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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Peter Jackson
Cast:
Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, John Rhys-Davies
Writing Credits:
J.R.R. Tolkien (novel), Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

Tagline:
This Christmas, the journey ends.

Synopsis:
The winner of 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture is now 50 minutes longer! This extended version of the epic conclusion of The Lord of the Rings trilogy includes new score by Howard Shore and over 350 new digital effects shots.

The final battle for Middle-earth begins. Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, continue their dangerous mission toward the fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring. Aragorn struggles to fulfill his legacy as he leads his outnumbered followers against the growing power of the Dark Lord Sauron, so that the Ring-bearer may complete his quest.

Box Office:
Budget
$94 million.
Opening Weekend
$72.629 million on 3703 screens.
Domestic Gross
$376.716 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital EX 5.1
English DTS ES 6.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 263 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 12/14/2004

Bonus:
Discs One & Two
• Audio Commentary with co-writer/co-producer/director Peter Jackson, co-writer/co-producer Fran Walsh, and co-writer Philippa Boyens
• Audio Commentary with production designer Grant Major, costume designer Ngila Dickson, Weta Workshop creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designer/set decorator Alan Lee, conceptual designer John Howe, supervising art director/set decorator Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Hennah, and Weta Workshop manager Tania Rodger
• Audio Commentary with producer Barrie Osborne, executive producer Mark Ordesky, co-producer & editor Jamie Selkirk, additional editor Annie Collins, co-producer Rick Porras, composer Howard Shore, visual effects supervisors Jim Rygiel and Joe Letteri, supervising sound editor Ethan Van der Ryn, supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins, Weta animation designer and supervisor Randy Cook, previsualization supervisor Christian Rivers, visual effects DP Brian Van’t Hul, and visual effects DP Alex Funke
• Audio Commentary with actors Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Lawrence Makoake, and Andy Serkis
• Easter Eggs
Disc Three
• Introduction from Peter Jackson
• “JRR Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle-earth” Documentary
• “From Book to Script: Forging the Final Chapter” Documentary
• “Designing Middle-earth” Documentary
• “Weta Workshop” Documentary
• “Big-Atures” Documentary
• “Costume Design” Documentary
• “Home of the Horse Lords” Documentary
• Middle-earth Atlas
• New Zealand as Middle-earth
• “The Peoples of Middle-earth” Galleries
• “The Realms of Middle-earth” Galleries
Disc Four
• Introduction from Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, and Elijah Wood
• “Cameras In Middle-earth” Documentary
• Production Photos
• “Weta Digital” Documentary
• Visual Effects Demonstration
• “Editorial: Completing the Trilogy” Documentary
• “Music for Middle-earth” Documentary
• “The Soundscapes of Middle-earth” Documentary
• “The End of All Things” Documentary
• “The Passing of an Age” Documentary
• “Cameron Duncan: The Inspiration for ‘Into the West’” Documentary


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RELATED REVIEWS


The Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King - Platinum Series Extended Edition (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 14, 2004)

Here the journey ends. Almost three years to the day after the theatrical release of 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring, we get a form of Lord of the Rings closure with this new package. A four-DVD edition of The Return of the King, this brings us the series’ sixth – and presumably final – DVD release.

I’ll discuss the supplements in the appropriate area of this review, but here I’ll chat a little about the movie itself. For full coverage of my thoughts about King, please check out my review of the theatrical version. For this article, I’ll stick mostly with the differences evident in the SE’s extended cut of the film.

Note that this discussion may include some “spoilers”. If you don’t want to know the content of the extra footage, head to the technical ratings now!

Already a long movie, the “extended edition” adds 52 minutes to the flick. King now runs about 252 minutes versus the original’s 200 minutes. Actually, the entire program lasts 263 minutes, but the final 11 minutes display “Special thanks to the charter members of the LOTR official fan club”.

