The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is, hands down, among the most spectacular and magnificent films of all time.
A short run-down of the plot: After the battle of Helm’s Deep and Saruman’s imprisonment in his tower Orthanc, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf re-group with Merry and Pippin in Isengard. There they learn that the army of Sauron is planning a full-scale attack on the largest city of men – Minas Tirith in Gondor. Gandalf and Pippin ride to Minas Tirith to warn Denethor, the steward of Gondor, of the threat from Mordor. Defenses are built up as the army of Sauron marches across the Pelennor Fields towards Minas Tirith. A distress call is sent to Rohan, still recovering from Helm’s Deep. Rohan manage to muster a large army, and set out for Minas Tirith, but the battle has already begun. In the meantime, we continue with Sam and Frodo on their quest to destroy the One Ring.
A major achievement of this epic film is the character development. Gollum becomes more cunning and sneaky than ever, and manages to turn Frodo against Sam, who is desperately trying his best to get his old Frodo back. Merry and Pippin are no longer just a source of comic relief, both of them prove themselves worthy as they are split up for the final battle. We learn about the true bravery and potential of hobbits as Merry helps cut down the Witch King. Eowyn also proves herself in the film, as she defies her uncle and sets out to Pelennor fields with the other Rohirrim, and eventually destroys the Witch King, and makes a very feminist remark while doing so. We learn to loathe Denethor because of his hatred of his last remaining son, Faramir, who really hasn’t done anything wrong. The peak of our hatred for Denethor is reached in the scene where he tells Faramir that he would have preferred it if he had died instead of Boromir, his brother. And then, right after that, Denethor sends Faramir into certain suicide, and Faramir immediately accepts the mission he is appointed to, in a final attempt to please his father. And of course, Aragorn learns to accept his fate as the true king of men.
In fact, the character development is so powerful that we actually participate in the character’s feelings. We FEEL Frodo’s exhaustion and agony as he literally drags himself across Mordor. We feel Sam’s pain as Frodo is turned against him. And, just briefly, we participate in Gollum’s triumph as he finally gets the One Ring. We are actually happy for Gollum and just for a brief moment, Frodo becomes the bad guy as he tries to take the ring back. All in all, Return of the King contains the most moving, emotional and touching scenes in the entire trilogy, and some of the best acting, especially from Sean Astin (Sam), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), John Noble (Denethor, he is very successful in adding depth to his character), Miranda Otto (Eowyn), and of course, Andy Serkis (Smeagol, and top-notch at it, just like in The Two Towers).
The battle of Pelennor fields may be THE most spectacular and epic sequence in film history. Unlike Helm’s Deep, Pelennor Fields shows the true cleverness of Sauron’s army. Orcs are not the only participants; trolls are heavily used in the battle, as warriors and as beasts of burden. The nazgul are very significant in the battle, and while the Witch King didn’t actually lead the battle as he did in the book, the nine ringwraiths and their fell beasts still play a key part and do lots of damage in the battle. We see just how powerful the nazgul really are. And of course, the men from the south and their massive oliphaunts play a significant part. While in Helm’s Deep we felt triumphant, in Pelennor fields we only feel the triumph briefly, as the Rohirrim make their charge into the horde of orcs and trolls. The triumph in Pelennor Fields almost immediately dissolves, as the Rohirrim are trampled down by the oliphaunts. The battle is won, but we’re not happy, we’re grieved for all the destruction, all the losses. It’s a totally different feeling than Helm’s Deep, and makes this battle all the more superior.
Return of the King features the most magnificent visuals in the entire trilogy. Whether they are of Minas Tirith, Pelennor Fields and Osgiliath, Mordor and the slopes of Mt. Doom or the climb to Shelob’s cave near Minas Morgul, Peter Jackson really shows us the true impact of these landscapes and images.
Many people may complain about the changes in the movie, especially the significant cut of Saruman from the end, but you must realize that if they would have featured the whole part with Saruman the movie would have continued another hour and a half. Don’t fret; Peter Jackson said the scenes will all appear in the extended version of the film. The ending is long enough as it is, and the film continues at least another half an hour after the Ring is no more. The hobbits return to the shire, and Sam marries Rosie. Aragorn meets his fate and is crowned king, and is finally reunited with Arwen. And of course, one of the most moving scenes in the movie, in which Frodo gets on the last ship to the Undying lands with Bilbo, Gandalf, and the last of the elves (Galadriel and Elrond to name a few), and must part with his three hobbit friends for good.
All in all, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is one the most fine-tuned, cinematically perfect films ever made, it’s absolutely flawless in every aspect. The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a whole is a spectacular achievement in film making history, and all three movies are together, without a doubt, the greatest epic ever made.