The final battle for Middle-earth begins. Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, continue their dangerous mission toward the fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring. Aragorn struggles to fulfill his legacy as he leads his outnumbered followers against the growing power of the Dark Lord Sauron, so that the Ring-bearer may complete his quest.
With The Return of the King
, the greatest fantasy epic in film history draws to a grand and glorious conclusion. Director Peter Jackson's awe-inspiring adaptation of the Tolkien classic The Lord of the Rings
could never fully satisfy those who remain exclusively loyal to Tolkien's expansive literature, but as a showcase for physical and technical craftsmanship it is unsurpassed in pure scale and ambition, setting milestone after cinematic milestone as the brave yet charmingly innocent Hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood) continues his mission to Mordor, where he is destined to destroy the soul-corrupting One Ring of Power in the molten lava of Mount Doom. While the heir to the kingdom of Men, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), endures the massive battle at Minas Tirith with the allegiance of the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and the great wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Frodo and stalwart companion Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) must survive the schizoid deceptions of Gollum, who remains utterly convincing as a hybrid of performance (by Andy Serkis) and subtly nuanced computer animation.
Jackson and cowriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have much ground to cover; that they do so with intense pacing and epic sweep is impressive enough, but by investing greater depth and consequence in the actions of fellow Hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), they ensure that The Return of the King maintains the trilogy's emphasis on intimate fellowship. While several major characters appear only briefly, and one (Christopher Lee's evil wizard, Saruman) was relegated entirely to the extended-version DVD, Jackson is to be commended for his editorial acumen; like Legolas the archer, his aim as a filmmaker is consistently true, and he remains faithful to Tolkien's overall vision. If Return suffers from too many endings, as some critic suggested, it's only because the epic's conclusion is so loyally inclusive of the actors--most notably Astin--who gave it such strength to begin with. By ending the LOTR trilogy with noble integrity and faith in the power of imaginative storytelling, The Return of the King, like its predecessors, will stand as an adventure for the ages. --Jeff Shannon