A Return To Middle-Earth, Part III: Liveblogging ‘Return of The King’ on Blu-ray

The mail from you guys about the liveblogging this week has been interesting, and if it’s something you’d like to do on some sort of regular schedule, we can try that in the new year.  I would happily pick some of my favorite movies on Blu-ray and a time when we can watch them together.  Or newer movies.  Or movies I’ve never seen, but should have, which could be interesting as well. 

Whether we continue it or not, though, I’m glad to have finally sat down to see these movies again.  Time had diminished them somewhat in my mind, reduced them to the set pieces and the spectacle and the hype, and I had forgotten what really makes them special, the human and emotional content of the movies.  And now, as I gear up for “Return Of The King,” I’m nearly as excited as I was before I saw the film for the first time in 2003, eager to see everything tied together.

Tonight’s going to be a long one, so I just had a sandwich, I’ve got a few drinks set aside, and I’m powdered and primped and ready to go.  We’ve got over four hours of movie ahead, which will make this an Oscar-length live-blog.  A marathon.  And as I said last night before “The Two Towers,” it’s been long enough that I really have forgotten much of this movie already.

I’m amazed at how many remarkable moments I’d forgotten.  That whole bit at the end of “Towers” between Frodo and the Nazgul is gorgeous and creepy and bizarre, and I’d totally forgotten it, and I’d forgotten the way Frodo almost attacks Sam for stopping him, furious at the idea that he didn’t get to hand the Ring over.  Wonderful, and this revisit is giving me all of these moments anew, which is one of the reasons I intentionally set them aside for a while.

Toshi has been arguing his case like he’s appealing his own death sentence, passionate and determined, absolutely ready to sit down and watch all three films with me right now.  Only… he’s not.  Not really.  He gets images in his head and treats them as nightmare fuel in a way that even Allen doesn’t.  Toshi tends to really feel the movies he watches, engaging with them deeply, and I think these films are full of stuff he’s really not equipped to see yet.

But the interest is there, and so I showed him the trailer for “The Hobbit.”  He immediately understood that it was “more” of “Lord Of The Rings,” and I made him a deal.  He can see the movie in theaters next Christmas with me, but only if we read the book (as in I read, he listens and discusses) before the film comes out.  He says he’s up for it, and if so, this should be a real treat of a year.

But for now… let’s press play and start the final steps of this giant journey…

Just as I feel a certain twinge every time I see the 20th Century Fox fanfare, expecting to see a “Star Wars” film afterwards, any time I see that New Line logo now, part of me expects to hear Howard Shore’s music kick in immediately afterward.

The story of Smeagol and Deagol is really well-handled here, practically a Hobbit parable, and I like how this was always Fran Walsh’s special project, something she felt very strongly about.  I believe she even directed this sequence.  It was also nice to finally see Andy Serkis in the flesh and to see how good he is on-camera, without the added filter of performance capture.  It’s interesting how quickly this goes from the broad comic sensibility of a Hobbit being pulled along by a fish to the naked ugly nature of the murder, more upsetting than much of the violence in the trilogy because of the close-up and coarse manner in which it’s handled.

What kind of crazy-ass acid trip do you think Smeagol went on when he first put that Ring on his finger?  How long do you think he went before he took it off?  His deterioration over time, handled primarily through make-up, is more awful than I would have expected, and the moment where he goes from a man in make-up to a CGI creation is so subtle that it would be easy for viewers to miss.  It certainly establishes just what the stakes are for Frodo, who’s getting that junkie itch at this point.

For me, even before “Fellowship” came out, I always felt like “Return of the King” was going to be Sam’s movie to finally step forward as a character, and it’s a moment like that exchange with Frodo, and the quiet optimism of his line “The journey home” that I find so devastating in a film like this.  The journey home is so much a part of what these movies are about that I don’t understand people complaining about “too many endings.”  The endings are the meat.

