buying time for Frodo and Sam to make their way to Mount Doom in an attempt to destroy the Ring.

 

 

5 stars

March 18th to 19th, 2016 on Blu-Ray for the 11th time  
    Once again -spectacular. It's interesting to note how the colors change between the three movies. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the settings are mostly forests and grasslands (with many exceptions, such as Moria), and these are green and brown. The Two Towers is mostly grey, both on Frodo's journey and Aragorn's. Here, the colors are so white they are almost washed out. Minas Tirith and Osgiliath are so white, but with a shade of dirt, for lack of a better word. Maybe it's age.  

 

5 stars

October 14th, 2015 on Blu-Ray for the 10th time  
    I just love this movie. There is so much detail, and although the battle takes up most of the movie, the characters are defined by it, and grow throughout. I still get a heartache at the music to the Rohirim attack on the Pelenor armies, and the visuals to that scene are truly wonderful, as well.  

 

5 stars

September 6th to 7th, 2011 on Blu-Ray for the 9th time  
    The extended edition on Blu-Ray is even more beautiful. Unlike The Two Towers, which was dark and brown and grey throughout (even the old forest of Fanghorn, somehow), this movie has a lot of green in it, and the white cities of Minas Tirith and Osgiliath had sharp contrasts in them. The only scene that looks a little fake is the approach to Minas Tirith at the end, just before the coronation of the King. It looks completely CG. Still, it is undoubtedly the best and most beautiful of the three movies.  

 

5 stars

August 20th to 21st, 2010 on DVD for the 8th time  
    The Return of the King is the one movie of this trilogy that seems to suffer most from the theatrical edition. Although the movie is still beautiful and majestic and wonderfully characterized, there is just so much missing. Several of the scenes appear to be different, too, though perhaps it's just the way they were cut, compared to the extended edition. One scene in particular is very much missing: the closure to the main face of the enemy, the orc with the knobby hand. We know that he must die, but in this version, we don't know that it is Aragorn who does it, just before he is about to kill Eowyn. Still, even if it feels rushed (at such a long running time, how can it feel rushed?), there is so much to like about this movie. I'll probably watch this edition again, because it is still beautiful and shows a sense of urgency in its hurry. On the other hand, I'll undoubtedly return to the extended edition more often, because it's just a better movie!  

 

5 stars

January 11th to 14th, 2009 on DVD for the 7th time  
    I seem to have stopped analyzing movies the way I did, but my impressions upon watching this movie for the seventh time was that it was extraordinarily beautiful. While there were so many beautiful things in the previous two movies, this one has breathtaking vistas that were truly delightful to watch. But it is Galadriel who I really noticed this time. The sparkle in her eyes gives her an impish quality, implying that she shares some big secrets with Frodo. This is especially given away at the end, when she boards the ship for the Undying Lands.  

 

5 stars

December 29th to 31st, 2007 on DVD for the 6th time (director's audio commentary)  
    The director and writers' audio commentary for this movie was somewhat lackluster. Most of what they said in the commentary was also mentioned in the special features, so I found myself asking where I had heard some of this information before.

One of the reasons I have watched with the commentary on is for explanations regarding what has changed compared with the book. The two major changes are the use of the wraith warriors and Frodo turning Sam away on the stairs of Cirith Ungol. In the first case, the explanation made perfect sense. In the book, the ghost army is used to defeat the corsairs. The rangers and Elrond's sons presented the force that defeated Sauron's army. That force would have been too complicated to use in the movie, with all the new character introductions and so on, so they didn't use them, which left Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli alone on the ships. So the ghost army made up for that. Obviously, storywise, they couldn't bring the army to Mordor, so Aragorn had to fulfill his promise and set them free. In the second case, I think the writers made their point that there was a loss of drama when Frodo and Sam enter Shelob's lair together. I'm not sure I agree, but I can see their point, and it's not bad dramatically.

