catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 24 :: 2003.12.19 — 2004.01.01


The Fellowship prevails

Note: I’m going to assume that you’ve seen The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, and that, if you haven’t seen it already, you’re planning on seeing Return of the King. Therefore, I’ll attempt not to spoil any major plot events in this review.



I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be doing next year around this time, but, for the first time in three years, I know I will not be eagerly anticipating the new Lord of the Rings movie. Before I?m lambasted for being a crazy Tolkien fanatic, I should note that I haven’t been a crazy Tolkien fanatic for very long. In fact, the first time I was really introduced to the world of Middle Earth was during a preview for the first film in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. The epic nature of the preview alone was enough to entice me into reading the 900-ish page novel so that I could be properly prepared for the films.

Following the enormous success of the first two installments— films that director Peter Jackson and his mammoth crew executed quite beautifully — expectations of perfection loomed over this week’s release of Return of the King. Although Tolkien purists (every review has to mention them at least once) have pointed to the numerous inconsistencies between the films and the book, Jackson has kept the spirit of the book intact enough to merit such lofty expectations.

Thankfully, these expectations have been met and, in many cases, marvelously exceeded. The audience with whom I viewed the movie actually cheered in delight several times in response to their film heroes performing admirably.

Return of the King begins by showing the evolution of Smagol, formerly a kind of hobbit, into Gollum, the schizophrenic creature corrupted by the power of the One Ring. The impact of seeing this transformation gives significant credence to the sheer evil represented in the ring and to Frodo’s in process corruption. As Frodo and Sam’s treacherous journey into Mordor continues, the burden of the ring grows heavier and heavier — psychologically and physically. At one point, both hobbits are literally crawling along rocks in an effort to see the destruction of the Ring through to fruition. The Ring continues to test Frodo and Sam’s loyalty and friendship with one another, ultimately coming to a head when Frodo tells Sam to leave him because he is convinced Sam it trying to steal it.

Although the progress of the ring-bearer is certainly central to the trilogy, this last chapter also brings the historical significance of the elves— departure from Middle Earth into clearer focus. Essentially, the elves are leaving for lands where death no longer holds sway, allowing the era of men to supersede the era of the elves. The symbolic passing of the torch is mainly represented through the prophetic re-forging of Isildur’s sword, given to Aragorn by the elves as he prepares for battle. Another allusion is conveyed, in part, through a majestic scene in which the White City of Minas Tirith (the magnificent capital of Gondor) lights a torch on one of its towers, beginning a chain reaction of tower watchmen lighting torches across mountaintops and plains as they see the previous tower lighted. The signal fires eventually reach the other kingdom of men, Rohan (featured prominently in The Two Towers), as a call for aid in the imminent war against Sauron’s forces.

The unity of men required to face such a strong and ruthless army causes Rohan’s King Theoden to forgive grievances against Gondor and hastens Aragorn’s return to the White City, where, unbeknownst to most, he is heir to the throne (perhaps the reason Tolkien didn’t want this last book to be titled Return of the King is that it inherently gives away the ending). In one of the most beautiful cinematic war sequences I have ever seen, the Riders of Rohan, having arrived as the battle rages at Minas Tirith, charge hundreds strong into a sea of orcs and other fiercely nasty creatures, bowling them over in a terrific display of oneness between man (or woman) and horse.

Aside from all of this grandeur, though, the film ultimately revolves around Aragorn’s internal struggle to claim his rightful place and Frodo’s internal struggle to overcome the power of evil. Neither character is able to accomplish his task by himself; the community surrounding each provides the essential support needed. At the end of the trilogy, the fellowship is just as important as it was when it formed in Rivendell during The Fellowship of the Rings.

Interestingly, the seven-year undertaking of creating this epic work followed a similar pattern. Perhaps unknowingly taking lessons learned from Tolkien’s book, Jackson surrounded himself with a fellowship of astute people passionate about seeing a daunting task through to completion. The actors, including the extras, developed an amazingly tight bond with one another (to the point that Viggo Mortensen still head butts certain orc actors in public). Indeed, this off screen camaraderie, taking its cue from Tolkien’s story, and its effect on what we see onscreen cannot be underestimated.

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