As many of us had hoped, director Peter Jackson and his commendable crew offer moments of great terror in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King . Fantasy finds a new realism. Shelob the Great Spider is ever-so believably portrayed. The fires and lava of Mount Doom splash across the screen in marvelous intensity. We feel the heat.
But there is also great beauty and majesty. We feast our eyes on the great city of Minas Tirith.
Yet be prepared for the most inspired and majestic grandeur of all: our tremendously gifted director, screenwriters, cast, and crew have bestowed on us the full, deep humanity of the protagonists’ heroic witness. In The Return of the King we experience for ourselves, however vicariously, the height and depth of faith and hope and friendship come to life.
A fantasy world oddly like our own
We can revel in the ways Jackson and crew have remained faithful to J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece. We care about these characters and their struggles. We care about the Middle Earth that they inhabit?meant to be our earth before the beginning of the age when the world is ruled by humans alone. It is a world that is so akin to our world with all its pleasures and blessings, troubles and temptations, and, alas, violence. We embrace the vision they embrace as they struggle to uphold what is good and true while they battle malevolent power, greed and despair?in others and in themselves
Be warned: The Return of the King isn’t a perfect movie. But there are omissions of plot and character development that, if added, would have made it perfect.
Also, much to my surprise, this third film begins a bit awkwardly. I kept expecting expressions of thought and feeling to arrive in the opening scenes that never came to light. Not to worry, though. We start feeling moved and engaged in the saga quite soon enough.
What speaks to us
There is so much about this current presentation of The Return of the King that is deserving of our attention. Here are a few of the highlights:
* For all its spectacle, marvelous effects, great music by Howard Shore and art direction?and these are truly terrific?
* the heart of the film remains relationship. So it is for all great drama as it is for our own lives. Relationships centered in God in collaboration with God’s children in the world.
* In the poignant closing scenes, Providence is evidenced as the source of the protagonists’ strengths and of the goodness within them.
* Jackson’s inspired staging of these scenes coupled with the acting skills of a terrific cast and Shore’s music drive home the message of true humility,
* and provide us with a most fitting catharsis: It is our collective achievements for goodness that catch us up in that which is greater than ourselves (i.e, God). This is perhaps the most profound message of the film.
Like its predecessors in the trilogy, The Return of the King evokes the most central longings of our hearts. It captures our imaginations in ways that ground us in the realities of evil and life’s all too many temptations. At the same time it inspires us to persevere with hope and share light as we encounter it.
The Return of the King is a movie for all adult-minded, spiritual people who, for all of life’s demands and terrors, insist on cultivating goodness, clinging to hope, willing to remain young at heart yet unafraid of suffering and its redemptive power.