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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King(2003)
The final battle for Middle-earth begins. Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, continue their dangerous mission toward the fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring. Aragorn struggles to fulfill his legacy as he leads his outnumbered followers against the growing power of the Dark Lord Sauron, so that the Ring-bearer may complete his quest.
For more about The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and the The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Blu-ray release, see the The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 17, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean
Director: Peter Jackson
» See full cast & crew
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Blu-ray Review
"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, June 17, 2011
A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down. But it is not this day! This day we fight!
On more than one occasion, filmmaker Peter Jackson has emphatically declared that The Return of the King is his favorite film in his near-reverential adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." But, in many ways, it was also his most difficult. With so much ground to cover in so little time -- well, insomuch as a 200-minute theatrical cut of a film can be considered "little time" -- Jackson and co-writers Philipa Boyens and Fran Walsh had to make some incredibly tough decisions. Not only were several broad changes made to Tolkien's text and characters (most notably Denethor), even broader cuts were made to the final version of the film that arrived in theaters. Saruman's fate? Axed. The battle between Gandalf and the Witch-king? Trimmed. Merry pledging his allegiance to Theoden? Gone. Faramir and Eowyn in the Houses of Healing? No more. Frodo and Sam's harrowing march with Sauron's orcs? Eliminated. But it's these scenes, among many others, that make the extended cut of The Return of the King so captivating, satisfying and, above all, necessary.
The extended versions of The Lord of the Rings films are unique in that they aren't Director's Cuts. Jackson has stated time and time again that the films originally released in theaters are his Director's Cuts; that the extended versions are meant to supplement, not supplant, his opening volleys. That said, it's hard to think of the extended edition of the trilogy as anything less than Jackson's definitive adaptation of Tolkien's work, despite his assurances to the contrary. Personal preference will no doubt dictate which version of each film you favor, but when it comes to a saga as intricate, entrancing and breathtaking as The Lord of the Rings, I say the more the merrier. And The Return of the King, more than The Fellowship of the Ring or Two Towers, takes full advantage of the possibilities. A fitting farewell is granted to a central villain; one whose fate remained a mystery in the theatrical cut. An eerily fascinating foe emerges from the Black Gate of Mordor; a foul creature who leaves quite the lasting impression, visually and thematically. Heroes are given the opportunity to whisper their worries, fears and hopes; often altering the manner in which their forthcoming decisions and reactions are perceived. And developments once taken for granted are fleshed out; connecting dots that previously went unconnected and providing closure where little was provided.
Unlike the extended versions of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, The Return of the King is a better film for all of its additions, and it's next to impossible to revisit Jackson's theatrical cut without feeling as if its innards have been ripped out. It still isn't as perfect an adaptation or as consistent a film as its predecessors, though. Sméagol's transformation into Gollum marks one of the weakest effects sequences in the trilogy, Jackson's Army of the Dead is a bit at odds with the designwork up until that point, and Denethor, while an intriguing and entirely effective character as Jackson and actor John Noble present him, is a mad villain rather than a tragically despondent steward. (Even as a Jackson apologist, I have trouble with some of the changes exacted on Tolkien's text.) But while The Return of the King forces me to choose between two loving parents like a distraught child who just wants mommy and daddy to get along, it so rarely disappoints that it almost seems pointless to rummage through the film with critical fingers. Everything -- literally everything, from the scale and scope of the tale to Jackson's direction, the fragrant dialogue and poetic storytelling, and Weta's visual effects -- comes to fruition in a grand, gripping multi-stage tour de force that doesn't relent until silence falls, hearts pound and tears flow.
Through it all, Jackson relies upon every member of his cast, without exception. Viggo Mortensen delivers a commanding performance by way of quiet reflection, thoughtful pauses, and impassioned calls to arms; his Aragorn is a kind-hearted captain, not a smarmy veteran or a sword-slinging braggart. Elijah Wood allows Frodo to descend deeper and deeper into paranoia, shedding the sweet do-gooder we first meet in Hobbiton and replacing him with a jittery addict scrambling for his next fix. Sean Astin is as much the beating heart of the cast as Samwise is the soul and spirit of The Lord of the Rings. Watching helplessly as the poor Hobbit is dashed on the rocks of betrayal is a difficult ordeal; watching his eyes quiver and his mouth tighten as Frodo succumbs to madness even more so. Ian McKellen is the steady respite before every storm, offering an air of compassion and confidence no other seems capable of providing. Andy Serkis is Gollum; no greater compliment can be given. Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Bernard Hill, John Noble, Karl Urban, and David Wenham step up as well, creating a cast of characters that laugh, breathe, sigh, sneer, worry, cry, rally, scoff, cheer, fight and hope with unmistakable humanity, springing to life more readily than they ever did on the page.
The Lord of the Rings represents the rarest of productions: an effects-laden fantasy epic with genuine heart, tremendous power and incalculable cinematic value. And The Return of the King, particularly in its Extended Edition glory, serves as a fitting end to a magnificent trilogy.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Blu-ray, Video Quality
The stars are veiled. Something stirs in the East. A sleepless malice. The eye of the enemy is moving.