We’ll get there, though.  First, this stuff at the beginning is, I’m fairly sure, not from the theatrical cuts.  And yet it’s an essential bridge into this film, bringing people back together this way.  It’s hilarious to me how blatantly Pippin and Merry are playing that longbottom leaf as having a particularly strong kick.  Ahem.  Nicely done, gentlemen.

Theoden finally getting to confront the man who had possessed him, who ran his kingdom down, is a key moment, and important for both of them.  I do love the Tower of Isengard, such a striking design.  And Saruman’s taunt using his Palantir is nice, because it alerts them to the danger that’s still lurking out there.

I also like seeing Wormtongue realize just how much he bet on the wrong horse, and handling the end of Saruman onscreen seems like one of those essential things.  He’s been such a source of suffering in the film so far that he has to be taken out in some way.  For it to be that painful an end… well, it seems fitting.  And it puts a punctuation mark on everything from the last film, allowing a natural break for everyone to regroup and relax.

You know, I got a little heat yesterday for mentioning the palpable sexual tension between Eowyn and Aragorn, but no matter how good-hearted Aragorn is, there’s some real smolder going on between them.  And a shot like Pippin and Merry dancing together again almost comes as a shock because I’d forgotten how small the Hobbits are.  The films don’t really dwell on that fact, so every now and then, there’s a reminder of scale that is striking like that one.

Oh, boy… Smeagol’s off his meds, and we’re starting to get more hints about “Her.”  If there’s any one character that is going to keep me from screening this one for the kids for a while, it’s “Her.”  Allen freaks out when he sees a spider the size of a dime.  One the size of a Volkwagen might break him permanently.

Pro-tip:  if you’re a completely sociopath, you might not want to have complicated conversations about murder out loud within earshot of your proposed victims.

One thing people seem to forget, or that wasn’t really emphasized when the films came out, is that Jackson had totally different editors on each of the films, and “Return Of The King” is the one where Jamie Selkirk, one of his oldest collaborators, finally took his shot at the material.  This film feels very different than the others.  There’s so much quiet up front, so much information still just being established even this far into the series, and it’s got a very different feel than the first two films.  This sequence with Pippin and the Palantir feels like vintage Jackson, and I think it’s because you can feel Selkirk’s hand in the mix somewhere.

It feels like those who oppose Sauron are finally starting to get their shit together, but the conflict between Rohan and Gondor is a nice reminder that people do not always act in their own best interests, and that allegiance and honor can be tricky things.  The idea of Pippin and Gandalf becoming a duo, of Pippin and Merry apart, is something that feels impossible after the second film.  This is where choices start to hurt.

Choices like the one Arwen’s making, or the one that Aragorn made.  Choices that may mean never seeing someone again, even if that someone is the reason you’re fighting to preserve something in the first place.

Hey! Flight Of the Conchords! Yes, I know he has a name, but I choose to just call him that.  I’m actually really glad Bret McKenzie is going to be in “The Hobbit,” as he seems like an absolute perfect fit for the world as imagined by Jackson.  In our recent interview, he talked about how much he enjoys writing songs to sing as various cast members show up to do scenes, and how some of the cast loves to sing along, like Ian McKellen.  Man, I hope someone’s shooting all of that.

It’s easy to get blindsided by the sudden emphasis in this film of Aragorn’s role in the unification of Middle-Earth, and the significance of his bloodline, because Jackson keeps it back-burnered for the first two films.  But it makes emotional sense, as I don’t see Aragorn exactly frantic to fulfill that destiny.

Holy cow, I forgot how gorgeous Minas Tirith is.  I am so jealous of Harry Knowles for the time he spent on those sets.  The scale of what they had to have built for some of this is just staggering, and it all comes together as a very real, easy to understand environment.  I love that both Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith are very specific in the way they’re laid out, so that when there is a battle, we know how things work and we don’t have to figure it out mid-combat.

I have no idea how I made that boneheaded mistake the other night, calling Bernard Hill “John Noble” when Theoden first showed up.  Bernard Hill’s work is so great and so warm, and Noble is the one who is all frosted edge and simmering madness.  His Denethor is imposing and frightening in his broken state, and Pippin’s pledge to his service is one of those impulsive moves that has huge ramifications for the rest of the movie.

