“All good things must come to an end…” Truer words have never been spoken, especially when it comes to describing what may be argued as the greatest epic ever produced for the silver screen. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy has redefined excellence in movie making. The only other series that I can compare this accomplishment to is, not surprisingly, the original Star Wars trilogy in terms of the scope of what was accomplished – old fashioned story telling which captured its audience with ground…breaking visuals and sound. Where Peter Jackson has surpassed George Lucas however, was in the DVD production of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The extended versions of the three films should be identified as the best DVDs ever produced. Period. These versions of the films truly demonstrate the full potential of what DVD has to offer.
The Return of The King completes the Lord of the Rings trilogy by allowing Aragorn to fulfill his destiny and bring honor back to his disgraced family line, bringing together the peoples of Middle Earth to fight for a common good, and for Frodo to end his life altering journey to save all of the people of his world. The extended version adds 50 minutes to the already 3 hr and 20 minute long theatrical cut. One would think that it may be difficult to sit through a 4 hr and 10 minute film, but nothing could be further from the truth. The additional scenes contribute an added depth to the movie that rounds out the story very nicely. The mix of the scenes involve a deepening of not just action, but also emotional tenderness, suspense, and humor.
Here they are:
The Voice of Saruman
Saruman appears from the top of his tower and asks Theoden for peace. Theoden was of course imprisoned in his own body essentially at Sarauman’s command and hence wants him permanently removed. Saruman holds up the palantir and warns that not only will Aragorn never be King, Sauron will attack again. He also plants some doubt into Theoden’s mind as well. Grima, a.k.a. Wormtongue, appears on the top of the spire with Saruman. Theoden tries to appeal to him, but Saruman abuses his former servant. A furious Grima knifes Saruman in the back. Legolas puts an arrow into Grima, but the damage is done. Saruman falls … and lands on the spike of a wheel.
Return to Edoras
Remembrance of the dead and celebration of victory. Legolas and Gimli have a drinking contest and the grumpy dwarf gets a little inebriated, while Legolas looks unaffected. Very funny stuff.Howard Shore has a cameo, standing behind Legolas.
Eowyn tells Aragorn of a dream of a terrible vision of darkness and a wave of water over the land. This was originally Faramir’s dream in the book. Aragorn consoles her, she shows growing affection for him.
The Decline of Gondor
After the disastrous first meeting with Denethor, Gandalf tells Pippin the history of the city. The two notice a storm on the horizon and it’s not a natural storm.
This is a longer version of the orc invasion. Faramir sends troops to watch the south, but the orcs come via the river. When a soldier spots them and the orcs take him out with an arrow, Faramir quickly moves his troops into position to jump the orcs, which is where the scene opens in the theatrical cuts. Also, pay attention when Faramir takes the soldiers to the river. A young soldier giving out spears is Royd Tolkien, the great-grandson of the author.
Theoden has assembled his troops, but in a brief scene of inner dialogue, he thinks they are likely defeated before they even fight. Merry offers his services to Theoden, which the King accepts. There’s a comical scene with Merry on a small horse, frantically trying to spur it on, but the horse won’t move.
The Wizard’s Pupil
Denethor berates the recently-returned Faramir because he not only released Frodo with the Ring, he sent him into a dangerous area like Cirith Ungol. Once again, he puts down Faramir in favor of Boromir, even hallucinating and seeing Boromir standing behind Faramir.
Peregrin, Soldier of the “Tower of Guard”
Faramir is amused to see Pippin dressed as a guardsman of the Tower and wearing the old uniform that he wore as a boy. A sweet scene with the two and it builds a connection between the two, which helps set up Pippin’s willingness to save Faramir from his father later.
Marshalling at Dunharrow
A confrontation between Eomer and Eowyn, where Eomer warns his sister that she’s a fool for thinking Merry will fight, and that he will run. Eomer also makes it clear he thinks his sister has no business being there. “War is the province of men,” he growls.
Aragorn takes the paths of the Dead
Here is another touching scene between Aragorn and Eowyn. Aragorn tells Eowyn “I cannot give you what you seek.”
Dwimorberg – The Haunted Mountain
The smoke of the dead swirls around Gimli and he frantically blows it away. Then he nervously tiptoes over a pile of skulls, which crumble with each step.
The King of the Dead
The dead laugh at Aragorn’s request for help and fade away. The walls of the cavern crumble and an avalanche of skulls pour out, forcing the trio to run. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas find a back door and run out, where they see the Corsairs. Aragorn momentarily despairs, but then the King of the Dead shows up and agrees. This kills the suspense from the theatrical cut.
