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In this third and final chapter, the hobbit with the task of returning the all-corrosive Ring to its origins in the molten rock of Mount Doom, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his loyal hobbit friend Sam (Sean Astin) have been joined by Gollum (Andy Serkis), who offers himself as their (un)trustworthy guide through the dangerous terrain of Mordor. Sauron's forces have attacked Gondor's capital, Minas Tirith, in the final terrible attack on mankind. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) tries to move the broken forces of Gondor to action, against overwhelming odds. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) must take the lead to unite the scattered remains of men against this devastating enemy, and lead them as their King. . . to their death ... or to their survival. And Frodo must squeeze his last ounce of energy to try and complete his epic journey, while battling evil forces, Gollum's treachery - and the Ring's corrupting power.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
All the great elements of the human condition - good, evil, courage, loyalty, sacrifice, love, duty, fear, death, hunger and pain - swirl through this final section of the trilogy with heightened values and greater urgency. And with absolute digital clarity on DVD, providing a superbly intimate - and powerful experience - that isn't the same as on the big screen, but it's certainly not inferior. Just different. We know from the previous two films (all three were made as one single film) that the craftsmanship of Peter Jackson's team and the artistry of his cast are superb; now we want to experience the most demanding aspect of story telling, as Jackson reaches The End.

We the audience have invested a two-year time span in this mammoth movie, and not inconsiderable emotional and nervous energy. It must pay off now, and in the same currency as we know: authenticity, humanity, grand big picture and intimate small picture, all welded together by imagination and the values we hold most dear, values held in the section of our psyche known as compassion. In my view, satisfaction is guaranteed: this giant spectacle pays emotional tribute to the little people of the world, hobbits being the symbols for us ordinary folk who are sometimes thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Frodo is. Frodo endures. Frodo succeeds.

And of course, humanity wins, against the collective evil of dark forces and their despicable creatures (our own dark side?). But even metaphors aside, The Return of The King plays with enough gusto and guts, greatness and goodness, to satisfy our hunger for the story, the characters and the various resolutions of the journey, which must come at some cost, some price. No victory is satisfactory without that. The major battle scenes are unequalled in power, thanks to the imagination and craftsmanship of the team. Yet the intimate scenes are lyrical in their beauty and haunting in their emotional potency.

(Declaration: at this point I want to put on record that my Los Angeles based cousin Peter Facer was deeply involved in the production of the extra materials on this DVD as Interview Director.)

The extended edition runs almost an hour (48 minutes) longer, and includes a couple of major scenes and one minor but novel one. The latter is near the start of the second half of the extended edition, when Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and the newly raised Armies of the Dead overtake the pirates. Gimli (John Rhys-Davis) causes one of Legolas' (Orlando Bloom) arrows to misfire, and it kills ... Peter Jackson. On the commentary, Jackson boasts of how he did his own stunt, refused knee pads, took the arrow in six takes and fell heavily to the ground. But the best part of the scene is the look on Mortensen's face. And Fran Walsh (sitting with Jackson and Philippa Boyens in the commentary booth) jokes that this is the moment the film changes into a Monty Pythonesque production, causing a splutter of laughter amongst the trio.

More dramatic, however, is the extended end to Saruman (Chrsitopher Lee) who gets his comeuppance in full on this disc.

Another major addition is the Mouth of Sauron, a terrifying figure on a giant black horse who appears at the Gate of Mordor and holds up Frodo's shirt to make the warriors believe Frodo is dead.

Of course this is just the first of four commentaries accompanying the film; there is one by eight the design team, another by 14 of the production and post production crew including the producers and composer Howard Shore, and the fourth by 19 of the cast - including Gollum! And you won't get lost or confused because they are all identified with surtitles.

After immersing yourself in the fully extended film, there's more to absorb - much, much more - in the two Appendices discs. These cover everything from designing Middle-earth to cameras in Middle-earth, visual effects, soundscapes and something special: a chapter on a young aspiring filmmaker, New Zealander Cameron Duncan, which is linked to the film's closing song, Into The West. It was written by Fran Walsh - inspired by a short film made by Cameron Duncan.

Jackson explains the fascinating connection and the backstory of Cameron Duncan (including an organ donation campaign Jackson and Fran Walsh supported) who battled cancer - and we even get to see two of Duncan's short films - and who provided the inspiration for Into the West. A moving and illuminating - and totally unexpected - bonus. And it's no tokenism; the feature runs for over 30 minutes, including the recording of the song at Abbey Road Studios in London.

Jackson's natural yarn telling abilities drive much of the extra material, and of course on any shoot of this magnitude, the anecdotes are legion. And they're all worth the time.

At the start of Disc 2, Jackson quips "I can't believe that you're all still watching this...shouldn't you get some sleep and come back tomorrow..." Well yes, if we could tear ourselves away from the experience.

December 9, 2004

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CAST: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving

PRODUCER: Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Frances Walsh

DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson

SCRIPT: Philippa Boyens, Frances Walsh, Peter Jackson (book by J.R.R. Tolkien)

RUNNING TIME: 240 minutes

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1, 16:9 enhanced; DD 5.1 or DTS 6.1 or Stereo Surround;

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1 & 2: feature film with four audio commentaries : 1 - director & writers; 2 - the design team; 3 - production/post production team; 4 - the cast. Disc 3: The Appendices Part Five - The War of the Ring; Disc 4: The Appendices Part Six - The Passing of an Age.


DVD RELEASE: December 10, 2004

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