It’s February, so we must be in Middle Earth. The annual magical mystery tour through Tolkien’s fantastic realm has become a fondly anticipated ritual, and we’ll miss it when it’s gone. No other blockbuster has delivered the goods so consistently when it comes to jaw-dropping, eye-popping spectacle, sustaining its mood and mystery while keeping the naff bits to a minimum. Certainly not the underwhelming “Matrix” sequels.
“The Return of the King,” the final installment in director Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, almost needs no review. If you liked, or disliked, either of the first two films, this one offers more of the same, with the emphasis on the “more.” Suffice to say that Jackson really pulls out all the stops. There are masked witch kings flying on serpentine Fell Beasts, plucking warriors off the battlements of the besieged city of Minas Tirith and hurling them to their doom; Shelob, a giant spider silently stalking Frodo and Sam as they slip through slimy tunnels into the barren land of Mordor; literally hundreds of slavering, leprous Orcs, each one a throwaway wonder of makeup and art design in itself. And then there is Gollum, emblematic of the “Ring” films, a wondrous mix of spectral digital wizardry and tangibly fleshy performance.