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In this third and final chapter, the hobbit with the task of returning the all-corrosive Ring to its origins in the molten rock of Mount Doom, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his loyal hobbit friend Sam (Sean Astin) have been joined by Gollum (Andy Serkis), who offers himself as their untrustworthy guide through the dangerous terrain of Mordor. Sauron’s forces have attacked Gondor’s capital, Minas Tirith, in the final terrible attack on mankind. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) tries to move the broken forces of Gondor to action, against overwhelming odds. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) must take the lead to unite the scattered remains of men against this devastating enemy, and lead them as their King. . . to their death, or survival. And Frodo must squeeze his last ounce of energy to try and complete his epic journey, while battling evil forces, Gollum’s treachery – and the Ring’s corrupting power. 

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
All the great elements of the human condition – good, evil, courage, loyalty, sacrifice, love, duty, fear, death, hunger and pain – swirl through this final section of the trilogy with heightened values and greater urgency. We know from the previous two films (all three were made as one single film) that the craftsmanship of Peter Jackson’s team and the artistry of his cast are superb; now we want to experience the most demanding aspect of story telling, as Jackson reaches The End. 

We the audience have invested a two-year time span in this mammoth movie, and not inconsiderable emotional and nervous energy. It must pay off now, and in the same currency as we know: authenticity, humanity, grand big picture and intimate small picture, all welded together by imagination and the values we hold most dear, values held in the section of our psyche known as compassion. In my view, satisfaction is guaranteed: this giant spectacle pays emotional tribute to the little people of the world, hobbits being the symbols for us ordinary folk who are sometimes thrown into extraordinary circumstances. 

Frodo is. Frodo endures. Frodo succeeds. And of course, humanity wins, against the collective evil of dark forces and their despicable creatures (our own dark side?). But even metaphors aside, The Return of The King plays with enough gusto and guts, greatness and goodness, to satisfy our hunger for the story, the characters and the various resolutions of the journey, which must come at some cost, some price. No victory is satisfactory without that. 

The major battle scenes are unequalled in power, thanks to the imagination and craftsmanship of the team. Yet the intimate scenes are lyrical in their beauty and haunting in their emotional potency. The film ends on a muted note, the celebration of mankind’s survival poignantly encapsulated with a little man returning home – tried, tested, scarred but wiser and stronger - to his wife and two little kids. 

Review by Louise Keller:
Unquestionably the best film of the year, Return of the King is a monumental triumph, as we return to Middle-Earth and learn that courage is the greatest weapon of all. Peter Jackson’s epic achievements in this final chapter are clearly on display, and are encapsulated in the overwhelming scale, the breathtaking beauty and the resulting emotional depth. For me, this is the most satisfying of the three films, where drama and emotions reach a shattering crescendo, before each story strand finds its resolution. 

A tale of heroes, bonded together by friendship, it’s the very special friendship between hobbits Elijah Wood’s Frodo and Sean Astin’s Sam that touches us most of all. Sam’s unerring loyalty and dedication to his Frodo never wavers, as he does everything in his power, even bearing his ailing friend on his back, to enable him perform his ring-bearing duty. Courage comes in different forms, and for Liv Tyler’s serene elf Arwen, not even the price of immortality is too high, especially when it comes to her love for Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn. (Many female fans of the tall, ruggedly handsome actor will no doubt agree!) 

There’s the heartbreak as David Wenham’s Faramir vies for his father love; John Rhys-Davis’ Dwarf overcomes his fear to enter the Paths of the Dead (and offers some humorous quips); Miranda Otto’s Eowyn’s ventures onto the battlefields with a heart filled with unrequited love; Ian McKellen’s composed Gandalf, who reminds us that ‘Death is part of the journey’. Tall or small, our hearts are with them all, as they journey to overcome the greatest odds. The creation of Gollum remains one of the most extraordinary in my recollection, and once again, the twin personalities of this computer generated character with the mesmerising huge eyes and ungainly stoop, never ceases to amaze. His meddlesome ability to create a rift between Frodo and Sam brings tension and trauma, when trust temporarily is flung down the ravine. 

Then, it’s almost as if the film becomes a creature feature through the terrifying moments when Frodo encounters Shelob, the giant spider in his horror-filled sticky web. My heart nearly stopped when we could see the arachnid ready to strike, but the exhausted Frodo could not. The Fell Beasts, which look a little like giant flying dragons with wingspan of enormous proportion are splendid, and it’s easy to be swept away (and totally intimated) by the awesome creatures in the battle scenes. There is so much to talk about it this extraordinary epic – from the poignancy of the relationships to the visual splendour. 

This is the story of good conquering evil, despite the odds, and we are well satisfied. I loved every single minute of The Return of the King; Jackson’s trilogy is an unparalleled cinematic achievement.

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(USA/New Zealand)

CAST: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving

PRODUCER: Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Frances Walsh

DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson

SCRIPT: Philippa Boyens, Frances Walsh, Peter Jackson (book by J.R.R. Tolkien)


EDITOR: Jamie Selkirk

MUSIC: Howard Shore


RUNNING TIME: 201 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2003

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