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Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King (Widescreen Edition), The
When I sat down to write this review I found myself at a loss for words. After all, how could I accurately describe the excitement, emotion, and enthrallment I experienced after having watched The Return of the King? The answer is; I couldn't. No matter what words I chose and no matter how I phrased them my experience just didn't come across the way I hoped. This movie is so epic, so amazing, and so near perfect, that you're better off skipping this review in order to watch the darn thing yourself because nothing I say will do it justice. But as this is a DVD review and you seem to be reading it, I'll do my best.
The Return of the King is an absolute masterpiece of movie making history. It's no wonder it took the Academy Awards by storm by pocketing all 11 awards for which it was nominated, including Best Director and Best Picture of the Year. There is absolutely no question it was the best movie of 2003 and that Peter Jackson and his crew deserved every last statue they brought home. Although one could argue the Academy was playing "make-up" for snubbing The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers at the Oscars the last couple of years. Maybe they thought it unfair for a movie trilogy to win Best Picture three years in a row? Whatever the reason it all worked out in the end because director Peter Jackson most definitely saved the best for last.
How often does a movie trilogy get gradually better with each release, subtly and emotionally improving upon near perfection? Never. Well, almost never. Honestly I didn't think it was possible in the age of cinema today but Jackson proved me wrong. FOTR was so impressive and so groundbreaking in its visual presentation and storytelling prowess that it seemed impossible to improve upon. Yet TTT did just that, continuing J.R.R. Tolkien's famous fantasy story while offering the most intense and large-scale battle scene moviegoers have ever seen. And as if that wasn't enough, ROTK had to go and top itself once again.
ROTK pushes the limits of our emotions and stamina by giving us more action, more battles, more emotionally straining character relationships and more flawless cinematography than we really know what to do with. But don't fret. This cinematic joyride isn't crammed into your average hour and a half time frame. Oh no, this one ticks off at three hours and 12 minutes long and believe me, it needs ever minute of it. But even though the movie jumps right in where TTT left off, there are a couple of points where the actions slows down enough to allow the audience a chance to catch their breath. This is good because you'll need to save all your energy (and tissues) for the adequately satisfying ending.
But as good as ROTK is, there's no escaping this really is a 12-hour movie when you take in account the first two installments. In reality this isn't a trilogy; it's one long epic. And while it's obvious everyone will have different opinions as to their favorite, it really is a moot point because it's not three movies - it's one.
In ROTK we follow Frodo and Sam on their final leg to destroy the ring. We learn to whom Gollum offers his true allegiance. We watch the empire of Gondor get ravaged by a hundred thousand orcs in one of the most grandeur battles the big screen has ever seen. We watch heroes rise and fall, and we find out once and for all if the Fellowship can overcome insurmountable odds to save Middle Earth.
I had the pleasure of NOT seeing ROTK in theaters, therefore avoiding all the immense hype that surrounded the film. I believe this has given me an unbiased view of the greatness of this film. Some may disagree, but I feel this is the best effort out of the three and ultimately places Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies as arguably the greatest Hollywood trilogy ever created.
Now if I had to nitpick, I'd say ROTK felt like some important scenes were purposely left out in lieu the extended edition. This is the unfortunate byproduct of "knowing" an intricate and more elaborate DVD edition is going to be released. But it's the nature of the beast and it allows everyone to be happy in the long run so I'm not complaining.
If you refrained from seeing ROTK in theaters you're in for a real treat. ROTK is visually stunning, emotionally taxing and the best finale anyone could ever hope for. If you're one of the many diehards out there refusing to pull the trigger on this edition in favor of the Extended Edition, I say throw out your pride and do it anyway. There's no need to suffer the months of waiting. Feed your addiction and feel good about it because this pleasurable addiction is one hundred percent legal.
ROTK is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The first two Lord of the Rings DVD's have displayed excellent video quality but fell short of perfection. ROTK isn't perfect either but it comes pretty close. The aspect that I really liked about this transfer is the incredible film-like look it exhibits. I have never seen a DVD look so much like film before. It has the subtle graininess that film possesses without being overly so. Also the picture is a bit soft, but again this adds to its film-like qualities. Thankfully, my main gripe with TTT's video transfer was addressed this time around. Edge enhancement was dramatically decreased, almost to the point of being non detectible - almost. It's there, but you have to look real hard for it. But on the whole it's much easier on the eyes than the last go around.
