The final part of the epic Lord Of The Rings trilogy gets the orchestral treatment.

By: Mar. 18, 2024
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Review: THE RETURN OF THE KING IN CONCERT, Royal Albert Hall With a live rendition of the Oscar-winning score by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and the Philharmonia Chorus, the latest in the Royal Albert Hall’s “films in concert” series brings the The Lord of the Rings epic fantasy saga to a majestic conclusion.

It’s been just over twenty years since the big screen version of JRR Tolkein’s The Return of the King debuted and we said our tearful goodbyes to Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Aragorn and the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring. Ian McKellen’s Gandalf and Andy Serkis as Sméagol / Gollum came back for the next Middle Earth trilogy based around JRR Tolkein’s The Hobbit but that sophomore effort never quite topped the emotional heights of this film.

That is in no small part down to Howard Shore’s glorious music which earned him a BAFTA nomination, a Golden Globe and a second Academy Award (his score for 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring also won an Oscar). The ethereal score still enchants modern listeners and hearing it live only amplifies the effect.

The film itself is still a fine motion picture which powerfully portrays various strands. Seeing the fearsome spider Shelob loom over poor Frodo or the legions of orcs storming towards the stronghold of Minas Tirith where our heroes prepare to make a last stand still sends shivers down the spine. The influences on later high fantasy shows like Game of Thrones are obvious and manifold. While Tolkien gave deeper resonance to his characters, director Peter Jackson did well to cut through his verbiage.

That said, a revisit to the film highlights its worst aspects. Certain of the more esoteric terms and even scenes now make far more sense with the subtitles on. The direction is pacy and impactful when it comes to battle scenes even if the more realistic adult gore common in modern fantasy is eschewed. Away from the battlefield, the vocal delivery seems to be set at half speed with actors speaking their lines as if being paid for every significant pause. Middle Earth comes across as a land populated seeming exclusively by white straight folk. The running time for the standard cut of this movie at 201 minutes feels more than a mite indulgent, even if the extended version is over four hours long.

The Return of the King is far from perfect when looking through a modern lens yet Shore’s contribution still lifts the spirits down through the decades. The score is the largest of those he wrote for this trilogy running to over four hours of music. He brings back the Celtic and Eastern instruments from The Fellowship of the Ring and reaches for the stars with an enormous collection of musicians. The brass section was expanded with some sections calling for up to eight trumpets while he makes ample use of a mixed choir of 85 singers plus male and female soloists. One instrument called a double fiddle was invented and crafted specifically for just one scene.

Conducted by Ludwig Wicki, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra’s playing is very much a credit to Shore’s masterwork. The violins are powerfully used to pull at the heartstrings, the brass section gets the pulses pumping when the fighting starts and, when the Philharmonia Chorus join in, there is a phenomenal wall of sound which pushes us back into our seats.

In this era of streaming where films are churned out by the dozen every month for one format or another, The Return of the King still stands high and mighty as a fantastic treat for the ears. The concert treatment heard in this Royal Albert Hall production raises its iconic soundtrack to brand new levels of sheer enjoyment.

The Royal Albert Hall’s film concert series continues with:

Photo Credit: Royal Albert Hall