The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

So, my sequence of Oscar-winning, Hugo-winning and Nebula-winning films has intersected, uniquely, with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It won eleven Oscars altogether, tying with Titanic and Ben-Hur for the most in history; in fact it did not lose in a single category in which it was nominated, thus also exceeding the nine-strong clean sweeps of Gigi and The Last Emperor. As well as Best Picture, it also won Best Director (Peter Jackson), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Visual Effects. It did not get a single nomination in any of the acting categories (the tenth Best Picture winner out of 76 where this was the case).

The other Oscar nominees were Lost in Translation, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Mystic River and SeabiscuitFinding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which I have seen, and 28 Days Later and X2: X-Men United, which I haven’t. Because of the (then) weird Nebula rules, the other contenders for Best Script were all from the following year, 2004: The Incredibles, The Butterfly Effect and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindTerminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Underworld and American Pie: The Wedding. I would very happily put The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at the top of my list for the year, as Hugo voters, Nebula voters and Oscar voters all did.


We have the Hugo figures, and I can tell you that it got nominations from more than 82% of those who nominated in this category, and romped home on the first count of the final ballot with 69% of the first preferences. I don’t know of any other winner in any category that has done quite as well for the regular Hugos (for the Retros there have been some pretty skewed results).


I’m not going to go through the returnees from previous Hugo, Nebula or Oscar-winning films because it’s the same as last time. (There are a couple of actors in RotK who were not in the previous films, but don’t have a track record with other award winners either.)

I love this film too. It has a lot packed in – as noted last time, the last 20% of Book 3 and the last 30% of Book 4 were not in The Two Towers and were saved for here. The result is that we lose some stuff – Houses of Healing, Scouring of the Shire, various other bits and pieces. To be honest we can live without them. The major innovation in the film is the rift in the relationship between Frodo and Sam. Like a lot of the additions made by Jackson, the fairly blatant goal is to create more dramatic tension. But unlike the temporary mislaying of Aragorn or the flip-flopping of Faramir on whether to bring the Ring to Minas Tirith, this actually works very well; I would even go so far as to say that by making Frodo a somehat more flawed character than he is in the book, the story becomes more interesting. And the fact that it’s done as a result of Gollum’s manipulation makes him more interesting too.

Incidentally this is the only time since the Hugo Dramatic Presentation category was split that both awards went to the same franchise, Gollum winning the Short Form category for his MTV acceptance speech.


I’m really tired today because of weird and disreputable events happening in DC, so I won’t go on at great length about how much I love this film. But I will give you two bits that I particularly love. F, who has not read the book, was completely transfixed by the scene with Shelob. So was I, and I’ve been having nightmares about it roughly since I was nine. It’s a superb bit of animation.


And when I first saw it in 2003, I was overwhelmed by the lighting of the beacons. It’s not quite as good on the small screen as it was in the cinema, but still pretty good.


And the ending gets ever more bittersweet as the years pass.

Also I love the music.

In my running tally of Oscar-winning films, I’m putting this in my top ten, below The Bridge on the River Kwai and above One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I’m putting it even higher up my list of Hugo and Nebula winners, in second place, behind Alien and ahead of the original Star Wars. Next up are The Incredibles (Hugo winner – there was no Nebula for any film made in 2004) and Million Dollar Baby (Oscar winner)

Of course I went back and finished rereading the book. The second paragraph of the third cahpter of Book 5 is:

Day was waning. In the last rays of the sun the Riders cast long pointed shadows that went on before them. Darkness had already crept beneath the murmuring fir-woods that clothed the steep mountain-sides. The king rode now slowly at the end of the day. Presently the path turned round a huge bare shoulder of rock and plunged into the gloom of soft-sighing trees. Down, down they went in a long winding file. When at last they came to the bottom of the gorge they found that evening had fallen in the deep places. The sun was gone. Twilight lay upon the waterfalls.

Again, I practically know it by heart, but I had forgotten the funny bit with the senior healer in the Houses of Healing. And again the ending hits me harder each time I read it. A welcome re-engagement with a dear old friend.

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in 80 Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011) | Argo (2012) | 12 Years a Slave (2013) | Birdman (2014) | Spotlight (2015) | Moonlight (2016) | The Shape of Water (2017) | Green Book (2018) | Parasite (2019)
2020s: Nomadland (2020) | CODA (2021)

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