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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

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Released 24-May-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Dolby Digital Trailer-Rain
Featurette-The Quest Fulfilled: A Director's Vision
Featurette-Making Of-A Filmmaker's Journey: Making The Return Of The King
Featurette-National Geographic Special
Featurette-Aragorn's Destiny
Featurette-Minas Tirith: Capital Of Gondor
Featurette-The Battle Of Pelennor Fields
Featurette-Samwise The Brave
Featurette-Eowyn: White Lady Of Rohan
Featurette-Digital Horse Doubles
Theatrical Trailer-2
TV Spots-13
Trailer-The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy Supertrailer
Trailer-Video Games - The Lord Of The Rings Series
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 192:47
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (89:09)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Peter Jackson

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Elijah Wood
Ian McKellen
Liv Tyler
Viggo Mortensen
Sean Astin
Cate Blanchett
John Rhys-Davies
Bernard Hill
Billy Boyd
Dominic Monaghan
Orlando Bloom
Hugo Weaving
Miranda Otto
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $49.95 Music Howard Shore

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

"So it begins, the great battle of our time"

Bigger than Ben-Hur and certainly far more tantalising than Titanic, the final instalment of the multi-award winning The Lord Of The Rings trilogy is finally here on DVD. The Return Of The King is of course mentioned in the same breath as those other two rather successful films by no accident. The three share a common bond of success, that being a record-equalling haul of 11 Academy awards, including the biggest gong of all - Best Picture, which in the latter film's case was something extremely rare for a fantasy offering. The awards and milestones that The Return Of The King has collected are almost impossible to count, but one of the most noteworthy occurred just a few months ago. It recently passed the $1 billion mark for worldwide box office takings, making it just the second film of all time (behind Titanic) to reach ten figures. Incidentally, the trilogy as a whole is poised to crack the $3 billion mark before too long making for some serious money indeed and a serious measure of ultimate success.

The Return of the King kicks things off right where The Two Towers concluded. Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Astin), and the poor creature Gollum (Andy Serkis) are getting extremely close to the dark land of Mordor and the steaming mountain that is Mount Doom, where Frodo must cast the ring to destroy its power. But the ring of power is becoming an even heavier burden for the troubled Frodo and his will to continue on this perilous quest is being severely tested. Despite the constant misgivings of his faithful companion Sam, Frodo places faith in the creature Gollum to get the trio to Mordor safely. But when Sam overhears Gollum (again having a lovely conversation with himself) plotting to kill the "filthy hobbitses", Sam begins to worry ever more, but is unable to convince Frodo of Gollum's treachery. When it is tantalisingly revealed that Gollum plans to kill the Hobbits by luring them into the lair of the giant spider Shelob, the hair on the back of your neck cannot help but stand on end.

Meanwhile the battle to claim Isengard is over, with the treelike Ents and the two resourceful Hobbits, Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) having defeated the evil Saruman. It is a rare moment of joy when the two hobbits are reunited with their faithful companions Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies). But the joy is short-lived when it is revealed that the Gondorian capital of Minis Tirith is the next target for the rampaging army of Sauron as he means to wipe Middle-earth clean of Men. Gandalf and Aragorn again travel to Edoras to seek the aid of King Thoden (Bernard Hill) of Rohan, knowing the Gondorians will be severely outnumbered and perhaps the horsemen of the Rohirrim can swing the balance in the favour of men. But Gandalf must flee Edoras and make haste to Minis Tirith when Pippin inadvertently gives away their location to Sauron. Aragorn is left to rouse the armies of men, and with the reluctant hero slowly coming to the realisation of his royal heritage, the possibility of him announcing he is Isildur's heir might just swing the extra number of recruits that his army needs to help in the looming battle. From here the siege of the ancient and starkly beautiful city of Minis Tirith and the battle of The Pelennor Fields loom large and produce a series of battle scenes that make Helm's Deep look like a minor pub brawl.

The above description has barely touched to surface of this sweeping, grandiose, and all-round epic tale that contains so many characters in the vast ensemble cast, all battling the evil forces of Sauron in addition to their own personal demons. Gondorian Steward Denethor (John Noble) is plagued with grief over the death of his son Boromir (Sean Bean) and shame and disgust over his supposedly cowardly son Faramir (David Wenham), all while his city is crumbling. The lovely Eowyn (Miranda Otto) is proving she is no slouch when it comes to frontline combat and a worthy place in the ranks of great Rohan leaders, while elf princess Arwen (Liv Tyler) is still churning with inner turmoil as she makes her decision on whether to leave Middle-earth with her father Elrond (Hugo Weaving) or stay with her true love Aragorn and accept eventual mortality.

The climax is a stunning, emotion-charged experience that comes after some of the best battle scenes ever filmed. The epilogue has been criticised for dragging on a little too long and Peter Jackson not knowing when to release his grip from his beloved story. But at least that follows the plot of the novel, which includes a seriously long series of chapters dedicated to the return journey home and various other farewells, and should keep the purists happy.

