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The Return of the King - film review

Peter Jackson's interpretation of JRR Tolkien's magnum opus is over and he has left the biggest and best part until last. This film had a lot to live up to, but on the whole Jackson has got it right.

This film follows the various members of the Fellowship on their quest to defeat the forces of Sauron. Frodo and Sam, accompanied by Gollum are heading deep into enemy territory in order to cast the ring into the fires of Mordor. Meanwhile Gandalf (superbly played by Ian McKellen), Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli track down Merry and Pippin after the defeat of Saruman. (Much was made in the media of Christopher Lee's scenes as Saruman being edited out but to be honest it doesn't detract from the film and at over three hours long I am not sure audiences would have stood for much more.)

Once united the comrades realise that Sauron's army is heading for Gondor and they must be there to repel the invaders. This sequence results in what must be one of the biggest battle scenes ever put to film and it is truly jaw-droppingly good. From the charge of the Rohan warriors to the fight with the witch king, every scene is a technical masterpiece.

At the same time the film moves back and forth to show us the adventures of Frodo and Sam trailed as ever by Gollum. As Frodo becomes weaker, dragged down by the weight of being the ring bearer, his judgement is impaired and it is Sam's heroics that save him from himself and the weaselling of Gollum. Sam comes more and more to the fore in this episode. In the previous films Sean Astin had little to do, but in this instalment he gives the best performance of the lot. The highlight of their segment is the fight with Sheba CGI create uberspider.

What Jackson does so well is to interweave the various threads of the film.It gives us a chance to see each of the main characters fleshed out. The hobbits are the real winners here. Sam and Frodo have their own spotlight but in fact all the hobbits are transformed from the last film. Scenes showing the separation of Merry and Pippin allow us to see that they are more than just a comic duo, there is some real pathos in there.

Of the other characters Aragorn is outstanding. Played by Viggo Mortenesen he comes of age and his journey from wary ranger to King of Gondor is a compelling transformation. Gandalf as always is mesmerising and even Legolas and Gimli show new sides to their rather one dimensional characters in the previous films.

The ending is a little too sugary and overlong after all heart stopping action in the middle of the film.It actually takes thirty minutes for everyone to say goodbye and go their separate ways. Compared to the book this is quite brief, but it feels as if every ounce of emotion is being drawn out of the audience and whilst it would go against the spirit of the trilogy sometimes less is more.

Ultimately we are left though with a wonderful piece of work. Jackson has juggled all the characters and events with great skill. Technically the film is a masterpiece. The New Zealand scenery is sumptuous to look at, and even taking into account future technical advances it is hard to see how any film could surpass some of the scenes. It is not just the huge investment in getting the look right, it is the scope of the film that is so impressive. Jackson's name must surely be already engraved on that Oscar.


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