#9: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

When and how did I watch this?

June 11th, 2017, on DVD.

Had I seen this film already?

Yep. This movie compelled me to buy the LotR trilogy.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

The desperate push toward Mordor and the relentless love of Samwise for his best friend. The look on Theoden’s face when the oliphants approach and the haunting horn sound when they appear. The near death of Faramir at the hands of his own father. And the terrible history of Smeagol. These scenes are why I love Return of the King. Like Saving Private Ryan, I’d been looking forward to this film from the start.

What do I know about it now?

It’s very difficult to find flaws in this film, unless you’ve seen nearly 240 films, most of which are excellent to some level, in succession. I feel like that’s what happened to me when seeing this film yet again, and out of order.  I was so obsessed with determining whether this works as a standalone film that I nearly forgot to enjoy the scenes mentioned above and the whole’s glorious visual effects and sound production. While the battle of the Pelennor fields stands triumphant as the most breathtaking and my personal favorite sequence, this is really Frodo and Smeagol/Gollum’s film.  The opener, a scene in a tranquil setting that promptly descends into a horrible outcome, might be the best in movies — before we know what’s even going on, we know who Gollum is and understand the delicacy of the situation. We also return to Theoden and company several times throughout as they attempt to fight off the onslaught of Sauron’s armies, but to me this is secondary to Frodo and Sam’s climb to Mt. Doom to finally destroy the ring (which they do).  It’s quite relieving when it finally happens, and I realize I haven’t been breathing for at least an hour.  We progress into a mega happy ending where the film takes an inordinate amount of time tying up loose ends — perhaps the weakest aspect of this movie. Overall, its a considerable achievement and deserves all accolades despite any possible shortcomings, and it remains my favorite of the three Lord of the Rings films.

What are some themes in the film?

Pride is extremely pervasive in this film. Otherwise: friendship, courage, revenge, hope, duty/honor

Did this affect me personally?

I have a greater appreciation for visual effects after seeing so many of these things now.  Perhaps that was the most effectual aspect of this film for me. Furthermore, how can you not be moved by Samwise’s undying devotion to Frodo?

Why is this ranked #9?

It’s the triumphant conclusion to the trilogy, has the most complex visual effects of the three, and bears emotional weight comparable to films outside the fantasy genre. It’s a beautiful film front to back, and memorable in itself.

Did my wife watch/like it?

This was not her favorite LotR film.  She felt it was a little bit prolonged and less engaging than The Two Towers.

Would I watch it again?

I’m going to.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Here’s a bit of irony: I shunned Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 for having difficulty drawing in first-time viewers.  I’m not sure if you’d spend money going to a “Part 2” of a single movie, but it was definitely frustrating having no idea what was going on.  Return of the King is similary risky — Legolas and Gimli, for example, are not mentioned by name in the entire film, though to its credit they have little to nothing to do with the plot — but it’s possible I was looking too hard.  It’s still worthy, but less so if watched out of order.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

The Lord of the Rings series is fascinating, and, according to this user-voted ranking on IMDb, seems to be the greatest trilogy of all time. It’s hard to express in words how much I love this individual film, and I dare to use the word “epic” to describe its greatness, but it is enhanced tremendously by its two predecessors.  It’s difficult to say this, but it might be the weakest screenplay of the three — however, it soars above the others in production, effects, and raw emotion. By itself, it belongs on any great films list.  As the conclusion to an incredible series, it might be one of the best films ever made.

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