In fact much has been written and analysed about this film, the whole trilogy and what's included and what isn't. There's no doubt those Tolkien die-hards (dare they be called fanatics) are probably not going to be completely satisfied again. There are certainly significant moments from the novel that are missing in both of the earlier two films and The Return Of The King is again no exception for key sequences that are ignored or perhaps delayed to the Extended Edition DVDs. I know plenty of people who were utterly dismayed at the complete lack of appearance by the evil wizard Saruman in this third instalment (Christopher Lee is probably chief among them), and the handling of his demise, not to mention there being no coverage of the Scouring of the Shire.

But I, like several million other movie-goers, am happy. The purists can jump up and down and swear blasphemy all they like, but they must remember one very important thing. This trilogy wasn't made for them - it was made for the rest of us that perhaps haven't quite got into the novel and Middle-earth lore to such a passionate extent. They were made by people that love films, for people that love films and a rousing adventure tale to boot. As a result these truly wonderful pieces of cinema have given many, many more people a chance to experience the magic that is Middle-earth than J.R.R. Tolkien would have probably ever thought possible.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


Like the superb transfer afforded both the release of The Fellowship Of The Ring and The Two Towers, the video transfer presented here is excellent beyond description. It is clear, sharp, beautifully detailed and free from absolutely any imperfections. Transfers like this are the reason we spend thousands on televisions, plasma panels, and projectors. It is a visual feast from start to finish and one you will not be in the slightest bit disappointed with.

The original aspect ratio of The Return Of The King was 2.35:1 and that's what we get here. It is, of course, also 16x9 enhanced.

The transfer is as sharp as a tack throughout and exquisitely detailed. It is truly among the most film-like of transfers I have yet watched. Shadow detail is never compromised and amazingly there is not a trace of any grain at all. There is also no low level noise.

The colours are wide and varied in their appearance. From the dark and rocky outcrops of Mordor and the dank mustiness of Shelob, the giant spider's lair, the feeling of coldness, despair, and lost hope abound. On the other side of the coin the warm and inviting tones of the Shires create a pleasant and truly homely feel, while the fires of Mount Doom are a brilliant burnt orange and truly glow bright in the climax. Skin tones are perfect throughout, while a special note must be made of (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) the pasty, death-like appearance of Frodo after he is poisoned and cocooned by Shelob. The black levels are as true as they can be and are without fault.

Considering this is a 192 minute film crammed onto a single sided dual layered disc, the quality of the encoding here is exceptional. There is not a single compression artefact to be found. There are also no other film-to-video video artefacts such as aliasing anywhere in the transfer and best of all there are absolutely no film artefacts of any description. It is clean and crisp and just plain beautiful.

This Region 4 release has only two subtitle streams. The usual English for the Hearing Impaired variety are joined by some Greek subtitles. I sampled extensively the English variety and found them to be highly accurate and well placed on screen.

Disc one contains the three plus hour film and obviously is a dual layered disc with RSDL formatting. The layer change occurs at 89:09 just after Gandalf has decked the belligerent and stubborn Denethor with his staff. He says "Prepare for battle" and as the scene changes the pause occurs. Not bad and certainly not too disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


Just as the video transfer is the reason we spend thousands on displays, audio soundtracks like this are the very reason people invest vast amounts of hard-earned on their home theatre audio setups. It sounds absolutely sensational and will make use of every single capability of your amplifier and speaker system

Just like the previous two dual-disc releases, there are two soundtracks present on this DVD, with those waiting for the dts soundtrack again having to wait for the Extended Edition. But fear not, what we get here is a luscious, engaging, richly detailed and highly enveloping Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that is EX coded. It is joined by a slightly tamer Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround soundtrack.

Dialogue is at all times perfect. There are no audio sync problems.

The score is surely (or should that be Shorely!) one of the highlights of the whole trilogy. Multiple Oscar winner Howard Shore has outdone himself yet again. The score for The Return Of The King is inviting, engaging, often haunting, and above all downright beautiful. It almost takes on an operatic feel when the voices of the choir reach full flight and the climax is in sight. Joining this work of true wonder is the Oscar-winning song over the closing credits,Into The West. It was also composed by Howard Shore in conjunction with film screenwriter Fran Walsh and is sung here with great passion by Annie Lennox.

The level of consistent, engaging, enveloping, and downright make-you-jump out of your seat surround channel use in this soundtrack is quite remarkable and I am truly finding it difficult to remember a release that had such an all-eclipsing effect such as this one. From the opening scenes of the fight between Smagol and Dagol, through the initial siege of Minas Tirith, the ghastly encounter in Shelob's lair, and the mighty battle of The Pelennor Fields, the soundstage is incredibly lively. You are placed smack bang in the centre of happenings with action whirling around the room and it really doesn't let up very often. One special moment occurs when Galadriel speaks to Frodo while he is battling Shelob. Her soothing voice resonates from every speaker in the room and creates a truly haunting effect that will linger for some time.

