"The road goes ever on and on," sings Bilbo Baggins. So also will feverish debate among readers and moviegoers now that Peter Jackson's ambitious cinematic adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy is complete.
The Return of the King, the final installment, delivers on the promise of grander spectacle, higher intensity, and a marathon of emotional resolutions to the story's elaborate plotlines. It also introduces more controversial changes, which will surely throw fuel on the fiery tempers of Middle-earth purists.
But there are also some problems created by the filmmakers' adherence to the text. Some things just work better in literature than they do onscreen, like the concluding parade of tear-jerking reunions and farewells. Nevertheless, Jackson's big-screen victories far outweigh his failures.
The movie opens with a prologue that portrays Smeagol's disintegration into Gollum (played by Andy Serkis), a tormented wretch obsessed with and addicted to the great Ring of Power. In this surprising flashback, Serkis plays the as-yet unspoiled Smeagol unenhanced by effects, and it becomes clearer just how much of the actor's brilliant work indwells Gollum's animated expression. This reminds us of where the Ring is taking our story's ring-bearer—Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood)—whose every step Gollum follows with malice and deadly intent.
As we watch brave Frodo march toward similar spiritual ruin, Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), his steadfast companion, gets to "show his quality." When Gollum cleverly separates the loyal companions, Sam demonstrates newfound courage and loyalty in confronting Shelob, film history's most frightening spider. When Frodo's will teeters on the edge of an abyss, Sam perseveres. Resisting the ...