"The board is set, and the pieces are moving". (Gandalf)
Peter Jackson and his amazing entourage will surely strike gold when the next Academy Awards show hits town. Whether it's drinks all round for the final part of his trilogy, or recognition for a body of work, my message for Academy members is 'go right ahead, boys and girls'.
Return Of The King is, quite simply, the crowning glory of this epic tale, putting its illustrious predecessors firmly in the shade. As Frodo and Sam - led by the schizophrenic Gollum - continue their journey to Mount Doom, the armies of Mordor march to Minas Tirith -capital of Gondor - aiming for no less than total anihilation.
So, the scene is set for a final chapter which brings back old friends, introduces new enemies, and brings them together for a series of locked-horns encounters that will leave you exhausted. Be prepared for the most incredible battle scenes ever to grace our silver screens, as Jackson unleashes Shelob the spider, a herd of mighty oliphaunts, winged predators that take the P out of big Steve's JP capers and an army of the dead who answer Aragorn's call to arms in memorable style.
As for the battle of Pelennor Fields? Well, let's just say it makes Helms Deep look like a minor disturbance at a ladies hen night. Just pick up your jaw from the floor at its conclusion, and settle back for the final part of a journey whose final moments will, I promise, bring tears to your eyes.
This time round, it's Sean Astin's Sam who really takes hold of our hearts, growing in stature as Frodo begins to submit, buckling fast under the rings spell and Gollum's web of deceit. McKellan's Gandalf is just as impressive, flying into battle on a white charger, joined by a courageous band of brothers, including Aragorn, the valiant Gimli, and Miranda Otto's Eowyn; a swing-out sister who demonstrates the ladies are most certainly not for turning when it comes to the heat of battle.
At 3 hours 20 minutes, Retrun Of The King is the longest theatrical cut of the trilogy, but also feels like the most incomplete; it also felt more like a two-hour movie, and there's no doubt the forthcoming extended version on DVD will raise this film to an even higher level. Expect to spend more time with Gollum (far more than a CGI creation here): additions to that remarkable Pelennor ruck, and watch out for Saruman; there may have been no Xmas for Chris Lee at the theatres, but you can bet he'll be darkening our doors again in the not-too distant future.
On the debit side, there's really not much to fuss about. The escalating feud between Sam and Gollum may occasionally grate on the nerves, and the odd line of gallows humour sometimes falls a little flat but these are wholly insignificant gripes in the face of such an overwhelming production.
Credit to the heroic cast and crew, though it's Peter Jackson who really deserves the lions share of acclaim. Just getting these films made was in itself a gargantuan task, but the end product is a joy, displaying vision, technical brilliance, and an abiding love of Tolkien's characters that sweeps us along to a number of false endings, each more emotional than the last.
It's also worth pointing out that Return Of The King is literally the darkest film of the trilogy, replacing the colourful exteriors of Fellowship and Towers with a brooding, inky canvas reflecting the perilous state of affairs. Be assured there are some nasty scenes to be found here, from severed heads flying through the air, to a yucky segment straight out of Alien, and you'll love the army of dead-ites roused from their slumbers to haunt your worst nightmares. In many ways, it's something of a return to former glories for Jackson, showing it's no bad thing to have a Braindead/Bad Taste under your belt.
And now, the show is over. We still have the final DVD (until the box set) to look forward to, but I, for one, felt a little sad that this annual get-together has ended. Tolkien's tale and Jackson's films may concern people that never were, in a land that never was, but that isn't really the point. Lord Of The Rings is really about love, friendship, loss and greed. It's about life.
Our admiration and gratitude goes to all involved.
Hugely talented New Zealand director best known today for his Lord of the Rings adaptations. Started out making inventive, entertaining gore comedies like Bad Taste and Braindead, while his adult Muppet-spoof Meet the Feebles was a true one-off. Jackson's powerful murder drama Heavenly Creatures was his breakthrough as a more 'serious' filmmaker, and if horror comedy The Frighteners was a bit of a disappoinment, then his epic The Lord Of The Rings trilogy - Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King were often breathtaking interpretations of Tolkien's books. 2005's blockbuster King Kong saw Jackson finally realise his dream of updating his all-time favourite film, but literary adaptation The Lovely Bones won him little respect. In 2012 he returned to Middle Earth with the three-part epic The Hobbit and in 2018 directed acclaimed WWI doc They Shall Not Grow Old.