A review of “The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ****

Rating: PG-13 for aggressive intensity and violence

Run Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes



As the battle for Middle Earth ensues, the question remains: Is there good in the world worth fighting for? 

Welcome back to the province of Hobbits and Orcs, to the kingdoms of Rohan, Gondor and Mordor, and the mystical power of a circlet of gold. Peter Jackson has crafted a virtual masterpiece to finalize his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a no-apologies epic saturated with stirring sentiment and vigorous passion.

The will of The Ring continues to grow strong, as men and elves alike are swiftly seduced by its power.  While Frodo and Sam (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) and their creepily conniving escort Gollum (Andy Serkis) continue their strenuous journey to the black gate of Mordor’s volcanic Mount Doom, a sleepless malice settles over the kingdoms of Rohan and Gondor.

Events are in motion that cannot be undone. The Age of Men appears to be over, replaced by a time of the villainous Orcs, ten thousand of whom stand between the Fellowship and the ultimate destruction of The Ring. 

Under the urgent auspices of the great wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the broken forces of Gondor reluctantly join forces with King Théoden (Bernard Hill) and his Rohan warriors to battle and destroy the evil Dark Lord Sauron and his malignant battalions.

In light of the deepening darkness a handful of valiant heroes must take their place in the annals of historical fantasy. Stalwart dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and the swift-shooting elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) advance undeterred by terror and bloodshed. The prudent yet powerful Aragorn (Viggo be-still-my-heart Mortensen), heretofore living life ambivalent to his heritage, must accept his royal fate as heir to the throne of Gondor and confront his destiny post-haste by ushering in an era of the dominion of men.

The ferocious Battle of Pelennor Fields eclipses The Two Towers Battle of Helms Deep both in loss and sensation.  The unflinching determination of its participants is a palpable reminder of the fearful desperation that has settled over an entire fantasy universe.

Only a lengthy film essay could wholly quantify the magnificence of this powerful classic.  Highlights are gloriously unrelenting, from rousing images of Aragorn leading the ethereal CG-enhanced Army of the Dead into battle, to halfling Pippin’s (Billy Boyd) startling encounter with the transparent fireball and the fiercely independent Éowyn (Miranda Otto) wielding her mighty sword at a horrific winged serpent and his Ringwraith rider.  Moral warfare in the guise of an embittered father/black-sheep son conflict flows blackly beneath the deliberately dark proceedings.

Our champions perform with enormous conviction, in particular the devastatingly virile Mortensen whose valor is the primary character focus.  Astin’s Sam is the emotional core of the film, his pathos and fidelity sheer grace under fire.

Production design is a thing of beauty.  The City of Kings is a stunning conception of royal supremacy, while the sweeping vistas of an unsullied land speak to the innocence of bygone years.  Startlingly painted Haradrim warriors riding atop massively-tusked elephantine Mumakil usher in a prehistoric rawness.

The rumors regarding the three-hankie experience are true – I was moved to tears a handful of times; faced with the overpowering emotional scope, the savage loyalty of Sam Gamgee to his master Frodo, and steadfast bravery in the face of doom. 

Jackson’s exclamation point to his ambitious cinematic trilogy is beyond reproach, an immense achievement founded on the enduring themes of loyalty, destiny, and hope.  At once intimate and substantial, Return of the King is that thrilling brand of cinema that manages to entertain on a grand scale while fluidly capturing the small personal moments that make up the crux of the narrative.

Bravo, Mr. Jackson.  Bring on the Oscars.