The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:

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All good things must come to an end, but some go peacefully while others drag their feet, scream and dig in like the last winter tick on young Fido. The journey of a thousand steps began more than 10 hours and two movies ago, and the final installment of the Lord of the Ring franchise is one hell of a long film.

How Long? Well, long enough to absorb a battalion of characters and sub-plots, esoteric rhetoric concerning the nature of life, death and time, battle scenes pitting war mammoths against horsemen, inter-species love scenes, social commentary about the middle class, metaphors of fascism and addiction…

I’m sorry, what we were talking about again?

Ah, yes, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is epic in the profoundest sense of the word.

Long, complex and often difficult to understand The Return of the King is as dense and ambitious as the bible. Although often simplistic, the story conceals the self-important zeal of a Jack Chick pamphlet and the obsessive desire to prove itself monumental.

God knows that the movie isn’t boring or dull. It isn’t even confusing, though I had to keep reminding myself that it seemed clear to me when I read the series at 12 and stoned hippies could groove on its message, man. The scenery is awesome, the acting brilliant and the direction first-rate. It really does raise the bar so high that it’s difficult to imagine another blockbuster series emerging to better it.

Then why does it seem so predictable?

The third Lord of the Rings film finds all our characters marching toward their destinies: Some toward Mount Doom, where they will try to destroy a powerful, cursed ring, some toward battles or political intrigue. The fellowship of the ring still binds them to one another and the larger epic which is unfolding around them.

The presence of absolute and uncontested evil – in the form of Sauron and his army of trolls, orcs, goblins and other things that go bump in the night – allows the characters to stand out in bold relief. The world of man might be confusing, with many shades of gray, but when contrasted against the darkness of Modor even the darkest bureaucrat seems impeccably pure.

Frodo’s (Elijah Wood) mission to infiltrate the enemy’s stronghold and destroy Sauron’s master ring shows the inner strength of the middle-class Hobbit while Aragorn’s (Viggo Mortensen) ascension to the thrown of Gondor will unify all the tribes of men against the evil hordes. The personal, political and military history of Middle Earth converge on the lives of an ex-ranger and outlaw seeking his birth rite and an unassuming halfling.

Director / writer Peter Jackson has kept so faithful to the fantasy trilogy written by J.R.R. Tolkien that I’m tempted to say if there are any warts in the movie they come from the original books, and not the screenplay or production company… ((This space reserved for polite hissing.)) There’s something sinister in the films’ racism, camouflaged in the books, that pits a multi-species army of white guys against a horde of multi-ethnic, multi-colored half-breeds, and the Hobbits’ utopian middle-class value system looks a bit hokey on the big screen as well.

But the film as film is simply brilliant. Any one of the Lord of the Rings series surpasses the complete Star Wars trilogy in terms of acting, direction, cinematography and script, and I would rank Return of the King higher than the Two Towers.

That said, it’s difficult to describe how deflated I felt after this film. Maybe I’m just spoiled. I’ve seen things that would make gods shudder at the movies, and Return of the King feels more like an extension of the first two films of the series than their bombastic conclusion – a postscript to Jackson’s first attempt, as though all the energy was expelled at the moment of inception and we’ve been coasting ever since.

This certainly doesn’t make Return of the King a bad film, but somehow I expected the movie would astound me with the unknown. I expected magic from the Middle Earth like when I first imagined a Hobbit with a little help from Tolkien years ago. I wanted that new thing back; that creature pulled from the deep unknown, slick with possibility and wonder. What I got was just one heck of a movie, what I wanted was something precious.


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