3.5 Stars
Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 127 minutes
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When New Line Cinema agreed to spend an unprecedented $180 million dollars (which ballooned to almost $300 million) to make three “Lord of the Rings” movies, they made the decision based on the fact that it made business sense to not have to renegotiate with stars and the director on each subsequent movie (a practice that has killed franchises like “Charlie’s Angels”).

This worked in theory. While they shot all three movies simultaneously, thus maintaining an incredible level of continuity from film to film, they did not edit them simultaneously. Although Peter Jackson was given a three hour window for the theatrical releases of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, he still had four-hour director’s cuts, which were released on DVD and as special engagements in the theaters this year.

Although I don’t know what went on behind closed doors at New Line, I’d bet that based on the performance of the previous two movies, the executives gave Jackson more slack when he edited “The Return of the King,” resulting in a 200 minute running time. And this is the biggest problem with the movie.

If “The Return of the King” was 2 1/2 hours long, it would have rocked. It would have been better than The Two Towers, which is the best film in the series. But it drags at 3 1/2 hours long – especially at the end. In fact, with the first film, the biggest complaint I heard (mostly from those who did not read the books) was that it didn’t have an ending. It just made an anticlimactic stop in the middle of the journey.

Well, for those folks, there’s enough ending in “The Return of the King” for all three movies. Every time you think the movie is over, it fades to white and continues with another needless scene. I’m sure the book had 50 to 100 pages of resolution, but it just doesn’t work on celluloid – especially after you’ve been holding in that extra large Cherry Coke you guzzled down before the end of the previews.

The story is actually quite simple compared to The Two Towers. The quest to destroy the ring continues. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are on their own, with Golem tagging along in hopes of snatching back his “precious.” Gandalf the White (Ian McKellen) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) have defeated Sauron’s army of orcs in one battle, but 10,000 more orcs are gathered and ready to attack. While defending the human kingdoms from the orcs, the remaining fellowship members bide their time to give Frodo and Sam a chance to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom.

“The Return of the King” is still a good movie, but it’s weak on plot compared to its predecessor. There’s a lot of staring, a lot of Hobbit angst and a lot of battle scenes. I’d watch “The Return of the King” again on video, but I’d be scanning through it like a porno movie. Long winded doesn’t begin to describe it.

Some scenes we could do without include a “Braveheart” pre-battle speech by Aragorn, a “Wizard of Oz” moment with Frodo near the end, and many scenes of Frodo stumbling and struggling while Sam saves his hide.

More things that could have been lost from this film was the entire elf storyline. Now I know that Liv Tyler was put into the film as a draw for women (as if Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom weren’t enough), but over the last two films, her character has become pointless and distracting. I understand the deeper meaning in having her there to provide elfish backstory, but for pure filmmaking technique, we could have lost her the way we lost Cate Blanchett. Bottom line – I’d trade Christopher Lee (noticeably absent from the movie) for Liv Tyler any day.

There are still some excellent elements to “The Return of the King.” As with the previous two films, the special effects are very impressive. The extensive battle sequences are very intense, and include computer-generated warriors like giant elephants, dragons and ogres.

Again, one of the best acting performances in this film comes from Gollum. Sean Astin is to be commended as well for his acting, since he works off the computer generated character. Sure, Elijah Wood is in the scenes too, but Frodo really gets wearing in this movie. It was clearly established in The Two Towers that Frodo was being corrupted by the ring, and he was teetering on his own dark side. This angst has turned him into a very weak character in this film when he allows himself to be completely manipulated by Golem and turn against his lifelong friend Sam.

Ultimately, the biggest sins in “The Return of the King” arise from Peter Jackson’s ego, which prevented him from editing the movie to a reasonable length. It’s not like these scenes wouldn’t be seen. There’s always a deleted scenes section on DVDs, and New Line has shown that it is perfectly willing to release “Lord of the Rings” directors cuts. But I’m sure there’ll be a 4 1/2 directors cut released by next Christmas.
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Posted on January 5, 2004 in Reviews by

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