Oh! Gandalf said the film’s title! I think that means we all have to drink.

I can’t believe it’s already almost an hour into the film.  This is what astonishes me with this series.  Once you’re in, you’re in, and the pace is impressively maintained for the entire time.  Here, we’re still just setting up the tensions that have to play out in this film, like Denethor’s refusal to acknowledge Aragorn as the true King, Sauron’s search for Pippin and his belief that he has the Ring, Frodo and Sam’s growing distance and the way Gollum is starting to manipulate it… all of it laid out in a way that feels organic, that draws us in without ever feeling like exposition.

That shot of Pippin handing up the water, Gandalf setting a hand on his shoulder… that’s the sort of thing that truly sells the scale as something real.  It doesn’t announce itself as a trick or as some sort of important establishing shot, but it works almost subliminally to sell it through the small casual details, which I’m sure were planned out meticulously.

The Witch-King is played up here in order to give us a focus during the mayhem of the second half of the film, a recognizable physical bad guy that has to be defeated.  Since the Nazgul don’t have much individual identity, it’s wise to put a big ol’ bulls-eye on one of them.

Regarding that staircase… oh, HELL, no.  Even without the giant spider, there is no way I’m going up steps like that.

Oh, wow… I forgot that sound.  I love sound design, and a sound like that insane cracking/sucking/inverse lightning bolt sound is great because of how utterly alien it is.  I don’t know what would make that noise, but whatever it is, I wouldn’t want to be there when it happened.  It’s like the Seal Of Hell itself opened, and this Army comes walking up out of it.

An aside here for a moment as we watch the river ambush scene:  not enough credit is given to Jackson for the way he handles military strategy on film in these movies.  I would say that the vast majority of films that have big battle set pieces are not terribly interested in the strategy of those scenes, perfectly happy to sacrifice that in favor of spectacle.  With “The Two Towers” and “Return of The King” both, Jackson reveals himself as a Strategy Geek, and these movies are like the greatest game of Cinematic Risk every played.  He has a compulsive need to lay things out so you can see the ebb and flow of a battle, and why things play out the way they do.

The lighting of the Beacons represents some of the best work of Shore’s in the whole trilogy.  The sheer amount of music he was responsible for would have crippled some composers, but he just kept bringing in great new themes, finding ways to build and underscore and support, and at least a few of the tears I spilled watching these originally were spilled because of Shore’s efforts.

“Gondor calls for aid.”

“And Rohan will answer.”  Oh, what a wonderful movie moment.  Jackson had so many great voices at his disposal in these films, and he gave them such lovely words to say.

I forgot how much of this film simply deals with the logistics of massing for battle.  It is no simple thing, and Jackson doesn’t make it look immediate or simple.  Yes, many of his armies were created in a computer for the film, but that doesn’t mean he undersells the effort required to move all of these chess pieces into place on the massive game board that is the Pellinore Fields.

I like how the main Orc we see during the stuff involving Faramir looks like a tumor in a suit of armor.  That is some seriously messed up make-up on that guy.

How crazy is it that this is the first confirmation anyone’s had that Frodo and Sam are actually still alive?

You strip out all the fantasy and magic and monsters, and the father-son dynamic at play in the Boromir-Faramir-Denethor storyline is still rich enough to be an entire movie.  Noble and Wenham have to suggest so much here, without Bean actually present, to show just how these three fit together.  Or not, as the case may be.  It was the first time I ever liked Bean in anything, and a tremendous introduction to both Wenham and Noble.  I love that about these films, that the entire past decade, you see casting in dozens and dozens of movies that was directly influenced by choices Jackson made here, chances he took that paid off in the end.

“Yes. I wish that.”  I can’t imagine any father ever saying that, but boy… Jackson lands it like a knockout punch on Wenham.  Absolutely brutal.

Oh, hello, debilitating acrophobia.  Yes, I will get dizzy now and have to close my eyes as we look down from where Sam and Frodo sleep.

