#ThrowbackThursday – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King


Original US release date: December 17, 2003
Production budget: $94,000,000
Worldwide gross: $1,119,929,521

Might as well do this, right?  I did a #ThrowbackThursday on The Fellowship of the Ring here and I did one on The Two Towers here, so let’s finish off the trilogy with The Return of the King!  As before, I’m looking at the Extended Edition, so there are scenes – and even characters – that are featured in the version I’m looking back upon that are not included in the theatrical cut.  These make a true difference in giving the audience closure on some of the ongoing subplots and character arcs.  For instance, near the beginning of the film, there is a major scene featuring Christopher Lee’s Saruman, yet Saruman was nowhere to be found in the theatrical edit.  So, yes, the Extended Edition is monumentally lengthy, but it’s a much more complete and satisfying narrative experience.

Also of note regarding the film is that it was only the second film in history, after James Cameron’s Titanic, to cross the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office.  A couple of other films that were released before Return of the King, namely Jurassic Park and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, now sit above the $1 billion mark, as well, but they both required re-releases that occurred long after their original runs and after the original run of Return of the King, as well.


In addition to that, after the series scored Best Picture nominations at the Academy Awards for both The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers in the two prior years, The Return of the King finally delivered with a win in the category.  Conventional wisdom is that the win counts as a moral victory for the entire series and that the first two installments were never going to win because the epic finale was waiting in the wings.  I don’t know if I agree with that, but that’s what many people think.

One way or another, the film certainly lives up to any lofty expectations it had weighing on its shoulders.  Director Peter Jackson took this job extremely seriously, wanting to pay respect to author J.R.R. Tolkien, pay service to the cornucopia of deep and engaging characters, and deliver for the fans that had waited for so many years – and in some cases, the majority of their lives – to witness Tolkien’s magnum opus fully realized in spectacular live-action.


In order to end up with the film that Jackson (and everyone else) desired, he knew he couldn’t cut corners.  He had to deliver on story, character, dialogue, and action.  And there is plenty of each.  The action doesn’t kick into gear, right out of the gate.  There is still a healthy dose of groundwork to be laid before the fun, eye-popping geekouts can commence.  But that’s not a problem (for those with an attention span, at least), because by this point in the story, we already feel a strong connection with the characters.  We care what they have to say.  We care what they need to do.  We care about their wants and desires.  The film is never boring because we feel like we’re a part of it.  We’re engaged.  We’re invested.  This is the magic of big-sprawling franchises that allows us to spend a significant amount of time with the characters.  Had each of the series installments been a brisk 90 minutes, so much would have been lost – most importantly the weight of the events that occur.

Along the way, everyone gets at least one moment to shine – even the characters that weren’t introduced until later in the narrative.  Jackson is savvy enough to know that every character is someone’s favorite character, so he makes sure to give everyone in the audience something to cheer about.  (My favorite moment is the big one for Legolas.  “That still only counts as one!”)  Ultimately, all of the character arcs lead up to two nearly-simultaneous events: Frodo’s arrival at Mount Doom and the Battle of Pelennor Fields.  But instead of using the action as an escape from the story, Jackson adeptly uses the action to embolden said story.  Characterizations are further developed based on the actions that are taken in war.  Important events in the narrative are both caused and affected by the physical conflicts.  It all works together as one massive cornucopia of masterful storytelling by one of the great filmmakers of our time.


This feels abbreviated, but what more can truly be said about this film or this series, in general?  Once everything is tied up at the end of the film (in a series of codas that the impatient whined about but were necessary in order to completely close the door on the story), the audience has had an immensely rewarding experience that honors the devoted, the attentive, the thoughtful, and the persevering patrons who were willing to submit themselves to the full, unforgettable adventure that was The Lord of the Rings.  The franchise will forever stand on its own as an unmatched combination of art, spectacle, and legacy that will likely long outlive each and every one of us.

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#ThrowbackThursday – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

#ThrowbackThursday – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers


Original US release date: December 18, 2002
Production budget: $94,000,000
Worldwide gross: $926,047,111

My #ThrowbackThursday journey to Mount Doom continues with The Two Towers.  I did a #ThrowbackThursday column on The Fellowship of the Ring, a while back (right here, if you missed it) and now it’s time to take a look at the next chapter.  This is the Extended Edition that I’m discussing, here, for your information.

This middle chapter has the benefit of being able to hit the ground running.  We start the film with an absolutely exhilarating action sequence that follows up on a pivotal event from Fellowship.  As long as the film is, the pace rarely slows.  Of course, there is time taken for exposition and to introduce new characters, but the narrative still moves along rather briskly.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that the most notable inclusion among the main cast is Andy Serkis’s Gollum.  Gollum appeared briefly in Fellowship, but he takes front-and-center in The Two Towers and, as a result, was catapulted into the public consciousness, becoming a household name almost immediately.  References are still (and likely will forever be) made in everyday conversation to his “my precious” catchphrase but his presence is worthy of more remembrance than that of just a simple one-liner.


Gollum’s most famous and noteworthy scene involves a conversation between his two disparate personalities, but beyond that, he is a very complex character, beautifully realized by Serkis and the WETA visual effects house.  Serkis’s performance – both in his voice work and motion-capture – brings Gollum to life and makes him feel as if he’s really there with the remainder of the cast.  The writing fleshes him out; he can be funny and endearing one moment, then untrustworthy and frightening, the next.  He is the Yoda of Lord of the Rings in the sense that he’s a creation of the special effects team and is yet the one who comes out of the series with the strongest fan sentiment.

In the midst of all of the spectacular effects (Gollum isn’t the only memorable CGI creation, as we are also introduced to Treebeard) and action set pieces, there is some tremendous character work that goes on all across the board.  Frodo and Sam experience growing pains, we learn more about Aragorn, an unexpected friendship blooms within the remnants of the Fellowship, and there’s plenty more on top of all of that.  This extended edition even gives additional background to Boromir.  The runtime of the film is not wasted.


And of course, it all looks gorgeous.  Peter Jackson knows how to frame a shot and he and his location scouts made a genius decision when choosing to film in New Zealand.  Not only did it cost significantly less to shoot there (check out that production budget, up above) but it’s so beautiful that it almost looks like a different planet.

For me, personally, the scale of this film is perfect.  It’s still small enough that we aren’t flooded with too many characters to get to know them, but large enough that the battles feel grand and bigger than what we see in most other films.  The Battle of Helm’s Deep is spectacular and my favorite large-scale battle of the series (I still love the smaller battle in the Mines of Moria from Fellowship, a bit more).  Jackson always knew how to strike the balance between action and story/character and he was never better at it than he was in this middle installment.  In fact, many middle chapters suffer from feeling incomplete as they are neither the beginning nor the end of the overarching narrative.  But Jackson made several adept choices when he decided to shift certain story elements around amongst the three chapters and we got much better films because he did so.  The Two Towers is structured is such a way that keeps it from suffering that “Middle Child Syndrome”, thanks to the exquisite development of several subplots that achieve both genesis and resolution within this single film.


I’m not entirely sure which of the three chapters of the Lord of the Rings series is my favorite, but I’ve always leaned a bit towards this one.  I enjoyed Return of the King but always felt it got a little too bogged down in less-consequential characters.  So, it’s close between Fellowship and The Two Towers.  I really appreciate the more intimate feel of Fellowship and thoroughly enjoy its well-executed character development.  But the well-balanced nature of The Two Towers puts it about a half-step above it, I believe.  It doesn’t really matter, though.  This is the second entry in a legendary trilogy and no film fan’s collection is complete without a copy.

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#ThrowbackThursday – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers