The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Studio: New Line
Film Length: 200 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Retail Price: $29.95
While The Fellowship of the Rings set up the characters and The Two Towers prepared us for the conclusion, Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King ends the trilogy with the epic battle that started back in 2001 when fans first starting lining up hoping the director could bring their favorite books to the screen. I’m fairly certain everyone reading this will know the story so we’ll keep it to the basics. In this third film Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his buddy Sam (Sean Astin) take an even more harrowing journey into the darkness in hopes of getting the Ring to Mount Doom where it can melt into volcanic lava and Middle Earth can be saved.
As I’ve said before, I haven’t read any of the books nor was I a huge fan of the first two films so going into this third and final part of the trilogy I couldn’t help but revisit the first two films and look at the entire thing as one movie. After going through seven hours in the first two film I kept asking myself if all that time was well spent or would the conclusion let me down and regret spending all that time with this trilogy. I felt the first two films were highly entertaining yet very flawed films and I think the same thing could be said for this one. The Return of the King is visually brilliant but in the end I can’t help but think there’s way too much style and not enough story.
It would be pointless for me to try and talk down a film like this since it is considered by many to be amongst the greatest epics ever made. Perhaps that’s where I have a problem with the entire series and in some spots personal feelings towards films of today might stand in my way of being 100% honest in my opinions. I’ve been a huge fan of Peter Jackson since the early 90’s when I became aware of films like Bad Taste and Dead Alive and I’m rather amazed that the same man could make those films and then make this trilogy. On a technical level this is one of the most beautiful films ever made but at the same time that’s my biggest problem with the series.
I’m sure I’ll get some hate mail for this and I’m sure many will call me old fashioned but outside Minority Report I’ve yet to see any film, big or small, use its CGI effects to do anything except take me out of the story. I’m a firm believer that effects mean very little to a film unless there’s a story to follow and most importantly characters to cheer for. While this series offers a somewhat decent story and a few memorable characters I couldn’t help but think most of this was simply too much for its own good. I have a hard time following characters when they are fighting a CGI monster, which is so obviously fake it becomes obnoxious to watch. I have a hard time following a story when it’s clear the actors are acting in front of a blue screen. I have a hard time cheering for characters when it appears like I’m watching a video game instead of an actual film.
There’s no doubt that the stuff we’re looking out is incredibly well thought out and I’m sure many would say that there is no way a film like this could have been made without CGI. Perhaps but there are films from the silent era up to today that told the same epic story with some monumental locations that didn’t have a computer doing all of the action. Something like A Birth of a Nation to Ben-Hur and even Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York are all more believable because I know everything I’m seeing isn’t being done with a computer. Perhaps this is old fashioned thinking and perhaps I’m missing the entertainment values of today’s films but to me CGI isn’t anything to get excited about and in my opinion it’s hurt more films than it’s actually helped. Even in the most far fetched fantasy or the most outrageous horror film I need a dose of reality to keep me entertained and while the CGI effects are good eye candy they still can’t replace real action, a story or characters for that matter.
Even with all that being said The Return of the King is the best of the series and that ten hour journey of three films were worth being watched but I’m not one who is going to go back and revisit the thing. I’ll be honest and admit I’m being a bit harder on the film than I probably should be but its reputation has left mixed emotions for me. There’s no doubt this series will live in history but this dose of history in no way, shape or form can compare to the epics of yesterday. Even with its eleven Oscar wins I couldn’t help but notice that none of the actors were nominated and the acting is never really discussed when this film comes up. That there is where the fake looking CGI completely takes over the heart of a film, which lies with what’s real.
VIDEO---The film is shown widescreen (2.35:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. When the two previous films were released in their theatrical version the quality of the extended version was so much better that it appeared New Line saved the best quality for the bigger release but I honestly can’t see how the Extended version would look much better. The film runs over the three hour mark but to my eyes this didn’t hurt the image quality a bit so I’m rather curious why certain other studios break the film in two for its DVD release. From the opening to the final credits there isn’t a single flaw in the presentation and best of all is the lack of any edge enhancement, which was something that hampered the previous two films. I was paying close attention throughout for any signs of edge enhancement and these eyes never picked any up, which was another surprise. Having watched the first two films over the weekend I must say the transfer here makes the older transfers seem somewhat poor in comparison. The black levels here are solid as a rock without any hints of speckles or grain. The scenes at the end in the volcano deliver some of the most beautiful reds and ash I’ve seen in any transfer and the color is so detailed that it makes the images jump off the screen just like a 3-D film.
AUDIO---The Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track might very well be one of the greatest ever made and like the video quality, I’m sure the Extended Edition will have a hard time topping what we get here. If you’ve ever sat in front of your home theater wondering what would be the perfect sound coming from your speakers then I think your dreams have been answered here. There’s no doubt the highlight of the track occurs during the battle scenes since there’s so much going on from screams to bodies flying through the air to all the sword play. It’s still rather astonishing how well all of this plays out through the speakers. Another highlight happens when the castle is being broken apart by the huge rocks being thrown at it. The detail in sound from the rocks being fired, flying through the air and eventually hitting the target is perhaps the perfect way to explain to your friends why you spent so much money in speakers. Even when the rocks crumble and hit the ground the dynamic range will have your body shaking. Even more impressive is all the quiet moments during the film, which sound just as well even though there’s less to show off.
EXTRAS---While I enjoyed most of the extras on the previous releases I must say what’s here is a bit disappointing but I’m sure all of this will be made up on the upcoming Extended Edition. While I wasn’t expecting much what we do get is rather boring and the three main documentaries pretty much repeat stuff so there’s very little here to actually enjoy. The first documentary, The Quest Fulfilled: A Director’s Vision runs around 22-minutes and focuses on the director and the style he brings to the film. Cast members are also interviewed and they kindly tell us what a great director Jackson is. A Filmmaker’s Journal: Making Return of the King runs just under 30-minutes and is a bit better but as I mentioned before a lot of what’s said here was talked about in the previous documentary. I doubt any die-hard fans are going to learn anything new here because the documentary pretty much talks about how Jackson got New Line to do three films back to back. National Geographic Special: The Return of the King I believe was previously released on its own so this here might be another disappointment to fans looking for something new. Rounding out the extras include a promo for the video game, two theatrical trailers (5.1, 16x9), thirteen TV spots and a “Super Trailer”, which contains clips from all three films edited together.
OVERALL---The film certainly needs no defending so my opinions on the CGI is probably worthless to most but the fans will certainly be very happy in the video and audio department. I have a very hard time believing the audio on the Extended Edition could be better but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. The extras are a bit disappointing but we all know what’s coming in November so these should tide fans over until then.
Release Date: May 25, 2004