The first half of Return of the King is where the fruits of our Fellowship’s labour start to come together. It begins with a celebration after their win at The Battle of Gondor, but is quickly followed by The Battle of Minas Tirith. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli ride with the army of Rohan until departing for the Caves of the Dead while, Gandalf and Pippin head directly to Minas Tirith. Meanwhile, Frodo and Samwise finally reach Mordor under the guidance of the creature Gollum.
Having Return of the King begin with a party provides a much needed moment of levity before diving into more peril, acting as a calm between storms. It also provides us with context as to the differences between Dwarves and Elves whilst building Gimli and Legolas’ friendship.They partake in a drinking competition which ends after approximately 20 pints, which Legolas handles far better than Gimli. It’s one of the finest displays of character development I think I’ve ever witnessed. Further character development is occurring with Merry and Pippin who, after a lifetime together, must spend some time apart. Pippin shared a vision with Sauron of Minas Tirith so for Pippin’s own safety he must go there with Gandalf. Merry, having pledged allegiance to the army of Rohan, must stay behind. It’s heartbreaking knowing that this may be the last time they see each other and watching them be ripped apart so harshly.
In Mordor, the friendship between Frodo and Samwise is being tested. They have begun their ascent into the mountain caves and Samwise continues to be a voice of positivity to Frodo’s negativity. The power of The Ring has become too much, and this, coupled with some meddling from Gollum, leads to Frodo sending Samwise homeward. Seeing a friendship so pure being broken, and seeing Samwise, for the first time in this entire adventure break into tears, is highly emotional. On top of this we know that Shelob, a monster, lurks in those caves and that Frodo is certain to die without his Sam. This is truly the beginning of the end for our characters and there is something powerful about how it’s delivered. Its a heartbreaking couple of hours. To illicit this much emotion in the final film of a trilogy is impressive. Maintaining that high quality, and the love for these characters through 3 films, without fault, is astounding.
The scene of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in the Cave of the Dead is simply outstanding and the army of the dead looks beautifully horrific in CGI. For a film that is nearly 20 years old to have nearly flawless CG is a marvel. Of course the CGI and practical effects across the entire trilogy have been superb, but it is especially prevalent here. The battle for Minas Tirith continues to set a benchmark for every battle sequence across film and television. It is the battle sequence that all other battle sequences dream to be, including Game of Thrones– one of the biggest phenomena in the past decade. I haven’t seen it, so I wouldn’t dream of comparing the two, though I’m sure many people have. The first half of Return of the King is one of the greatest set-ups to one of the greatest conclusions to one of the greatest film trilogies ever made. Not that I’m biased.
I don’t know how I can review this second half of The Return of the King. I could write an overview of the basic plotline or deep-dive into the amazing process that went into making this film, and on the one hand that would be the sensible, probably professional, thing to do, but on the other hand I don’t want to spoil the ending to those who aren’t aware of it. Besides, words cannot properly convey this conclusion or the resonating emotional impact. For those of you who have seen it, I’ll mention some specific moments that put a lump in the back of my throat because, at this point, it’s all I can do to properly portray my affection for the roller coaster that is the ending to The Return of the King.
The entire scene in Shelob’s lair is a masterpiece, and it holds some of the best camerawork I have ever witnessed. What really stuck with me was Frodo’s “I’m sorry Sam” because it’s in this moment that he finally realises how much The Ring has taken hold. Then there’s Sam’s “let him go, you filth” which is a level of pure friendship that I can barely handle. I remain in a constant state of anxiety and awe until the end of the battle for Minas Tirith which sees Eomer find Eowyn’s seemingly lifeless body. Karl Urban’s portrayal of Eomer’s pain is one of the most raw and painful depictions of grief I’ve ever seen. I was so close to tears, but I managed to maintain my composure. This composure would remain until near the films end when Samwise finally admits “I don’t think there will be a return journey, Mr Frodo”. Until now, Sam has been a beacon of hope but now, at the end of it all, the facade finally fades. At the other side of Mordor, Gimli and Legolas are declaring themselves as friends. There is so much love in this time of hatred that it is simply overwhelming.
I put off this conclusion because I could not handle dealing with all these emotions again. I became re-invested in this tale and I knew that watching it come to an end would, once again, reduces me to tears. This is the first time that I have watched The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in quick succession and the first time that I have analysed them for any type of review. This time, I wasn’t just finishing a trilogy but a saga. This is 20 hours and 40 minutes of content and the investment is real. You will never see me criticise people for liking the things that they do, and I don’t particularly like anyone who does. In times of trouble, when I’m sad or lonely, I know that The Shire will always be there waiting for me. If you have a piece of media that makes you feel that way then you should never let anybody make you feel ashamed for it.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is notorious for its multiple endings but I believe that every single one of them is valid. I can understand why it may bug casual moviegoers, but if you’ve sat through the the extended editions then you can manage another 20 minutes. If you sat through the extended versions then I can only assume that you care for this franchise as much as I do, and if you do then I can only presume that you also spend those 20 minutes weeping. Even Lord Elrond, who doesn’t do emotion is crying, and we are only human. For those who want an action-packed and brilliantly made trilogy then the theatrical cut of The Lord of the Rings will oblige. For those who desire a little bit more, make sure to check out the extended editions.
For all of you, The Shire will always be waiting.
Until Next Time…
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