On Second Thought: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

The conclusion to any film franchise, be it a short one or a long one is of the utmost importance. It’s the final film, which has been worked up to for years, and with which fans will judge the entire series by. Screw it up, even in the tiniest of ways, and you may as well call the series a wasted effort. Getting it right may be the goal, but going above and beyond to deliver the best possible finale ever, will not only suffice, but it will make the franchise even more memorable and meaningful.

The New Line Cinema film “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”,is still one soaring and beautiful conclusion that brings this epic film franchise to a close, and in the best possible way.

This fantasy adventure film stars Elijah Wood (“Over the Garden Wall”, “Wilfred”), Ian McKellan (“The Hobbit” trilogy, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”), Liv Tyler (“The Ledge”, “Super”), Viggo Mortensen (“Everybody Has a Plan”, “On the Road”), Sean Astin (“Bunnicula”, “The Strain”), Cate Blanchett (“How to Train Your Dragon 2”, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”), John Rhys-Davies (“The Adventures of Puss in Boots, “Harvey Beaks”), Bernard Hill (“The Breaker”, “From There to Here”), Billy Boyd (“Space Milkshake”,, “The Forger”), Dominic Monaghan (“Childrens Hospital”, “The Millionaire Tour”), Orlando Bloom (“Zulu”, “The Good Doctor”), Hugo Weaving (“Healing”, “The Mule”), Miranda Otto (“Rake (US TV series”, “The Homesman”), David Wenham (“Blinky Bill the Movie”, “Banished”), Karl Urban (“Pete’s Dragon (2016)”, “Star Trek Beyond”), John Noble (“Elementary”, “Forever”), Andy Serkis (“Arthur Christmas”, “The Adventures of Tintin”), Ian Holm (“Ratatouille”, “The Treatment”), and Sean Bean (“Legends”, “The Martian”).

The film was directed by Peter Jackson (“Heavenly Creatures”, “Dead Alive”) and written by Fran Walsh (“The Frighteners”, “Beautiful Creatures”), Philippa Boyens, and Jackson (“The Frightener”, “Heavenly Creatures). It is based on the novel “The Return of the King” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The film originally opened on Dec. 17, 2003. It would go on to be nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning 11; four Golden Globe Awards, winning four; and one Screen Actors Guild Award, winning one among numerous wins and nominations.

All things must come to an end. Like this film series did once before, so it again concludes with this first rate film, that all other fantasy film’s wish they could be. It’s been an interesting last three days, and while I’m glad to be moving on soon, although not completely (you’ll see) it’s a bit of a sad time too. I’ve enjoyed my time watching these films. I went on such a fantastical and exhilarating and emotional ride, that after it ended, I didn’t want it to end. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Hopefully through this lengthy write-up I can come to terms with the fact that it will be some time before I return to Middle Earth.

How to properly close out this trilogy of well made films? This is proving tougher and tougher by the minute, of which I’m now with even fewer than I had before I started writing this sentence. There’s so much to cover, how do you choose which things are more important and can accurately convey what this film is like?

By knowing that some things, while utilized in bigger ways, never ceased being amazing in the previous two films, and thus don’t need to be extensively talked about. I’m of course referring to all the New Zealand scenery, of which there was still plenty to love seeing, the impeccable costumes, highly detailed props (swords, shields, armor, etc.), the various sets and set designs, among so many other elements that were absolutely instrumental in making this film series work. So many films can get away with simply having good costumes and sets, but in the case of this franchise, if these things weren’t of such high quality, I’m not sure what the effect would’ve been. Somehow it would’ve been less as impactful and any given audience member’s ability to be immersed in Middle Earth, wouldn’t have been as easy. I will forever be thankful for all those who worked on this film. The overall experience I had here, even though it’s not the first but feels like it is, is not one I’m likely to forget.

I somehow must admit, that while these films have always had a big focus on its characters, and only deepened your love of them with the previous film, something that itself is difficult for even sequels to accomplish, let alone standalone films, this film drove home every aspect of character one could want from a film. This film, is by far the most emotionally rewarding of the three, and it also manages to further your love of these characters and their struggles as well, which ultimately aides the film’s overall plot. It’s more or less how I’ve come to the realization that Otto’s character, while seemingly not as well remembered when you talk all things “Lord of the Rings”, is a truly standout character. Basically being the sole female character in this film makes it even easier for her to be. She’s pretty damn well realized and by the time she stabs the Witch King of Angmar in the face, she’s earned her title of total badass!

Anyway, to get back to it. All of this is another aspect that is tricky for most films to accomplish. I honestly wasn’t aware of how much I’d be affected emotionally, which only added a new layer of involvement for me. Taking in the epic and lengthy battles, plus all things visual was only part of it.

What was even more surprising, than these deep character moments, which by the end of the film had me almost making an ugly cry face, was how organically they fit in between all the battles. How they all helped to drive the plot forward bit by bit, to the larger areas of the story, and never feel forced or tiresome. Like with the previous film, more so than the first film although quite similarly, I guess, is that these character moments, no matter how long or dramatic, make this film the longest, but in a good way. It’s not every day that you can get a film that’s so engrossing, so entertaining, that length doesn’t matter. There have been so many lengthy and/or slow burn films, but they suffer from feeling just like that. This one, as has been the case this whole time, doesn’t feel overly long. I was certainly, and thankfully as well, less distracted for this film, which perhaps it’s because I wanted to feel the full epic effect of this final film.