I liked the way Peter Jackson acknowledged that Denethor's death couldn't make sense realistically in the extended cut of the movie, because he would have had to run all the way around the upper levels of Minas Tirith from the tombs, whereas not knowing their location in the theatrical cut, it makes more sense. But he has always wanted that scene, so ... Another choice was the lighting of the watchtowers. I agree with Jackson that it just makes for a stunning sequence when they are lit, and it doesn't damage the story any way that they were actually lit when Gandalf and Pippin were riding to Minas Tirith.

In the closing credits, they talk a lot about the young director who died of cancer while they struggled to write the closing song, something they did for a very long time in the special features. I didn't see the necessity of repeating it here. I liked the discussion, however, of the sketches of characters in the credits.

The director and writers went on a lot of tangents, and had trouble pulling themselves back at times. That, plus a lot of repetition, made this less enjoyable than the audio commentaries for the other two movies. Still, I gained some insights, and the background movie is still fantastic!

 

 

5 stars

November 4th to 5th, 2006 on DVD for the 5th time  
    I have been listening to the soundtrack for this movie a lot lately. It goes well with some fast-paced and somewhat repetitive computer work that I've had to do. So I was paying a lot of attention to the visuals that went with the music that I have virtually memorized. I wish I had a better TV/stereo set-up to better differentiate the music from the rest of the sound, but I managed to pick out some of my favorites, even when there was a lot of other sounds on-screen at the same time.

It has been more than a year and a half since I last watched that movie, which I find hard to believe! Of course, I have since read the book, which is (somehow) even better. I found myself thinking about what I wrote in my review of the book concerning the Scouring of the Shire. I felt that it didn't really belong. However, it is somewhat dissatisfying to see that the Shire-folk have no idea of what went on in the outside world, too, as depicted at the end of the movie. The sacrifice of so many is worth it if these people don't even realize that there is great fear in the world. But the book makes it satisfying in that the hobbits must also come of age by re-taking the Shire from Saruman. It is unfortunate that in the book, everything except the knowledge is negated by the end: all the damage is restored too quickly. Here, at least, there was no damage to restore- only that of two hobbit bodies.

 

 

5 stars

February 19th to 20th, 2005 on DVD for the 4th time  
    Familiarity breeds contentment... This is a terrific movie, and just about everything comes together wonderfully. Although I found myself eagerly anticipating only a few scenes (especially the lighting of the beacons and the ride of the Rohirrim), the rest of the movie was a steady character drama, while still being full of action, that I was still swept up in it, all of it.

I watched this movie again, because I finally finished watching all of the special features. It took me a long time to go through all of the third and fourth discs of this set, and not because they weren't good. With all the other stuff going on in life these days, I was only watching half an hour at a time!

Disc three contains by far the best material. The descriptions of Tolkien and how the writers modified the end of The Two Towers and all of The Return of the King into this movie were riveting to watch. I also disagreed with their opinion of the Mouth of Sauron. They think that because the audience knows that Frodo is alive, the scene where Aragorn and Gandalf are presented with the mithril armour has less impact, so they actually lessened its importance. It is the effect on the characters that we want to see, and thinking that Frodo was dead would make them fight even harder. I think it is an important scene, though I don't like the way they made it.

However, even better than that were the behind-the-scenes material about the designs and bigatures created for the movie. Minas Tirith was incredible, both in miniature and the live action set. The amount of work and pride the designers and builders put into those sets, even though some of them would never be seen, or only for a few brief seconds, leaves me in awe. I also loved seeing the scouting locations in New Zealand as Middle-earth, which was even better than similar features from the previous films.

However, the best feature of them all, from all the movies, I think, was Home of the Horse Lords. I watched this featurette, totally blown away, twice within one week. It's no wonder the actors and trainers fell in love with those magnificent horses. It's amazing what they were able to train them to do, and I was almost in tears listening to Viggo Mortensen tell of how he bought his horse, then bought a stallion for one of the trainers. But watching all those horses charge onto the field in the Ride of the Rohirrim was a highlight of even that amazing video, as was the camera-work that went into filming the pyre of Denethor with the horse. Truly amazing stuff.