The Corsairs of Umbar
Aragorn blocks the Corsairs at a dock and orders them to stop. The Corsairs laugh. Aragorn asks Legolas to shoot a warning arrow close to the Boatswain’s ear, but Gimli bumps Legolas and the Boatswain takes it in the chest. (Look close. The Boatswain is Peter Jackson). The Corsairs demand to know with what army will the trio take their boats. “This one” says Aragorn, and the Army of the Dead attack. Probably the third-best scene on the Extended Edition, but again, it takes away the surprise of the undead army arriving later.
Merry’s Simple Courage
On the way to Minas Tirith, Merry comforts a despairing Eowyn and talks of missing his friends. Plus, Eowyn is not wearing a helmet here.
The Lord of Nazguls
This is easily the best and most intense of the added scenes. First, there is more fighting in the streets of Minas Tirith and it’s very violent. Pippin comes to get Gandalf to stop Denethor. On the way there the Witch King on his Nazgul stops them, and demonstrates his power by besting Gandalf easily. The arrival of Rohan troops is the only thing that saves Gandalf.
The Battle of Pelennor Fields
Longer battle sequence with some gruesome shots, shows Eowyn fighting without her helmet, with Theoden momentarily stopping in disbelief at the sight of Eowyn demonstrating her swordsmanship. We see the fate of Gothmog, the leader of the Orc army. This scene also shows Merry fighting and dispensing serious damage to a number of orcs.
The Houses of Healing
Eomer finds an unconscious Eowyn and for the first time in the movie, his facial expression changes from his usual angry look to one of despair. Eowyn is tended by Aragorn in the Houses of Healing while Eomer watches them both. Finally, Eowyn opens her eyes. Later, she wakes up and sees Faramir standing beside her, looking healthy.
Pippin Finds Merry
Pippin discovers an unconscious Merry near an oliphaunt corpse.
Aragorn subdues the Palantir
Aragorn takes the Palantir into the throne room. He unwraps the Palantir and has a few words with Sauron, showing him the remade Sword of Elendir. Sauron fires back with a vision of Arwen.
Faramir and Eowyn
Eowyn and Faramir become a twosome. Overlooking the silent city, they talk softly as he comforts her. She puts her head on his shoulder while he takes her hand.
With the Orcs
Unintentionally hilarious. Or maybe he meant it. Sam and Frodo are disguised as Orcs and wearing helmets that look like bird beaks. They are spotted and thrown into a line of marching orcs. Sam and Frodo fake a fight to escape.
The Mouth of Sauron
If not for the intensity of the Witch King scene, this would be my favorite added scene. The Black Gate opens and the Mouth of Sauron comes out to welcome them. It’s literally a mouth, as it takes up half the face of the creature talking to them. The Mouth holds up Frodo’s Mithril shirt as a taunt, saying Frodo died painfully. Aragorn does not believe his lies and sends a message to Sauron by beheading him. Very cool.
Watching the extended version just added to an already outstanding movie. The 250 minutes fly by and by the end (which is unaltered from the theatrical version) it almost does leave you wanting more.
The Return of the King is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. As expected, the movie looks pristine and excellent, just as the other installments did. The image here is crisp, clean, and well detailed, with no real problems to mention. A couple minor instances of edge enhancement aside, this transfer looks excellent and given the dark visuals, that’s impressive work. New Line has used a pristine source print here, which means no nicks or debris are evident, so the other elements are never hampered. The colors seem lush and natural, as they should be and flesh tones look normal, no inconsistencies to make note of there. The real praise belongs to the contrast however, as black levels are rich and refined at all times, which is vital in the film’s dark visual scheme.
Now here is where the discs once again excel. You get a choice between a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix or a DTS-ES 6.1, plus a stereo surround sound mix, with English and Spanish subtitles.
The DTS mix is a leap and bound above the Dolby Digital mix of the theatrical release, with better balancing and improved separation across the channels. The surround channels, particularly the rears, are extremely active. When Gandalf and company confront Saruman, Saruman’s voice echoes from all speakers.
The same thing happens when Pippin messes with the Palantir. Sauron’s voice filled the room. Faramir’s ill-fated attack on Osgiliath is amazing, with arrows whistling in from the left and middle channel to the right.