It’s clever how Gollum’s plan to drive a wedge between Sam and Frodo only works because of the very nature of who Sam and Frodo are.  He plays them beautifully, and I like how close Sam comes to killing Gollum in his anger.  They’re both stretched well past the point of breaking, and every little thing gets magnified, turned into life-and-death, and when they finally break, it’s awful to watch.  And Gollum loves it.  He just drinks it up, thrilled to see them implode.

And Astin… man, he had to know how great a role this was, but I honestly think he made it better.  There is nothing calculated about his Samwise.  He plays him as an exposed nerve, completely honest and on the surface, and what you see is exactly what you get.  When he realizes that Frodo doesn’t trust him anymore, and he starts to crumble, there’s nothing held back.  Astin lets you see right into this guy’s broken heart.

One thing I really loved about the “Hobbit” trailer was the use of the Dwarves singing, because that’s so key to the way Tolkien wrote these books.  Singing is a part of their world, a big part of how they communicate, and this sequence, with Pippin singing during Faramir’s ride on the Orcs, Denethor positively disgusting as he eats and tries to sublimate what he’s just sent his son to do, is lyrical and crushing at the same time.  Not easy to do.

Hugo Weaving was ominpresent there for a few years, wasn’t he?  He’s such a great choice as Elrond, since he basically looks like an alien anyway.  That strange Otherness is exactly why he was such a good choice for Agent Smith, and he’s absolutely ideal here as well.  His reveal of Isildur’s reforged blade is epic, and it’s nice to see the transformation in Aragorn finally kick in, as he starts to believe that he could indeed be the one who leads Middle-Earth into a new age.

The only way this scene between Aragorn and Eowyn could be better is if it ended with him giving her my phone number.  “There’s this guy… he can give you what you want.”  Damn youse, Aragorn, breaking that heart.  This sequence that they’re building to is one of the ones that didn’t really work for me theatrically, but the rhythms of the film were so different that it’s almost not even fair to compare them.  With “Fellowship” and “Two Towers,” the theatrical cuts were great.  I really like the Extended Editions, but I don’t think they were essential.  Here, for the last film, I don’t think the theatrical cut works, and it’s because I’ve got this cut to compare it to that I can say that.  I loved the film in 2003, but it’s just plain truncated and unfinished compared to the four-hours-and-twenty minutes we’re watching tonight.

Here’s how you know you’ve created a great bunch of characters.  Any way you reconfigure the groups in these films, they’re interesting.  Putting Pippin and Eowyn together, for example, offers up some great thematic possibilities, and it’s a really nice different dynamic to play for a while.  But breaking Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas away from the group to adventure together for a while is great precisely because of how much we’ve come to enjoy watching them as a unit, and it makes it possible for this whole sequence to feel more personal, not on such a broad scale.

I like this Army of the Dead scene a lot more now.  I like that it’s the first time Aragorn tries to assert his position as King, and it’s an important test of his belief in himself.  IIt’s one thing to give a rousing speech to humans who are in direct peril, trying to move them to take up arms in your name, but it’s another thing entirely to convince these phantoms who can see right into you that your cause is just and worth their effort.  The end of the sequence, as Aragorn thinks he’s failed and sees the black ships sailing up the river, is a great way of not just punctuating the scene but also reminding us how close things are getting now.

That move with the heads being thrown over the walls with catapults?  That may well be the king dick move of all king dick moves.

The seige on Minas-Tirith is a great example of what I mean about Jackson as a strategy geek.  The way the first few shots are traded back and forth, the way the battlefields are laid out, all of it feels right.  And then, just like that, the gloves are off and the battle is on and the Nazgul fly in from above and we can see that it’s about to get ugly.  Just in time for this first disc to end and us to take a break.  I’ll give a shout-out on Twitter when we’re about to resume, but you should aim for around 8:15 PST.

And one last thing… do not f with a Hobbit.  They will surprise you.


I love that the second disc starts with the exaggeratedly violent death of Peter Jackson.  And his pirate make-up is hilarious.