As usual, I only flipped through the indices to the artwork galleries, not really interested in seeing every picture or sketch. Nothing stood out for me there, either.

Disc four was The Long Goodbye... While enjoyable, the featurettes meandered. The hour-long Cameras in Middle-earth felt like it was going to end several times throughout, but instead, it kept going. As the producers said they kept finding excuses to keep working on the movie, so too did the documentary-makers drag the feature out. Still, it was fun to watch them shoot behind-the-scenes material, and say their many, many goodbyes. The Weta Digital story also felt longer than it should have, not really adding much to the story of the film, except to repeat over and over how much work they had to do, and how they barely got it done by the deadline. These things were repeated in the Editorial and the music and soundscapes, and especially The End of All Things. They felt like repeats of material I'd already seen. However, I did like the reference in the music of the Lord of the Rings Symphony, which I saw when it passed through here. The Passing of an Age was the only feature from this disc where I felt that the whole thing was worth watching, beginning to end. It was short, however it showed all the things I was hoping it would show, from the premieres to the Oscars, and the Academy Award parties. I was so happy that they caught Peter Jackson on video thanking the fans from theonering.net, especially where he said that was the only real party he wanted to attend. Back in the visual effects section, I did enjoy a lot the deconstruction of the mumakil battle, showing the live action, computer graphics, sounds, and so on. It was pretty impressive. I also always love sound design, because it's something we are just beginning to explore. Watching a one-ton rock fall to the ground repeatedly was amazing.

There are also two Easter Eggs on the movie discs. On disc one, we see the very funny interview between the actors behind Merry and Frodo, where Dominic pretends to be a foreign interviewer. This was mentioned during the bonus material for The Two Towers, and it is well worth seeing here. The SNL-type of "pitch", on disc two, for a sequel movie to Peter Jackson was not as funny, but still brought a bit of a chuckle.

 

 

5 stars

December 14th to 15th, 2004 on DVD for the third time  
    Unlike the other extended editions of The Lord of the Rings, the material added to this material didn't significantly increase the quality of the movie. Mostly, the 50 minutes of added footage increased various scenes subtly, and even the new scenes usually added only subtle points here and there. However, most of these were character moments, which I greatly appreciated.

Thus there is more interaction between Aragorn and Eowyn, who is such a beauty that any added screen time is a bonus, and some emotional punch between Eowyn and Merry, where he expresses doubts about how useful he will be. I liked the simple scene of Merry offering his services to Theoden. Speaking of Eowyn, there is finally the scene where she meets Faramir, as was implied by the crowning of the King near the end of the theatrical version. Again, however, it is subtle, and doesn't add much more than continuity.

They have also introduced a minor subplot with the white tree of Gondor. After Pippin's vision of it dying from the Palantir, he gets to see it spout a single flower even in their darkest hour, and he watches in awe as it starts to snow petals; in the theatrical version, all we saw was the end result.

I liked the extension of the upper court of Minas Tirith, so that Pippin has to sneak around the main palace to find the tombs. But that makes Denethor's running leap seem a little strange, as he appears to run straight from the palace, not from the outcropping on the side where Pippin followed Faramir's procession.

There were a few scenes, however, that were new enough to add some visual impact, even if they still seemed a little superfluous.

The only scene that truly added depth to the movie was the death of Saruman, which was sorely lacking in the theatrical version. By necessity different from the novel, I think it had a similar spirit to the end of "The Scouring of the Shire", except that I would have liked to see Grima throw the Palantir down at the group in spite.

The overthrow of the ships of the Corsairs was cool, but not really necessary, and the exchange between Gandalf and the Witch-King was visually impressive, but also not required. I have trouble believing that the Nazgul are more powerful than the Istari, who are, after all, minor gods. Of course, the Istari couldn't conquer death, as shown by Saruman, the balrog, and Sauron, so I suppose the Nazgul, who returned from the dead, would have some tricks unknown to them...

