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Review published
December 21, 2003
A.J.'s Rating:  5 Stars - Long Live the King!
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Directed By:  Peter Jackson
Written By:  J.R.R. Tolkien   (novel) / Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens (screenplay) / Peter Jackson (screenplay)
Starring:  Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd,
John Rhys-Davies, Dominic Monaghan, Noel Appleby, Miranda Otto,
Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Karl Urban, Bernard Hill, David Wenham,
Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler
MPAA:  Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images.
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    Finally, the journey ends.  Finally, the story concludes.  Finally, the wait is over.  Peter Jackson completes his epic telling of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings with The Return of the King.  Within these closing chapters, battles are fought, friendships are tested, and fates are decided.  Most extraordinary is that the fantastic story of Frodo Baggins and those of the Fellowship ends just as brilliantly as it had begun.
    Is The Return of the King better than Jackson's two previous Lord of the Rings films?  That's a tough call.  After all, the best part of any epic story is usually, by design, the thrilling finale.  I will say that The Return of the King features more action, more drama, and even more fine acting than either of its predecessors.  Better?  Perhaps it is.
    Technically, I continue to be amazed at the work done by WETA.  Especially evident was their marked improvement of the digital character, Gollum/Sméagol.  If you can tear yourself away from Gollum's performance, a difficult task itself, you'll notice some astounding new complexities in character detail!  And the battle sequences... staggeringly good!  The war scenes in this movie leap off the pages of Tolkien's book and onto the silver screen even more vibrantly than I had ever imagined them.
    As for the performances, they were wonderful, as usual.  However, rising above the rest this time out was Sean Astin.  He has a great chance for a supporting role Oscar nomination as Frodo's steadfast companion, Sam. 
    The only, for lack of a better word, 'flaw' in The Return of the King is that it ends about four times.  After the climactic events of the story, there are still a whole bunch of other loose ends that need tying up.  About 20 minutes worth of loose ends, that is.  You know the old saying, "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings"?  Well, the end of this movie is sort of like watching the fat lady sing, then watching her hail a cab, go home, eat dinner, catch up on some reading, and finally fall asleep during a rerun of Matlock.  Of course, none of this changes the fact that The Return of the King is still an incredible film!
    Okay, three Lord of the Rings movies and I've completely run out of superlatives to describe them.  In fact, I've probably used many of the same ones more than once.  Here's an idea.  Go back and read my reviews for The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, then apply anything I haven't said here to The Return of the King as well.  That'll make it much easier for all of us! 
    Lastly, for the sake of tradition, I'll just add that The Return of the King is one of the best movies of 2003.  Now, the only question remaining is... what do we all do next winter?