Sunday, January 6, 2013

Family Movie Night: The Return of the King

Title: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Director: Peter Jackson
Original Release: 2003
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Image via Pollianicus

Eleven Oscars.  Not that Oscars are everything.  After all, Titanic won eleven and nearly everything associated with that movie makes my skin crawl.   However, those eleven Oscars are at least an indication that I'm far from the only person who considers Return of the King to be one of the greatest films ever made.

Recently, my blogger pal Suze asked me which of the three Lord of the Rings films was my favorite.  At the time, I said The Two Towers, the middle movie.  But now, having watched all of them again over the past few weeks, I'm not so sure.  All three have strong selling points.  The Fellowship of the Ring is a loving introduction to the story and perhaps the most beautiful visually.  The Two Towers is the heart of the tale and provides lots of meaningful screen time to my two favorite Tolkien characters: Gollum and Treebeard.  The Return of the King provides a magnificent conclusion.  By the end, the viewer feels as invested in the journey as the characters.  We have all defeated Sauron.  We have all made it back home.

The story's conclusion reveals its true hero: the eternally faithful Sam.  Frodo's the star, of course, and he deserves admiration for having borne the burden of the Ring.  But it is Sam who carries him into Mt. Doom when his own strength and will are gone.  It is Sam who saves Frodo from himself.  Without Sam, the mission fails and Middle Earth is lost.

The end also reveals the tale's most tragic figure: Gollum, of course.  For the most part, The Lord of the Rings follows the fairy tale dictum that everyone gets what he or she deserves.  However, for as genuinely evil as he proves himself to be, Gollum's sentence far outweighs his crimes.  After the centuries of pitiful slavery to the Ring, his fiery death seems almost merciful.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • There were a few moments when Our Girl covered her eyes and asked to tell her when it was over.  Gollum murdering Déagol in the beginning was the first.  The Army of the Dead freaked her out quite a bit as well.  Overall, I'd have to say this is the scariest of the three movies.
  • It is also probably the most violent.  If you love epic battle scenes, this is your film.
  • "Too much kissing," she said.
  • Our Girl and I are still midway through reading The Two Towers together.  I was a little worried that her interest in the story would fade once we finished.  I'm pleased to say that hasn't been the case so far.


  1. I always think The Two Towers is my favorite too, until I watch The Return of the King. Then I always end up saying it's a draw.

    1. Have you seen "An Unexpected Journey," M.J.? What did you think?

  2. B, I'm glad you didn't go on too long with this review because I am jam-packed already with things I want to say in response. All right, here goes.

    'After all, Titanic won eleven and nearly everything associated with that movie makes my skin crawl.'

    Inward 'HA!' of identification and a lop-sided smile.

    'We have all defeated Sauron. We have all made it back home.'

    Heart creeping up into throat.

    'The story's conclusion reveals its true hero: the eternally faithful Sam.'

    Literally, placed a hand over my chest and gasped in agreement.

    'It is Sam who saves Frodo from himself.'

    The next character I was going to feature on my 'memorable characters' page (I did away with the pages because they were getting a little heavy for me) was Sam. But he's not *just* a memorable character. He's so much more than that. He is so artless and at the same time so brimming with power and strength. I know what it is, B. He is pure.

    'Gollum's sentence far outweighs his crimes. After the centuries of pitiful slavery to the Ring, his fiery death seems almost merciful.'

    A bit speechless on this, at the moment.

    '"Too much kissing," she said.'

    The assumption is that this is something we feel as children but then we either become inured to it or start to like its depiction. I'm still with your daughter on this count.

    All right, now general remarks. I watched this film -- once -- at the cinema when I was eight months pregnant. I don't remember it well. Point of fact, I have only seen each film once. So calling 'The Two Towers' my favorite emerges from the interstice of memory, the sense that the epic battle fought at the end of this one didn't need to be fought again and again and again and again in the third installment. I think there is a deep glory and humanity to facing ludicrous odds and overcoming them and storytellers become, in some sense, addicted to that transcendence. To me, working from impoverished and wanting memory, I didn't see 'the point' in the gargantuan mish-mash of 'more fighting' in the last film with the exception of one devastating scene which has impressed my psyche indelibly: the monarch (?) feasting without feeling -- food and drink dribbling from his maw -- while his men were slaughtered on the battlefield. This, too, is part of why 'The Avengers' failed monumentally to impress me. There were moments when I was so alienated from investment in the characters that I didn't even 'get' who was fighting who and why. And there's no satisfaction WHATEVER in watching warriors execute fancy, choreographed, soulless ass-kicking. Why is *why* Two Towers remains salient for me. It managed to really fight and evaded that easy, even lazy, indulgence of story. (Let's give 'em bigger weapons and watch 'em hash it out just because we can.)

    Now. The big question (and assumption.) You do love 'Two Towers' best. You are saving the best for last, no? :)

    1. I'll get to Two Towers at some point, I'm sure. Perhaps not for a while, though. I feel like I've been spending quite a lot of time in Middle Earth of late and it's time to devote some ink to other worlds. I'll be back, though. I am in the middle of the book, of course. That'll probably be my next Tolkien post.

  3. The special effects and imagery in the Lord of the Rings is really impressive because its not all CGI. The producers went the extra mile and created gritty realism which is whats missing in flashy 'hi tech' movies.

    1. Absolutely agreed! Peter Jackson said once that the best special effect they had was New Zealand.