Most impressive was the extended footage with (again) Eowyn on the Pelennor Fields. I think the whole sequence was re-edited, as well. I don't recall Eowyn battling the chief of the orcs, and it was really cool to see Aragorn behead the guy as he was about to attack her again. I could have sworn, too, that Legolas' killing of the oliphaunt, and the dead army swarming over another, took place on the docks of the river, not near the gates of Minas Tirith. If this was re-edited, with the backgrounds replaced, I think it was a good idea, as it gives everything a forward momentum and urgency.

Finally, the new scene with the Mouth of Sauron was really strange. Was that an orc? Very large teeth and no eyes make it a really weird character. I have been looking forward to this scene, because of the impact the Mithril coat has on Aragorn and Gandalf, but I was rather disappointed with it. Add to this the lack of body and horse as the group rides away from the opening of the gates, and this becomes a scene that I wish had been omitted.

However, the rest of the movie was spectacular, of course, and the subtly lengthened or added scenes do increase some of the resonant tones. Any added material is welcome to me, no matter how small or how subtle. I still can't get over the Ride of the Rohirrim, or the lighting of the mountain beacons, my two favorite scenes in the whole movie. Fortunately, there is a lot of character in this film, which most of the extended scenes added to.

I never noticed the sketches that underlay the closing credits before, and wonder if they are new for this edition. I particularly enjoyed the sketches of the characters accompanying their names, which were really well-done. Add to that the beautiful song "Into the West", and it is worth watching all by itself. As usual, I loved listening to the music from the "fan club credits", though it wasn't as exciting or beautiful as in the previous movies, and seemed a lot shorter.

However little and subtle the extended scenes seem, they are all worth seeing, and, as usual, the extended edition is well-worth owning.

 

 

5 stars

March 11th, 2004 in the Theatre for the second time  
    As usual with the best movies of the year, I have to see them twice to really absorb them. This movie trilogy is the best one in recent memory, and I think I could sit through it several times in the theatre. It deserved every Academy Award that it received.

Rereading my review below, I don't know how much more I can really add. The review captured all of my emotions through the movie; all I can do is repeat. I did note some of the best parts of the movie were missing from that review, however...

This was truly a beautiful movie, in every sense. The beginning showed some really amazing scenery and images. The scenes of the Rohirrim snaking out of the city, and later charging the orcs was incredible. Faramir's army also got a different but similar scene, snaking out of the city of Minas Tirith. It was utterly sad watching those soldiers leaving the city, knowing that they were going to their deaths.

Some of the most beautiful scenes in the entire movie come without dialog or characters at all, even though they are several minutes long! First was the approach to Minas Tirith by Gandalf and Pippin. The first real view of the city was breathtaking, but it was even more fantastic watch them ride up and up and up towards the upper levels of the city, through all of the gates! It's amazing that Pippin was able to get down there to Gandalf later in the movie! The other long scene is composed of giant signal fires being lit. I absolutely loved the way the director went from one to the next, all the way from Gondor to Rohan, without skipping even one! It was truly awesome, and didn't feel repetitive in any way.

The music helped, as always, especially in those beautiful shots. As usual, I was amazed by the soundtrack CD, though I feel that it's the weakest of the three. There are new themes, however, and the most impressive one is Minas Tirith, which sounds very royal and energetic. Fortunately, they preserved a lot of the music from the previous two movies. Unfortunately, as I've mentioned before, the soundtrack CDs are too short, not giving us more than a small taste of the grandeur from the movie.

It's interesting, and surprising, to note that none of the cast actually had a large part in the movie. Everybody gets something to do, but there are so many characters that they can't possibly all get enough screentime, yet they were all amazing, regardless.

Once again, I was impressed by Gollum, and the way he was able to switch between personalities. I especially enjoyed his sarcastic remarks to Sam: "that Hobbit is always so polite!" Ha!