“Go in or go back.”  Such an elegant trap Gollum has laid out for Frodo.  I’m not scared of spiders, per se, but this is one of the few times I’ve seen a filmmaker genuinely make a giant spider seem terrifying.  Anytime a giant Frostbite spider jumps out at me in “Skyrim,” this is what I flash on.  There’s so much of “Return,” especially during this middle stretch of the movie, that plays like full-blown horror.  I guess that’s appropriate.  If you want your heroes to really earn their happy ending, then you’ve got to take them as far down into the darkness as you possibly can.

Sam, for example.  That fall he takes, and the look on his face when he finds the Lambas bread… this is (pardon the pun) rock bottom for him.  This is as bad as it gets.  And for Frodo, he’s been abandoned, and he finds himself on the run in something’s lair, suddenly aware of his own place in the food chain in a very acute manner.  Being stuck like that, unable to move, is exactly what a nightmare feels like, and just as Gollum has a physical weight to him, so does Shelob.  Her bulk is frightening because I can’t imagine grappling with something like that.

For Jackson to be able to elicit any sort of sympathy for Gollum at this late point in the film is sort of amazing, even after we’ve seen him be a duplicitous shit, but I think he’s telling the truth when he protests that it wasn’t him, that he didn’t want to hurt Frodo, and that it’s the Ring’s fault.  I also think he’s so far gone that it doesn’t matter anymore.  He has no will.  He is simply desire wrapped in skin now.

It’s also important that we see that Smeagol embraced the darkest gifts of the Ring from day one, which is why it was able to eat him whole, while Frodo is still fighting it, every step, every moment, determined not to let it have him or anyone else.

GROND! GROND! GROND! You know you have a seriously badass war machine when you have to give it a name.  Watching them start to smash their way into Gondor, it certainly feels like there is no hope at all.  Denethor’s hollow pessimism is understandable, with both of his sons dead now and no one showing up to help them yet.  Of course, Denethor is barking mad, so he doesn’t even need good reason, and I think the whole “let’s hop on the funeral pyre” thing is perhaps taking grief a bit too far…

… but then again, I don’t have an Orc Army at my door, and I don’t have to deal with GROND! GROND! GROND!

Even more than the fractured narrative of “The Two Towers,” this one feels like a juggling act, constantly trying to keep a sense of tension as he moves from storyline to storyline.  I really love the balance Selkirk strikes in which stories get play at which moments, and I can only imagine the way this thing gradually took shape, and the strugles they must have had trying to find a theatrical cut.

Shelob’s attack on Frodo is scarier because it’s silent, I think.  There’s nothing noisy about their second encounter, and before he even knows he’s in danger, it’s over.  And for my money, there is no single act of personal face-to-face heroism in the entire series greater than Samwise fighting Shelob and killing her. If we are fortunate as we move through this life, we find one or two friends true enough to fight for us like this, and so often in action movies, that bond is suggested in a shorthand that undersells how special it is.  Not here.  Sam has Frodo’s back in a way that maybe only one or two people in the whole world have mine, and vice-versa, and watching that is one of the great pleasures of these films.

The only way to make a special visual effect look totally real is to be willing to throw it away.  If you are willing to let it simply be an element in a shot and not the entire point of the shot, you can sell even the most preposterous image as real.  When you see giant Trolls in armor fighting in the background of a shot as someone just runs by an alley, that seems real precisely because Jackson doesn’t stop to put the Troll dead center as the most important thing onscreen.

Just about two-and-a-half hours into the film, and the Riders of Rohan are just now rolling up, and everyone on the entire stage of battle takes a deep breath, surprised by this turn of events.  And now Bernard Hill earns his place in movie history with a speech so amazing, so right, so earned that it makes me want to take up arms myself in defense of Middle-Earth.  Over and over, Jackson emphasizes that the fear of death is part of any ride into battle.  Of course you’re terrified.  That’s why you ride with so many others.  That courage comes from the cause and the people by your side and the sheer forward momentum of a battle.  And seeing Merry ride into a fight means so much more than watching some experienced badass do the same.

