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Review - Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Extended Edition (DVD-2004)
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Lord of the Rings: Return of the King- Extended Edition (DVD-2004)

New Line Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski

Peter Jackson’s massive film version of The Lord of the Rings, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic literary trilogy, stands as one of the towering achievements of modern cinema. Made as three separate films for a combined cost of more than $300 million, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King reaped overwhelming success both commercially and artistically.

And now, the epic saga is finally complete with the new and highly anticipated DVD release: The Return of the King Special Extended Edition—a four DVD set including both an expanded version of the film and two discs of special features and extras.

The extended cut of the film includes 50 minutes of scenes—yes, you heard correctly—nearly an hour of new footage, added to what was already the longest and most spectacular film in the series. What footage it is! We get to see that controversial scene of Saruman in confrontation with Gandalf which had been excised from the theatrical release (and which infuriated Christopher Lee). Its inclusion here adds dramatic punch to the film.

And there are extra or extended scenes for nearly all the major characters. These flesh out characterizations, explain story connections and add dramatic weight. We also get a better idea of just how Frodo and Sam manage to reach Mount Doom near the film’s climax and get a clearer impression of the weight and burden of the Ring itself.

There are also stunning sequences involving the bones of the undead (which must have been painful to cut out originally) and spectacular footage of those mysterious giant eagles, as well as much, much more.

The theatrical cut of Return of the King was powerful and overwhelmingly emotional. With the new added footage in the extended edition, the emotional wallop mellows somewhat even as it becomes far richer and more satisfying.

The Return of the King was a massive payoff to the series. And the film transfer, color and sound in this special edition can only be described as stunning.

Extras in the set include four separate fascinating feature length commentaries by Jackson and cast and crew. There are more extras than we could possibly mention, but, suffice it to say that a documentary on Tolkien’s philosophical influences and experiences (and how they find expression in the story and film) is superb. Another documentary focusing on the making of the film is amazing, as is the feature about the building of the set of Minas Tirith, and the feature on the editing of the film (which gives insight into the art of filmmaking). There are excellent features on adapting the books, training the horses, selection locations, designing effects, etc.. The documentaries and extras are of exceptionally high quality and the outstanding contributions of the director, writers, production team, technicians, craftspeople, and cast detail the love and obsession, the teamwork, vision, ingenuity and integrity that went into the making of these films.

One unforgettable extra features footage of the final day of shooting, with Peter Jackson filming Elijah Wood’s character of Frodo in his last pivotal scene. The director orders retake after retake even though he has already received a good take of the scene. The fact that Peter Jackson simply cannot let go of the final scene of the final film, of a project to which he devoted so many years of his life, and that that emotion can be so clearly seen on his face, is profoundly touching—as moving as the film itself.

Not since Gone with the Wind, or The Godfather, has a cinematic adaptation of a literary source so captured the public’s imagination and so successfully delivered the goods artistically. No director has ever shot three such massive and complex films in a row, nor has any director finished a series more spectacularly. Jackson himself is unlikely to ever surpass what he has achieved. Nor does he need to. It is his masterpiece, true to both Tolkien’s spirit and to the wonderful archetypes involved. This special extended edition of the final film is a monumental DVD release.

2005 Dennis Kwiatkowski/ Celluloid Dreams

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