Sooner or later we had to come to this. The final film, the final battle, the final goodbyes. It almost instantly became a year-end tradition: a week before Christmas, you got an early gift from Peter Jackson and friends. You went to the multiplex, often for a special midnight screening, and you lost yourself into huge, old-fashioned, brilliant moviemaking. Then for a whole year it stayed with you, whether you went back to the theater, watched the DVDs or just daydreamed about it. And now it’s over. Oh, “The Return of the King” will play for months and we’ll go back a bunch of times and then there will be the DVDs and all that, but there won’t be further adventures for our beloved hobbits.
So how’s this last movie? Well it’s great, of course! These aren’t money-driven sequels made after the fact with fading momentum and inspiration, this is a towering 10 hour masterpiece. After two whole films of build-up, we’ve arrived to the War of the Ring, where mankind will face Sauron in a confrontation that will decide of the future of Middle-Earth.
If Helm’s Deep rocked your socks off, prepare to be even more blown away by the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Hundreds of thousands of orcs, trolls, olyphants and Nazguls on gigantic flying beasts rushing towards Minas Tirith, determined to destroy the glorious white walls of the city of kings.
Yet the most amazing thing about this cinematic journey, even more than the epic battles, is its overwhelming emotional sweep. Honor, courage and loyalty aren’t empty words here, they’re wholly-embodied ideals that the surviving members of the Fellowship bring into every perilous situation. Over and over, they risk their lives against impossible odds, fighting for what they believe in and for those they love.
Pippin rides with Gandalf the White and contributes to overturning the lethal defeatism of the steward of Gondor, Merry goes into battle along Eowyn (“I am no man!”), the always amusing Gimli and the graceful Legolas resume their friendly competition as to who can slay the most enemies on the field and Aragorn, finally embracing his destiny as King, leads them and an army of the dead into the ultimate showdown with the dark forces of Mordor.
Meanwhile, Frodo and Samwise’s relationship is more complex and involving than ever, with the poisonous influence of the creature Gollum and of the “precious” threatening their once beautiful friendship. “Is there any hope left?” “There never was much hope… Only a fool’s hope.”
The end… Then again, we’re only starting to grasp the full extent of what Peter Jackson, his cast and his crew have accomplished over the past years. Taken individually, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and “The Return of the King” each stand as damn great flicks, but as one huge three-film story, they’re an accomplishment unlike any other, one I know will stay with me until my own end.
“My friends… You bow to no one.”