The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Two Towers set the stage and put all the pieces in place. Now it’s time for the story of middle earth to conclude with The Return of the King.
When last we left the members of the Fellowship of the Ring, Sam and Frodo had teamed up with the villainous Gollum to enter Mordor, Merry and Pippin had convinced the Ents to attack Isenguard, and Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli had succeeded in defending Helm’s Deep from a massive orc attack. And if that sentence makes no sense to you then you obviously have no business reading a review of the third and final film in what could be the most masterfully assembled trilogy in film history.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King continues the story of Middle Earth and the heroes who strive to defend it from its would be conquerors. This film tells the end of the story as hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) attempt to destroy the one ring as the rest of the characters we’ve met over the previous two films all gather for one last huge battle. Along the way our heroes continue facing the conflicts they’ve faced for two other films – Frodo continues to be taken over by the one ring, Aragorn continues to find himself on a path to claim his destiny as the titular king whether he wants to face it or not, etc. Quite frankly to describe the film deeper then that is extraordinarily difficult unless you’ve read the books, in which case you know what’s going to happen, or you’ve seen the previous movies, which means by this DVD release you should be ashamed for not having seen the third.
Needless to say, the film is just as much, if not more, a work of art as the previous two films. Peter Jackson’s tireless attention to detail continues to amaze and enchant, and for those who didn’t like how The Two Towers strayed from the source material, you’ll be happy to know that Return of the King pretty much stays true to Tolkien’s book. Because the film is so perfect it is a true emotional roller coaster regardless of how many times you see it, and you’ll have a hard time saying goodbye as the characters leave one by one. It’s been a good trip, but it’s sad to reach the end.
So, since you should have seen the movie by now, there’s not really much point in delving deep into a review of that is there? For now let’s just move to the DVD release itself.
We all know the Lord of the Rings DVD releases are going to be "double dipped". That was pretty much set from the start with the creation of the Extended Editions. The previous two years we’ve gotten the first release, or the theatrical cut of the film, around mid-year and then an Extended Edition later on. As for the theatrical releases, it was good to see the film as we saw it in theaters again, and usually there were two main extras that had everyone’s attention. First you had some sort of sneak peek into the next movie, and secondly you had some sort of preview of the extended edition that would come out in a few months.
Well, this year there is no next movie. Hollywood, acting totally against character, is calling it quits after three films. Apparently since that’s all Tolkien wrote about the Fellowship of the Ring that’s all we get to see on screen. So no sneak peek into Lord of the Rings: Episode I: When Frodo Was A Young Pup. Just when you think you have the Hollywood machine figured out, it stops churning out movies. Sheesh. So, there’s no next chapter to promote, which means they didn’t need to wait nearly as long to release this DVD, which means, they haven’t had time to put together a trailer for the Return of the King: Extended Edition. That’s right, even though the footage for the these movies finished shooting over 3 years ago, they’ve been too busy to give us a couple of glimpses of what we’ll see in a couple of months. And, while I may have written everything else in this paragraph in a sarcastic tone, what I can honestly say is this leaves this DVD release about as "bare bones" and uninteresting as you can get from the middle earth movies.
There are a handful of documentaries, most of them taken from the official movie website as it was updated over the year leading up to The Return of the King’s theatrical release. The two that were made specifically for this DVD, "The Quest Fulfilled: A Director’s Vision" and "A Filmmaker’s Journey: Making The Return of the King can be summed up in one word: redundant. Both documentaries talk about the process that went into making the movies, particularly finding a studio beforehand and then the dedication and love Director Jackson put into the films. They use pretty much the same soundbits, the same footage, and the same pieces of music from Howard Shore’s amazing score. The only real difference between the two seem to be that they are arranged differently, and "A Filmmaker’s Journey" discusses the story of Return of the King a bit more in detail.
The only other item of interest included among the trailers and commercials for the film and its spin off video games is a National Geographic Special. The Special (narrated by LOTR’s John Rhys-Davis) draws parallels between the themes of the story of Lord of the Ring and history. Self-doubting would-be king Aragorn is compared to Theodore Roosevelt. Evil advisor Grima Wormtounge (who doesn’t even appear in Return of the King) is compared to Rasputin, etc. It’s kind of interesting, but not enough to be the only real feature on a 2-disk release.
As everyone knows from the past two movies that the Extended Edition of Return of the King is coming and will kick the pants off this DVD release, only the completists will be the ones to purchase the theatrical edition. Just having the movie on the disk, which looks and sounds as good as expected, is enough to give this DVD a good score, but it’s lack of interesting extras keep it from getting a great one.