That cut back to Denethor dousing himself in oil is so totally batshit crazy that I laugh every time.  He’s just plain mad at this point.  Even as Merry gets his moment in battle, Pippin gets his second moment of heroism here, and he manages to save Faramir from what turns out to be perhaps the worst death in any of the films, the way Denethor goes over that edge, a falling star in his final moments.

The Oliphaunt battle is just awesome.  Beautifully imagined, beautifully rendered, and unlike any other battle sequence I’ve seen.  Another thing we see repeatedly in these films is that size does not really matter in battle, and that no matter how big an enemy is, there’s a way to bring it down.  Even as Jackson shows us that the small can prevail, he has that great scene between Gandalf and Pippin, talking about what waits for us in death, and how it is part of our journey, not the ending.  It’s exactly the shot of courage Pippin needs, but it also seems to speak directly to us, as we watch favorite characters start to fall.  Theoden may die here, but he is his own man again, restored, so there is no shame in it.  And Eowyn may face the Witch-King, but she has finally been to battle, the thing she wanted most.  There is some hope to be taken out of even these darkest moments.

The sound the Witch-King makes as he dies is like the world’s most Evil Balloon being popped.

Yep… Legolas killing the Oliphaunt is still one of the coolest things ever.  As is Gimli’s line afterwards.

And now, the movie begins to downshift into what I think of as the real soul of the series, the clean-up.  Everything after the victory.  Yes, the confrontation at Minas-Tirith is huge and important and incredibly staged, but no matter how big it is or how emotionally draining, there’s still the matter of the Ring itself, not to mention the fate of all of those who survived this war.

Only after all of that, after we see the lull that sets in post-battle, and Pippin and Merry are re-united, do we finally return to Frodo, who seems to have ended up in the very worst place possible.  It must be hell keeping your Orc Army ready for battle, because they are just barely able to turn off their own worst instincts long enough to work together.  What Sam has to walk into in search of Frodo is even scarier than Shelob’s Lair, because at least that was just the one thing to fear.  Here, there are dozens of enemies, possibly more.  By this point, though, Sam’s found a strength in him that no one could have suspected.  “The Fat One” is my hero in these movies, plain and simple.  Watching how the Ring gets hold of him, even for a moment, he finally understands what Frodo’s been going through, and how hard it’s been for him.  He also finally understands his role, and how important it is for him to be there to help.

That first view of Mordor and what they have to walk through is enough to make you want to quit.  Everything that’s already happened, and there’s still this much to do, this much to face?  Impossible.

It’s almost sadistic the way this last movement of the film is constructed.  Sam and Frodo are right in harm’s way, and it keeps getting worse, and they keep getting caught up in the middle of things.  Even when a distraction presents itself, they get pulled into line, mistaken for Orcs.  Then, finally, then slip away and start their last push across the field to Mount Doom, then up the mountain itself.  The last obstacle is just will itself, and Frodo’s out.  This is where Sam’s double-large heart becomes most significant.  Frodo may have been the Ringbearer, but without Sam, none of this happens.  I love that.  I love the roles they each play.  And the sheer running time we’ve been through at this point plays into that sense of real fatigue.  They’re exhausted.  We’re exhausted.  It’s all or nothing now.  I remember wondering if any ending could fully pay off this build-up, still not sure, even at this point.

Here’s another edit that really hurts the theatrical version.  The Mouth of Sauron and the way he taunts them and tries to break their spirit is important, and it explains Aragorn’s speech in a way that the theatrical cut didn’t.  I love this scene in this context, but it didn’t play as well for me originally.  I like that they don’t know if Frodo’s alive or dead, and that’s no longer the point.  It is simple defiance, and it makes it even more stirring.

And when you add to that Sam’s words to Frodo, his final act of faith there on the side of Mount Doom, it is a crescendo that brings me to tears all over again.  Each step Sam takes with Frodo on his back is pure courage, unbowed and impossible to break.  Gorgeous.

