Let’s put it this way: For director Peter Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, there was no margin for error in portraying the battle that was an entire trilogy in the making. Even the prolifically anti-war author J.R.R. Tolkien — who had never hesitated to gloss over and cut away from scenes of war and carnage on multiple occasions throughout both “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” novels — couldn’t help but devote six entire chapters to the most significant turning point in the War of the Ring. The stakes, both narratively and otherwise, had never been higher.
Armed only with the knowledge that the all-powerful One Ring is in the hands of a Hobbit, the villainous Sauron makes his boldest and most aggressive move yet against the realm of Gondor. The greatest battle in the Third Age of Middle-earth would take place in and around the city of Minas Tirith, one of the last major strongholds still standing against the might of Mordor. Having inadvertently received a glimpse of Sauron’s plans, Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and his troublesome ward Pippin (Billy Boyd) make a beeline for the city to warn them of the impending threat. But handcuffed by the shoddy leadership of the cynical and grief-stricken Steward Denethor (John Noble), mourning the loss of his son and member of the Fellowship Boromir, it almost seems as if the enemy’s plans have been halfway accomplished already.
The attack commences with some of the nastiest imagery pulled straight from Tolkien’s text, as hundreds of decapitated heads are catapulted into Minas Tirith. But finally spurred into action by the depths of Denethor’s despair, Gandalf takes charge of the city’s last defense and joins the battle in earnest.