The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Distributed by: New Line Cinema

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            I had read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy a number of times before Peter Jackson was tapped to create a movie version of The Lord of the Rings.  After watching a documentary on the making of the first film in the trilogy, I couldn’t wait to check them out in the theater.  Jackson had done a fine job recreating the books.  The final movie in the trilogy, The Return of the King, hit the theaters in December 2003 and I rushed to see it.  As long as it was, and as much as I enjoyed it, I had always felt it was a tad bit rushed.  With the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in a special extended DVD edition, I could finally see the movie Jackson wanted to bring to the big screen.

            The journey of this extended version is not for the faint of heart.  Anyone who read the books knows that J.R.R. Tolkien’s adventures are long, winding tales that are as about the mission of the main characters as a soul-searching of those same characters.  The movie was already lengthy and this special extended edition actually contains fifty more minutes of both new and extended scenes added in by Peter Jackson.  I happily sat through over four hours of film and finally got the experience I longed for when I watched the film in the theater.

            In this third installment of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are getting close to Mordor and their journey is almost complete.  But they are being led into this dreaded land by the evil creature once known as Smeagol and now named Gollum.  Having once owned the One Ring, Gollum is desirous to recover his “Precious” treasure, but Sam is on to him.  Unfortunately, Sam and Frodo need Gollum for his knowledge of the land leading to Mount Doom where they plan to destroy the ring. 

            Meanwhile, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan), the Ranger and man who would be King Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) sound the alert and help gather the forces against Sauron as he prepares to destroy the world of Man with his army of Orcs, Wraiths and more.

            Can the valiant warriors hold off Sauron’s army long enough for the hobbits to destroy the ring?  Will Sam be able to keep Frodo safe in the company of Gollum?  And, if they ever arrive at their destination, will Frodo be able to destroy the One Ring?

            The extended version of The Return of the King is exactly what I had expected from Peter Jackson, a perfectionist who wanted to keep the movie as close to the book as possible.  While the theatrical version got the overall sense of the book, it felt too rushed and, when you rush things, often times important moments go missing.  The extended version of the film covered these moments, like the conversation between Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Gandalf and his murder at the hands of Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), the extended version of how the ring was found, the explanation of Gondor’s decline and other moments of what would seem like incidental dialogues between characters, which have great impact on the final moments of the film.  These little moments that were left out are what made the movie whole…the tale complete.

            I enjoyed every ounce of the adventure and found every actor to be on point with every character portrayed in the film.  I especially enjoyed Andy Serkis and his rendition of Gollum, brought to life through digital effects.  I found Elijah Wood’s Frodo to be exceptionally annoying in this film, but I suppose he would be as the burden of the ring became almost to great to bear.  And actually, this final step of the journey of the hobbit pair was more about Sam than Frodo.  Sean Astin’s portrayal of Sam Gamgee was perfect. 

            Viggo Mortensen did an incredible job as Aragorn and Ian McKellen was the perfect selection for the wizard known as Gandalf.  I have always enjoyed John Rhys-Davies’ work and found him to be quite enjoyable as the incorrigible, yet loveable dwarf Gimli.  Of course, a great deal of attention will go to the major roles and the actors who portrayed them, but I found a great deal of excellent work to be found in the minor roles as well.  Notable performances included David Wenham as Faramir, John Noble as Denethor, Karl Urban as Eomer, Miranda Otto as Eowyn and Bernard Hill as Isildor.

            The special effects in the film were amazing and put you smack dab into Middle-earth as I envisioned if from the J.R.R. Tolkien books.  The huge battles filled with enormous armies, magnificent creatures and magic looked real, despite the fact that you knew they had to be digitally enhanced.  Everything about this movie was designed to recreate the fantasy world that was Middle-earth and all of its beauties and horrors.  Even the giant spider, Shelob, seemed real…and horrifying for her realness.

            The Special Extended DVD Edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is actually a four DVD set.  The first two DVDs contain the extended version of the film and four commentaries by the director, writers, cast members and numerous other members of the movie making team.  The third DVD contains six documentaries covering the adaptation from book to screenplay, how Middle-earth was designed, the digital workshop, the creation of the musical score, the costume design and more.  It also contains two interactive maps and galleries complete with audio commentaries.  The fourth disc contains seven more documentaries discussing the filming of the movie, the visual effects, the music, including the original song by Annie Lennox and a tribute in which the cast bids farewell to the characters they portrayed.  There is also another gallery here containing production photos.  The set comes in a beautifully designed box made to look like a hard covered book. 

            In my opinion, this edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the only one a fan of the books should be interested in owning.  I can’t wait for Peter Jackson to make the movie adaptation of the original book that started it all: The Hobbit!


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