While the original DVD packed the entire feature onto one disc, the extended version spreads the film across two platters. The first one runs two hours, 27 minutes and 30 seconds and cuts as the orcs bring up the “wolf’s head” battering ram. The second disc offers programming that lasts two hours, 15 minutes and 35 seconds if we include the lengthy fan club credits. In a nice touch, when you start DVD Two, it offers a menu that lets you either go right back into the movie or allows you to choose one of the four audio commentaries. Some may see this as a distraction since the film doesn’t simply continue without input from the viewer, but given the myriad of auditory choices, I like the fact the DVD’s producers don’t just assume what version you’ll prefer.

As for the actual film footage, this material integrates quite well into the action. I recognized most of the added scenes but not all of them; after three prior screenings, I guess I didn’t know the flick well enough to immediately detect every change. Many of the extended sequences seemed pretty modest in nature. Rather than add a few long bits, this version of King mostly featured a lot of smaller extensions as well as a smattering of new sequences.

I liked that approach, for it supplemented the original film but didn’t alter its flow. According to the DVD’s booklet, the movie included 13 new scenes and 24 extended sequences. The final new scene appears as Frodo and Sam get stuck in a mob of orcs on their way to Mount Doom. As for the last extended sequence, we see more of Gollum’s initial attack on our heroes as they almost make it to their goal.

To my eyes, the most substantial change occurred early in the film. Saruman was cut out of the theatrical cut, but here we see his fate. Other significant components include an explanation for how Aragorn, et al., took over the corsairs, a drinking game to celebrate the defeat of Saruman, a confrontation between Gandalf and the Witch King, Aragorn and the palantir, Frodo and Sam among the orcs, and a meeting with the Mouth of Sauron. We also get a little greater exposition and more character moments that flesh out some elements, particularly related to Faramir and Eowyn; we see their introduction to each other, and that makes their budding romance at the end seem more sensible.

Although I preferred the extended cuts of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, I think the theatrical version of King probably remains the strongest, though not by a lot. Too much of the added material detracts rather than contributes to the storytelling. The pacing slows slightly and pads moments that really didn’t need extra delineation.

The Saruman and Mouth of Sauron scenes stand out as the most prominent additions. The former offers a less than satisfying conclusion to that wizard’s journey. Granted, it’s good to see his fate, since the theatrical cut leaves us without satisfaction in that regard. However, his ending comes across as anti-climatic and almost a throwaway moment, which doesn’t seem right given the character’s status.

As for the Mouth, that scene succeeds in theory but not in execution. That’s largely due to the campy presentation. Bruce Spence offers such an over-the-top performance that essentially ruins the sequence. I like its idea but don’t think the final version is very good.

In addition, I could definitely live without the extra moments connected to the army of the dead, though these have some merits. On one hand, it’s cool to see how Aragorn and the others commandeered the boats. However, these remove any tension from the scene in which they appear to save the day. The movie builds those to make us think our heroes are doomed, but since we already know Aragorn’s forces are on the ships, any anxiety deflates.

And in the category of “odd choice”, there’s a pre-battle scene with Eowyn and Merry. Sure, it’s a nice moment of bonding, but it makes no sense because she reveals herself to all the soldiers! Minutes later we see her try to hide her identity from Theoden, so why would she let all these other combatants know who she is? It’s badly inconsistent and illogical.

Some of the extra moments do add to the film. Anything new with Faramir is good, and I do like the fact we see the seeds of his relationship with Eowyn. Aragorn’s moments with the palantir are cool, and I really like the extra parts in which Sam and Frodo get stuck among the orcs on the way to Mount Doom.

Ultimately, the extended King is something of a wash. The weaker sequences don’t badly hurt the movie, but they do create some problems, and the positive additions don’t compensate in full. It’s still an excellent film, but it simply doesn’t work as the best cut.

One nice touch: if you check out the chapter menus on DVDs One and Two, you’ll find notations that indicate which ones include either new or extended scenes. This provides a helpful notation for those of us who feel less than secure in our knowledge of the material. This information also appears in the package’s booklet.


The DVD Grades: Picture A/ Audio A/ Bonus A+

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on these single-sided, dual-layered DVDs; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I anticipated a fine visual presentation, and this transfer of King more than lived up to my expectations.