It’s also part of why it’s even more painful when they finally get inside, past the returned Gollum, and Frodo can’t do it.  He can’t drop the Ring in.  Sam knows what it cost them to get there, and he knows what it means if Frodo fails to destroy it.

It’s actually sort of amazing that even after everything, Jackson’s able to make it feel like darkness could still win, that all of this might not have been worth doing in the first place, and he milks it to the very end, to that last shot of Gollum, happy, finally re-united with his precious, content to fall to his death knowing that he accomplished his goal.  I’ve never seen a look of joy quite as deranged as the look on Gollum’s face as he celebrates, dancing around, and then falling, holding it to him with a lover’s embrace.

Nor have I ever seen a look quite as genuine as the cheer Merry lets loose when Sauron’s Eye finally explodes, the tower collapsed, the battle over for good now.  As reaction shots go, that’s one for the ages, Dominic’s finest hour on film so far.

Something I’ve never had to do is accept my own fate, deal with the probability of imminent death, and that beat between Sam and Frodo is quite lovely and peaceful, and something I’m sure many soldiers have been through, that feeling of letting go of fear and pain and everything else and simply embracing whatever is coming.  Yes, they’re saved, but only after they’ve completely resigned themselves, and it makes it a true gift when Frodo finally awakens to see Gandalf there waiting for him.

If this was the very end of the film, I think audiences would have been fine with that.  The Fellowship is together again, Frodo will live, and there’s Sam, the one who got him through it.  Fade out.  No problem.  But it’s the picking up and carrying on that I think was most important to Tolkien, and I’m glad Jackson chose to keep going, to have another half-hour or so of film from this point.

As a result, we get this parade of moments that these characters have all earned, and we see what shape we might expect from Middle-Earth as a result of what’s happened.  Aragorn is the King now, willing to play his part at last.  Faramir and Eowyn find each other, two lesser children who have proven themselves at last.  Arwen returns, and finally there is no obstacle to these two hearts being together as one.

And when Viggo goes in for that kiss, he’s like a dying man who just saw a sandwich.  Damn, Viggo.

If these films have their hooks in you by this point, it’s just one punch to the heart after another.  “My friends, you bow to no one”?  Good god.  Amazing.  Perfect.

The use of the map to get us back to The Shire?  Beautiful.  And it is so green it almost seems impossible after all this time.

Here’s where Wood really surprised me in the films, suggesting just how much of a toll this all took on him, and the scene at the Grey Havens is hard to watch.  Frodo doesn’t fit anymore, and he’s got to go, and not all the love of his friends or comforts of home can make him fit where he doesn’t.  Once again, waterworks.  The goodbye was hard because by this point, these movies had been a part of my daily life for almost six years, between the reporting and the making-of and the anticipation and the events and the reviews and the BNAT experiences.  I may never have another relationship with films the way I did with these, and the Internet as a medium grew up with these movies.  New Line legitimized what we did, and whether it was their intent or not, they changed the business permanently, and we were right there, in the middle of it, with these movies as a permanent reminder of the journey we went on, that the filmmakers went on, that audiences went on.  I have always marked the passage of chapters in my life by the movies that were released during those times, and the era defined by “Lord Of The Rings” is a very special one for me.  The movies work on their own, but I can’t lie… all the rest of it is tangled up in there, too.

It is essential that the series end on these shots of Sam at home again, with his family, with life begun anew, as a reminder of what all of this was about.  This whole fight, this whole war, this entire journey, all boils down to this.  A family.  Peace.  Love.  The life behind that yellow door, that’s what they were fighting for, and that’s where Jackson leaves us.

Thank you for sharing this return with me this week.  Thank you for sharing the last three years with us here at HitFix.  We’ve got fun plans for 2012 and beyond, and I am constantly thankful for you guys, checking in and spending your valuable time with us.  It is a privilege to be able to share my ongoing thoughts about the art I love with you, and to know that you are listening.

Now excuse me, because I have to go find the box in the garage where I have my oversized copy of “The Hobbit.”  Toshi and I have some reading to do tomorrow night, some first steps to take on the next journey, and I can’t wait.