Unlike most film critics, I must admit I went into the preparation process for The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King with much trepidation. Having not seen the first two films, and having never read the books, I was not a little bit intimidated. I knew I was in for a lot of homework; and homework I did. I got the Cliff’s Notes (yes, there really are Cliff’s Notes), watched the first two films on DVD, conferred with Rings junkies, and basically did a lot of reading. The result? I think I was as prepared as I could have been on Dec. 2 when I arrived in Los Angeles for the press screening and junket for this much-anticipated film.
As we journalists lined up with our popcorn and Junior Mints to enter the theater, we were asked to relinquish cell phones, tape recorders and cameras. We were then subjected to a search of purses and backpacks, and individually scanned with airport security-type wands to be sure we weren’t trying to sneak in a recording device. With the LA premiere just 24-hours away, they didn’t want any clips of the film popping up on the Internet. We were advised that the film was over three hours long, with no intermission. So we took our seats and waited for what felt like a momentous occasion to transpire. It did.
The film opens with a flashback, where on a brilliantly lit pond, gentle hobbit Smeagol sits quietly in a fishing boat with his brother Deagol. When
Smeagol gets a bite on his line, he is yanked overboard and pulled underwater by a large fish. Lying on the bottom of the pond bottom is a shiny gold ring, which he grasps and brings to the surface. Unbeknownst to him, it is an evil ring, which corrupts and destroys the wearer by making him drunk with power and greed. When Deagol sees his brother with the ring, a deadly struggle ensues, and thus Smeagol’s self-destructive journey begins.
For those not familiar with the story, it’s nearly impossible to give a quick rundown of the plot of this movie, which is inextricably linked to its predecessors: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, not to mention JRR Tolkien’s works of literary genius. This is a story of war, love, evil, addiction and the power of good and evil. The tale takes place in a fantastical “middle earth,” where pointy-eared hobbits, tall, Nordic-looking elves, squatty dwarves and menacing orcs are drawn into a great battle driven by the power of the evil ring, which ultimately drives Smeagol (later named Gollum) mad. Frodo, another gentle hobbit, is charged with taking the ring to Mount Doom, where it must be destroyed before Middle Earth is decimated by war. He wears it on a chain around his neck, but the ring calls to him, tempting him to yield to its power. His loyal friend Sam is there to protect him from himself, and the many dangers along the way, including flying dragons, goblins and an enormous spider. Gollum joins them as a guide, and though Sam mistrusts him, Frodo takes pity on this hobbit who now resembles a ghoulish monster.
In Tolkien’s time, the book was described by critics as an allegory of the times, though the author never intended that. Yet, even today, it is impossible not to draw parallels to modern-day wars, factions among races, and evil influences driving the human race seemingly to the brink of destruction. Flawlessly filmed over the course of several years in New Zealand, the special effects blend seamlessly into the gorgeous landscape, so that one simply disappears into this world of strange and wonderful creatures who must conquer evil and see that love survives.
A stunning, expansive, detailed piece of work, it is most definitely not for the uninitiated. Before you go, do your homework. This brilliant piece of cinematic genius is worth the effort.
Related Articles & Stories
The Lord of the Rings Rules the Oscars
The Lord of the Rings Rules!
The Lord of the Rings Run Rings Around Other Oscar Contenders
The Lord of the Rings vs. Harry Potter
Finding God in The Lord of the Rings
Lord of the Rings Tennessee Fellowship
Find The Lord of the Rings at Tolkien Town