|LOTR: Return of the King (2003)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Sean, Astin, Billy Boyd, Brad Dourif, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Dominic Monaghan, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Andy Serkis
Director: Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson's third and final installment in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy brings the epic to a somewhat disappointing end, but not before it manages to thrill viewers once again with mind-blowing action sequences that redefine the phrase "attention to detail" while adding even more depth to the story's already captivating characters.
Continuing the events from the previous film, the original Fellowship begins to regroup as they all approach Mordor from separate paths. Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) leave their triumph at Helm's Deep and turn their sights toward Isengard, where they reunite with two of their hobbit companions, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd).
While the partial Fellowship returns to Rohan to map out their strategy in aiding Gondor against the evil forces of Sauron, Gollum (Andy Serkis) continues on his journey to Mount Doom. Following the pitiful creature through these barren lands is the suffering Frodo (Elijiah Wood) and his steadfast companion Sam (Sean Astin), who are unaware that Gollum is plotting to steal the all-powerful ring and thus satisfy his own greed.
If you thought the Battle of Helm's Deep was the greatest battle sequence ever filmed, think again. The more extensive battle on the front steps of Gondor's castle is simply astounding, beautifully blending live-action choreography with the flawless CGI rendering of giant trolls shooting catapults and Legolas single-handedly bringing down a gigantic oliphaunt. Equally enthralling is the historical and further psychological examination of Gollum/Smeagol, whose combined charm and mischief makes for an undeniably fascinating character. Although his film presence is in the form of a CGI character, Andy Serkis' performance as both the voice and the human model for the computer creation undoubtedly represents one of the film's highlights.
The trouble with "Return of the King" is Jackson's decision to alter the ending from the conclusion that Tolkien originally penned to one that wraps up the film's 210-minute runtime by introducing a brand new side story. Unfortunately, instead of enhancing the trilogy, Jackson's inferior ending hinders it if only because it's the final thing you see before the credits roll.
Besides this small, but significant, objection, "Return of the King" is a worthy addition to this already legendary series, tying up any loose ends with imaginative filmmaking and an all-star cast that deserves some recognition. Everyone will love it, fans will cry for all the wrong reasons, and a picnic basket of food and drink may be essential to getting through the three-plus hours, but the allure of the film is undeniable. Jackson is three for three, though a fourth would've made us all happy.
For anyone who thought that the four-disc extended editions of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was the be-all and end-all of DVD releases, you’re sadly mistaken. The limited edition releases of the film deliver the definitive “LOTR” experience. Sure, they don’t have two extra discs worth of bonus material, but who needs to sort through all of that junk when the included documentary features everything you could ever want? Produced by critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker Costa Boates, the three never-before-seen documentaries total just over five hours and includes coverage on everything from production, post-production, and even a few on-set antics with the cast/crew. Also featured on the two-disc set for the first time ever are both the theatrical and extended versions of the film (via seamless branching), which makes this a no-brainer purchase for those who currently own the original theatrical releases on DVD.