Whatever it was, up until the epilogue of this film, the last 30 minutes, I never felt like I’d been sitting too long. I never felt tired, bored, or otherwise. This, in turn, allowed me to absorb every bit of character development. Every joyous, sad, slightly funny, etc. moment in this three hour plus film. When you think about the emotional range this film achieves, it really is on hell of a rollercoaster ride. It never lets up, not even when the end credits start rolling.

Emotional depth and deep character growth wasn’t the only thing that grew, but the incredible and lengthy battles, as well as the various uses of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), which played a major role in bringing just about every aspect of these battles to life. I should say too, as I forgot to mention it above, but the cinematography continued to play many key parts in this film. Jackson and company never stopped aiming for grand, and for that, we will all be forever thankful.

First up, the many creatures of Middle Earth that once again showed up to fight for Sauron. There were the Oliphaunts, the winged beasts the Nazgul were flying on, that four legged creature I saw but vanished quite quickly, plus other trolls and no doubt the majority of the Orc army seen in the massive Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Because the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was so long, with excellent breaks to give you time to rest from all the excitement and visual stimulation, you got to spend a lot of time up close and personal with some of these creatures. Because of this, the detail was on full display! Nothing was truly ever off, and they hold up so well 13 years later! You also got to see the grand scale this war was being fought on. So much was at stake. What amazes me most about these creatures and the lengthy battles they’re part of, is how well they’re used. Death and chaos is everywhere! People and horses, and it’s all executed so well. Talk about being there. It’s nonstop!

For the good guys, we’ve got the army of dead people, which is just as massive as the Orc army, the Eagles, and before I forget Shelob! Even though she’s not in the fights, she has a fight of her own, which was just as exciting, not to mention creepy and scary, as the grand scale battles. It all comes down to detail. For effects heavy films, even this one and it’s predecessors, I was on the look out for anything that looked off. Nothing did, or certainly for very long. This allowed for continuous immersion and an actual feeling that there were real stakes. Anything could happen to anyone, and it would be permanent.

The battles, of which I counted at least four total, really do take up most of the film. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields is by far the longest, and if kept as one long sequence, like that one episode from the most recent season of “Game of Thrones”, I’m sure filmgoers would’ve had a tough time. I didn’t keep track but even with going back and forth, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields did seem like a 40 minute event. It could’ve been longer. The point, even with the two fights at Osgiliath, and the final one at the Black Gates, you didn’t spend much time not in combat. However, like with the emotional character moments, which once more ground and, more or less, give you the other half of the film, these lengthy sequences are welcome. They’re needed. They’re the reason, in part, why Jackson and company aimed as high as they did. They knew they couldn’t do this complex and dramatic story justice without going longer than most feature length films. For once, which is just as rare as an over three hour theatrical film, I’m glad it was so long. Anything less, and this film would’ve just been an okay big budget film. Nothing at all memorable.

How does one describe the beautiful score that Howard Shore (upcoming “Denial”, “Spotlight”) created? This is one reason why I saved it for now. I’ve been listening to the score just about nonstop, and of course intently when it was in each of the films, all in a hope that I’d have some idea as to how to talk about it. I’ve certainly fallen in love with it more than I’d previously thought I could. It may even rival some of the work that John Williams has done. Certainly his work in the first three “Harry Potter” films. Seeing as I’m running out of time, I’m just going to do my best.

It covers so many aspects, and works wonderfully. Fantasy, action, suspense, and then some. Plus, as score is supposed to help heighten various aspects of drama and emotion, it does that too. Depending on which film and where in the film, you’d get different themes going. When first visiting the Shire for instance, that bit of score is more playful. It’s whimsical and captures the beauty and simplicity of the lives of hobbits. Compare that to something like visiting Rivendell, in any of the films or even Lothlorien, and you’ve got a majestic bit of score that truly captures this film’s fantastical elements. And, another big one, obviously, are the battles. The battles directly influenced the kind of score needed to sell the stakes and drama. One instance in this film I love, possibly the most, is when Gandalf and Pippin are riding out to meet Faramir and his army after conceding Osgiliath to the Orcs. Couple that bit of score with the magnificent way Jackson shot it, and the fact that Gandalf has his staff light up brightly, and you’ve got one incredibly beautiful and moving sequence. It may not have lasted long, but it certainly showcases the various creative forces needed to bring this film’s epic story to life.

Score, in so many ways, continues to amaze me. The work able to be created, through the use of various instruments, plays as big a role as costumes, sets, and visual effects, but can sometimes be overlooked as nothing more than noise. In this case, which really seems to be a recurring theme when you think about it, if it weren’t for this film’s score, this film wouldn’t be what it is. This film wouldn’t have yet another iconic aspect to think fondly of.

Getting the finale of any franchise correct is a tough task for any creative team. Expectations are high, especially if the preceding films have blown audiences away. Sometimes even, it’s through the sheer focus on characters and the way they turned out that gets people excited. If it’s a book adaptation as well, the stakes may go up a bit. Some people are so stuck in their ways, it’s almost impossible to please them. However, and I think this film series proves it, deveating from the source material may be for the better. It certainly allows for an incredibly talented creative team to come in and show what a fantasy land, so full and complex, can look like on the big screen.

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