NOTE: This release is completely identical to the version included with last year's trilogy boxed set, except for the packaging.
As the third and final installment in Peter Jackson's epic Lord of the Rings film trilogy, The Return of the King was the most critically and commercially successful. Earning a worldwide box office total of more than a billion dollars as well as the 2003 Best Picture Oscar (and 10 others!), it firmly cemented the legacy of both LOTR as a franchise and the career of its tireless director. Though Jackson lost over 50 pounds after the trilogy concluded in 2003, it's amazing that the production process didn't beat him to the punch. In other words, very rarely does every ounce of hard work---not to mention every dollar of a large budget---end up right there on the screen. As a whole, this is simply filmmaking at its finest.
As our story thunders to a conclusion, The Return of the King takes The Two Towers' momentum and runs with it. Our main conflict revolves around Sauron's continued attempt to overthrow Middle-Earth; standing in his way is Aragorn and company, who valiantly attempt to defend Gondor's capital, Minas Tirith, from the invading forces. On a smaller but no less important scale, the party of Frodo, Sam and Gollum continue their journey to destroy the ring, yet Gollum's growing desire to obtain its power stands in contrast to the Hobbits' desire to complete their quest. The climactic battle between both halves is just one reason why King plays out so well: it's not just epic in scope but intensely personal at the same time. To its credit, this third and final chapter never falters in the balancing act. The only two lingering complaints are, of course, the Witch King's untimely fate and the film's drawn-out ending. The latter is somewhat expected given the trilogy's total runtime, but the former always struck me as pandering. Either way, it's tough to complain when a film---let alone three consecutive ones---has chalked up so much in the "win" column. At the end of the day, King offers a satisfying conclusion to the series.
Originally released in a multitude of editions on DVD (as well as separate theatrical/extended Blu-Ray boxed sets), the Lord of the Rings trilogy has flooded fans with top-notch bonus features, amazing A/V presentations and deluxe packaging designs. This set of three individual releases marks the first time each Extended Edition has enjoyed its own Blu-Ray release...but as expected, the only thing different here is the price point and packaging. If you're on a budget, this might be the way to go; otherwise, I'd probably say the trilogy boxed set is the more desirable of the two. Either way, you're getting a wealth of content here that will take several days to dig through. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.41:1 aspect ratio, this pitch-perfect visual presentation should disappoint no one. The original color palette is represented quite well, black levels are excellent and textures are uniformly crisp from start to finish. No apparent digital problems could be spotted along the way either... though it's not surprising, given that the film is still divided on two dual-layer BDs. Return of the King is simply a great looking film, and this high-def presentation replicates it as perfectly as possible.
DISCLAIMER: The images in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent the picture presented on this Blu-Ray.
From start to finish, the audio is simply fantastic. Presented in DTS-HD 6.1 Master Audio (with an optional Portuguese DD 5.1 dub), viewers will be continually amazed at the level of detail and dynamic range on display here. Dialogue is incredibly crisp, surrounds are used perfectly and a generous amount of LFE will continually test the quality of your subwoofer (and walls). The film's excellent score is also well-represented and the music never seems to fight for attention with dialogue or other sound effects. Optional English (SDH), Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are also included during the main feature.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
As expected, the simple and straightforward designed menu interface is organized nicely, especially considering the wealth of options available. Seen below, this five-disc set is housed in a compact and practical multi-hubbed keepcase; also included is a Digital Copy code and a slipcover that recycles the 2006 Limited Edition DVD artwork. Although the design of the Extended Edition DVD "book" packaging ranks among my all-time favorites, this space-saving package is a perfectly acceptable alternative.
NOTE: These extensive extras have already been detailed in DVD Talk's review of the trilogy boxed set, not to mention the Extended and Limited Edition DVD releases that they were initially created for. A summary list is included below for posterity.
Discs One and Two include four recycled Audio Commentary tracks, which total more than 12 hours of details about the film's development, production, lasting impact and much more. Participants are grouped by "The Director & Writers", "Cast Members", "The Production Team" and "The Design Team"...and as a helpful bonus, on-screen subtitles are present to identify the speakers. All things considered, there's enough here to exhaust even the most rabid fan. But, of course, there's more where that came from...
Discs Three and Four delve into the exhaustive Appendices from the Extended Edition; essentially, they're just recycled DVDs. Disc Three ("The War for the Ring") includes several Multi-Part Featurettes and Galleries, including "J.R.R. Tolkien: Origins of Middle-Earth" (29:31), "From Book to Script" (26 minutes total), "Designing and Building Middle-Earth" (60 minutes total, plus galleries), "Home of the Horse Lords" (30:16), plus a Middle-Earth Atlas and Map. Disc Four ("The Passing of an Age") continues on with "Filming The Return of the King" (more than 60 minutes total), "Visual Effects" (45 minutes total) "Post Production: Journey's End" (90 minutes total), "The Passing of an Age" (25:11), plus a loosely-related but touching tribute entitled "Cameron Duncan: The Inspiration for Into the West" (32 minutes).
Disc Five includes a Documentary by Costa Botes (113 minutes) which provides an abstract, fly-on-the-wall experience rather than a purely informative one. It stands in good contrast to the Appendices from Discs Three and Four, serving up occasional doses of humor and off-the-cuff footage of key cast and crew members. Though the visual presentation is far from ideal, this fascinating documentary (originally created for the Limited Edition DVD release of Return of the King) is definitely worth your attention.
All applicable bonus features are presented on standard definition DVDs and include optional subtitles. Though it's a shame they couldn't have been combined onto a single Blu-Ray, at least everything's here. Pair this with the theatrical Blu-Ray edition and you'll truly get the complete overkill experience.
Return of the King offers a fittingly epic conclusion to Lord of the Rings, amping up the drama and action to dizzying heights. The "multiple endings" still drag on a little...but since the entire trilogy spans over ten hours, I suppose it's only appropriate. Any way you slice it, this final leg of the journey---if not the entire trilogy---deserved the Oscar win. This individual release is identical to the version contained in last year's trilogy boxed set, save for the packaging. Featuring an excellent technical presentation and an exhaustive assortment of bonus features, this is truly a Collector's Series title on paper...but since it's really just a repackage of what's already available, this part of the whole is simply Recommended.
View my other reviews in this series:
The Fellowship of the Ring | The Two Towers
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.