No issues related to sharpness occurred. Despite the many very wide shots that occurred, the image remained rock solid. I saw no softness at all, as the picture appeared crisp and detailed. I also detected no jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge enhancement seemed absent. Those in search of print defects will hunt in vain, as I witnessed no specks, marks, or flaws of any sort in this clean presentation.

As with the first two flicks, King continued to display a rather stylized palette. Here, three types of hues dominated. The Rohan elements went with something of a golden tone, while Frodo’s scenes mainly used a dingy blue/gray. Minas Tirith featured blown-out whites. The DVD clearly replicated the movie’s intended palette. The colors were appropriately vivid when necessary and seemed accurately depicted.

Black levels also came across well. Dark shots demonstrated good depth and clarity. Low-light shots were nicely displayed and seemed clear and adequately visible. Shadow detail was clean and tight. Again, this was a very strong presentation that reproduced the movie swimmingly.

The extended edition of King integrated the extra 52 minutes of scenes neatly, and I never noticed any disruptive or awkward edits. The visuals appeared consistently positive for those segments, so I didn’t detect any decrease in quality. The elements flowed smoothly and concisely.

As with the two prior extended editions, The Return of the King included both Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and DTS ES 6.1 soundtracks. Across the board, I found the two soundtracks to seem identical. I flipped back and forth between the pair and noticed no differences at all. Often I detect some improvement in transparency or bass response for the DTS mix, but that didn’t happen here. Instead, the two tracks came across as exceedingly similar.

The soundfield appeared very active and involving. All five channels presented lots of material that kept the viewer at the center of a realistic and immersive world. Elements seemed appropriately placed and they blended together well. Flying creatures soared from location to location accurately, and other pieces popped up in their proper places too. The whole thing meshed together quite nicely, and the piece worked nicely. Not surprisingly, battle sequences were the most impressive, but the entire package seemed strong.

Audio quality equaled the positive nature of the soundfield. Speech was natural and distinctive, and I detected no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded bright and vibrant, as the score presented rich and full tones. Effects came across as accurate and concise. No problems with distortion appeared, and these elements were clean and broad. Bass response was excellent, as low-end consistently sounded tight and powerful. The audio of King just narrowly fell short of “A+” territory, as it presented a terrific experience.

So how did the picture and sound quality of the extended edition compare to those on the theatrical cut of King? I thought the visuals were very similar and didn’t observe any significant differences. However, the audio marked a notable improvement due to low-end elements. Both DVDs featured similar soundfields, but the theatrical release suffered from some overblown bass. The extended version’s mixes tamed that problem and became more satisfying.

For this four-DVD release of The Return of the King, we find tons of extras. These closely follow the structure of the first two extended editions. On discs one and two, we locate a whopping four audio commentaries. Called The Director and Writers, the first logically comes from director/co-writer/producer Peter Jackson, co-writer/producer Fran Walsh, and co-writer Philippa Boyens, all of whom sat together for this running, screen-specific affair. Both of the prior tracks from this trio worked well, and their final chat follows suit. We get a great look at many elements of the production. Not surprisingly, we learn a lot about the story. We find information about the adaptation, changes made from Tolkien’s source material, and various related issues. They discuss additions to the extended edition as well as why those scenes didn’t make the theatrical cut.

Many general production notes turn up, as Jackson presents good comments about the shoot and connected topics. Nonetheless, those story issues remain the most compelling, and we find a nice encapsulation about all the plot and character challenges. A smattering of happy talk appears, but we also hear some criticism, as the participants acknowledge a few complaints aimed at the movie. A good tone of humor keeps this all moving, and as usual, Jackson acts like a goof so the women can give him a hard time. Here he delights in discussions of the “25th anniversary edition” he claims to already have in the planning stages. This track offers yet another excellent discussion.

Next we find a Design Team track that includes remarks from production designer Grant Major, costume designer Ngila Dickson, Weta Workshop creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designer/set decorator Alan Lee, conceptual designer John Howe, supervising art director/set decorator Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Hennah, and Weta Workshop manager Tania Rodger. Though some of the participants seemed to sit solo for the track, most appeared to be clustered into logical groups. If you listen to this track, you’ll learn about all things visual in regard to King. The program covers props, sets, costumes, miniatures, makeup and pretty much everything else under that falls under that umbrella. We find out about design and execution of these elements.

