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.
At over three hours, there are almost inevitably some lulls, and the film still feels as if some key scenes are missing: a problem doubtless to be rectified in the extended DVD edition. But the end, when it does finally arrive--set to Howard Shore's Wagnerian music score--brings us full circle, leaving the departing audience to wonder if they will ever find within themselves even a fraction of the courage of a hobbit. --Mark Walker
With the legions of darkness gathering, the once great kingdom of Gondor has never been in more desperate need of its king. But can Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) answer the call of his heritage and become what he was born to be? Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) urgently tries to rally Gondors broken army to action. He is aided by Rohans King Theoden (Bernard Hill), who unites his warriors for historys biggest test. Yet even with their courage and passionate loyalty, the forces of men with Eowyn (Miranda Otto) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) hidden among them are no match for the enemies swarming against Gondor. Still, in the face of great losses, they charge forward into the battle of their lifetimes, tied together by their singular goal to keep Sauron distracted and give the Ring Bearer a chance to complete his quest.
Their hopes rest with Frodo (Elijah Wood), a determined hobbit making a perilous trip across treacherous enemy lands to cast the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. The closer Frodo gets to his final destination, the heavier his burden becomes and the more he must rely on his old friend Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin). But both the Ring itself and Frodos guide, the piteous former Ring Bearer, Gollum (Andy Serkis), will test the hobbits allegiances and ultimately, his humanity.