Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
At 219 minutes I couldn't help but wonder if Peter Jackson was going to be able to keep my attention on the screen, instead of thinking about the springs pushing into my tender um posterior. (If movies continue to push the two-hour plus mark, I think there could be a great marketing opportunity for La-Z-Boy theater seating.) Thankfully this gifted director made up for any lack of cush under my tush.
If there's one thing director Jackson (and his writing team) does well, its pacing his audience and carefully guiding them through the hills and valleys of story climaxes and resolutions. This is an even more incredible feat when you consider how nearly all movies are shot out of sequence in order to save money and time. Imagine keeping things straight while simultaneously shooting three movies of epic proportions that will culminate in over nine hours of screen time with two yearlong intermissions. Somehow Jackson has managed to keep his vision clearly in view and the audience happily anticipates this roller coaster adventure across Middle Earth.
And yes, the effects are stunning, the scenery breathtaking, and the musical score refined and themed to help remind you what segment of this complex yarn you are following. Only the performances become a little thin at times|an oft-expected problem in movies heavily dependent on computer generated images. However our familiarity with these characters and their destiny makes this film already feel like an old friend and the best of the trilogy.
For parents wanting to share the Return of the King with their children, I'd strongly suggest you see Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers first, for two reasons.
First, renting the earlier releases of the trilogy on video will allow you to determine if the violence (which is the only content issue in these films) is acceptable for your children. Things do heat up with bigger and grander conflicts rounding out this third chapter, but the blood and gore are similar in all three films|save for a few flying decapitated heads. So if your family has already seen the first two, you will have a good idea of what to expect. Like the others, I'd still peg this one as being unsuitable for all but the oldest children and teens (and adults of course).
Thankfully Tolkien lived in an age when most grand stories of male adventure still included refining morals, and Jackson gives them adequate screen time with Sam (Sean Astin) and Frodo's (Elijah Wood) relationship becoming increasingly complex as the lure of the ring and Gollum's (Andy Serkis) constant prattling leave both hobbits wondering who to trust.
In this land of good versus evil, other characters step up to fight for right against the enveloping darkness. Led under the hand of Gandalf (Ian McKellen), heroes like Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) ensure the citizens of these strange lands will be able to live in peace and freedom.
The other reason for doing your homework is that simply dropping in on Return of the King like you would a romantic comedy will leave you frustrated. Whispering incessantly with your neighbor during the movie in order to understand the back-story is not a good plan when surrounded by a mob of Ring fans. At the very least, (or perhaps I should say, "At the very most."), you'll want to read the book. The bottom line is if you think The Shire is a quaint little restaurant and Frodo is the main course|it's time you got into the hobbit.