The Return of the King clearly deserves all of its accolades. The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking, and, again, the actors have performed a magnificent job in finishing up this epic trilogy. Special attention must also be given to the DVD extras, in which scholars, most notably Viggo Mortensen and leading Tolkien expert Tom Shippey, feed our hunger for knowledge with a royal banquet of fresh insights and piping hot information on the story!
To return to the story, there is particular significance to the title itself, which refers to not only Aragorn's new job working for the government of Gondor, but also for the return of the position of its King - as opposed to Steward.
Elijah Wood shows Frodo's passion for the Ring as we watch his mind be slowly taken over by its power, just as a drug addict succumbs to the power of mind-altering chemicals. One of the most painful things to see on film is a handsome man being broken to bits, and I felt like weeping towards the end, as Frodo can barely stand under the weight of the Ring. Later, once the Ring is destroyed, Frodo does get rescued, and we may want to give good Doctor Aragorn three cheers for successfully treating him!
As I have mentioned before, each and every one of the actors is spectacular, but special accolades must be given to Sean Astin. The loyal and faithful servant Sam, who desires nothing but beauty and goodness, forces himself to go to Mordor to make sure his master has that wretched Ring destroyed once and for all, and all the thanks he gets is for Frodo to sternly tell him to "go home." Nevertheless, it is Sam who takes the Ring for a brief part of the journey, and, without complaining, gives it back to Frodo. Sam is so repulsed by the Ring that he tells Frodo that he cannot carry the Ring, so he carries Frodo instead. One of the saddest moments in the film is when Sam, who believes he is about to die, confides to Frodo that if he ever were to get married, it would be to the beautiful Rosie, and as he describes her, while sitting on a rapidly shrinking island in the middle of molten hot lava, we almost see her dancing for a fleeting moment. I was also very pleased that Sam's and Rosie's joyous wedding, not Aragorn's and Arwen's, is shown, for Sam is, indeed, the true romantic of the whole Fellowship.
Mortensen, Sir Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, and Bernard Hill continue to amaze us with their portrayals of Aragorn, Gandalf, Saruman, and Theoden. While I generally do not like deviations from Tolkien's text, I could not help but smile as Theoden, giving a pep talk to his troops, says "Spears will be shaken" and then promptly shakes all the spears! The most hallowed name in theatre is taken back to its raw and fierce military origins. In the commentary, Mortensen compares Theoden's people to "Beowulf on horseback." Hill helps to prove him completely correct!
While it is impossible to let the shadow of discrepancy spoil our enjoyment of the film, out of respect for Tolkien and the actors, we also cannot merely overlook it.
First, we see Eowyn lying on the couch that is her makeshift bed (because her uncle has put house guests in her room!) pouring out her soul to Aragorn (whom she hopes to impress?!) as she tells him of a disturbing dream of the land of Numenor she recently had. This dream does appear in the book, but it is dreamt by the sensitive Faramir, who tells it to Eowyn only because he loves her! Unlike Faramir, or even Tolkien himself, the practical Eowyn is incapable of having such fantasies, and has never even learned how.
Secondly, there are numerous scenes in which Arwen wastes away as she pines for her beloved Aragorn. In the book, Arwen channels all of her energy into spending time with her family and embroidering a banner for him to carry into battle. She does not afford herself the luxury of self-pity!
While we are on the subject of self-pity, Denethor's suicide must rank among one of the worst movie deaths ever. In the book, Gandalf valiantly tries to save the disturbed prince's life, or at least talk him into dying in battle, rather than by his own hand. Finally, with a flourish, Denethor burns himself to death by lying down on the fire that he has set for that purpose, his hands around a palantir (crystal ball). In the movie, Gandalf's horse kicks him onto the funeral pyre and, in a most undignified way, engulfed by flames, he storms out of the mausoleum and pitches himself over a high precipice!
As in the previous movies, Aragorn's medical skills have been inadequately written into this one, although they are crucial to the development of the plot. When Denethor dies, Faramir himself is lying very close to death, both through the wound he has sustained in battle, and by an assassination attempt by his own suicidal father! The next time we see him, he is on his feet, bringing comfort and joy to Eowyn! In the book, Aragorn thoroughly examines and treats him, along with Eowyn and brave hobbit Merry. The book shows it is hard work for both doctor and patient! We do see Aragorn treating Eowyn, but only by the laying on of hands the mystical way Faramir heals Frodo in Two Towers. She is still even in her heavy mail shirt! In the following scene, Merry rides off into battle, although, in the book, he is under Aragorn's specific orders to stay in the hospital and socialize with his friends! We are also denied seeing the rich beauty of Faramir's and Eowyn's love slowly bloom like a delicate flower pushing itself through a harsh pavement. Why does Eowyn suddenly love Faramir instead of Aragorn? We are never really shown in the movie, although Tolkien, in the book, shows how, thorough his kindness and respect and fierce tenderness, he conquers her stern and stubborn nature once and for all to the point where she can hardly wait to be his princess forever!
Just as I see the goodness of Faramir short-changed in the movie, we also see evil Saruman not being properly given his due. He dies prematurely in the film, whereas in the movie, after Gandalf takes away his power as a wizard, he still has the ability to perform wicked deeds and turns to developing the Shire (while living in Frodo's home!) until he is killed. We are also deprived of seeing more of Lee's magical acting in that pivotal role.
Lastly, while many, myself included, disapprove of too many scenes with Arwen that are not in the book, it is, indeed, a pity that we do not get to hear her sing, as she does in both Fellowship and Return of the King. Arwen was based on Tolkien's wife Edith, who was known and loved for her spectacular singing voice. What a pity!
Despite the many discrepancies in the plot and in the way characters are written, I still consider The Return of the King to be one of the greatest movies ever made! Indeed, when I see each movie, one right after the other, and treat the three as one, as I believe Jackson intended, I can honestly call The Lord of the Rings the best movie(s) I have seen in my life!