At the same time, they have mixed Howard Shore’s Oscar-winning score so it’s better balanced with the film without being overpowering, as it was in previous releases. The film has a rich, bassy sound without being as bottom-heavy as the theatrical cut.
This extended edition comes with four commentary tracks. Some commentaries have up to a dozen people, which can get confusing. Fortunately, when they talk, their name appears on the top center of the screen.
The first, with Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh (writer/producer) and Philippa Boyens (writer) is the best of this set, not surprisingly, and definitely one of the best I’ve heard all year. A nice touch is separating the participants into channels. Jackson comes from the center channel, Walsh comes from the left speaker and Boyens comes from the right. If you listen to one commentary, this is it.
The Cast Commentary is enormous: Elijah Wood, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Lawrence Mahoare, Andy Serkis as himself, Smeagol and Gollum.
This clearly was recorded in pieces and stitched together. Their insight and comments range from good (Lee, McKellen, Weaving) to inane banter (the Hobbits, as usual). Serkis talks in his own voice and as his two alter egos.
The Design Team Commentary consists of Grant Major (Production Designer), Ngila Dickson (Costume Designer), Richard Taylor (WETA Workshop Creative Supervisor), Alan Lee (Conceptual Designer/Set Decorator), John Howe (Conceptual Designer), Dan Hennah (Supervising Art Director/Set Decorator), Chris Hennah (Art Department Manager), and Tanis Rodger (WETA Workshop Manager). This one really goes into production detail, often in very specific detail on how uniforms were made, where they used miniatures or matte paintings, and so on.
The last commentary is with the Production/Post-Production Team Commentary, with Barrie M. Osborne (Producer), Mark Ordesky (Executive Producer), Jamie Selkirk (Co-Producer and Editor), Annie Collins (Additional Editor), Rick Porras (Co-Producer), Howard Shore (Composer), Jim Rygiel (Visual Effects Supervisor), Ethan Van der Ryn (Supervising Sound Editor/Co-Designer), Mike Hopkins (Supervising Sound Editor), Christian Rivers (Visual Effects Concept Designer), Alex Funke (Visual Effects D.P.), Joe Letteri (WETA Visual Effects Supervisor), Randy Cook (Animation Designer and Supervisor) and Brian Van’t Hul (WETA Visual Effects D.P.).
There are also an astounding 19 featurettes included in this set…
- J.R.R. Tolkien: The Legacy Of Middle-earth is a 28-minute piece involving Tolkien experts, from professors to some serious geeks, discussing how Tolkien’s experiences studying Finnish and Welsh languages influenced his Elvish languages. He had created two languages by the time he was 20. World War I also had a major influence on him, since he rode in a cavalry group.
- From Book To Script is a two-parter. Forging The Final Chapter is 24 minutes long, and I love the opening. John Rhys-Davies tells us Tolkien let the film rights go for next to nothing because he felt the book was “unfilmable.” Jackson and others discuss how they took the timelines from all three books, since it was not told chronologically, and made it run in a linear form.
- Abandoned Concept: “Aragorn Battles Sauron” is a five-minute animatic storyboard sequence. While Frodo was about to toss the ring into Mount Doom, Aragorn was going to go toe to toe with Sauron at the Black Gate. This was replaced with the troll in the movie.
- Designing And Building Middle-earth is a four-part series. First is Designing Middle-earth, a 38-minute segment on the development of conceptual designs from Alan Lee and John Howe, and how they built the sets and miniatures. They cover Shelob’s Lair and the flammable spider threads, the remains of Bridge of Minas Morgul, all of Minas Tirith, the stairs of Cirith Ungol and more.
- Big-atures covers the heavy use of large scale miniatures. The “miniature” of Minas Tirith was 1:72 scale, but considering Minas Tirith is 1,700 feet tall in Tolkien’s books, that puts it in perspective. The “miniature” was seven meters tall and six-and-a-half meters in diameter. It had over 1,000 houses. The result was realism you just don’t get with CG. They also cover the Necropolis with the Army of the Dead, the trebuchets in Minas Tirith and the Grond, the wolf’s head battering ram.
- WETA Workshop is a 47-minute look at the folks at WETA, who did everything: CG, props, armor, weapons, special effects and make-up. The crew realized they had nowhere near the experience they would need, but they learned as they went and became experts very quickly, out of necessity if nothing else. They had to create unique looks for every culture, from Gondor to Hobbiton to the orcs to the Horadrim.
