Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, triumphantly completed by the 11-Oscar-winning The Return of the King, sets out to show that Tolkien's epic work, once derided as mere adolescent escapism, is not just fodder for the best mass entertainment spectacle ever seen on the big screen, but is also replete with emotionally satisfying meditations on the human condition. What is the nature of true friendship? What constitutes real courage? Why is it important for us to care about people living beyond our borders? What does it mean to live in harmony with the environment and what are the consequences when we do not? When is war justifiable and when is it not? What things are really worth fighting for? These are the questions that resonate with a contemporary audience: to see our current social and political concerns mirrored--and here finally resolved--in Middle-earth is to recognise that Jackson's Lord of the Rings is both a parable for our times and magical cinematic escapism.
As before, in this concluding part of the trilogy the spectacle never dwarfs (sic) the characters, even during Shelob the spider's pitiless assault, for example, or the unparalleled Battle of the Pelennor Fields, where the white towers of Minas Tirith come under ferocious attack from Troll-powered siege weapons and--in a sequence reminiscent of the Imperial Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back--Mammoth-like Mumakil. The people and their feelings always remain in focus, as emphasised by Jackson's sensitive small touches: Gandalf reassuring a terrified Pippin in the midst of battle that death is not to be feared; Frodo's blazing anger at Sam's apparent betrayal; Faramir's desire to win the approval of his megalomaniac father; Gollum's tragic cupidity and his final, heartbreaking glee. And at the very epicentre of the film is the pure heart of Samwise Gamgee--the real hero of the story.