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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Director: Peter Jackson (Dir)
Release Date:   17 Dec 2003
Duration (in mins):  200
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Cast: Alan Howard  (Voice of the Ring)
  Noel Appleby  (Everard Proudfoot)
  Alexandra Astin  (Eleanor Gamgee)

Summary: In Middle-earth, an alliance of Humans, Elves, the tree-like Ents and others has defeated the armies of Orcs, Urak-Hais and other evil creatures ruled by the Dark Lord Sauron in two great battles. However, the benevolent beings of Middle-earth are still in danger from the power-hungry Sauron, who searches for the ring of power that will insure his dominion over the world. Still undiscovered by Sauron is the present bearer of the ring, the little Hobbit Frodo Baggins, who is journeying to the Sauron-held land of Mordor with the ring, planning to destroy it in the only way possible, by tossing it into the fires of Mount Doom. Frodo grows weaker from the burden of carrying the ring, whose dark magic physically and mentally weakens its bearer, and so must increasingly rely on the strength of his loyal and caring friend, Hobbit Samwise Gamgee. Guiding them to their destination is Gollum, a former ringbearer who has been twisted by his obsession to repossess it and who is secretly planning to kill them. Although Sam is suspicious of Gollum, Frodo is blinded to the creature’s deception. Frodo and Sam are former members of a fellowship of nine who volunteered to destroy the ring. Their compatriots are the Human Aragorn, Legolas the Elf, Gimli the Dwarf, the White Wizard Gandalf and Hobbits Peregrin “Pippin” Took and Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck. The ninth member of their group, the Human Boromir, was killed battling Sauron’s evil warriors, called Uraks. Although separated prior to the battles, the remaining six reunite and then join their allies in King Theoden’s land of Rohan to mourn their dead and celebrate their victory. There, Pippin becomes curious about the “seeing stone” confiscated by Gandalf from the defeated, corrupt wizard Saruman, who used it to communicate with Sauron. While examining the stone, Pippin becomes entranced by the eye of Sauron that suddenly appears in the stone and must be rescued by Gandalf. Afterward, Pippin tells Gandalf the visions he saw in the stone—a white tree and a burning city—and from this, Gandalf realizes that Sauron will soon attack Minas Tirith, the ancient City of Kings, and that Sauron now believes that Pippin is the ringbearer. Riding his white horse Shadowfax, Gandalf takes Pippin to the city because he believes the Hobbit will be safer under his care. Upon arriving in Minas Tirith, Gandalf finds Lord Denethor, the city’s steward, mad with grief over the death of his favorite son Boromir. When told of the impending attack, Denethor dementedly suspects that Aragorn, the heir to the throne, seeks to supplant him and refuses to act on Gandalf’s warning. Later, Gandalf tells Pippin that he senses Sauron has gathered forces from many places for the attack and tells the Hobbit about the Witchking, who is Sauron’s strongest commander. As Sauron’s armies march toward Minas Tirith, and the deadly Nazguls, led by the Witchking, fly over them, Gollum urges Frodo and Sam up a steep “secret stair.” Resenting Sam, Gollum plants the idea in Frodo’s weakening mind that Sam covets the ring. While the Hobbits sleep, Gollum discards their food supply, then accuses Sam of eating it. Later, seeing Frodo struggle with the ring, Sam offers to carry it while he recuperates, but Frodo, whose mind has been poisoned by Gollum’s insinuations, orders Sam to leave him. Meanwhile, Aragorn’s great love, the Elven princess Arwen, has joined the exodus of Elves leaving Middle-earth for the “undying lands” of the West. Although her father Elrond has claimed to foresee no chance for her future with Aragorn, she envisions her unborn child, the son of Aragorn, and realizes that there is a slim possibility of a life with him. Abandoning the Elven procession, she returns to Elrond, who reluctantly confirms her vision and realizes that, as she has chosen to relinquish her immortality, her fate is now tied to the success of Aragorn’s mission to overthrow Sauron. To save her from dying, Elrond has the broken