Sauron's forces have laid siege to Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor, in their efforts to eliminate the race of men. The once-great kingdom, watched over by a fading steward, has never been in more desperate need of its king. But can Aragorn answer the call of his heritage and become what he was born to be? In no small measure, the fate of Middle-earth rests on his broad shoulders. With the final battle joined and the legions of darkness gathering, Gandalf urgently tries to rally Gondor's broken army to action. He is aided by Rohan's King Theoden, who unites his warriors for history's biggest test. Yet even with their courage and passionate loyalty, the forces of men--with Eowyn and Merry hidden among them--are no match for the enemies swarming against Gondor. Still, in the face of great losses, they charge forward into the battle of their lifetimes, tied together by their singular goal to keep Sauron distracted and give the Ring Bearer a chance to complete his quest. Their hopes rest with Frodo, a tiny but determined hobbit making a perilous trip across treacherous enemy lands to cast the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. The closer Frodo gets to his final destination, the heavier his burden becomes and the more he must rely on Samwise Gamgee. Gollum--and the Ring itself--will test Frodo's allegiances and, ultimately, his humanity.
After the galloping intelligence displayed in the first two parts of "The Lord of the Rings" series, your fear may be that Peter Jackson would become cautious and unimaginative with the last episode of his trilogy. But Mr. Jackson crushes any such fear. His "King" is a meticulous and prodigious vision made by a director who was not hamstrung by heavy use of computer special-effects imagery. The final installment follows the hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood), increasingly fevered as the ring exercises its power over him, on the last leg of his perilous journey to Mordor to destroy the sinister object. The wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), in a voice sodden with mellow sadness, believes that Frodo is on a suicide mission: "There never was much hope. Just a false hope." Mr. Jackson takes his time with the story, but he's not sloughing off here. Rather he is building toward a more than solid conclusion. The grandiloquence that sustained the second installment, "The Two Towers," with its pounding and operatic martial fury — a movie that actually created a state of siege and left audiences hanging — can be found here. By its end, "King" glides to the gentle bonhomie that opened the "Ring" movies, but its epilogue is tinged with regret: "You can't go back. Some wounds don't heal." It's an epic about the price of triumph, a subversive victory itself in a large-scale pop-action film. — Elvis Mitchell
2003-12-16 | Elvis Mitchell | Read the New York Times Review of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King