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(Special Extended Edition)

There is little that one can say about THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING that hasnít already been said, especially with this majestic fantasy film doing something completely unprecedented for a genre offering- earning eleven Academy Awards, including the top prize for Best Picture. Perhaps the top prize for THE RETURN OF THE KING should considered a cumulative win for the entire trilogy, because THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and THE TWO TOWERS were certainly no less deserving of the award than the final chapter in the trilogy. My only quibble with the Oscars is that Sean Astinís performance as Sam didnít get some sort of recognition, especially since in many ways his character becomes the emotional center of this final film, as he supports Frodo (Elijah Wood) with the heavy burden to destroy Lord Sauron's Ring of Power, while constantly being undercut by the treacherous Gollum (Andy Serkis), who wants to reclaim his precious.

If you havenít seen THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING or THE TWO TOWERS, THE RETURN OF THE KING is definitely not the place to begin watching this trilogy. Letís face it, the three films could be edited together into a single continuous motion picture, so there is little point to buy your ticket and sit down to watch the movie after two thirds of it have already played out. One absolutely must see THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and THE TWO TOWERS before even considering viewing THE RETURN OF THE KING. With the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING director Peter Jackson weaves an additional fifty minutes back into his Academy Award winning triumph, with generally excellent results, although I felt there were a couple of places where the pacing could have been made a little snappier, by the removal of a few shots. Still, the Special Extended Edition of THE RETURN OF THE KING makes the rich cinematic tapestry that Peter Jackson has brilliantly woven from J.R.R. Tolkienís novel even richer, by adding back both the smaller character moments, as well as embellishing the epic sweep of the enormous battle sequences. Amongst my personal favorites, is finally getting to see the ultimate fate of Saruman the White (Christopher Lee), who was pivotal to the story in the first two films.

THE RETURN OF THE KING starts off with an introduction to the character of Smeagol (Andy Serkis), a Hobbit who was instantly corrupted by the Ring of Power and transformed into something dark and dangerous. This segues to Hobbits Frodo and Sam continuing their journey to Mount Doom, with the assistance of Gollum, who claims to know the secret ways in and out of Mordor. After the victory at Helms Deep, Gandalf The White (Ian McKellen) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) ride to the city of Minas Tirith to warn that the final battle with Sauron's army will be fought on their doorstep. At the same time, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Eowyn (Miranda Otto) prepare to ride into battle with King Theoden (Bernard Hill), while Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) remain at the side of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), as he prepares to accept his destiny. The cast of THE RETURN OF THE KING also features David Wenham, Bruce Hopkins, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Brad Dourif, Ian Holm and Sean Bean.

New Line Home Entertainment has made the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING available on DVD in 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. As with the Special Editions of both THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and THE TWO TOWERS, THE RETURN OF THE KING has been spread across the first two discs of this four-disc set to maximize the bit rate for both video and audio playback. Visually, this is an absolutely superb presentation that offers a wonderfully rich, sharp and highly defined image that comes across without flaws. Sure there are some shots that appear a bit softer than others, but they do not detract from the presentation and are hardly worth mentioning. Colors range from vibrant and fully saturated to looking somewhat subdued, but this is always appropriate to individual moments in the film. As for the hues themselves, they are without chroma noise or fuzziness. Blacks are pitch perfect, whites are crisp, plus both the contrast and shadow detail are excellent. The film elements used for the transfer appear virtually pristine and there is little appreciable grain during the presentation. Digital compression artifacts are always well camouflaged, despite the filmís length, multiple soundtracks and audio commentaries. While I am utterly impressed with this DVD as it stands, I still canít wait to see how good this film when it is eventually released in some high definition format.

