King of the trilogy, lord of the theatre

Ted Pigeon

In the world of movies, a trilogy is a curse. The very notion of one is brimming with possibility, but over the years it has proven to be a failing idea. Many of the most famous movie trilogies of all time a rescrutinized for having an especially weak third act, the most famous examples being “The Godfather” and “Star Wars,” and the most recent example being “The Matrix” films. Whether these stories were truly intended to be trilogies from the start is uncertain, but the fact remains that by the time the supposed rousing finish comes around, even the great ones tend to cop out. But now that streak has ended. Despite having incredible, perhaps unreasonable expectations to meet, “The Return of the King,” the third installment of “The Lord of the Rings” not only equals its predecessors in greatness, but goes beyond them, cementing this trilogy as one for the ages.

The film opens by re-establishing the story and characters, allowing time for the audience to catch up. After a disturbing introduction that shows how Smeagol (who later turns to the creature Gollum) discovers the Ring of Power, director Peter Jackson wastes no time plunging right back into the story. Under the guidance of the treacherous Gollum, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are getting closer to the land of Mordor, where the Ring must be destroyed. As the tension between Gollum and Sam intensifies, the power of the Ring takes its toll on Frodo, as he becomes increasingly weary from his burden.

Meanwhile, Sauron’s armies are gaining strength and are preparing to launch a war on the kingdom of Gondor. While Gandalf (Ian McKellan) rides to the white city of Minas Tirith to warn the people of Gondor, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) prepares to face his destiny as the King of Gondor, and with the help of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) attempts to enlist what armies he can to save Gondor’s people and the future of Middle Earth.

Part of the beauty of this film is that it takes all of the elements that the previous films were building to and amounts them into a very well-paced and emotionally involving story. This kind of thing is easier said than done.

Despite having some twenty characters to keep up with, and multiple storylines to address, Jackson and his crew make it seem easy. The pace of the film is unflagging and once it starts rolling, it finds a great rhythm. Every scene is perfectly placed, and the inter-cutting between all stories and events as they build momentum is seamless. Some of these transitions were a little uneven in “The Two Towers,” especially near the end, but “Return of the King” is masterfully edited and paced from beginning to end.

It’s standard for adventure trilogies to have some kind of war at the end of the third act, the war to end all wars. “Return of the King” is no different. But what separates this one from all others is that this one delivers what it promises, and then more. It is without question one of the greatest war sequences ever committed to celluloid.

Unlike “The Matrix Revolutions” which assaults you with loud noises and explosions for nearly forty minutes without time to breathe, this battle has patience. Great battle sequences aren’t about putting as much carnage or explosions on the screen as possible, but knowing how and when to use the images and sounds of war and balancing them with moments to catch your breath and sometimes quiet reflection. The battle at the end of this film is one of those instances of sheer perfection. From a film making standpoint, it does everything right in its development, pacing, editing and overall execution.

Much of what makes the battle so amazing is due to the little things. Attention to detail is incredibly important in bringing the story to life, and Jackson and his crew understand that. There aren’t many filmmakers who would create a sustained shot in which winged beasts bearing the Black Riders swoop down on the city. Jackson isn’t satisfied with a few simple shots of this; we see it up close, experiencing every little detail as the camera winds around the city towers, following the creatures as their helpless victims dangle from their claws.

On the battlefield, Orcs catapult boulders into the city and armored trolls push tower-like wooden contraptions to the city walls, where they easily unleash several hundred Orcs into the city. It’s apparent that Peter Jackson lives for these kind of moments, and while they may seem arbitrary and pointless, it’s details like that which provide the richness and imagination the film needs.

While everything that went into the film ultimately supports the story, Jackson spared no expense in evoking the atmosphere of every environment in this elaborate world of Middle Earth that he’s been creating over these films. The art direction, set design and makeup give this fantastic world and its dwellers a startling life, while Andrew Lesnie’s photography finds just the right approach in evoking the essence of this living world. The visual effects are once again flawless, and are also used properly. Composer Howard Shore provides perfect musical accompaniment. With a film of this nature, the music is a very important element; it adds to the mood and atmosphere while also going to the heart of the story and characters. Shore understands this perfectly, and his score is nothing short of amazing.

All these areas of production combined represent Jackson’s vision of Tolkien’s mythical world Middle Earth.There are several moments in the movie’s of profound and utter beauty that can bring a tear to the eye for their sheer emotional power. These transcendent instances come in many forms throughout the film and are the result of the visionary style of storytelling that Jackson was striving for and ultimately achieved.

Some of these moments are more reflective and subtle in nature, such as when Gandalf describes to Pippin what lies beyond this life; others are huge outpourings of emotion sometimes conveyed by nothing more than images and music, as in the scene where the clearly outnumbered Riders of Rohan ride into legions of Orcs. These are only a couple examples of the film’s rousing power and ability to stir emotion. The film is full of these moments.

While watching this movie, it’s hard not to marvel at the accomplishment of J.R.R. Tolkien and the ambition of Peter Jackson for undertaking the burden of bringing it all to life. Jackson isn’t merely content with making sure we were apart of this world, because he also ensures that we are a part of the characters. The epic nature of this film never overpowers the importance of the characters and their own individual stories. It’s through them that Tolkien was able to convey the deep themes of his story. They are the heart of this story, and Jackson understands this. By the time the end arrives, it’s practically hard to believe. We’ve been with these characters and immersed in this world for a couple of years, and now we’ve finally been given an end to their story.

There won’t be another film next December inviting us back to Middle Earth. Jackson has poured so much heart and ambition into these movies that it comes through in every shot, in every note of the score, and in every performance. His interpretation of Tolkien’s mythical literary adventure is something that will long be remembered as one of the most accomplished and historic achievements in cinematic history.