Reviews since 1993: A-E F-N O-Z Posters Who We Are and Why We Do What We Do Search the Site
Now in Release
DISNEY PIXAR DVDs
IN SHORT: All things must end, and do so with a bang. [Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images. 210 minutes]
The long standing policy of this site is not to compare film adaptations to their Source Material (easy for us since we didn't read most of volumes one and three and all of volume two of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Blame a short attention span). As a solo flick, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a terrible individual movie. It starts in the middle. It doesn't recap anything and refuses to reintroduce characters, as is usual in sequels. More important, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is not a solo flick. Anyone who walks into the third part of the most famous Trilogy of the last century stone cold ignorant, has probably been living off the planet. Or at least not in the Western world.
So don't start here. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, the most important information we can provide as we move into this review of the third and final film of The Lord of the Rings, and we're breaking the rules of the site to do it, is this: if you don't have The Trilogy locked down in memory you are strongly advised to dig out your DVDs and speed scan some of the chapters to get back in the swing. If you don't refresh the details, the events in the first hour of The Return of the King will be lost as you catch up. Then, based upon the reactions of our screening audience, somewhere around two hours forty, when you may think that the film is over do not walk out to avoid the credits (you know who you are). There's at least half an hour to forty five minutes to go, depending on when you think it's OK to walk.
Second point: The Special Extended DVD versions of The Fellowship of the Rings and The Two Towers both contain a substantial amount of additional material that pushes their run times close the three hour mark. The Return of the King, being the final film, packs everything its got into its run time. All the way through the first half of The Return of the King we had this gnawing feeling in our gut that we had missed something (perhaps something in the extended material?) or had just forgotten details. That may be because we've seen 250 films since last years The Two Towers. Everyone who isn't as distracted as we will probably not have the re-acquaintance problems we experienced.
Enough about Cranky, to get to the point: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is an exhausting sit. But in between the reacquainting and the multiple endings that wrap everything up for each of the characters is some of the most absolutely flat out phenomenal action we've ever seen in a film. Yes, we've screened other war movies, which is what this really is, and we've seen a lot of great staged battles. The Return of the King beats 'em all, hands down.
In this final battle all who are not Men will rise against the last city of Men, called Minas Tirith, and plunge the world into blessed darkness. Among the humans that could defend the city is a weak king who mourns the death of one son and disavows the life of another. There is also another, the one true king, descendant of a line of True Kings. For two films, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) has refused the mantle. Events of this final war will put this resolve to the test, even as the politics of Middle Earth raise their nasty heads. There is the wizard Gandalf the White (Ian McKellen), who must rally the troops to fight a battle that cannot be won and hope against hope that the Dark Lord Sauron is so consumed by the coming War that he does not notice the makings of his own doom, slowly making its way across his domain.
And in that domain, in the Dark Lands of Mordor, Hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) continue their foolish and impossible journey towards Mount Doom, there to cast The Ring into the fires which first made it. They are guided by Smeagol, once a Hobbit and now a creature called Gollum (Andy Serkis), deformed and mentally unbalanced by 500 years servitude to the Ring. Gollum will spend the journey turning Frodo against Sam, while he seeks an opportunity to regain his "precious". Sam proves the true measure of a friendship. We don't want to think about what happens to that poor hobbit, Frodo. It isn't pretty.
We're not going to try to bring any casual reader up to speed on the backstories of significant supporting characters like Faramir (David Wenham), whose got problems with his father or the fit for battle Eowyn (Miranda Otto) who is banned from battle because she is a woman. Or the hobbit Pippin (Billy Boyd) who almost steals the show.
As all stories must come to an end, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King eventually becomes one ending after another. For the most part, the film is dominated by the machinations of the schizophrenic Smeagol (andy Serkis) that, even with the computer enhancements that change actor to Gollum, Serkis' performance is a phenomenal piece of work.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, he would have paid . . .
We've covered this above, so no eMail about how we should give the film nothing for everything it doesn't do that we always say a film should. Three and a half hours is just killer on us old farts -- but we did make it to Gollum's end story before the back went out, so we left happy.
To those lucky enough to plant for the big screen marathon of the entire Trilogy, we salute you!
The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995 - 2017 by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, ™ their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award™(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.