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Return of the King
By Hilary Williamson, December 2003

Books into movies? How often they disappoint us. Sometimes they're simply awful. More often, the movie is good enough, but the director has injected a very different feel or even a completely new message - not what the booklover expected at all, to the inevitable dismay of a reader anticipating from the movie a visual feast with a very particular taste. Not so with the Lord of the Rings films, which (despite a few liberties with plot details) I believe even J. R. R. Tolkien would have been thrilled to watch.

Stupendous, extraordinary, brilliant!! And, unexpectedly, The Return of the King was even better than The Fellowship of the Ring or The Two Towers. I looked forward to the horrors of Shelob's sticky webs and, while she was suitably unpleasant, my kids agreed that the Balrog is still #1 in Tolkien's monster list. And though Gollum/Smeagol's divided character and manic mutterings once again stole the show in the first half of the movie, it evolved nicely into the intended story of Frodo and Sam, and their willingness to sacrifice everything to keep the homefires burning in Hobbiton (and what a fiery Sam we saw in this final episode!)

Special effects gave the battle scenes a sense of the immensity of the conflict though, as in much else in the conversion of the epic to movie format, they were significantly compressed in time. The cinematography in the lighting of signal beacons across the peaks of New Zealand's South Island was simply stunning - and a wonderful boost to the country's travel industry. But sending the Steward of Gondor flaming over the ramparts of Minas Tirith was definitely over the top - dramatic but not in the original.

I found it inconsistent that, having increased Arwen's role in The Fellowship of the Ring, it was kept more true to the original this time around. And the final scenes in Hobbiton were a definite disappointment. The hobbits' defeat of Saruman and Wormtongue was dropped, scenes that were most satisfying in the books and in the BBC audio version of the trilogy. But this is all nitpicking. I plan to watch this movie again at the cinemas, and look forward to the DVD release of The Return of the King and a marathon Rings session watching all three movies at once.

Now that I've seen the last of the trilogy, I already miss the anticipation of this annual event. I can only hope that moviemakers will apply the same labor of love as Peter Jackson did with Lord of the Rings to some of my other long-term favorite reads, such as Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or Mary Stewart's Arthurian Saga. Now that would be something to look forward to!

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