*The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)*

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Starring: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Andy Serkis, Billy Boyd, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, John Noble, Bernard Hill, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Dominic Monaghan, Karl Urban, Cate Blanchett

Director: Peter Jackson

Summary: Gandalf and Aragorn lead the World of Men against Sauron’s army to draw his gaze from Frodo and Sam as they approach Mount Doom with the One Ring

Other Nominations: Director*, Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score*, Original Song (“Into the West”)*, Sound Mixing*, Art Direction*, Makeup*, Costume Design*, Film Editing*, Visual Effects*

* I watched the theatrical cut (201 minutes) as opposed to the extended cut (251 minutes) as it’s the cut Academy voters would have seen when voting*

I’m glad I watched these films, but honestly I have absolutely no interest in ever seeing them again. All of the strengths of the previous movies (score, production design, makeup and visual effects) are again on display here, but everything else really has gone downhill for me since Fellowship. I enjoyed Fellowship because it felt focused, it did a great job of establishing it’s setting and premise, and there was still the novelty of the production, designs, costumes, score, etc. I assumed they would develop the characters to make them more compelling by giving them depth over the course of the next two films, but other than Gollum and Frodo at the very end, that didn’t really happen. The problem is how many subplots and characters there are and that way too much time is devoted to the action scenes-the basic story is very straight forward without all that many twists and turns and characters rarely develop in a meaningful way or have all that much depth, so what required so much time? Economy of storytelling is always extremely important to me: the runtime of the trilogy is 556 minutes (9 hours, 16 minutes), and that’s the theatrical cuts; it’s 714 minutes (11 hours, 54 minutes) for the extended cuts. That’s absurd-I could do an entire re-watch of Neon Genesis Evangelion and End of Evangelion in about the same time (approx. 600 minutes if you skip the credits each time) and that’s 26 episodes and a movie. Compare this all to the 376 minutes (6 hours, 16 minutes) for the original Star wars trilogy. What works for a book (which you can pick up, stop and pick up again and read over days and weeks) doesn’t work as well for a movie (which you’re supposed to watch straight through in essentially one sitting), and they should have trimmed more than they did.

So what stood out to me as things I liked about this installment in particular? Well, Nobel as a mad king is a lot of fun and I enjoyed Gandalf having a lot more to do this time (compared with The Two Towers) and he has some of his personality back. Like in the last film, the scenes with Frodo, Sam and Gollum were the best part and we get a nice conclusion to all of their character arcs (even if the film stubbornly refuses to end). This was a makeup ceremony that rewarded the achievements of the series as a whole, and I completely understand that: it was groundbreaking in many ways, and helped (along with the Harry Potter movies) pave the way for all the “epic” franchises we’ve gotten since. Still, it never captured my interest to the degree I was expecting it to and overall feels like a disappointment considering I love a good action-adventure story and with the hype it has.

Rating: B-

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