Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (The)
R4 - Australia - Roadshow Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (14th June 2004).
The Film

I remember back in 1997 when they first announced that The Lord of the Rings trilogy was going to be made into films, and that fellow New Zealander / director Peter "Braindead" Jackson was going to bring this epic tale to life. I was as excited as a school boy high on a sugar rush, Lord of the Rings certainly proved an awesome challenge for a director who has never worked with a budget over $20 million this was going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, many epic location across New Zealand, thousands of crew, technical personnel and extras as well as top notch special and visual effects. In recent statistics compiled by Statistics New Zealand it was discovered that 20% of New Zealander's were in some way involved in the making of these films. It certainly was a Gargantuan task.

After 8 solid years in production one of the biggest ever film trilogies was completed, shot back-to-back, the first of which released in 2001 The Fellowship of the Ring amazed critics and audiences and won 4 Academy Awards, missing out on the Picture and Director awards (In which Jackson was robbed of, in my opinion). The first film went on to gross mammoth amounts of money at the box office and instantly became a success and a fan favourite. The Second part of the story The Two Towers was released one year later in 2002 and was equally greeted with critical acclaim and audience appreciation, the scope of the second was much larger and darker than the first, the war for Middle Earth begins with this film and the stunning battle at Helm's Deep. Towers went on to make more money than it's predecessor and won 2 Academy awards. But the third and final instalment was yet to be unleashed promising to be the best yet, and at an even grander scope than Towers was.

After seeing these two films I was anticipating the final chapter in this amazing series of films, December 1st rolled around the World Premiere of Return of the King, right here in my very city of Wellington, New Zealand. The city was packed with an estimated 200,000 from one end of town all the way to the other and at the end was the Embassy Theatre where the film was screened. The public didn't get their chance to see the film until the 18th of December and there I was at the midnight session of what would be the end of quite possibly one of the best trilogies ever made.

Return of the King continues on with the story of Frodo (Elijah Wood) carrying the one ring to Mt. Doom to destroy it and free the people of Middle Earth from the wrath of Sauron. As the forces of Mordor grow larger by the day Frodo and Sam (Sean Astin) with the aid of Gollum (Andy Serkis) must navigate through the dead and dangerous lands of Mordor. Gollum eventually tricks Frodo into banishing Sam back to the shire, unaware of Gollum's deceit Frodo continues onwards being led into the lair of Sheelob and certain death, in doing so Gollum will take the ring back as his own. Meanwhile Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Pippin (Billy Boyd), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Merry (Dominic Monaghan), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) make it to Isengard where Pippin finds Saruman's Palantia (the ball which he sees through). After making he journey back to Rohan, Pippin sneaks a look into the Palantia seeing a vision into the future plans of Mordor and how they will attack Gondor. Gandalf and Pippin journey to Gondor to warn the steward of the throne of their impending doom. With Gondorian city of Osgiliath overrun with orcs, the last bastion for the Gondorians is Minas Tirith. But the Steward's mind is gone, and refuses to call on Rohan to aid them. While Aragorn awaits word in Rohan, Arwen (Liv Tyler) sees a vision of the future and returns home to her father Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and persuades him to re-forge the sword of Esildur and deliver it to the heir to Gondor's throne, Aragorn and allow him to fulfil his legacy.

Gondor eventually light the flames to call for Rohan's help by Pippin at this time Mordor's villainous orc army is advancing towards Minas Tirith for an epic battle that will change the face of Middle earth forever! The good armies of Middle Earth must not only defend Minas Tirith from falling but also to fight orc armies outside the black gates of Mordor in order to ocupy Sauron's eye from Sam and Frodo as they grow nearer to destroying the ring.

This final chapter has everything you could ever want and continues in the tradition of the first two instalments with great acting (especially Sean Astin, who should have been nominated for an Oscar for his amazing performance, his best in the whole trilogy). The battles are much more epic with armies in the hundreds of thousands. Return of the King ended the series with a bang! The only part of the film that seemed a little drawn out was the end, or endings to be accurate. To me it felt that Peter Jackson was a director who fell in love with this project so much that it was hard to say goodbye. It would have been a stronger ending had they used a Galadriel voice-over monologue much like the prologue at the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring. At least that way it would have given the film a satisfying bookend. Otherwise there is not a lot to complain about, in a word this film is amazing and deserving of all 11 Oscars that it won. I can't wait for the extended edition due out at the end of the year.

Video

Presented in the film's original ratio of 2.35:1 this widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TV's. For a film exceeding the three-hour mark this transfer is reference quality. There are no signs of any flaws. The colours are sharp and vivid, background detail is exceptional, shadow and black levels are also well defined.