However, I had one concern when watching this DVD. As with the first two movies, the layer change is annoyingly obvious, often happening right in the middle of a pivotal scene. Once again this is the case, but about an hour after the layer change the disc had another stutter as if undergoing another layer change. I tried rewinding to see if I could recreate it and I was successful once but not twice. It's possible it could have been my DVD player but at this point I'm not certain.
Every other aspect of this transfer is top notch. Black levels are spectacularly dark, colors attack your retinas, and the aerial wide-angle shots by cinematographer Andre Lesnie repeatedly take your breath away. Like the movie, the video transfer is fantastic and I don't foresee the extended edition improving upon it.
ROTK comes with a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 audio track. DTS fans will have to wait for the extended edition like before. And like before, this soundtrack doesn't disappoint. In short his DVD sounds amazing. My rear surrounds and rear center speaker sure got a workout and man was it thrilling. In nearly every big battle scene arrows can be heard flying, hitting, and bouncing off their targets behind your ears. You truly feel like you're in the battle itself. The ambiance is remarkable. The LFE channel is thankfully used more sparingly in this movie, which adds to the dramatic impact when it does speak up. In fact, in one scene the bass was so forceful, it rattled off the cover to my front right tower speaker! That's one mean volcano.
You can't mention the audio track without giving credit to composer Howard Shore. His music is just as crucial to creating the mood as Jackson's and Lesnie's visuals. Shore won an Academy Award for his trouble and I can't think of anyone more deserving.
On the whole, DVD audio really doesn't get any better than this folks. This is the kind of movie where you feel fully justified in forking out the extra money for the 5.1 surround sound audio system. If you haven't invested in such an upgrade, do it. You won't be sorry.
As with the past Lord of the Rings theatrical DVD releases, ROTK is padded with some interesting (but far from meaty) extras. And unfortunately a lot of the material is continually repeated. This can get annoying when you select another feature only to discover that you've already seen 80 percent of it. Grumbles aside, these special features are still interesting to watch and when you understand that they're only meant to create excitement for the Extended Edition you can sort of let their shortcomings go.
The core of these extras lie in the three in-depth programs. The Quest Fulfilled: A Director's Vision is a 22-mintute featurette that focuses mainly on director Peter Jackson and his long road to getting the backing for his monstrous $300 million epic. It also dives into little tidbits about casting the actors.
A Filmmaker's Journey: Making The Return of the King is the second program featurette, which is sadly just a rehash of the previous featurette. Most of the interview clips are exactly the same as found in The Quest Fulfilled. Diehard fans will want to watch it anyway because the 20 percent that is new is worth watching. Again, you just know the real meat will be on the Extended Edition. (28:10)
National Geographic Special - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the third and final program featurette offered and it's a fantastic addition to the set. This feature explains how fantasy meets history and goes on to make several real-life comparisons to historical figures and characters in the Lord of the Rings. If you're a maniac historical buff you'll absolutely adore this feature yet average fans will get a kick out of it too as it offers a unique perspective to J.R.R. Tolkien's otherwise mystical fantasy tale. (45:00)
Next you'll find a series of featurettes created for lordoftherings.net. These are interesting, albeit short, segments going into greater detail about various aspects of the storyline. The casual fan will enjoy them, while diehards will scoff and say, "dude, we already know this!"
The featurettes are Aragorn's Destiny, Minas Tirith: Capital of Gondor, The Battle of Pelennor Fields, Samwise the Brave, Eowyn: White Lady of Rohan, and Digital Horse Doubles.
Finally we find two original theatrical trailers in addition to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Supertrailer, as well as A Special Look at Electronic Art's The Lord of the Rings Series of Video Games.
If you were hoping for an awesome gamut of features you'll have to wait for the Extended Edition, as these are mostly ho-hum with only the National Geographic featurette really shining.
The Return of the King has finally come to DVD land and I can practically hear shoppers whipping out their credit cards already. ROTK is gonna be a big hit on DVD and justifiably so. Sure the Extended Edition will be a must-have when it unveils but there's something to be said about having the whole movie on one disc.
So don't be shy because this DVD looks fantastic, sounds incredible, and has a package of special features that will adequately whet your appetite for the inevitable Extended Edition. Buy this DVD, feel confident about it and don't look back. DVD Talk Collectors Series