The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Special Extended DVD Edition)

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Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Elijah Wood as Frodo
Sean Astin as Sam
Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn
Ian McKellen as Gandalf
Andy Serkis as Gollum/Smeagol
Billy Boyd as Pippin
Dominic Monaghan as Merry
Miranda Otto as Eowyn
David Wenham as Faramir
Orlando Bloom as Legolas
John Rhys-Davies as Gimli
Liv Tyler as Arwen
Karl Urban as Eomer
Noel Appleby as Everard Proudfoot
Alexandra Astin as Elanor Gamgee
John Bach as Madril
Sean Bean as Boromir
Cate Blanchett as Galadriel
Sadwyn Brophy as Eldarion
Alistair Browning as Damrod
Marton Csokas as Celeborn
Bernard Hill as Theoden
Ian Holm as Bilbo
Bruce Hopkins as Gamling
Ian Hughes as Irolas
Lawrence Makoare as Witch King/Gothmog
Bret McKenzie as Elf Escort
Sarah McLeod as Rosie Cotton
John Noble as Denethor
Paul Norell as King of the Dead
Thomas Robins as Deagol
Harry Sinclair as Isildur
Peter Tait as Shagrat
Stephen Ure as Gorbag
Hugo Weaving as Elrond

Special Features:
Commentary by The Director and Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens

Commentary by The Design Team: Grant Major, Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah, Chris Hennah, Tania Rodger

Commentary by The Production/Post-Production Team: Barrie M. Osborne, Mark Ordesky, Jamie Selkirk, Annie Collins, Rick Porras, Howard Shore, Jim Rygiel, Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, Christian Rivers, Alex Funke, Joe Letteri, Randy Cook, Brian Van’t Hul

Commentary by The Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Andy Serkis, Lawrence Makoare, Smeagol & Gollum

DISCS 1-2: The Feature:

A new version of the third installment includes 50 minutes of never-before-seen footage incorporated into the film. (approx. 250 minutes)

DISCS 3-4: The Appendices:

Disc Three: The Appendices Part Five – “The War of the Ring”

Peter Jackson Intro

“J.R.R. Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle-earth” documentary

From Book to Script:

- “From Book to Script – Forging the Final Chapter” documentary

- Abandoned Concept: Aragorn Battles Sauron

Designing and Building Middle-earth

- “Designing Middle-earth” documentary

- “Big-atures” documentary

- “Weta Workshop” documentary

- “Costume Design” documentary

Design Galleries – 2, 123 images

- The Peoples of Middle-earth (galleries with docent audio)

- The Realms of Middle-earth (galleries with docent audio)

- Miniatures (galleries with docent audio)

“Home of the Horse Lords” documentary

“Middle-earth Atlas: Tracing the Journeys of the Fellowship” interactive map

“New Zealand as Middle-earth” interactive map with on-location footage

Disc Four: The Appendices Part Six – “The Passing of an Age”

Elijah Wood/Sean Astin/Billy Boyd/Dominic Monaghan intro

Filming The Return of the King

- “Cameras in Middle-earth” documentary

- Production Photos (gallery) – 69 images

Visual Effects

- “Weta Digital” documentary

- “The Mûmakil Battle” demonstration/interactive feature

Post Production: Journey’s End

- “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

- “Cameron Duncan: The Inspiration for ‘Into the West’” documentary

- “DFK6498″ short film

- “Strike Zone” short film

All four discs are DVD-ROM enabled, featuring a link to lordoftherings.net and access to exclusive online features

Other Info:
Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
DTS 6.1 ES Discrete
Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 250 Minutes

Synopsis:
This is the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien.

As Sam, Frodo, and Gollum continue to make their way into Mordor to destroy the One Ring, Frodo continues to feel its effects. Not only does he become physically weaker, but it begins affecting his mind. While Frodo is in this weakened state, Gollum sees his opportunity to kill the Hobbits and reclaim his “precious”. Sam is wise (no pun intended) to his scheme, yet he is unable to convince Frodo of the impending danger from their guide. He can only wait for the time when Gollum will strike.

