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December 17, 2003
Review: The Return of the King

For those who have not read the books, this review may contain spoilers; read at your caution.

After taking the day off from work, and from blogging for the most part, I went to the first showing (in daylight hours) of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Peter Jackson's final installment of the trilogy. And all I can say is ...

Brilliant. Brilliant. And brilliant.

Jackson moves at three speeds interchangeably throughout the movie: slow and pensive, normal and tense, and breackneck action. Tolkien's books are full of action -- enormous battles, hand-to-hand combat, desperate rides at great speed ... and you could probably make a two-hour movie of the last book if you just concentrated on that, and never would have to worry about pacing at all. But LotR is more than just a book about war; it's about philosophy, about fear, about love, about friendship, and about finding courage and hope amongst the least of us. Instead of a great action movie, Jackson gives us a true epic by staying as true as possible to the source material.

He blends these different paces in such a way that they seem natural, building through each of the stages in order and back the same way, or so it appeared to me. Even at 3 hours, 20 minutes, the film maintained an incredible sense of tension. Towards the end, I shook in my seat from the constant thrill of it, even though I have read the books a number of times and knew the results. The humor did not go over the top as it did once or twice in the second movie; it was a more natural tension-breaker.

The sheer spectacle of the battle scenes stole my breath, and in these Jackson stayed truest to the sequences in the novels. The marriage of CGI and traditional filmmaking has never been better, and Jackson's imagination of places like Minas Tirith and Osgiliath (as well as Mordor) demonstrates his unique vision and suitability for bringing Tolkien to the screen. Shelob was as menacing and true-to-life as Gollum, who was eerily well crafted and portrayed by Andy Serkis. And the army of the dead stunned me, absolutely floored me.

As far as the actors go, there wasn't a single bad performance. Most compelling were the hobbits, of course, as they are the characters with whom we most identify. Denethor (John Noble) was probably least like my conception of the book; I had thought him as haughty and imperious, not grubby and calculating as Noble portrayed him. Theoden and Eowyn resonated best, after the hobbits. I waited throughout the movie for Eowyn's battle with the Witch King of Angmar, and Miranda Otto did a splendid job of it.

If I have any quibbles, they are minor. Denethor's madness is not well explained, and his death was minus the Palantir. No mention is made of Denethor's mental jousting with Sauron. Saruman never appears in this film, which I realized would happen near the beginning when Gandalf went to Orthanc and declared that Saruman's power had been completely destroyed. The scouring of the Shire was completely left out, but I was fairly sure that would be the case before I ever went to the movie.

But don't let the minor quibbles keep you from appreciating the vast accomplishment of Peter Jackson in bringing this story to the screen at all, let alone in such a masterful way. This installment exceeds all expectations -- find out when the next screening near you is scheduled, and go there now.

UPDATE: Welcome to all Hugh Hewitt and Instapundit readers! Have a look around, and I hope you make Captain's Quarters a regular read in the blogosphere.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 17, 2003 4:40 PM

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» Return of the King review from Strange Women Lying in Ponds
I don't want to read all of it, just yet, as I am afraid of spoilers. But Captain Ed saw Return of the King, today, and has posted a glowing review. [Read More]

Tracked on December 17, 2003 10:50 PM

» The Twenty-First Century's First Masterpiece from Bow. James Bow.
With the success of Return of the King, the whole Lord of the Rings movie trilogy is nothing less than a masterpiece, especially when you consider the quality, the epic spectacle, the technical wizardry, attention to detail and sheer... [Read More]

Tracked on December 24, 2003 10:40 AM

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