Movie review

The Lord Of The Rings:
The Return Of The King

Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd, Dominic
Monaghan, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen

Director : Peter Jackson

The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The KingAfter what seemed like a whole Third Age of waiting, the final instalment on the Lord Of The Rings trilogy has arrived in cinemas.
    Is it everything we had hoped for? Well, yes - at least everything that could be realistically packed into a theatrical release. The chasm between theatrical and DVD markets is becoming wider, and even at well over three thrilling hours, this cut isn't really the final word on Peter Jackson's masterwork.

A multiplex audience wants spectacle, and there's more of that than your eyes and ears can possibly absorb in one viewing. Massed oliphaunts swaying dangerously towards the gates of the beleaguered Minas Tirith; Frodo pursued through dripping tunnels and caves by a monstrous she-spider; the terrifying Witch-King of the Nazgul swooping down on the helpless, screaming like a Stuka.
    What's missing from this version are some of the subtleties that glue the story together and provide motivation for the big climactic scenes. So although we can marvel at Eowyn's heroism at Pelennor Fields, as yet we gather little sense of the gathering death-wish which has sent her into battle disguised as a man - and without the Houses Of Healing sequence which will be restored to the extended DVD, we fail to understand how Aragorn will rescue her in both body and mind. The cut is unfortunate for Viggo Mortensen, some of whose Oscar hopes must have rested on this powerful but subtle sequence, and it leaves us wondering about Eowyn's miraculous recovery in the final scenes of the movie.
    Similarly, Aragorn's foray into the haunted mountain is only half explained in this version. The ghostly warriors he summons here become little more than a convenient plot device to get the battle won - whereas their fealty should also serve to confirm his bloodline and his claim to the throne, both before the people of Gondor and within his own sceptical mind. It's tempting to suggest that some of this might have done the movie greater service than the prolonged and rather mawkish farewells in its final moments.

But it's churlish to complain about a film so packed with incident, drama and overwhelming wonder as this. The special effects are perhaps the best we've seen so far in the movies - and as the odds against each character's survival lengthen, every human actor seems to be reaching for his absolute career best. Especially heart-rending are Sean Astin's Sam, bowed and bloodied but still staunchly loyal to his damaged friend, and John Noble's Denethor, wracked by guilt and self-pity and driven towards desperate and destructive atrocity. Bernard Hill's Theoden and Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn vie with each other to deliver the most stirring battlefield speech and Aragorn's humble acceptance of his ancient crown translates a profound mythic moment into something that also has a deeply moving human dimension.

The end of all ends? Not quite yet - but put your order in early for the definitive DVD. Seen at last in its entirety, this really could be the greatest story ever told.

:: Clare O'Brien

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