Meanwhile, Aragorn, Gandalf, and the remaining fellowship learn that Sauron is about to attack the Gondor city of Minas Tirith. It appears that the last stand between good and evil on Middle Earth will take place there. Our heroes rally the remaining human armies for battle. However, Gandalf discovers that Denethor, the king of Gondor, has gone mad with grief over the death of his son Boromir (from the first film). With the king unable and unwilling to lead, it’s up to Gandalf to manipulate events so that the humans can stand a chance in the final battle.

Aragon also finds added motivation to win the battle. As Sauron grows stronger, his elf love Arwen begins to die. If he wants to save her, he must reclaim his throne and lead the humans against Sauron. He looks for help in the most unlikely and terrifying of places. But even if he wins a new army to aid him, he knows all hope lies with Frodo succeeding. But will Frodo be able to find the strength to destroy the ring that has so enchanted him?

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and frightening images.

The Movie:
For this DVD review I’m only going to concentrate on the 50 minutes of bonus footage that’s included in this special edition. If you’d like to see my review of the rest of the film, click here.

Like the previous special editions of the Lord of the Rings DVD’s, there is a ton of extra footage included. Some of it is quite extensive and expands on the characters. Some of it goes by so fast that you hardly notice it. Thankfully, a booklet included with the DVD tells you exactly where all the changes are. If you just want to see those additions, it’s easy to find them.

A few of the additions are quite dramatic. One of the most noteworthy is a scene showing a confrontation between Saruman and Gandalf in the flooded ruins of Isengard. We see Saruman talking trash with our heroes and smacking Wormtongue down. But as Gandalf offers Saruman his life in exchange for information, Theoden talks trash right back. The war of words eventually escalates until Gandalf shatters Saruman’s staff, Wormtongue stabs Saruman, Legolas shoots Wormtongue, and Saruman falls to his rather dramatic death. It’s an exciting scene that ties up a lot of loose ends about Christopher Lee’s character even if it does depart from the book. I would have liked to see it included in the movie. (The death of Saruman, of course, eliminates any need to show the scouring of the Shire at the end of the film like in the book.)

Another dramatic scene occurs when Aragorn attempts to recruit the ghosts in the cave. Rather than immediately rallying to his cause, they disappear. Then a literal avalanche of skulls falls on our heroes and threatens to knock them into the abyss. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli escape from the cave and fall into despair until the ghost king reappears and agrees to help them. We then are treated to the sight of Aragorn commandeering the Corsair’s ships along with the ghosts. Again, this helps explain how they all ended up on boats in the first place and where they came from. This scene also includes a ton of humor between Gimli and Legolas as well as a cameo by Peter Jackson and a number of the other crew as the Corsairs. Their fans will love it.

There are also a few more scenes establishing the blossoming romance between Faramir and Eowyn. They are shown in the “House of Healing” together and they are also shown comforting each other as their friends ride into battle. (These scenes are accompanied by a song sung by Liv Tyler.) It’s a piece of the book that wasn’t really covered in the theatrical version, but it helps wrap up the Aragorn / Eowyn romance.

Late in the film we see Frodo and Sam in disguise and getting accidentally caught up among a troop of Orcs moving towards the front of the battle. After causing a distraction, they are eventually able to give the orcs the slip despite almost being caught. It’s a tense scene even if you know what’s going to happen.

One of the final and most dramatic additions is Aragorn facing off with Sauron. Aragorn gazes into the Palantir (aka glowing bowling ball) and threatens the evil eye. We then see him marching into battle and facing off with The Mouth of Sauron played by an unrecognizable Bruce Spence (from Mad Max, Matrix, Star Wars, etc.). The hideous creature proceeds to tell our heroes that Frodo was captured, tortured, and killed. He offers up Frodo’s mail shirt as proof. So how does Aragorn respond? He lops his head off, of course. It’s quite a dramatic scene that really adds tension to the climax and gives a face and personality to Sauron. It’s another one I would have liked to have seen included in the theatrical release.

