I’d rank Fellowship higher than Return, but I won’t begrudge the third and final LOTR film its placement in the IMDb’s top ten. Despite this being possibly my twentieth watch (I’ve done the maths, and that’s near enough correct), I’m still enraptured by the adventure and emotion director that Peter Jackson shepherds across the screen.
Fellowship displays the script team’s prowess in storytelling, the various designers’ attention to detail and their expansive collective imagination. All these aspects are upheld and continued in Return, yet also there is a new sense of scale that we have not yet seen in the previous two films. This is due primarily to the siege of Minas Tirith, the White City of Gondor, and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, which features thousands of orcs, the Haradrim with their mammoth Oliphaunts, the mounted Rohirrim, and an ethereal undead army, not to mention several Nazgul and a few additional heroes. Supplied with gags from Gimli and heroic feats from Eowyn, Legolas and the Hobbits in particular, Return is watchable, exciting and often emotional.
I suppose to be ‘emotional’ you have to have invested in the characters, but its also the underlying moral codes that strengthen this aspect. I don’t say “lessons”, or “messages”, because that’s not what LOTR is about at all. Instead, it shows a world already in motion, and celebrates the moral virtues in it. For example, one of the best lines (in my opinion) is Eowyn encouraging Merry as they look down upon the thousands upon thousands of armoured orcs, whom they will soon meet in battle: ‘Courage, Merry. Courage for our friends’. To think this means ‘you, viewer, have courage for your friends’ is ridiculous. I think that’s where people go wrong, those who scorn LOTR. This idea undermines their sense of honour, and reduces it to cheap, laughable sentiment.
Instead we see what courage is, a courage beyond anything the average person amongst us has shown. And so (if we can be bothered to empathise) we begin to understand in a different and deeper way than before, what friendship is, or should be. This is what Tolkien saw as the primary aim of fantasy, to reimagine our world and its workings, and reintroduce these in a new way. I’m so glad that the film managed to capture this, and not just slip into stodgy didacticism.
I suppose it wouldn’t shock you to hear that I like this film, given my general love of all things Tolkien. Still, I'll assert that this is a heavily, heavily recommended watch, although, of course, it won’t make one iota of sense unless you watch the trilogy in order. I suggest you go do so.