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New Line Home Cinema presents
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Limited Edition) (2003)

Gandalf: Frodo has passed beyond my sight. The darkness is deepening.
Aragorn: If Sauron had the ring we would know it.
Gandalf: It's only a matter of time. He has suffered a defeat, yes, but behind the walls of Mordor our enemy is regrouping.
Gimli: Let him stay there. Let him rot. Why should we care?
Gandalf: Because 10,000 Orcs now stand between Frodo and Mount Doom. I've sent him to his death.

- (Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: August 28, 2006

Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin
Other Stars: Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Sean Bean, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lee, Lawrence Makaore, Bruce Spence
Director: Peter Jackson

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images
Run Time: 07h:50m:00s
Release Date: August 29, 2006
UPC: 794043104176
Genre: fantasy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+A-A+ A-

DVD Review

I was blindly confident that outside of some spiffy, over-priced deluxe giftpack, the multi-disc extended editions of Peter Jackson's Tolkien trilogy would be the end of the line—in terms of DVD releases—but that's just that goofy naive streak in me that fails to always remember that the words "double dip" and "triple dip" are almost like a holy mantra to marketing departments.

Things here have been rejiggered with these two-disc limited edition sets—available separately or as part of a three-pack—and the hook is that they each contain both the theatrical and extended versions on one dual-sided disc, some "new" extras on the other, all dolled up in smart new packaging that anal completist will have to own.

Or least that's what they want you to believe.

No knock at all on this—the third chapter of Jackson's sweeping fantasy epic—because as a geekboy myself I properly swooned at each and every frame in the theater, soaking in the way a wholly believable Middle Earth arose out of impressive digital effects and a carefully morphed and compressed rendition of Tolkien's grand opus. And I geeked bigtime again when the extended version was released, with its more than fifty minutes of new footage, melded seamlessly into the finished product, which expanded the runtime well past the four-hour mark.

But let's look at it from a purely product standpoint for a second. It seems to me that if you do not own this (meaning the entire trilogy, friend) already in one form or another then I'm not sure how attractive this new set is going to be. If the detailed glory of the extended versions didn't hook you, what's going to be the attraction now? Sure, it's basically two movies for the price of one—because I do consider them very different—but this new set just seems like a nicely packaged bit of pointless repetition.

It's probably pretty clear that I'm in the extended-version-is-better camp, and while I still am somewhat tired by the neverending endings, the additional material like the inclusion of the fate of the wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee)—occurring at the Ent-damaged remains of the Tower of Isengard—is too good to pass on. Other new action scenes, such as our first view of the Army of the Dead in action against a sailing ship of lusty Corsairs on their way to Gondor and an encounter between Aragorn and the Mouth of Sauron (Bruce Spence) are balanced against sweet moments such as the one between Eowyn (Miranda Otto) and Faramir (David Wenham), and a brief backstory on the origins of Pippin's Gondorian livery that serves to indelibly connect him with another character. Purists and their unforgiving nature aside, does it matter that the extended edition features Eowyn uttering lines originally spoken by Faramir in the book? Not really.

It doesn't matter which version you go with, because there is no "previously on The Lord of the Rings" primer at the beginning, just as there wasn't in The Two Towers, though Jackson does go backwards just a bit by opening The Return of the King with a flashback sequence showing the origin/transformation of hobbit Smeagol (Andy Serkis) into duplicitous Gollum after being eternally corrupted and controlled by the power of the One Ring. From then on, it picks up where The Two Towers left off, and the evil goes into the red and the battles become even more grandly violent and expansive. I get chills everytime I watch the Battle of Pelennor Fields sequence, from the heroic arrival of Theoden (Bernard Hill) and the Rohirrim to their weary face-off against an onslaught of Haradrim and mumakil.

There are five separate stories going on at once in this final chapter—spread across the breadth of magical Middle-Earth—all building and interconnecting with sweeping high drama and spectacular action sequences, and if you haven't seen the first two films you're going to be hopelessly lost. The One Ring is on the final leg of its journey, and must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom by Frodo (Elijah Wood), with no help from bug-eyed Gollum (Serkis), despite the adoring faithfulness of fellow hobbit Samwise (Sean Astin). Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor, must make his way on his own treacherous journey, eventually leading to Mordor, accompanied by elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), while the other members of the original fellowship—Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Pippin (Billy Boyd), and Merry (Dominic Monaghan)—find their destinies just as intertwined as the ever-expanding reach of Mordor stretches across Middle-Earth.

From a technical standpoint, I still hold that the The Return of the King represents the a high bar for visual effects, and the scale and scope of the battle scenes—such as the now extended Battle of Pelennor Fields sequence, featuring those gigantic elephant-like mumakil—is a stunning achievement. Go ahead, just try and convince me those lumbering mumakils aren't real.

My advice: save your bucks on this one, and get yourself all three extended versions. You'll thank me later.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Both versions are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and appear to match the first-rate print quality found on the previous releases. Even with so much content crammed on either side of this two-sided disc, the transfers both still carry excellent color and black levels for the duration, with extremely minimal compression issues.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
EX
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: This new release drops the DTS track found on the extended version (as well as all of those commentaries) and just features a rousing Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and a slightly less rousing 2.0 surround option. You can secretly bemoan the lack of DTS, but the 5.1 EX is big, loud and full of some truly wall-rattling bass, making the battle sequences a very immersive experience.

Excellent.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 138 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
3-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Sure, those extended editions do take up a lot of shelf space, and this Limited Edition version does sport a standard size tri-fold case. The packaging is nice looking, with a thick, clear window on the front cover revealing a color image of Orthanc in all of its seeing-eye glory.The always invasive Interactual player lurks here, so be prepared to dodge that nearly forced software bullet. Both versions of the film are on the dual-sided disc one, with the A side featuring chapters 1-28 of the theatrical version (1h:37m:23s) and chapters 1-36 of the extended (02h:07m:33s). The B side carries chapters 29-60 of the theatrical (01h:43m:22s) and chapters 37-78 of the extended (02h:15m:27s). Each version film is given its own separate and very different menu structures, and upon inserting the disc users are given an initial choice between theatrical and extended. Both films feature optional subtitles in English or Spanish.

The lone extra is found on disc two, in the form of The Return of the King: Behind The Scenes (01h:51m:57s). This collection of assorted behind-the-scenes and production footage from nearly every aspect of the production is, according to the backcover, new and features "never-before-seen-footage". It's essentially small sections pieced together, moving from one area of the crew to another, in a fairly story-sequential order. The raw footage and interviews talks with Jackson, the cast as well as folks from the effects team, swordsmiths, makeup, casting, sound, CGI and nearly any other element you might imagine. I'm kind of partial to the breadth of the content on the extended version, and I can't say for certain how much of this footage is new, though the segments on the creation of digital horses and the design of Pelennor Fields remains inherently fascinating.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

This wholly unnecessary release captures both the theatrical and extended versions (minus the previously issued DTS track and commentaries) on one dual-sided disc, and a second disc carries nearly two hours of assorted behind-the-scenes footage that the backcover promises is "never seen before".

The original extended editions of all three films in the series represent one of the DVD formats extreme highwater marks in terms of quality and content, making this limited edition version a rather pointless alternative, no matter how stellar the film and/or the audio/video transfers.

 


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