Audio

This DVD comes with two soundtracks an English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX surround track as well as an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track. I chose to listen to the 5.1 EX track for the purposes of this review. And much like the transfer the sound too is also reference quality as far as Dolby EX tracks go. Dialogue is always clear, background surrounds are well mixed and add to the overall atmosphere of the film rather than distract, the musical score is also clear and levels are always consistent. Your subwoofer will also be given a rigorous workout, your neighbours will not be happy if you pump this one up all the way! As good as this Dolby EX track is I can't wait for the DTS ES track we'll get with the extended edition. This DVD also features subtitles in English HoH and Greek. All the elvish dialogue is subtitled with player generated subtitles presented in the black bars of the widescreen and are widescreen TV friendly.

Extras

Much like the previous Theatrical cut 2-disc sets we get some extras on the second disc. The extras include: 3 in-depth programmes entitled "The Quest Fulfilled: A Director's Vision", "A Filmmaker's Journey: Making The Return of the King" and "National Geographic Special - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" as well as 6 lordoftherings.net featurettes, 2 Theatrical trailers, 13 TV Spots, a super trailer, a preview of Electronic Arts video games and a booklet.

The first of the three in-depth programmes is entitled "The Quest Fulfilled: A Director's Vision". This is a 23 minute featurette is a retrospective look at the making of the films. We get some interviews with key players as well as some behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the films. There is nothing really new here, most of the interviews and clips we've seen before. This was a rather lacklustre featurette and could have been much better given the wealth of footage that was shot for these films. I guess we'll have to wait for the extended edition for the good stuff.

The second in-depth programme is entitled "A Filmmaker's Journey: Making The Return of the King" a 27 minute featurette that looks only at the making of this third film, the style is very much like the previous featurette and even recycles some of the same clips!

The next, and probably the best extra on this disc is the nearly 52 minute documentary entitled "National Geographic Special - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" This documentary researches the similarities with the world Tolkien created and our own world and history. This fascinating documentary is similar to the one featured in the deluxe extended edition Fellowship of the Ring box set.

Following that are the 6 original featurettes that where created for theonering.net they are:

- "Aragorn's Destiny" a look at what Aragorn must face in order to fulfil his legacy.
- "Minas Tirith: Capital Of Gondor" a brief look at the heart of Gondor the city or Minas Tirith and it's many levels.
- "The Battle Of Pelennor Fields" a look at how this battle was created.
- "Samwise The Brave" a look at how the character of Sam evolves in this third instalment and what he symbolizes.
- "Eowyn: White Lady Of Rohan" a look at the character Eowyn and here significance in this instalment.
- "Digital Horse Doubles" finally we get a brief look at the scenes that involved horses getting trampled and how those effects where created at Weta digital.

We also get both the 53 second and the 2 minute 44 second trailers that where released cinemas, they are presented here in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and also include 5.1 surround.

Following the trailers are the 13 TV spots created during the films theatrical run, they include:

- Heart/Frodo
- Every Path
- Test
- Aragorn
- Time
- Every Step
- Sword
- Decided
- Time Review
- Decided Review
- Step Golden Globes
- Globe Noms
- New Epic Globe

These TV spots run for around 30 seconds each and feature a Play All function so you don't have to laboriously select one after the other to view.

Of course we also get a super trailer, which is one long 6 minute 22 second trailer that cuts together all the important highlights from each film. It's sort of a summary of the whole trilogy. This is a nice addition but nothing to get excited about as we've seen this footage a million times already.

In addition to these trailers and TV spots we are also given a preview to the Electronic Arts game The Battle for Middle-earth as well as a look back at the other EA games that where created, this is nothing but some marketing fodder and is quite uninteresting.

Finally Roadshow include a three panel fold-out booklet which lists the extras and the chapter stops for the film.

Overall

After viewing the extras I was left quite unimpressed, although the real meat won't be released until the extended edition comes out it would have been nice to include some clips, interviews and footage we haven't seen before the two main featurettes left a lot to be desired and the recycling of interview clips is quite poor, they should have combined the two featurettes instead of regurgitate the same thing twice. The inclusion of the National Geographic documentary was a welcomed addition as are theonering.net featurettes and trailer, but the EA games spot was a low blow. Sell your wares elsewhere, we get enough marketing from TV anyway. I can't wait until the extended version gets released at least I know we'll get the quality extras. Buy this release if you must, otherwise just wait until the end of the year.

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: C Overall: B

 


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