blades of a sword belonging to Aragorn’s kingly ancestors reforged, which, according to an old prophecy, might help bring about the victory of the Humans. When Denethor does nothing to prepare for the coming battle in Minas Tirith, Gandalf has Pippin climb the beacon tower to light it, thus initiating the lighting of signal beacons across the land, which alerts the Kingdom of Rohan that Minas Tirith needs help. Theoden orders his nephew Eomer to gather his fighting men, while Eomer’s sister, Eowyn, longs to fight for her people, but cannot, because she is a woman. Drawn to Aragorn, she expresses confidence in his leadership. Meanwhile, Denethor’s younger son Faramir, whose valiant warriors failed to hold back the invaders at the river, orders his men to Minas Tirith. As they near the city, Nazguls riding flying reptiles called Fell Beasts pursue them. To allow the men to enter the city, Gandalf rides out and with a white light dispatches the Nazguls. Inside, Denethor chides Faramir for his failure and claims that he would have preferred that Faramir died in Boromir’s place. To win his father’s approval, Faramir leads his men on a suicide mission. As Faramir and his men ride out to certain death, Denethor orders Pippin to sing for him while he eats. At the Rohirrim encampment, Theoden and Aragorn realize that the enemy will seriously outnumber them. Eowyn, sympathetic to Merry’s wish to join the fight, makes him an esquire and gives him a sword, despite Eomer’s observation that the Hobbit’s arms are too short for battle. During the night, Elrond comes to Aragorn with the reforged sword of his people and foretells that more enemy warriors will be coming from the south. He suggests Aragorn’s only hope is to recruit the ghosts of warrior soldiers who reside in the mountains. Elrond assures him that, with the sword of his ancestors to prove that he is king, the soldiers will follow him into battle and urges him to become what he was born to be. Eowyn, however, seeing him saddle up, feels that he is abandoning the Rohans on the eve of battle. Sensing that she is attracted to him, Aragorn gently tells her that he is unable to give her what she seeks. Although Theoden places Eowyn in charge of those left behind, she disguises herself as a warrior, and with Merry riding along, leaves for war with the men. Aragorn, accompanied by Legolas and Gimli, rides into the mountain from which no man has been seen to return. Legolas explains to Gimli that the ghost warriors in the mountain have been cursed because they swore, and then reneged on, an allegiance to the last king of Gondor, from whom Aragorn is descended. Upon encountering the threatening ghosts inside the mountain, Aragorn shows his sword and demands that they fight for him in fulfillment of their promise. While the enemy amasses on Pelennor Fields at the base of Minas Tirith, Faramir’s horse drags his body to the gate, where it is taken to Denethor. As the Orcs and other enemy creatures attack and the walls of the city collapse, Denethor cries out for all to flee for their lives. With his staff, Gandalf knocks him out and takes command. During the ensuing battle, the soldiers of Minas Tirith fight valiantly and Pippin, despite his diminutive size, saves Gandalf’s life. Several miles away, Gollum abandons the unsuspecting Frodo in the tunnel inhabited by Shelob, a giant spider that he hopes will eat the Hobbit so that he can gain possession of the ring. Frodo becomes entangled in the spider’s web, but uses an elf light given to him by the Elf Queen Galadriel to hold the arachnid at bay. Upon escaping, Frodo is attacked by Gollum, but manages to fling him over the cliff before fainting. A vision of Galadriel urging him to carry out his task spurs Frodo to consciousness and he continues on, unaware that Shelob stalks him. She stings and wraps him in her webbing, but then must contend with Sam, who has returned and fights her off. Believing Frodo is dead, Sam hides when thugs from Sauron’s tower pass by, but is ashamed when they capture Frodo, who was merely poisoned. Sam follows and when the unruly thugs fight among themselves, he rescues Frodo. At Minas Tirith, Pippin realizes that Faramir is still alive and about to be burned on a funeral pyre by the crazed Denethor. With Gandalf’s help, Pippin rescues Faramir, but Denethor is killed in the