Here we are, my friends. We’ve come to the end of all things. Well, at least when it comes to reviewing this saga of movies. I’ll always still be here for you guys. The final installment of Peter Jackson’s epic high fantasy trilogy was released worldwide on December 17th, 2003. It went on to gross over $1 billion at the box office, the second feature film to ever do so after Titanic. It also became a huge favorite with critics, scoring 11 Academy Award wins, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Picture. Let that sink in for a moment: A fantasy film from a big studio swept the Oscars and earned a record-high amount of trophies, tying only with Ben-Hur and Titanic. Picking up right where The Two Towers left off, Sam and Frodo are making their final push towards Mount Doom with Gollum acting as their guide. Meanwhile, Gandalf the White and Pippin make a plea with the kingdom of Gondor to prepare for Sauron’s impending invasion on the city of Minas Tirith. And as the armies of Rohan advance for aid, Aragorn sets off to fulfill a prophecy that would make him King of Men. Every trilogy has a challenge of closing out with a third installment that’s up to par with its two predecessors. But the sad truth is that that is a rarity in cinema. For every Bourne Ultimatum and Return of the Jedi, we still get films like The Dark Knight Rises and The Godfather Part III. When you add the massive success of the previous two Lord of the Rings films and the insane anticipation that was built up, this third entry seemed doomed to fail. But Return of the King not only surpassed all expectations, it became one of the greatest movies ever made. In fact, it’s my favorite movie of all time. Just as with the other two films, this one runs at over 3 hours long, even more so with the Special Extended Edition. And yet again, I iterate that there is not a moment wasted here. In fact, there are some scenes in the Extended Edition I feel are vital for understanding certain plot or character arcs. How one sequence involving Saruman was cut for theatrical release I will never understand. The pacing is perfect as well. I have seen films that are literally half as long as this one that feel like they drag on forever. Beginning with a shocking prologue directed by Jackson’s wife and co-writer Fran Walsh, and concluding with one of the most deeply moving endings in cinematic history, (Which doesn’t go on and on as some may lead you to believe) there is not a single thread that is left unsatisfied. Pretty much all of the major players were introduced in the first two entries, the one exception here being Denethor, played malevolently by John Noble. One of the most despicable human characters in cinema, his madness and grief intertwine in a scary and believable way. Another character I didn’t get to mention was Miranda Otto’s Eowyn, a strong-willed shield-maiden who wants nothing more than to prove her worth. Those type of characters can usually be annoying, but you grow to care and root for her. But the scene-stealer this time around is Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee. As Frodo grows weaker, Sam has to step it up and prove himself as the real hero of the story. Even for a series as technically accomplished as this one, Return of the King is one of the most visually striking films of the last 50 years. Containing 1,488 visual shots, the VFX work really comes to life during the battle sequences, particularly the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Nearly 20 times as large as the Battle for Helm’s Deep, but still just as personal, nearly every character in the cast, save for Frodo and Sam, gets a chance to shine in the conflict. It also better fleshes out some effects-heavy characters, such as the giant spider Shelob. That sequence scared me to death as a child, and it still sends a shiver down my spine to this day. Outside of CGI, the production design continues to be be impressive with some of the most elaborate sets ever built. The practical model for Minas Tirith is quite an awesome sight while Shelob’s Lair is creepy enough to make your skin crawl. And Howard Shore’s music has never been better than here. Each track is elevated to a level of epic proportions thanks to an operatic choir and fantastic strings. It all captures the right emotion of the moment, and earns that response from audiences. All of the leitmotifs we know and recognize are present, but they’re amplified to an insane degree of beauty. Upon all of that, the film closes its credits with an Oscar-Winning original song called “Into the West” by Annie Lennox. A cathartic ballad that brings all of the emotions drained out of your system back to where you began, it also serves as the perfect ending to the finale from the last few frames. And this really does feel like what J.R.R. Tolkien wanted as an end to his saga. There are definitely changes to the source material- much to the chagrin of his son and literary heir Christopher -but the spirit and the intent of the story is all still present. The novel is considered both the pinnacle and the model of fantasy literature in most corners of the globe. On a similar level, the film adaptation is considered to have created the template for how to adapt a story, regardless of genre. Many have utilized that template but none have quite mastered it like this film trilogy. Visually stunning, emotionally rewarding, and satisfying beyond words, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is an astonishingly powerful and endlessly beautiful masterpiece of peak filmmaking. I reiterate my earlier sentiment: This is my favorite movie of all time. It crafted the sci-fi/fantasy nerd you’re reading right now and ultimately showed me the magic of the movies. And it’s an example I measure all other films to come. If you don’t like this movie, well then you might as well just un-Follow me.