- Costume Design is a three-parter, looking at the people and realms of Middle-earth plus the miniatures. Costume Designer Ngila Dickson discusses the different costumes, some of which were really detailed and then never made it onto the screen. Finally, there’s a Design Gallery with drawings and photos of the whole design process.
- Home Of The Horse Lords is a 30-minute piece on the heavy use of horses on screen. In the Tolkien bio, they talked about the author’s love and knowledge of horses since he was in the cavalry. This segment expands on it, with everything from the troubles with using the animals to funny stories on who was a bad rider.
- Middle-earth Atlas is an interactive map of Middle-earth, covering the length of the trilogy. You can follow the path of Frodo and Sam; Merry; Aragorn, Legalos and Gimli or Gandalf and Pippin from the events in Fellowship through the end. It shows video footage from all three movies at the different locations.
- New Zealand As Middle-earth is an interactive map that takes you around the different locales that became East Ithilien, Dunharrow, Paths Of The Dead, Pelennor Fields, The Black Gate and Mordor.
- Filming The Return Of The King – Cameras In Middle-earth runs 73 minutes, is a comprehensive documentary on the making of The Return Of The King. It features interviews with Jackson and all of the principal actors, which is nice. The very first shot was actually from Return of the King on the stairs of Cirith Ungol, where Frodo tells Sam to go home. It goes on from there, with things like problems on the set, a surprise visit by Sir Edmund Hillary, Sean Astin fighting thin air where Shelob has to be, how Viggo helped Sean with Sam’s wedding scene, and many more anecdotes. You definitely want to watch this. Also in this section are 70 Production photos viewable as a slideshow or independently.
- Visual Effects – WETA Digital is a 40-minute piece covering the digital shots in The Return Of The King, all 1,488 of them. To put that in perspective, Fellowship had 540 special effects shots and The Two Towers had 799 shots. With each year of production, WETA got better, and doing one film made it possible for them to do the next one. The featurette covers the Battle of the Pelennor Fields work, such as the Rohirrim cavalry charge, Shelob and the Mumakils (oliphaunts), including how Legolas did his Fred Flintstone slide down the Mumakil. There’s also a demonstration on The Mumakil Battle, a 30-second demo showing the Pre-Viz, Environment, Animation, Massive and Rough Composite shots in multiple windows, with an audio commentary from WETA folks to describe each part.
- Post Production: Journey’s End is a four-part series. Part one is Editorial: Completing The Trilogy, where Jackson and his editor, Jamie Selkirk, discuss the editing process used for all three films, and the decisions they made on what scenes to use or omit.
- Music For Middle-earth is mostly dedicated to Howard Shore’s score, but it also goes into Pippin’s song, and Billy Boyd really did sing it.
- The Soundscapes Of Middle-earth deals with the sound effects in the film, from swords clanging to an avalanche of skulls. They get into Shelob, the Minas Tirith and Pelennor Fields fights and the collapse of Sauron’s tower.
- The End Of All Things looks at the editing/visual effects parts, with the added fun of the tight schedule for the film. Peter Jackson was splitting time between cutting the movie and shooting pickups, while Howard Shore was working on music right up to the very end. Jackson ended up moving to London to work with Shore, which made things difficult because post-production was going on in New Zealand.
- The Passing Of An Age is a 24-minute segment on the world premiere of the movie, which was done in Wellington as a thank-you to the city and country since it hosted the production. Air New Zealand flew a jumbo jet with Frodo and Sam painted on the side over the parade, and even Prime Minister Helen Clark and the national Parliament got involved. It caps off with the big Oscar win in L.A.
- Cameron Duncan – The Inspiration For “Into The West” is a touching 32-minute piece on a 16-year-old aspiring New Zealand filmmaker who had won awards, but was stricken with cancer in his teens. The song “Into The West” was inspired by Cameron’s film Strike Zone. Duncan’s short films Strike Zone and DFK6498 are also included.
- The Murals of Rivendell shows six murals from Elven history, with text for each mural by Allan Lee explaining the history of the mural. Saruman’s Book is a book written in Elvish. I’m sure someone will enjoy it. Character Palantir is broken on my disc. It had an error on loading. The Cast & Crew Palantir worked, showing the timeline for work from all of the major actors and crew on the film.
The extended version of the Return of the King demonstrates perfection in both film making and DVD production. Everyone who has a DVD player should own this trilogy. It’s almost criminal not to.
Special Features List
- Four Audio Commentaries
- 19 Making-Of Featurettes
- Easter eggs