Movie Reviews

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (5/25/2004)

Directed by Peter Jackson (All three of the Lord of the Rings Movies, King Kong, Heavenly Creatures)

Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Sean Aston . . .

When I was a kid we had the “Star Wars” trilogy—I can still remember standing in line for opening day of “Return of the Jedi.” I was sure there would never be another trilogy that even came close . . . and then Lord of the Rings arrived.

“The Return of the King” is the third film of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. “The Fellowship” is still divided from the last film and Frodo and Sam continue their journey to Mt. Doom to destroy the Ring, led by their schizo guide on the Atkins diet (no bread, just meat), Gollum. Meanwhile Gandalf and Pippin try to convince Gondor’s corrupt leader to ask for aid in their battle against Sauron. And Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Merry ride with the Rohan fighters who come to join the battle. The divided fellowship face more evils than just Sauron: an evil leader who is willing to kill his only remaining son, the sneaky Gollum who wants nothing but his “Precious,” a giant spider that is hungry for Hobbit, and a dead army that doesn’t allow anyone to leave the Cursed Mountains.

The film continues its legacy with a classic storyline, powerful performances and fantastic action sequences. Like its predecessors, “Return of the King” delivers great battle scenes with men, orcs, horses, giant elephants, mercenaries, trolls, flying nazguls, wring wraiths, etc. And if you were impressed with Legalos in “The Two Towers” when he grabbed his horse in full gallop, mounting it like it was nothing, or when his hand moved at warp 5 between his quiver and bow shooting arrows into orcs . . . then you’re gonna love him in “Return of the King.” In the third film he hops on an “Emperial Walker” sized elephant loaded down with mercenaries, easily tossing aside attackers, dodging arrows, disposing of the control platform and then shooting three arrows into the beast’s head bringing it down. Now that’s my boy!

“Return of the King” delivered.

Yes, the film’s long. In the theatre my 30+ year old bladder demanded two potty breaks. But hey . . . now it’s on DVD. What’s a pause button for anyway?

I think trilogies and sequels have a tougher job being accepted by audiences because they’re always compared to the first films. And many sequels or second films have not delivered like the first. Take “The Matrix.” The first film was loved by audiences, where the second was . . . well, let’s face it, I’ve seen better Steven Seagal films! It’s hard for second films to measure up to the first. Much like, “Why can’t you be more like your brother!”

And the Academy finally took notice of the trilogy, giving “Return of the King” the recognition and awards it deserved. The Lord of the Rings trilogy became the most nominated film series in Academy Award history with 30 nominations, surpassing both “The Godfather” trilogy (28) and the “Star Wars” films (21). But it wasn’t until the third film that the nominations became winners. “Return of the King” tied with “Ben-Hur” (1959) and “Titanic” (1997) to win the most Oscar's (11) in a single year, breaking another record by winning all the Oscars for which it was nominated.

Recognition from the Academy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an enjoyable film. (Ever seen “American Beauty?” Skip it, if you haven’t.) But Return of the King came through. Audiences loved it, the box office proved it. In February 2004, Return of the King became second film to break the $1 billion mark in worldwide box-office revenue (Titanic was the first).

Will kids want to see it?
Yes, because all their friends will have seen it. Should they see it? There will be one major issue: the film contains plenty of violence. The film is about a war, and you’ll see plenty of bloody battles. No sex, no foul language, no crude humor, no teenagers with attitudes to imitate . . . just a bunch of bloody battles. I know with my kids, the only objection I had was if the film would scare them. I didn’t want my youngest sleeping in my bed for the next three weeks! Check out for a more detailed review of content.

The film has some great discussion starters.

  • The film opens with the story of Cain and Abel . . . er . . . uh . . . Smeagol and Deagol. Smeagol’s jealousy for the ring leads him to murder his own brother.
  • In this film we are also introduced to the character of Denethor, the steward or temporary leader of Gondor. The corrupt Denethor is confronted by Gandalf for his refusal to call on Rohan for aid. Since Denethor knew Aragorn was riding with Rohan, he only saw “the return of the king” as a threat to his own power, much like the Pharisees did with Jesus in the first century.
  • I also enjoyed Gandalf and Pippen’s discussion when Minas Tirith was overtaken by Sauron’s army. The enemy was closing in, a troll was beating down the door . . . things looked pretty bleak. Pippen simply said, “I didn’t think it would end this way.” Gandalf looked at him with surprise and asked, “End?” Then he lays out a proper perspective, a peek at what “the afterlife” looks like. An eternal perspective during hopeless times.
  • And the film ends with a great scene where Frodo stands at the edge of Mt. Doom, having second thoughts about getting rid of the “precious” ring. His “accountability buddy’ Sam urges him to destroy it. But Frodo doesn’t want to get rid of it – he had grown to like it too much, and now he wanted to keep it. Much like habits or temptations that we tell ourselves we can handle or get rid of, but we’re too weak to do by ourselves.
  • Conversation Starter
    Three Simple Questions (with Answers You May Be Looking for):

    1. What are some of the messages or themes you observed in this movie?
    2. How do you suppose we—as serious Christ-followers—should react to this movie?
    3. How can we move from healthy, Bible-based opinions about this movie to actually living out those opinions?


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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