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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that violence in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King includes countless battle casualties with death by arrows, spears, swords, monster-stomping, fatal plunges, and explosions. Horses as well as elephant-like beasts are killed violently (sure, sure, they're CGI). There is quite a lot of glorification of bladed weaponry, as well as nightmarish imagery of ghoulish creatures, including a zombie-like ghost army and a hideous giant spider. Heroic characters smoke, drink, and get drunk. The story starts right where the previous Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers left off. Viewers not familiar with the first film (or J.R.R. Tolkien's novels) will be very confused. Not only is this Oscar winner a long movie, the DVD "Special edition" is even longer.
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What's the story?
One of the most ambitious projects in the history of filmmaking comes to a heart-poundingly thrilling conclusion with THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING, the final installment of Tolkien's trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. The second installment opened in the middle of the action, but this one begins with a flashback, in which we learn more about Gollum, the twisted, tortured creature who is supposed to be leading Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) to Mount Doom. We also learn more about the power of that ring to make anyone willing to give up all he has to possess it. After that very brief prologue, we are back where we left off, a literal cliffhanger. Frodo, Sam, and Gollum are crossing the stark peaks on the way to the volcano in the heart of Mount Doom. That's where the ring was forged and the only place where it can be destroyed. Meanwhile, the other remaining members of the Fellowship of the Ring prepare for battle with the forces led by Sauron.
Is it any good?
As with the first two chapters, Peter Jackson's rendition of the Tolkien classic is astonishing. Every detail is just right, and from the struggles of three very small creatures to stay alive as they scale sheer rock to the huge battles with hundreds of thousands of warriors, every moment is vivid, exciting, and moving. That means not just Middle Earth citadels, a giant spider, and thousands of phantom combatants, but also smaller moments of equal power. Sam and Gollum each try to make Frodo mistrust the other. There are villains, grotesque and powerful, weak and greedy. And there are heroes, loyal, brave, devoted, honorable.
The tone of The Return of the King is epic and majestic, the battles brilliantly staged, the vistas magnificently conceived. But it's still all about the story. Characters learn and deepen. Even little Pippin and Merry go from cute comic relief to genuine heroes. There is so much going on that some characters seem like not much more than cameo guest appearances, especially Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchette). And the post-ending endings, after more than three hours, may seem a bit too much. But this is still an epic to satisfy the most devoted Tolkien fans, and viewers who are new to Middle Earth. In its own way, it is as thrilling an adventure in storytelling on film as the quest it portrays.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why they think Frodo was charged with carrying the ring in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. As the movie progresses, is he still the best person for the job?
You can also talk about the modern-day parallels to these stories, since Tolkien wrote the books as parables. How are Tolkien's parables different from those of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien's longtime friend and colleague?
How do you think the movie adaptations compare with Tolkien's books?
- In theaters: December 19, 2003
- On DVD or streaming: May 25, 2004
- Cast: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters, Friendship
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 200 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense epic battle sequences and frightening images
- Last updated: January 8, 2021
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