The Return of the King makes a triumphant entrance, stealing past The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers on its way to the throne. Reports, vague as they tend to be, indicate Warner's third 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer has been created using a new master; not that there are any major differences between the 2010 theatrical and 2011 extended presentations, at least not as far as I can tell. Regardless of its origins, though, there's very little to complain about. The presentation offers a rich palette of wondrous colors, stalwart contrast, enticing blacks, and rewarding delineation. Detail is excellent and filmic softness only invades when dictated by the original photography. Gandalf's beard, Aragorn's stubble, Frodo's grimy finger nails, Sam's rustled mop, the imperfections on Legolas and Gimli's weapons, Eowyn's tangled locks, stunning glimpses at the cityscape of Gondor, the dank caverns of Dwimorberg, Dickson's impeccable costumes, WETA's marvelous CG battles, the clashing armies of Pelennor Fields... everything from intimate closeups to sweeping shots of towering castles is blessed with excellent clarity.
Several special effects still show their seams -- a strange black blob briefly hovers in the bottom right corner as Gandalf arrives at Isengard, the Hobbits may as well be standing against a green screen when the Gondorian crowd bows to them in the third act -- but any such shortcomings are hardly the fault of the technical presentation. Significant artifacting, aliasing, aberrant crush, and aliasing don't rear their unsightly heads (thankfully, the film is generously spread across two BD-50 discs), and the slight ringing that still appears, though apparent on only a handful of occasions, isn't gaudy at all. If anything, the tiniest bit of Jackson-and-Lesnie-instituted noise reduction hinders the fun (rest assured, it's fleeting, infrequent and altogether negligible) and small white flecks prick the print throughout (even though they never amount to a problem of any sort). As it stands, The Return of the King looks fantastic. Not pixel-perfect, but about as close as it could.
Over the course of the film, my score moved freely from a 4.25 to a 4.5 and back again, making the 4.5 I settled on an all too easy number to award Jackson's showstopper.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There was no lie in Pippin's eyes. A fool... but an honest fool, he remains. He told Sauron nothing of the Ring. We've been strangely fortunate. Pippin saw in the Palantir a glimpse of the enemy's plan. Sauron moves to strike Minas Tirith.
No need to break down each individual release here. Like the 2010 theatrical cut releases, the Extended Editions of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King charge the fields of Blu-ray with a trio of powerful DTS-HD Master Audio surround tracks, all of which allow Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy to storm every home theater, no matter how grand in scale. Dialogue, whether whispered or shouted, is crisp, clean, and intelligible; voices, whether human, beast or ethereal warrior, ring true across the soundfield; and creature cries, whether spittled roars or high-pitched screeches, are sharp and stable. LFE output deserves a score of its own, aggressively supporting every charging legion, splintering gate, looming weapon of destruction, volcanic debris, marching armies and collapsing tower the various members of the Fellowship encounter. Close your eyes as the Rohirrim clash with lumbering Mûmakil. Listen intently as fell beasts swoop down and snatch helpless soldiers. Try to lift your jaw off the floor when Sam, Frodo and Gollum find themselves in the heart of a very volatile Mount Doom. Environmental ambience never relents (the Paths of the Dead!), directionality is impeccable (the Battle of the Pelennor Fields!), and pans are as transparent as Frodo when he slips on the One Ring (the stones slung at Minas Tirith hurtle past with alarming precision). Best of all, the experience is as immersive as they come. Howard Shore's masterful score is perfectly prioritized beneath the film's soundscape, gut punch revelations are as pitch-perfect as they are emotional, restless armies will make viewers turn their heads, and the terrifying clamor of orcs, ghosts, beasts of burden, war trolls and more will unsettle the most steely listener. And dynamics? Prepare yourself. The Return of the King, and really The Lord of the Rings trilogy as a whole, is a sonic powerhouse.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The halfling was dear to thee, I see. Know that he suffered greatly at the hands of his host. Who would've thought one so small could endure so much pain? And he did, Gandalf, he did.
The 5-disc Extended Edition of The Return of the King is as rewarding as its trilogy predecessors, even if a hint of redundancy begins to seep into the proceedings. No matter. All of the content from the 2004 EE DVD is available, Costa Botes' feature-length documentary is present and accounted for, and the only complaint that could even be feasibly lodged against the supplemental package (other than on a doc-by-doc basis) is that all the extras are presented in standard definition.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Then let us be rid of it, once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can't carry it for you... but I can carry you!
The Return of the King isn't always as refined as The Fellowship of the Ring or The Two Towers, but it remains a gripping, altogether momentous end to a truly magnificent piece of cinema. Jackson overcomes nearly every hurdle his final adaptation places in his way, and his extended cut is as revealing as it is rewarding. The Blu-ray edition is just as impressive. Its video transfer is magnificent, its DTS-HD Master Audio mix a marvel, and its supplemental package a seemingly never-ending trove of behind the scenes delights. All hail The Return of the King.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: Other Editions
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