Gandalf said it best: "I will not say: do not weep. For not all tears are an evil."
And it's of tempting to weep as the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy draws to a close, with the "Return of the King." Peter Jackson's brilliant adaptation ends the classic fantasy epic with a bang... but then quiets down to let us bid farewell to these lovable characters. Astounding direction, action, and a little pang when it's all over.
Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are still following the treacherous Gollum (Andy Serkis) on the path to Mordor, with the increasingly strained Frodo unaware that Gollum is sowing suspicion between the two best friends. By the time he realizes his mistake, he's been dragged into the lair of Shelob, a monstrous spider, and then abducted by orcs who want the Ring he carries. Determined to find his friend, Sam heads into an orc citadel on his own.
Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) takes Pippin (Billy Boyd) with him to Minas Tirith, after the hobbit has a close encounter with Sauron through a palantir. \Not only is the city under siege, but the Steward Denethor is slowly going insane, even sending his one remaining son, Faramir (David Wenham), on a suicide mission to reclaim a dead city. With Minas Tirith crumbling, Aragorn's (Viggo Mortensen) only hope may to be summon an army of the dead, who will only obey the King of Gondor. But even the dead won't help him if Frodo doesn't destroy the Ring -- and its power over him is growing.
The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is one of those once-in-a-lifetime movie experiences. There has never been anything quite like it in movie history, and there probably never will be again. It seems somehow fitting that the book that every other fantasy has to measure up to, has now become a sweeping cinematic triumph that actually stays halfway loyal to the books. Good things come to fans who wait, I guess.
And in this movie, Peter Jackson really outdoes himself. You know those battle scenes in "Two Towers" and "Fellowship of the Ring," with the swooping camera and thousands of orcs, clashing with men on a gloomy battlefield? In "Return of the King," Jackson surpasses that. There's everything from volcanic eruptions to an invasion of howling ghosts to the attack of the oliphaunts (like elephants, only bigger). Each action scene is a shattering ride, and there's no guarantee that all the beloved characters will make it out alive. Some of them don't.
But if Jackson manages the epic battles well, he does an even better job with the gentler, quieter moments. The action slows down, and the characters take a moment to support and comfort each other, such as Gandalf comforting the frightened Pippin with a description of the afterlife. Jackson and his fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens throw themselves into the semi-formal language of Tolkien's world, resculpting Tolkien's words into rich movie dialogue.
Elijah Wood gives an unparalleled performance as Frodo Baggins -- it's hard to imagine any young actor in recent memory who has given a performance this wrenching. Frodo's deterioration is horrifying to watch, and the climactic scene at Mount Doom displays just what the Ring can do to even the pure-hearted hobbit. Sean Astin follows up with his powerful performance as Sam, who is increasingly the "strong" hobbit, demonstrated in a tearjerking scene as they scale Mount Doom.
But all the supporting cast also give powerful performances -- Boyd and Dominic Monaghan put their characters through some intense growing pains, and the "I'm going to take care of you" scene is enough to bring tears to your eyes. Mortensen and McKellen are astounding as the kingly outcast and the kick-butt wizard, while Miranda Otto, David Wenham and Bernard Hill are brilliant on the sidelines.
Perhaps the most striking thing about "Return of the King" is the final fourth of the film. While the "multiple endings" may annoy some viewers, it seems somehow right to gently let go of these characters rather than have a sudden, splashy finale. And whether they have a happy or sad ending, Jackson never lets us forget that they all made sacrifices to battle Sauron.
"Return of the King" brings the epic "Lord of the Rings" trilogy to a close, and cements Jackson's reputation as a master filmmaker. With the outstanding cast, beautiful scripting and amazing direction, this is the best of the "Lord" films -- and that's saying something.