Now, I can't wait until the extended cut of the DVD is released, and I hope the studios get the mess of The Hobbit copyrights sorted out so that Peter Jackson can put that one to film. If he could get Ian McKellen, Ian Holm and Andy Serkis back to play Gandalf, Bilbo and Gollum, that would be awesome. Of course Gimli's father and Legolas' father are in The Hobbit, so they could be part of it, too!

 

 

5 stars

December 22nd, 2003 in the Theatre  
   

Epic is truly the word to use for these movies, especially the last one. This is truly where the battle for Middle-Earth is waged. Is this movie, as everybody seems to say, better than The Fellowship of the Ring? I haven't decided yet.

The driving force behind Fellowship was character. The Two Towers had too much of the movie devoted to the huge battle at the end. This movie is a mixture of the two. A lot of it is pure battle, where most of that battle is rather impersonal. However, the movie is long enough to provide us with some amazing character work.

The advantage that Fellowship had was that it was the first. We had never seen anything remotely resembling this before. So we weren't surprised by how awesome The Two Towers looked and felt, and this movie is the same. Very little of it is new, though so much of it is vastly superior technically.

That is the key, I think. This movie is definitely superior in terms of visuals and effects, believe it or not. The cinematography is jaw-droppingly beautiful, more so than either of the previous films. The story, when it is not engaged in big battles, is very impressive, and perhaps the equal of Fellowship. I am just not quite sure.

The movie is quite faithful to the book that it is based upon. I was watching the various scenes, noting chapter by chapter what happened from the books. There was The Muster of Rohan, easily distinguishable from The Siege of Gondor, or the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. On the Frodo side, The Two Towers ends about halfway through the movie, but that's okay, because after the encounter with Shelob, all we really get is the two Hobbits marching over endless wasteland.

The movie opens with a flashback to Sméagol and Deagol finding the ring 500 years before, and the encounter that ends up with Sméagol in possession of the Ring. Fast forward to the present, and Gollum is leading the hobbits up the stairs to the pass of Cirith Ungol. The endless stairs were the first "wow" moment, especially when they start climbing them. Even more impressive is to see them halfway to the top, while far below, Mordor is still sending troops out, when the first troops left as they began their climb!

Shelob was every bit as exciting as she should have been. Frodo's flight through her lair was scary, but seeing her stalk him and finally stick him with her stinger, was amazing. It even caused several people in the audience to curse out loud!

Sam really dominates the movie in the journey to Mordor. He is Frodo's rock, and his loyalty and duty to Frodo makes you cheer and cry, especially after Gollum turns Frodo against him. His rescue of Frodo from the orcs was fun, as he snarls and scares some orcs himself. He also allows Frodo to make it across the plains to Mount Doom. The look on his face when Frodo loses the will to destroy the Ring is just haunting.

On the other side of the story, Merry and Pippin rejoin the rest of the Fellowship (Pippin's line "welcome to Isengard, under new management" is hilarious), and Pippin gets his hands on the Palantir, which of course gets him in trouble.

Once again we have three storylines in this movie, with Gandalf and Pippin riding to Minis Tirith, where we meet once again the very mad Denethor, who is doing nothing to prepare for the imminent war. I must say that Pippin looks rather dashing in the armour of the White Tree of Minis Tirith. Minis Tirith is incredibly beautiful, much more so than anything we've seen in these movies to date, which is saying a lot. Seeing the rocks pummel the city, breaking it down, was quite painful.

On the other hand, once Minis Tirith started shooting back, I loved the way their bricks landed with a thud, and were so heavy that they didn't even bounce! The orcs seemed rather uneasy with that...

The best scene in the entire movie, however, has to go to the rides of the Rohirrim. When they marched in a snaking line away from Edoras, it was an awe-inspiring sight. But watching them stampede towards and through the orcs laying siege to Minis Tirith was one of the most powerful moments in the entire trilogy. The Rohirrim didn't even have to use their swords. The horses were moving so fast that they simply trampled all orcs in their paths. It was so awesome to behold!