There are a lot of shorter but no less significant scenes included in the film. The potential romance between Eowyn and Aragorn is shown a lot more. In one scene she describes a dream that she had of impending doom to Aragorn. There’s more of Eowyn and Pippin preparing to ride into battle. A drinking game between Legolas and Gimli is also shown (which includes a cameo by composer Howard Shore). You see Frodo, Sam, and Gollum traveling through ruins of statues of kings from the past. There’s a bit more of the Orc Captain (aka Sloth from the Goonies) leading his troops into battle. But my favorite of the “mini-additions” are those to the final battle scenes. There’s more of a battle between Eowyn and the Orc Captain. I could be wrong but I think there’s more of Legolas battling on top of the Oliphaunt. Pippin is even shown viciously attacking Orcs and stabbing them repeatedly. It’s surprisingly violent considering the character. Then there’s a very exciting but brief confrontation between Gandalf and the Witch King. The Witch King literally shatters Gandalf’s staff and proves himself to be more than a match for the wizard. It makes Eowyn and Pippen’s victory over him all the more impressive.

As previously mentioned, there are other added scenes here and there throughout the film. They are mainly added lines, brief scenes for a couple of seconds, and other minor things. You might not even realize that they are additions when you see them.

Needless to say, this is the definitive edition of the film. If you’re not watching this Extended Edition, then you’re not getting the whole story. This is the version that I’ll show my kids in the future when they’re old enough to see it. It is most definitely a required addition to your DVD collection just like the other LOTR Extended Editions.

The Extras:
Just like on the other Extended Edition DVDs, this one includes hours and hours of bonus features. Fortunately, though, this DVD doesn’t replace the regular edition of Return of the King. The bonus features included on those discs aren’t included here, so you’re not buying the same material over again if you already own it. Here are some of the highlights that you’ll find:

Commentary – There are four commentaries on this DVD – The Director and Writers, The Design Team, The Production/Post-Production Team, and The Cast. If you’ve seen the other Extended Edition DVDs, then you know these are all first rate commentaries. My personal favorite is the one by the cast. Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan again provide a lot of comedy to accompany what is on the screen, but the added bonus is Andy Serkis providing commentary by both Smeagol & Gollum. He does this in character and it is absolutely hilarious. It’s a nice touch that makes the commentary well worth listening to.

Disc Two Peter Jackson Intro – Peter Jackson gives a brief into to the bonus features and even hints that there may be more editions of the LOTR DVD’s in the future.

“J.R.R. Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle-earth” documentary – This is a 30 minute documentary on Tolkien. A number of Tolkien experts discuss the themes of his books, his inspirations for some of the plot elements, and what happened in the stories beyond the LOTR novels. It’s quite an interesting look at the story and the author behind it even if it does seem like a lecture from your English teacher.

From Book to Script – In this section you’ll find the “Forging the Final Chapter” documentary. In this, Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens discuss how they went about adapting ROTK and they justify why they made the cuts and changes that they did. They point out how the books are in reality out of chronological order and that the films actually play the story out in their specified timeline. But more interesting is talk of an alternate version of the climax of the film. In it, we see Sauron come onto the battlefield in his angelic form, then turn into an enormous warrior that battles Aragorn. That original footage is included here. Jackson then explains how they replaced Sauron with a troll and reworked the sequence. It’s quite interesting. The original animatic of the “Aragorn Battles Sauron” sequence is included as well. This also includes an alternate version of Frodo and Gollum’s confrontation.

Designing and Building Middle-earth – This section consists of four documentaries. The first is “Designing Middle-earth”. In this they talk about designing the environments, the sets, the creatures, and other stuff. This is followed by the “Big-atures” documentary. In this you gain a greater appreciation for the fine detail put into the models from the film. The detail put into the Grond battering ram was quite impressive to me. They go so far as to translate the writing on the ram for you. Next up is the “Weta Workshop” documentary. They discuss the armor, the special effects, and all the other details that Weta is responsible for. Finally, there’s the “Costume Design” documentary. You get to see just how intricate each of the costumes was and the fine detail that you may have missed in the theaters. It’s amazing how much thought and hidden meanings are put into these costumes. Finally, there are Design Galleries, some of which are accompanied by audio commentary from the artists. They include The Peoples of Middle-earth, The Realms of Middle-earth, and Miniatures.