The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING is presented with both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES soundtracks. Like the preceding Special Extended Editions of films, the audio presentation here is every bit the equal of the video. This soundtrack is the pinnacle of home theater audio, being both completely atmospheric and highly aggressive. The sound mix is cohesive and enveloping, while also being astonishing and sometimes a bit overwhelming. Sound effects are perfectly deployed from all sides and pan flawlessly across the soundstage. Fidelity is wondrous with elegant sounding music and lifelike effects. Quieter may actually be more impressive than the battle sequences, if that is even possible. Dialogue is perfectly rendered, with the voices maintaining natural timbre and complete intelligibility, even when the sound effect are their loudest. The bass channel is powerful and tends to shake the ground quite a bit. The differences between the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks are perceivable, but not overly pronounced. DTS does have an edge in spaciousness, bass reproduction and musical fidelity, but then again, if you system does not accommodate DTS- the Dolby Digital track still sounds magnificent. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís elegantly designed interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a vast array of supplemental features, which have been spread across all four discs of this massive DVD set. Discs one and two offer four running separate audio commentary tracks. Here is a rundown of the participants on the four commentary tracks: The Director And Writers commentary track features Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. The Design Team commentary track features production designer Grant Major, creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe, supervising art director Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Hennah, plus workshop manager Tania Rodger, as well as costume designer Ngila Dickson.

The Production/Post-Production Team commentary track features editor Mike Horton, visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, producer Barrie Osborne, executive producer Mark Ordesky, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, co-producer Rick Porras, composer Howard Shore, co-producer and editor Jamie Selkirk, additional editor Annie Collins, visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel, animation designer Randy Cook, supervising sound editors Ethan van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins, VFX art director Christian Rivers, VFX cinematographer Brian Vant Hul, and miniatures director of photography Alex Funke. The Cast commentary track features Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Lawrence Mahoare and Andy Serkis. To avoid confusion during theses multiple participant commentary tracks, subtitles pop up on screen to identify the speakers.

Discs three and four are identified as The Appendices and contain hours and hours of supplemental programming. However, to prevent putting any readers to sleep beyond this point, I will only outline the supplements. However, I would like to point out all the programming produced for this set is enhanced for 16:9 playback. Disc three is entitled The Appendices, Part 5: The War of the Ring and contains the following programs and subsections: J.R.R. Tolkien: The Legacy Of Middle-Earth (thirty minutes), From Book To Script: Forging The Final Chapter Documentary (twenty-six minutes), Abandoned Concept: Aragorn Battles Sauron (five minutes), Designing Middle-Earth (forty minutes), Big-atures (twenty minutes), Weta Workshop (forty-seven minutes), Costume Design (twelve minutes), Home Of The Horse Lords (thirty minutes). Also included on disc three are more than fifty still and text galleries, as well as Middle-Earth Atlas is an interactive map that allows one to follow the paths taken by the various characters as they make their way across the landscape of Middle-Earth. New Zealand As Middle Earth allows one to look at the actual locations in New Zealand where the trilogy was filmed.

Disc four is entitled The Appendices, Part 6: The Passing Of An Age and contains the following programs and subsections: Cameras In Middle-Earth (seventy-three minutes), Weta Digital (forty-two minutes), Editorial: Completing The Trilogy (twenty-two minutes), Music For Middle-Earth (twenty-two minutes), The Soundscapes Of Middle-Earth (twenty-two minutes), The End Of All Things (twenty-one minutes), The Passing of an Age (twenty-five minutes), Cameron Duncan: The Inspiration For "Into The West" (thirty-two minutes). A visual effects demonstration for the The MŻmakil Battle is also provided and features a multi-angle component as well as optional commentary. A production photo gallery, as well as DVD-ROM features closes out disc four.

The worst thing I can say about the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING is that itís a tragedy that this majestic motion picture trilogy that has come to an end. Director Peter Jackson has truly crafted the finest series of fantasy films in the history of the cinema- a monumental achievement considering he adapted a literary work long thought unfilmable. As for the DVD set, New Line Home Entertainment has done their usual spectacular job delivering virtually perfect video and audio presentations, in addition to the kind of supplements that one can only marvel at. Without question, this is a MUST OWN DVD. Absolutely recommended!

The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING is available in two versions- a standard release for $39.98 and a Collector's Gift Set for $79.98.



The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King (Platinum Series Special Extended Edition)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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