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Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King (Widescreen Edition), The

Warner Bros. // PG-13 // May 25, 2004
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Blair | posted May 19, 2004 | E-mail the Author

The Movie



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.





The DVD



Video:

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.



Audio:

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.





Extras:

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 Gondo
r, 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.





Final Thoughts:

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




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