“Home of the Horse Lords” documentary – This feature highlights the specially trained horses from the film. They talk about how they taught them to do specific tricks, how they trained them to be comfortable in battle scenes, and more. They even reveal who bought the horses after the film wrapped. Also highlighted are the New Zealand cowboys who came out to film the battle scenes for ROTK.

“Middle-earth Atlas: Tracing the Journeys of the Fellowship” interactive map – This map allows you to see where various scenes occurred in geographical relation to each other. You can follow various characters’ paths and see clips from the film.

“New Zealand as Middle-earth” interactive map – This map allows you to see where they shot in New Zealand and there is a short behind the scenes documentary that accompanies each location. It’s interesting to see how they transformed various locations into Middle-earth.

Disc Four: Elijah Wood/Sean Astin/Billy Boyd/Dominic Monaghan intro – Our Hobbit heroes give a nice intro to the final disc. Unlike actors typically introducing DVDs, they don’t sound like they are reading from a cue card. They also offer up a few laughs in the process.

Filming The Return of the King – The main feature of this extra is the “Cameras in Middle-earth” documentary. It clocks in at over an hour long and covers everything from the early shooting to the pick up shots in 2003. It’s quite an extraordinary look at the making of the movie. You see how they did Peter Jackson’s cameo in the film, a visit to the set by Sir Edmund Hillary, how they shot an emotional ROTK scene over a period of 3 years, and more. They also have footage from the emotional wrapping moments for each of the actors. It’s just a really impressive documentary and one of the highlights of the bonus features. This video is complimented by a Production Photo gallery.

Visual Effects – Being a fan of special effects, I particularly enjoyed this section. The “Weta Digital” documentary is the centerpiece of this. They talk about the designs of the characters, Shelob, the animation, and more. But a big emphasis of the documentary is the fact that they were extremely limited on time. They were working up to the last possible minute on the film, but their effort all shows on the screen. It’s quite a harrowing tale of the making of the movie. This documentary is accompanied by “The Mûmakil Battle”, a demonstration/interactive feature. This allows you to watch the battle scene in its various layers from the background to the animatics to the final shots.

Post Production: Journey’s End – This section has a common theme through all the documentaries – they were pressed for time. They talk about how the work in each department affected the other and how rushed everything was to meet the premiere date. The documentaries included are “Editorial: Completing the Trilogy”, “Music for Middle-earth”, “The Soundscapes of Middle-earth”, and “The End of All Things”. They talk about how the “Into The West” theme was developed. They talk about how they created a number of the sound effects in the film from the falling stones to Shelob. Again, it’s all really interesting stuff no matter how boring the topic may seem. If they can make editing of ROTK sound like a thriller than that’s quite an accomplishment.

“The Passing of an Age” – This final documentary shows how all the departments came together to meet the premiere date. It also shows the premieres in the various countries and the warm receptions the film got everywhere. Then there’s coverage of the Oscars and the fan party that took place after the awards ceremony. You even see the final shots filmed for this Extended Edition DVD. This documentary acts as a final farewell to the series and it is quite a sendoff.

Cameron Duncan – This section features the documentary “Cameron Duncan: The Inspiration for ‘Into the West’”. Duncan was a teenage filmmaker that was a friend of Jackson and his family. He was diagnosed with cancer and was in the final stages of his life as ROTK was wrapping up. Duncan had quite a lot of potential as a filmmaker as shown by his short films included here. They are “DFK6498″ and “Strike Zone”. It’s quite an emotional and inspirational tribute to the young filmmaker.

The Bottom Line:
This DVD is a required addition to your collection. It doesn’t get any better than this. Between the film and the bonus features, you’ll be entertained for days on end. It’s a great value for your money.

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