Re-Watch: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: J. R. R. Tolkien‘s novel
Sequel to: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Cast: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Andy Serkis, Sean Bean, Marton Csokas, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Craig Parker, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban, David Wenham, John Noble
Seen on: 6.1.2022

Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) have not only to find their way into Mordor, but also to Mount Doom, unnoticed by Sauron, to destroy the One Ring. Meanwhile, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) slowly claims his role as King and leads the human army into battle against Sauron to draw his gaze away from the hobbits and the ring. The time of decision draws near.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is my least favorite Lord of the Rings movie and probably the most boring of the three. But it is still a satisfying ending to a trilogy that I continue to love overall (much more than the books, probably).

The film poster showing some of the central characters, most in fighting poses.

Since I already mentioned that I’m not a fan of huge battle scenes when I wrote about The Two Towers, you can probably imagine that The Return of the King is not exactly to my liking as it feels like it’s about 90% battle, 5% endings and 5% other stuff. I also feel like the extended edition has little to add than just more battle, but to be honest, apart from the cinema, I have only seen the extended edition and I am not sure anymore which scenes were added and which are in the original cut, so I might well be wrong about that.

That you start feeling some lengths, especially when you watch all three movies back to back, is probably not surprising, but I thought that they’re concentrated pretty much in this last installment. But that is probably more due to my lack of appreciation for the battle scenes than anything else.

Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) sitting on horse, leading an army.

In any case, I still find it amusing how many endings this film has. I couldn’t even make a list of them if you’d ask me. Not that I would want to miss any of the endings, really – they give us the much needed character conclusions after all. And I was also surprised again by the ghost army – a part of the story I had completely forgotten about. I could barely remember that I had seen it before as the scenes unfolded in front of me, something that practically hadn’t happened in the other two films.

But that’s neither here nor there. The Return of the King has a big task in finishing this huge trilogy and it goes about it admirably, although it is less interested in the characters that carry the action than the action itself. There it gives us really awesome visuals again. The Mouth of Sauron is still an absolutely vivid image for me and always will be (I think he is only in the extended edition, if I’m not mistaken). And generally, I really wouldn’t want to miss this film. Least favorite of the trilogy is still a whole lot of favorite overall.

Pippin (Billy Boyd) serving Denethor (John Noble).

Summarizing: a really satisfying conclusion.


  1. Let’s put it this way: This is my least favorite EE of the three. Which is weird because there are some scenes in here, missing in the theatrical cut, that are absolutely essential, like Saruman’s death. Also, while you’re right that there is some random stuff which make your problems with the film all the more pronounced, it also adds many character moments (like the Houses of Healing), and the rather important confrontation between Gandalf and the Witch King (which, like the end of Saruman’s story arc, should have never been cut from the theatrical version). On the other hand, you are right that it also adds a lot of superfluous stuff (the extended attack on Osgiliath, the added scenes with the cursed ghost army, just to name a few). I also very much prefer the flow of the Battle on the Pelennor Fields from the theatrical cut. There, things get worse and worse, until our heroes turn the tide, and strike one victory after the other. In the EE, it’s more of a rollercoaster. Mostly, though, even though it’s right out of the book (and the design indeed is striking) I’m not a fan of the scene with Sauron’s Mouth, since it entirely changes the meaning of Aragorn’s “For Frodo”-Attack. In the TC, it’s an act of hope; here, it’s an act of desperation.

    Still, even though in it’s EE-version, this is defintely my second favorite LOTR-film, and despite it’s flaws, I still consider it a masterpiece (especially the last 30-45 minutes of the TC, which are downright perfect; yes, despite all those endings, which never bothered me). And seeing it for the first time in a triple feature midnight premiere was the best time at the movies that I ever had, and one of my most-treasured memories in general.

    • True, generally the scene with the Mouth of Sauron is not great, apart from his design.

      The endings didn’t bother me, it was just striking how many times the screen fades to black only to come back and give us yet another ending. :) In any case, I understand your fondness for the midnight screening and I can only agree that the LOTR films have a special place in cinema history.

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