Though these topics might seem dry, the commentary actually comes across as lively and engaging. The pace moves quickly and provides lots of cool details about the material, with many fun anecdotes along the way. I liked the fact it offered so many notes about the visual design rather than simply “nuts and bolts” issues. For example, we learn about the stylistic concerns related to the computer created characters but we don’t hear about the technical areas; that’ll follow in the next commentary. Many tracks of this sort can drag due to excessive jargon and procedural matters, but this one goes by briskly since it avoids those traps. It offers a great look at the ways the crew brought Middle-earth to life, and it manages to provide a fun and entertaining glimpse at the design issues.

For the third commentary, we find a discussion from the Production/Post-Production Team. This program includes remarks from Audio Commentary with producer Barrie Osborne, executive producer Mark Ordesky, co-producer & editor Jamie Selkirk, additional editor Annie Collins, co-producer Rick Porras, composer Howard Shore, visual effects supervisors Jim Rygiel and Joe Letteri, supervising sound editor Ethan Van der Ryn, supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins, Weta animation designer and supervisor Randy Cook, previsualization supervisor Christian Rivers, visual effects DP Brian Van’t Hul, and visual effects DP Alex Funke. Many of these folks obviously sat together, and it appeared they clustered in logical teams. The results then were edited together to make this track.

This track had the most potential to get bogged down in technical mumbo-jumbo, but it usually avoids those pitfalls. It covers a mix of issues not discussed elsewhere. We hear a little about lighting and other photographic issues, sound effects and dialogue recording, computer and other visual material, the score, editorial decisions, and a few additional subjects. Lots of great anecdotes and notes from the set appear. Some of the funniest comments pop up here, as the participants occasionally delight in taking potshots at the movie. We get some cracks about what a “downer” Elrond is plus some other jabs. It’s an informative and enjoyable chat.

Lastly, we find a Cast commentary that provides material from actors Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Lawrence Makoake, and Andy Serkis. (The latter appears as himself and also does some in-character work as Smeagol and Gollum.) Two pairs of hobbits clearly sat together for their pieces; we get Astin/Wood and Monaghan/Boyd. It appeared that the others were taped separately.

Yet another fine track, this one covers a mix of subjects. We get insight into the characters as well as scads of anecdotes connected to the shoot. At times it degenerates into too much praise; that’s more of a problem here than on the other three tracks. However, a good deal of substance shows up and fills us in on different aspects of the production. The commentary moves briskly and remains consistently engaging.

With the end of the fourth commentary, we finish with the first two DVDs, but I want to make one remark before I progress. I don’t skim through portions of DVDs when I review them, which meant I needed to sit through all 16 hours of commentaries to write this article. I can’t say I looked forward to that task, simply because it would be so incredibly time consuming. However, these tracks all seemed so good that I didn’t mind the time at all.

The chats went by quickly and I enjoyed the entire process. This DVD set of King didn’t just pack in four commentaries for bragging rights. Each one seems compelling and entertaining in its own right. Clearly a lot of care and thought went into the creation of the various tracks, which helped make this package all the more useful.

One cool aspect of the commentaries: on-screen text identifies each speaker every time a new one appears. This means that the King tracks lack the constant voice-overs otherwise necessary to remind us of the different participants. This makes it easier to follow the commentary and seems like a thoughtful addition, especially during the tracks with many different members.

Disc One includes an Easter egg. Go to the final page of the “Select a Scene” area and highlight the final chapter. Click down from there and you’ll see a ring. Hit “enter” and you’ll get an eight-minute, 58-second clip in which Dominic Monaghan plays a prank on Elijah Wood. It’s moderately amusing.

Another egg pops up on DVD Two. Follow the same technique used on DVD One and you’ll see an MTV Movie Awards skit that involves Peter Jackson with Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller. It runs five minutes, 45 seconds, and is entertaining, even though it owes a lot to The Player.

Continue to Discs 3 & 4

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5098 Stars Number of Votes: 102
815:
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61:
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