With the surround channels served so well one would hope the subwoofer hasn't been forgotten. The low end use on offer here is about as forceful and thumping as you can possibly want. From the early rumbles of Mount Doom, the drone of the Fell Beasts, the thumping of the Oliphants, and the cacophony of noise that is created during the battle of The Pelennor Fields this is one soundtrack with pretty near faultless subwoofer use. When the gates of Mordor swing open and the Witch King riding on the back of the Fell Beast leads the hoards of orcs over the bridge, just past where Sam, Frodo, and Gollum are hiding, the thud and thump will shake your walls.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Of course the quantity and quality of extras on the initial two disc releases have been nowhere near as comprehensive as the Extended Editions. They merely offer a taste of what is to come and as a result (and having probably almost reached Lord Of The Rings overload after all the different releases) there is precious little to really get overly excited about here. One thing worth noting is the lack of any preview of what we might be seeing in the Extended Edition due out later in the year.


Main Menu Introduction

Menu Animation & Audio

The menu is themed around the film and is accompanied by Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. It is also 16x9 Enhanced.

Dolby Digital Trailer



This is just a simple fold out leaflet style of booklet that lists the 60 chapter stops for the film and the special features, all mingled with a few colour photos.


Featurette - The Quest Fulfilled: A Director's Vision

The first of the three reasonably lengthy featurettes, though after watching so many of these over the last 18 months I am starting to wonder what the point really is since there's really nothing we haven't seen before. This one runs for 23:00 and is a sort of retrospective look at the making of the whole trilogy now that it is all complete. It covers all the films as a whole and details some of the discussion that occurred before the green light was given by New Line to produce the three instalments. There are some nice behind the scenes moments when a couple of the cast are shown filming their last ever scenes. Everyone seemed to be quite emotional about it.

Featurette - Making Of A Filmmaker's Journey: Making The Return Of The King

Another lengthy featurette, this one clocks in at 27:20 and looks solely at the making of the third film and with its focus more on director Peter Jackson. Unfortunately there is a reasonable amount of material repeated from the first featurette, which tends to make this one a lot less relevant.

Featurette - National Geographic Special

This is the National Geographic special Beyond The Movie that screened here in Australia just before the theatrical premiere of Return Of The King late last year on the ABC. It runs for 51:44 and is essentially a documentary that draws parallels between the mythical happenings of Middle-earth and several real happenings in history that bear a striking resemblance. It is narrated by John Rhys Davies who obviously played Gimli in all three films. There's quite a different feel to this production from all the other promotional stuff, and its inclusion here is most welcome.

Featurette -

Just like the previous two dual-disc editions of The Fellowship Of The Ring and The Two Towers, this disc contains the mini-featurettes that were made for the Lord Of The Rings website. All are fairly brief, running for only a few minutes each, and again there is a little overlap from the main featurettes.

In order, these are:

Theatrical Trailer

About the only thing I ever had to grumble about with the delightfully packaged Extended Editions has been the lack of a theatrical trailer. It looks like the same situation is going to arise again with The Return of The King, so if you want the trailers you will need to get this disc. At least there is a choice of two here and both have been well produced.

The first is the theatrical trailer proper that runs for a healthy 2:44, while the second is more like an abridged or condensed trailer (it's not a teaser as it contains significant info) and runs for 0:53. Thankfully both are presented with almost exactly the same technical specifications as the main film. An aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with 16x9 enhancement and a rip-roaring Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack certainly livens things up considerably.

TV Spots

13 television ads, all running for 30 seconds each. You can hit the play option to see the lot, or select them one by one. Even though they all have a different name they all cover pretty much the same material and show the same bits of footage.

Trailer - The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy Supertrailer

Now this is cool. What better way to show off the wares of a film trilogy that spans more than nine hours in its theatrical form than with a super trailer that covers the entire story. Clocking in at a very hefty 6:22 it is also presented in full 2.35:1 16x9 enhanced and Dolby Digital 5.1 glory.


This is really nothing more than an advertisement for the Electronic Arts version of the Return Of The King video game. Runs for 3:03 and contains snippets from the game and the film so you are able to compare.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

There are minor subtitle differences between the Region 1 disc and the Region 4 version (Spanish instead of Greek). Other than that, and the obvious PAL v NTSC differences, the two-disc editions are identical.


The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King will go down in history as one of the most loved, the most successful, and part of one of the greatest realised film productions of all time.

The term epic has been redefined by these films. But to call them just films or movies is also somewhat misleading - the whole trilogy was truly an 'experience' the likes of which we may not see again. Can Peter Jackson have his knighthood now that he is finished please?

As we all expected the video and audio quality on this DVD is just sensational.

I for one can't wait for the Extended Edition to indulge in the whole thing all over again.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Saturday, May 15, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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