fire. When Theoden and the Rohirrim arrive at Pelennor Fields, they initially succeed in attacking Sauron’s armies from behind, but when the Haradrim, a race of Humans from the south appear, riding the elephant-like Mumakil, the men are crushed and scattered by the beasts’ tusks. A valiant swordswoman, Eowyn saves Theoden from a deathblow from the Witchking, although Theoden ultimately dies from his wounds. After Merry saves Eowyn’s life, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas arrive with the ghost warriors, and defeat Sauron’s troops. After the battle, Gandalf worries that Sam and Frodo must cross a great plains, where the enemy is regrouping, before climbing Mount Doom. At Aragorn’s suggestion, the fellowship and their allies attack the back gate of Mordor to divert Sauron’s attention. In Frodo’s name, they charge, and are soon reinforced by eagles called by Gandalf to help. As the fight rages, Frodo and Sam cross the plains in safety and Sam carries the exhausted Frodo up the mountain. Gollum attacks again, but Sam repels him, as Frodo continues climbing. Later, Sam finds Frodo at the Crack of Doom unable to release the ring into the fires. When Frodo slips the ring on his finger and disappears, Gollum finds him by his footprints and struggles with him, finally biting off his finger to get the ring. Gollum and the ring then fall off the precipice into the burning lava. As the ring dissolves below them, Sam pulls Frodo to safety. With the destruction of the ring, the enemy warriors fall and Sauron’s tower collapses. When Mount Doom erupts, Frodo and Sam, who have sought refuge on a large boulder as the molten lava flows around them, believe that their end is near, but they are rescued by Gandalf and the eagles and flown to safety. Later, Aragorn’s coronation is held at Minas Tirith, Elrond reunites the king with Arwen and the Hobbits are honored for their service to Middle-earth. Thirteen months after setting off on their original journey to Rivendell, the four Hobbits return to their beloved Shire. Although Sam starts a family, Frodo is unable to fit into his old life. While suffering from the wounds and injuries he incurred, he writes about their ordeal in a book started by his elderly uncle, Bilbo, many years before. After four years pass, Bilbo joins Elrond and Galadriel on the last Elf ship to the West. The Hobbits and Gandalf accompany him to the harbor, where Sam, Pippin and Merry are surprised to learn that Frodo and Gandalf are also leaving for the “undying lands.” Before the boat departs, Frodo gives Sam the book, in which he has left room for Sam to write his own story. Afterward, the tearful Sam finds solace with his family.

Distribution Company: New Line Cinema
Production Company: New Line Cinema
Wingnut Films
Director: Peter Jackson (Dir)
  John Mahaffie (2d unit dir)
  Geoff Murphy (2d unit dir)
  Carolynne Cunningham (1st asst dir)
  Simon Warnock (1st asst dir, 2d unit)
  David Norris (1st asst dir, 2d unit)
  Liz Tan (1st asst dir, 2d unit)
  Richard Barker (1st asst dir, 2d unit)
  Marty Walsh (1st asst dir, Miniatures unit)
  Rod Smith (2d asst dir, Lava & paths of the dead miniatures unit)
  Guy Campbell (Key 2d asst dir)
  Marc Ashton (Key 2d asst dir)
  Louise Harness (Key 2d asst dir, 2d unit)
  Emma Cross (Key 2d asst dir, 2d unit)
  Stephanie Weststrate (Addl 2d asst dir, 2d unit)
  Richard Matthews (Addl 2d asst dir, 2d unit)
  Edith Thompson (Addl 2d asst dir, 2d unit)
  Chris Husson (Addl 2d asst dir, 2d unit)
  Joanne Pearce (2d 2d asst dir)
  Skot Thomas (2d 2d asst dir)
  Eric Houghton (3rd asst dir)
  Sarah Rose (3rd asst dir)
  Zo Hartley (3rd asst dir)
  Darren Mackie (3rd asst dir)
  Gene Keelan (3rd asst dir)
Producer: Barrie M. Osborne (Prod)
  Peter Jackson (Prod)
  Fran Walsh (Prod)
  Mark Ordesky (Exec prod)
  Bob Weinstein (Exec prod)
  Harvey Weinstein (Exec prod)
  Robert Shaye (Exec prod)
  Michael Lynne (Exec prod)
  Rick Porras (Co-prod)
  Jamie Selkirk (Co-prod)
Writer: Fran Walsh (Scr)
  Philippa Boyens (Scr)
  Peter Jackson (Scr)

Subject Major: Friendship
  Mythical characters
  Mythical lands
Subject Minor: Battles
  Falls from heights
  Fathers and daughters
  Fathers and sons
  Unrequited love
  Women warriors

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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