By the time of the release of the final installment in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, it had become a bonafide cultural establishment. No longer could book lovers stake sole claim to the characters and story; film lovers took to it with open arms, embracing the solid direction and became emotionally invested in the characters and marveled at the (still amazing) visual effects. Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, normally recalcitrant towards fantasy films, awarded it an equal record haul 11 Oscars, including the coveted Best Picture.
Whilst Frodo continues his trek to the pit of Mt. Doom to destroy the One Ring, the eye of Sauron is closing in, summoning all manner of evil to thwart him. The twisted Gollum continues his murderous intent, leading him on a trail to certain death to once more claim the Ring as his own. Weary from battle, the world of Men engage in a last stand against the Orc army amassed to ensure their extinction. Everything now rests on Frodo completing his task - but the Ring will not go without a fight.
A masterpiece for the ages, Return of the King caps off a truly amazing film series, which transcended its genre and has truly become one of the few films made in the last few decades that can genuinely be deemed classic.
With the success from the previous two extended editions, there was no doubt that the longest film in the trilogy was going to get longer again. For The Return of the King Jackson added 50 minutes of footage (including the elongated fan club credits). Whilst many, if not most Lord of the Rings fans prefer these extended cuts, it would be remiss to point out that Peter Jackson does indeed prefer the theatrical cuts for their more balanced approach, of which he had final cut.
The Return of the King- Extended Edition is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (its original aspect ratio), encoded with AVC MPEG-4 compression.
Similar to the The Two Towers, The Return of the King has had no obvious revisions to the look of the film, although Warner have confirmed that this too is a newly struck transfer. By the third film, Director Peter Jackson and DP Andrew Lesnie had got the digital colour grading down to a fine art and obviously felt no more changes were necessary.
The image is very sharp and detailed. Colour balance is very good and translates the cinema experience well. The design of the film is for a much brighter and more colourful film than its predecessor, which is more appealing to the eye. Letting the transfer breathe over two discs has done the film a world of good and the transfer exhibits only extremely minor compression artifacts in some background shots on a large display.
Overall, a great upgrade to my old NTSC DVD, with its terribly low video resolution.
The main audio track is encoded in 6.1 DTS HD Master Audio at 24 bits.
The audio transfer afforded to the extended cut is every bit as aggressive and impressive as the transfer given to the theatrical cut last year. Importantly, the same care and attention was given to the newly reinstated footage as to that of the theatrical cut.
Once more, I didn't detect any audio sync issues, nor any issues with intelligibility. Surround usage is equally as aggressive as those before it and the LFE channel is as thunderous and punchy as always. The score is provided again by Howard Shore, capping off an amazing trilogy of soundtracks.
The European and Australian versions of the extended cut DVDs were pulverized by some terrible pitch correction which resulted in awful juddering and clipping, most noticeably in the score. Thanks to the wonders of 24p, we can finally listen to the films as they were meant to be heard, at their proper pitch and run time.
This is a spectacular mix and a perfect accompaniment to a wonderful video transfer.
Village Roadshow have once again ported across all the extra features from the previous DVD release, even including the Costa Botes documentary which was featured on the limited edition DVD release. Since the extra features are copious and picked apart many times by many different reviewers, I'll pick out what I consider to be the best of the bunch.
For a final time, the film features four audio commentaries; some 16 hours of commentary. Only the nerdiest of the fans will have the patience to sit through these, but those will be rewarded with myriads of trivia and tidbits to dazel your friends with at the pub. Maybe.
Most of the extra features take the form of self contained featurettes which look at almost every segment of the films' production. The third and final part of the From Book to Script section continues the discussion of adapting the book, and Jackson and co discusses the choices that were made as to what would work for the screen and what would not. I think the best picture Oscar would seem to have vindicated their choices.
Filming the Return of the King is a little shorter than other entries in the series, at a bit over 70 minutes, but there's still plenty to be discussed. Some of the more intensive sequences from the trilogy appear in this film and these are discussed in length. It's also great to see the genuine camaraderie between the cast and crew when the final goodbyes are given. Shed tears are far more convincing than "[enter generic actors' name] was great on the set…"
The Visual Effects section continues to be a personal highlight - after the high standards of the previous two films, Weta Digital well and truly push the envelope with the final film which is filled with more action and battle scenes than the those two films put together. Brief looks are given to some abandoned sequences.
Finally, the multi-part Post Production: Journeys End section takes a look at the finalities of wrapping up the saga, from sound design, to the orchestral score, to the last few days of production before and up to the films premiere in December 2003.