Overview: The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to an emotionally gratifying conclusion. New Line Cinema; 2003; Rated PG-13; 201 minutes.
The End of All Things: The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the great cinematic accomplishments. As a collective society, I’m not sure we deserve movies this good. But given the state of the world we live in, we need them. The series takes some heavy flack for extended run time and the presumption that the film revolves around people walking with no greater purpose. You can strip down any movie to a simple action the characters do, but that voids any importance of any concurrent themes the movie wishes to explore. The trilogy revolves around loyalty, friendship, good versus evil, and, ultimately, our time on earth and how we spend living it. Granted, Middle-Earth is not our Earth, but the connection is still there.
Perhaps that’s why the series continues to resonate with audiences because of themes that cross over into our world. It’s not just a work of high quality fantasy; it tells stories of different races coming together for a common good. Aragorn and the men of Middle-Earth embody both the shortcomings and their potential for greatness. Those themes function wonderfully on their own but have the luxury of being amplified with the focus on “even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” At times, the film verges on over-sentimentality but never strays too far into unwelcome territory. An unwavering approach to thesis is more important than any minor criticisms some may have for an epic such as this.
A big criticism for the film is that it has multiple endings. This is true but the various climaxes are actually warranted. When you have a movie with such a wide array of characters – many of whom we deeply care for – and a handful of battle scenes that can only be described as truly epic, the story deserves ending after ending. If any of the endings were simply repeating information established earlier on, the complaints would have more weight to them. But just like every other scene in the film, there is a narrative propulsion, an evolution of character that makes every farewell all the more meaningful.
Just because the last act of the movie is entirely devoted to goodbyes, doesn’t mean we don’t get to see our heroes partake in the gargantuan battles the series is known for. The Battle of Minas Tirith, the ride to Pelennor Fields, the distraction at the Black Gate all astound with director Peter Jackson’s knowledge of scope. While I don’t think there would be a large scale battle sequence on par technically with anything The Battle of Helm’s Deep has to offer at the end of Two Towers, each one of the battles is bigger on an emotional level – especially the battle at the gates of Mordor. These battles are humanity’s last ditch efforts to keep from falling into eternal darkness. All these battles come to a triumphant end for our heroes (You’ve seen these movies by now) but there’s an attention to the aftermath of war that is heart-wrenching. Tolkien’s source-material was heavily influenced by the battles of World War I, and it shows here. War is not beautiful. It’s cruel and takes away the things we care about. The world may not be a perfect place. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth fighting for. As a great man once said “Not as long as we hold true to each other.”Accompanied by sweeping visuals and rousing speeches, these movie moments are the reason we watch fantasy epics.
Unlike the Hobbit films, there is an abundance of CGI sprinkled into the world of Middle-Earth, but it’s used sparingly to illustrate fantasy elements on top of the already in-depth sets and makeup designs. The orcs are only computer generated when they’re being filmed across the fields of Gondor. Hundreds upon hundreds of extras were used to fill the screen with as much authenticity as possible. So when CGI becomes necessary to capture 50,000+ soldiers fighting to the death, the imagery is still grounded with enough organic texture to feel real. The bar was raised to astounding heights so even Peter Jackson was unable to replicate his success from this film.
There And Back Again: Subject matter in a movie is just as important as the way in which it’s contextualized on the screen. Return of the King is the best type of fantasy. It’s a warm embrace of loyalty and friendship, never forgetting to openly let the audience soak in a fictional world unlike any other. It went on to win every Oscar it was nominated for, and it deserved every damn one of them.