The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Some stories are so grand in scope that they cannot be confined to a single film. With Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy Peter Jackson had the correct approach. He fought to find a studio that would make the unprecedented decision to finance the simultaneous production of all three films. As demonstrated by the 2003 Academy Awards, sweeping all eleven Oscars for which it was nominated; The Return of the King is a fitting capstone for the grandest epic ever to grace the silver screen. By now most sentient beings in the universe are familiar with the story. Frodo (Elijah Wood) struggles to carry the One Ring to the only place it can be destroyed, Mount Doom in the dreaded Mordor. Aided by the truest friend ever imaginable, Samwise (Sean Austin) and the always duplicitous Gollum (Andy Serkis) they forge their way to the culmination of their purpose. While this is going on the forces of good, lead by Galdalf the Wizard (Ian McKellen) and the true king of mankind Aragon (Viggo Mortensen) are enjoined in battle by the evil creatures of Sauron. Even though the plethora of sub plots the audience has been given time throughout the trilogy to get to know the motivation that drives the enormous battle sequences.
One thing that sets this film and this trilogy apart from not only other trilogies but almost every other film is the way amazing action is blended with the most intimate of scenes. There is true emotion in this film that draws in the audience, makes you care about their fate as if it was your own. Considering how the movie going public reacts this movie would have earned big based just on the action. The seamless integration of computer generated graphics and live action creates a battle of 200,000 evil beings charging, elephantine creatures carrying great machines of war and the small heroes clinging to survive. Infuse into this actual dialogue and real acting and you can see why this film is in the rare club of Oscar sweeps. One scene that even brought my 19 year old daughter to tears (those knowing her will attest that this is significant) is when the king commands the people of Middle Earth to bow before the little hobbits. This film is not only full of action that will keep you on the edge of your seat it has moments like this that will play every emotion a human being possesses. This film was not made it was crafted, honed and perfected. Sure, some may talk about too many endings or some over the top dialogue but considering the end product this can be forgiven. The three films have a synergy, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
This is the best possible cast for an epic such as this. While many of the names where not familiar three years ago they are now known world wide and for good reason. Viggo Mortensen reflects the overall feeling of the film. He can hold up as an action star swinging his sword and killing evil creatures. His ability to switch almost instantly to a wise, emotional mature man is incredible to watch. Here is an actor that can succeed in action and as a romantic lead. Sean Austin as Sam does what he did so well in the first two films. He presents Sam as the epitome of friendship. When regarding the Ring Sam states softly "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you" there is not a dry eye in the house. There is even a strong role model for young women. Miranda Otto’s portrayal of Eowyn shows a strength and depth of character and fortitude usually reserved only for male leads. Like the men around her she can fight without sacrificing her humanity. Even CGI characters like Gollum are afforded an opportunity to grow and develop.
This trilogy has taken director Peter Jackson from a well regarded creator of well received little films to one of the most influential directors in history. He can take his place with Spielberg, Coppola and Wells having earned his right to be in such company. You have to admire a man not only with a vision but the drive to see it through. Demanding all three films be made at the same time was risky, many studios outright refused. (I guess they are sorry now.) This provided the films with an unheard of continuity. It also permitted the cast and crew to form real relationships together off screen that carried over to the finished work. Jackson has also brought the use of computer generated scenes out of its infancy. While many films have used CGI here it is not the reason for the film but rather the means to accomplish the telling of the story. Jackson never sacrifices the emotional impact for a joy ride of special effects, his commitment is always to bringing the time honored novels to the screen as they deserve.
Not only does this film create a new touchstone for how to make a movie the DVD shows other studios how a disc should be created. The Dolby EX audio is mind bending, during the battle scenes you are placed in the middle of the action. The audio is then able to maintain crystal clarity for the all important expository dialogue. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video permits you to see every little detail of each scene. With such technical specifications many studios would be happy with a bare bones release. New Line goes above and beyond with a set of interesting extras. They even include ‘National Geographic Special - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’, Featurettes detail almost every aspect of production and go in depth with character analysis for Aragon, Samwise and Eowyn. I greatly enjoyed the featurette The Quest Fulfilled: A Director's Vision, relating just what Jackson went through to get this film to the public. We all know that there will be an extended version like the previous films but we can look forward to its release for even more Rings. While other studios artificially create special editions New Line and Jackson respect the audience that pays them and gives the best possible value. This is a film that will stand the test of time and deserves an honored place in every collection.