The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

It begins with a murder, after which everything slips into neutral for two hours until The Big Battle. The ones to watch are Gandalf, naturally, Pippin, surprisingly, Sam - Sam who? - and the star of Tolkien Mark II, Gollum

The effects, as has been demonstrated in earlier incarnations, are breathtaking. Some might say, if you've seen one dragon, ridden by an orc, you've seen 'em all. Well, what about the trolls? And the mammoths?

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The Return Of The King is too long and slow. It has about five endings. Just when you think it's over, along comes another. They're all weepy and manipulative.

There are two basic strands to the story. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are making their way into the heart of Mordor, so that Frodo can hurl Bilbo's ring into the liquid lava of Mount Doom. When this happens the power of The Evil One will be diminished forever. Trouble is, they have to slip past about a million orcs, all of whom make Saddam Hussein look like a lady's maid. Orcs have bad teeth, terrible skin, appalling table manners and cannibalistic instincts.

Gollum, whose human name was Smeagol, is leading the Hobbits, because he knows secret routes through Orcsville, but, being the creature that he is, his real intention is to get rid of Fatty (Sam) and entice Frodo into a giant spider's lair, where he can steal the ring. He has the best lines in the movie and is probably the most fun character, if your sense of humour is on the dark side. Frodo seems even more out of it than the last time and if it wasn't for Sam, he'd have been dead at least four times.

Meanwhile, the armies of Middle Earth are preparing for The Big Battle, except in Gondor, the first to be attacked, the king has become a manic depressive since his favourite son was killed (Sean Bean from Mark I) and thinks the world is doomed anyway, so what's the point. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) puts him right about that.

The problem is simple. The good guys are outnumbered and don't have dragons, trolls and mammoths. It's looking like a charge of the light brigade situation until Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) rushes off into the mountains and persuades the ghosts who live there to come and fight on their side. No, this isn't Pirates Of The Caribbean 2, although it's pretty silly.

Aragorn, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the little guy (John Rhys-Davies) stand about a lot. They were right at the centre of Mark II, but not anymore. Saruman (Christopher Lee), the wondrous white wizard, who went over to the wrong side when it looked like orc power was in the ascendance, doesn't even get a walk-on. The beautiful Arwen (Liv Tyler) has nothing to do but look sad and ill, until the end when she perks up a bit. There are moments when you thank a higher power for giving Pippin (Billy Boyd) a starring role. He's a breath of fresh amongst these serious warrior types who stare into the middle distance and speak v e r y s l o w l y.

After the wonder of The Fellowship and the astonishment of The Two Towers, the final instalment has moments when the flesh at the back of your neck creeps and others when the magic of CGI leaves your brain dancing, but too often the story hangs fire and you wait for the blood to race.

Mortensen and Bloom and all the women are kept on the substitutes bench for too long and even The Big Battle looks like a rerun of The Little Battle in Mark II. The Hobbits come into their own, which is good, and New Zealand has never looked so alluring.

The journey ends, the adventure closes, the king is crowned. It has been, all said and done, a magnificent achievement.

Arise, Sir Peter.

Reviewed on: 11 Dec 2003
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Final part of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth trilogy.
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Scott Macdonald *****

Director: Peter Jackson

Writer: Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, based on the novel by J.R.Tolkien

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Billy Boyd, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Bernard Hill, Dominic Monaghan, Miranda Otto, John Rhys-Davies, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm

Year: 2003

Runtime: 201 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US/New Zealand

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