An epic trilogy - perhaps the most ambitious in film history - concludes with a rousing finale that leaps from the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien to the movie screen through the imagination and vision of filmmaker Peter Jackson. Alan Silverman has a look at The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King.
The journey begun two years ago in The Fellowship Of The Ring and continued in last year's The Two Towers is at its end. The armies of men prepare to wage the battle to end all battles against the forces of evil; and the fate of "Middle Earth" depends on a diminutive hobbit named Frodo and his quest to return a magical ring to the very fires from which it was forged and thereby prevent its awesome powers from falling into the hands of those evil forces. Like the two previous Lord Of The Rings films, The Return Of The King follows the mythology created 50 years ago by South Africa-born English writer J.R.R. Tolkien. This universe of elves and warriors, half-lings and wizards takes life on screen through the imagination of co-writer, producer and director Peter Jackson.
"I've always considered that The Return Of The King is really the reason why you do the trilogy," explains Jackson. "It's three movies, but the third movie justifies the first two in a way. It's what you're leading up to; there is no point having the first two movies unless the third film, really, is the one that puts them all in context."
Heading the international cast is American actor Elijah Wood as Frodo; and Wood says he is not alone among the cast believing The Return Of The King is the best of the trilogy.
"It's the end of the journey. It's the culmination of all that we've been working on for so long. It's the most emotional part of the story. It's the most intense. It's the darkest," says Wood. "So we all loved this particular part of the story the most and put the most into it. From an acting perspective, for all of us, it was the most challenging and the most interesting because each character is faced with their ultimate end and their conclusion, so there's a lot tied into that."
The second film introduced the character of Gollum: once a hobbit named Smeagol, he was transformed into a twisted gnome by the terrible power of the Ring "the precious," as he calls it. Gollum returns in The Return Of The King.
Even more than in the previous film, Gollum is a stunning combination of computer-generated imagery with the acting and voice skills of English performer Andy Serkis.
"At the end of The Two Towers we think we know where we are with Gollum. He has two personalities: Smeagol, who is this innocent, na?ve, childish aspect and Gollum, who is the revengeful, dark side which has really dominated and battered that childlike side into submission," he explains. "In The Return Of The King this childish side actually becomes quite manipulative. In a way the Gollum side is more honest because it's a gut reaction: he wants the Ring and he hates the Hobbits, whereas Smeagol is this child who is rather cold and calculating about how he is going to do that. All the time I think the audience, if we've done our job, should be uncertain about whether we like him or trust him or whether we think he is irredeemable. Ultimately the moral responsibility is thrown back at the audience for them to decide."
Sir Ian McKellen plays the wizard Gandalf and Viggo Mortensen plays the battle-hardened, but nevertheless reluctant hero Aragorn; and the New York-born actor believes this final film captures the mythic elements that make the Tolkien saga a timeless classic.
"It's the same story that's been told a thousand times in different ways: a story about individuals who are given an opportunity to do something and it's up to them," he explains. "It doesn't matter if it's an elf or Aragorn and his struggles with accepting the responsibility that he is given: people can apply that to their own daily lives. I think that's why audiences, no matter what country they are in, have been taken with this story."
The cast also includes Orlando Bloom as the elf warrior Legolas; John Rhys-Davies plays the feisty dwarf Gimli; and Sean Astin is the Hobbit Sam, Frodo's loyal traveling companion. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King was shot on location in director Peter Jackson's native New Zealand and the musical score is by Canadian-born Oscar-winner Howard Shore.