Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, John Rhys-Davies, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Bernard Hill, David Wenham, John Noble, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, Brad Dourif, Ian Holm, Bruce Spence
Synopsis: The final instalment, and our heroes each have great challenges to face. Pippin, after being unable to resist the temptation of gazing into a Palantir, and hence being identified by Sauron as the ring-bearer, departs with Gandalf for Gondor, where he meets the somewhat unbalanced Steward of Gondor, Denethor. Merry remains with the Rohirrim, and volunteers to become a knight of Rohan. Legolas and Gimli stand by Aragorn as he accepts the burden of his heritage, and Gollum seeds doubt in the friendship between Frodo and Sam.
Of the entire trilogy, this is my favourite film, and has been since the first viewing. The Extended Edition added footage stretches the running time out to a full 4 hours, and for me these additions are overall improvements to the story, even if they were deemed extraneous for the theatrical presentation. All the elements that worked so well for the first two films are present and correct, with the added characters, as well as the city of Gondor itself, all adding fresh scope and depth to the established world.
All performers are brilliant yet again. Wood has come full circle with Frodo, becoming almost unrecognisable as the innocent young hobbit who left the shire in Fellowship. He successfully captures the damage the ring has done to him psychologically. Wenham’s Faramir, who had limited time to shine in Towers, is here given a full history, motivation, and Wenham somehow succeeds in making him simultaneously vulnerable, yet noble. John Noble, as his father Denethor, has a brilliant arc that begins as clearly becoming deranged under a noble exterior, before finally snapping. What makes this performance all the more powerful is the juxtaposition of this character with Theoden, whom is apparently of less noble birth, yet clearly of more noble character, despite being unable to see it himself. This is further highlighted from the start of the extended edition, as evidenced by the insults that Saruman hurls at Theoden. As I said, a scene not necessary for the theatrical release, yet it adds depth to the overall proceedings when viewed this way. All the other leads of course perform their roles well, but for this film these are the performances of note as being a step away from what has been seen previously.
In my reviews for the previous films, I have selected some element of what makes these films great, and reflected upon it, despite these elements being true for all the films regardless. I do not break from the formula here, selecting to examine how the use of scenery and music has aided the story telling. I select this film to reflect on these elements as one scene aptly depicts for me both of these elements wonderfully. It is perhaps my favourite scene in the trilogy, despite the fact it represents a comparatively minor plot point. The scene I refer to is the Lighting of the Beacons. All that happens in the scene is we observe Gondor’s call to Rohan for aid, a message sent by lighting a number of pyres along a range of mountains to indicate aid is required. The natural beauty of New Zealand’s Southern Alps is captured wonderfully here, and when combined with Howard Shore’s score, I often find my fist pumping in the air and my heart soaring. Jackson was able to capture the essence of Middle Earth with the locations he selected in his home country. It is a true land of beauty, with many different landscapes to choose from. Having been there myself now, these films only capture a fraction of that beauty.
In his score also, Howard Shore created themes for each race, and for each realm examined. The hobbits have a wonderfully whimsical theme, the elves are much more regal and austere, in Rohan we here violins and tones that just scream cavalry, Mordor’s sounds are all grating and harsh, and Gondor is rich and bombastic. And all these elements still add to a cohesive whole. My copies of the soundtracks are now well-worn (I played them all in the car in NZ, Bride of Film Nerd will Kill me when she next hear’s Annie Lennox’s end titles tune from Return), and I still cannot get enough. The soundtrack for Return is my clear favourite, with the Lighting of the Beacons, the theme for Aragorn’s sword Anduril, and the aforementioned end credits song.
Some say the films impact was diminished by the multiple endings. My only complaint personally was in the first viewing, I thought the film was over, my bladder got that signal, so for the next 20 minutes I was in some deal of pain. Prepared for it now though, I cannot see how the film could have been completed without the multiple endings. There are many threads to this story, and they all deserved a conclusion. Okay sure, the story line from the end of the novels, The Scouring of the Shire, was absent, but given what these films achieved, it is an element of creative license I am willing to forgive.
As I hope you all forgive me for the following rating….
10 stars (out of 5)