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Extended ‘Rings’ DVD fit for a ‘King’

Jonathan Retartha | Monday, January 31, 2005

After four Golden Globes, two Grammys and a clean sweep of a 11 Academy Awards, it would be easy to think everything there is to say about director Peter Jackson’s operatic finale, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” has already been said. Jackson, apparently, disagrees.Following in the tradition of Jackson’s first two films, “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers,” is a massive 4-disc extended edition that adds close to a full hour of extra footage, pushing the total running time well over four hours. As with the other extended editions, Jackson interweaves the added scenes into an entirely new cut of the film, complete with additional music scored by Academy Award winner Howard Shore. The extended cut, while extremely long for those who are not die-hard fans of the film, serves as an incredibly rich presentation that will be cherished by both fans of cinema and fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material. While the extended editions of the first two films served primarily to incorporate scenes that purists of the novel would appreciate, Jackson’s extended cut of “King” thoroughly addresses almost all of the major criticisms of the theatrical cut released in December 2003. One of the biggest concerns among fans and critics was the apparent disappearance of Saruman (Christopher Lee), a lead villain for the trilogy, from the third film. Fans knew well in advance of the theatrical release that Jackson shot several scenes with Lee addressing Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and company from the pinnacle of Orthanc. An Internet furor resulted when word was leaked of the scene’s deletion from the film. Jackson has reinserted the scene into the extended cut, and it is a welcome reedit because it details the demise of Saruman (though slightly different from the novel). Another major criticism of the theatrical release was the underdevelopment of Denethor (John Noble), the Steward of Gondor. While the motivation for his apparent madness is a bit cloudy in the theatrical cut, Jackson has used the extended cuts of both “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King” to properly flesh out Denethor’s character. The new scenes detail the history of Denethor’s lineage and the drastic decline of the kingdom of Gondor over the centuries.The extended cut also adds significant depth to the characters of Faramir (David Wenham) and Eowyn (Miranda Otto). Additional scenes offer insight into both the individual motivations of the characters as well as into their eventual relationship.The most significant addition to the extended cut, however, is the appearance of the Mouth of Sauron (Bruce Spence), the enemy’s emissary who greets the armies of Rohan and Gondor near the film’s finale. The appearance of this character entirely alters the emotional setup and payoff of the scene. In the theatrical cut, the armies charge into Mordor in order to divert the enemy away from Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) as they make their way up Mount Doom to destroy the Ring. The appearance of the Mouth of Sauron at the gate, however, introduces the twist that appears in the novel. The Mouth of Sauron presents Frodo’s chain mail to the armies, making the heroes believe that Frodo is dead, when in actuality he is not. Therefore, Aragorn’s (Viggo Mortensen) climactic line, “for Frodo” takes on a completely different context in the extended cut. Instead of fighting for Frodo to have a chance to destroy the ring, they are fighting in memory of Frodo, and the scene becomes filled with a sense of despair and utter hopelessness as the armies charge towards what they believe is now certain death. Never before in the brief history of “extra footage” DVDs has the addition of a scene so drastically altered the tone and emotion of a scene than at the climax of “The Return of the King.”The biggest complaint across the board of “The Return of the King” was undoubtedly its litany of successive endings. Just when the screen fades to black and the film appears to be over, another scene begins that lengthens the finale. Jackson has always resolutely stood by his ending, professing that such finish is needed for the sheer wealth of characters and plot lines involved in such a trilogy. Therefore, he does not touch the ending of the film in this extended edition, neither shortening it nor lengthening it. This decision will probably delight fans of the films who have no problem with the ending, but will continue to galvanize the legions of book purists. Many continued to hold out hope to the bitter end of seeing at least a small portion of “The Scourging of the Shire,” the series of final chapters that details the hobbits’ return to Hobbiton, only to find it overrun by orcs. Such scenes, according to Jackson, were never filmed in their entirety and will never be seen in any further DVD releases. Jackson insists there is even more footage he would like to add into a separate “extras” section of the eventual 25th anniversary release. As with the other two Extended Edition DVDs, the presentation of King is unparalleled. The digital transfer is stunning, especially on High Definition televisions. The clarity of the picture and the richness of the colors truly makes the DVD experience just as good, if not better, than the theater experience. Such perfection also serves as a testament to the special effects, which continue to look flawless, even when shown in such a strikingly clear format. The character of Gollum (Andy Serkis) truly is a benchmark in visual effects, and deserves to be placed with the T-1000 character of “Terminator 2” and the dinosaurs of “Jurassic Park” as a landmark that will continue to amaze and convince audiences decades into the future.The two discs of extra features included with the extended edition serve as landmarks in their own right, continuing the rich tradition of the first two extended edition DVDs. They also provide one of the most comprehensive looks at the process of filmmaking ever created. Disc 1 contains hours of video and hundreds of drawings detailing the pre-production aspect of the film. Some video features, such as “J.R.R. Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle Earth” and “From Book to Script,” are continuations of features in the previous two extended DVDs. When combined, they’re long enough to produce feature length documentaries in and of themselves!Disc 2 deals with the shooting of the film, and the insanity that ensued as the deadline quickly approached for the final cut of the film. While these extras are very entertaining and exciting, it makes one wonder what the films would have been like if they had two years in between to perfect them instead of just one.”The Return of the King” extended edition carries on the standard of high quality from the two previous DVDs in the trilogy. The hours of extra footage clearly show the amount of love and effort put into these films by everyone involved. The DVD serves as a fitting tribute to the filmmakers, as well as to the fans. So many people have developed a life long love of cinema and literature from these films. It is appropriate, then, for such historic films to be documented and honored in these extended edition DVDs. They will ensure that generations from now, viewers of all ages can watch them and be able to reflect on these masterpieces.