The tables were turned once the Mumakil (Oliphants) arrived, or course. Théoden's charge didn't make much sense, but I suppose in haste it was the best they could hope for. Still, the gigantic Mumakil trampled the horses the same way the horses trampled the orcs only moments before.

I have always loved Eowyn's moment of triumph against the Lord of the Nazgul, and this scene did not disappoint. That a slender woman could defeat this ghost might seem unlikely, but all she had to do was dodge his mace. Fortunately for her, Merry was able to sneak up behind him. Her line "I am no man" was delivered with the perfect amount of vehemence. I hope we get to see more of her healing (and of Merry's arm) in the extended DVD.

During the Siege of Gondor, I was completely awed by Gandalf's skill with both staff and sword -at the same time! This is the first time we see Gandalf in combat with others, and it was completely amazing!

Aragorn's ghost army was also very impressive. I wonder if we will get to see more of him taking over the Corsairs in the extended cut of the DVD, but I doubt it. The element of surprise to the audience is seeing Aragorn step off of the ships, when the orcs were expecting allies. Once again, Legolas gets to do some fancy work, leaping onto a Mumakil, dislodging its occupants, and killing it. I loved Gimli's line "that still only counts as one"! It might seem like a cheat to have the ghost army sweep onto the fields and into Minis Tirith, destroying everything in its path, but it was visually very impressive. Without that army, the good guys would never have stood a chance, whether or not Frodo destroyed the Ring.

This brings me to Denethor, the only part that I think is a weakness in the movie. Not having re-read this part of the book, I only have flashes of memory as to what happened there. Still, the movie didn't show adequately why Denethor went insane. I expect to see him looking into the Palantir in the extended DVD, which would explain why he wanted to take Osgiliath from the orcs, at any cost, and why he felt like there was no hope at all. Pippin's selfless act to rescue Faramir from the pyre was amazing, but I was less enthusiastic about Denethor's jump from the pinnacle of Minis Tirith. I could have sworn that he died in the pyre with the Palantir on his breast.

The other thing that I am not fond of in this movie, but I will have to see it again to be sure, was the image of the Eye of Sauron as a searchlight. It was quite amusing when we first saw it, but it got better as the movie went on, especially when it almost spied Frodo, and later when its attention was diverted to Aragorn at the Black Gate.

The sight of the tiny remnants of Gondor being encircled by the massive army of orcs showed how desperate Aragorn was. I don't know how much time he thought he could buy Frodo, but it turned out that it was enough! As Gollum wrestled with Frodo and finally fell into the pool of lava (still overjoyed at having won his precious away, not realizing that he was even dying), Aragorn and his company charge the orcs, probably doing very little damage.

I really thought Sauron's eye should have disappeared before the tower fell, because it looked too panicked and silly at that point, and it survived far too long after the Ring was destroyed. The ground shattering beneath the orcs but not the company of the White Tree looked kind of silly, as well.

The ending of the movie is quite long and rather disjointed, and I wonder if it wouldn't have been better to end it with the crowning of Aragorn and the appearance of Arwen. The rest could have been added to the DVD, like in The Two Towers. I liked the completeness of the ending, but wonder if it could have been done with more smoothness.

One part that I did like about the scenes that ended the movie was Sam's courage. Sure, he confronted dozens and more orcs, but that's nothing compared to asking a woman to marry you! But he figured that would be the next challenge, and was rewarded with Rosie taking his hand, and having (at least) two children with him.

There was so much going on in this movie, and almost every part of it was amazing. As I said with The Two Towers, I wonder how much better this movie will get with the Extended Edition on DVD! Still, the effects, the cinematography, and the story were amazing. This is a terrific movie, one that I will see over again and again and again! There is just too much to take in during one viewing, and I don't mind the repeat viewings that it will take to absorb it all!

 
   

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