Upper Middle Earth

The Return of the King marks a zenith in cinematic potential

Of course, the marketing hype and CG effects -- more of both than in the previous films combined -- threaten to dwarf the actors at every turn. This is where Jackson, whose finest film remains Heavenly Creatures, works for his pay. True, without the stunning designs of Alan Lee and John Howe, the effects of Richard Taylor, the music of Howard Shore, and the efforts of thousands of others, this movie would not exist. But consider only one scene, wherein mad Denethor stuffs his face while his son Faramir rides toward almost certain doom and Pippin enchants with an ethereal song, and you'll see it: Jackson is not only a splendid visual stylist, he's also an ace with actors, editing, color-timing, tone, the works.

Yes, He Smiles Sometimes: Viggo 
Mortensen plays the brooding, hunky king.
Yes, He Smiles Sometimes: Viggo Mortensen plays the brooding, hunky king.

After all the nitpicking and swooning, the overall achievement of The Lord of the Rings trilogy finally comes down to this: Within the history of cinema, with very few exceptions, it has never been so easy to say fucking wow about a movie ... and mean it.

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