Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Blu-ray) (2003)

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Released 13-Apr-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Theatrical Trailer-(2.56)
Theatrical Trailer-(.56)
Trailer-Lord of the Rings Supertrailer (6.39)
Trailer-Video Games - Aragorn's Quest
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 201:01
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Peter Jackson
Studio
Distributor

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 ?
RPI $29.95 Music Howard Shore


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 6.1 ES Matrix (4608Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

   

It's a dangerous business, going out your door.
You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet,
there's no telling where you might be swept off to.

Bilbo Baggins

By the time it hit cinema screens in December 2003 the title The Return of the King carried a dual meaning. There was, of course, the story of the ascendancy of Aragorn to the throne of Gondor. Yet too there was the return of the Box Office Champion, which in 2001 and 2002 had slaughtered all before it, cutting a swathe through the competition like Gimli's axe through Orc hordes.

Box office titans are no rarity but what is rare is that a film which would earn over a billion dollars at the cinemas would also engender such comprehensive critical support. The film charmed the hardest critics and swept away the opposition at the 2003 Oscars capturing Best Picture, Director, and the list goes on (it secured 11 nominations and won in every category). Whether the awards were a recognition of the brilliance of the film or as tribute to the overall endeavour for the trilogy is a moot, perhaps an Ent-moot, point. All that the unmoved could do was point to the prolonged ending for a sign of weakness. To the true fan, of course, too many goodbyes are never enough.

The size and sweep of the film was titanic. Full of impassioned speeches, Hobbit melancholy, huge set pieces and death defying action it is a film for the ages to cap off a series for the ages.

The Return of the King is, of course, the third in the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson. My reviews of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers on Blu-ray can be found  here  and  here .

This Blu-ray, like Fellowship and Two Towers is a barebones release containing the theatrical edition of the film and not the extended versions. In the case of The Return of the King that means some 50 minutes of extra material. Once again this raises the question of whether it is worth it for the average fan to wait until the inevitable fully fledged editions are issued?

Again, as with Fellowship, and Two Towers, your choice.

Peter Jackson was not so circumspect when talking about the Extended Editions in the commentary track for Return of the King: "These will ultimately be seen as the more definitive versions of the film." Mind you, at the time he was talking about perhaps the most controversial omission, the absence of Saruman from the film. Christopher Lee was very vocal at the time of the release of the film at the cinema that he had been unceremoniously dumped from the third movie. Jackson made the cut for obvious reasons. Saruman had been built up to such an extent by the first two movies as to become, above Sauron, the key antagonist. In any situation, this would always be a problem for adaptors of a book series where the major antagonist is an eye at the top of a tower that, for all its power to send out Black Riders and inspire fear in evil minions and innocent alike, can't actually do anything. This is a concept well known to the fantasy loving audiences, with Voldemort lacking corporeal form for the first few Harry Potter movies.

Jackson reasoned that to have him appear, as he does in the book, only at the end in the long coda seemed an anticlimax given his former power. Instead Jackson opts to leave him out entirely and in the Extended Edition includes the choicest speeches from The Two Towers novel. The scene, which includes a spectacular new death, is a sad omission although one can well understand the reasoning.

What else is left out?

The character of Denethor (John Noble) has more rants and despairing speeches. There is a nice scene with Pippin and Faramir as well as one between Merry and Eowyn. Whilst the latter doesn't add much to the story I regret every second that the shieldmaiden of Rohan is absent from the screen, not just from fanboy adoration but because she brings humanity and gravitas to the role. Her building relationship with Faramir is also excised. More tellingly, there is far more in The Paths of the Dead including an avalanche of skulls, Galdalf comes face to face with the Witch King on the battlements and a couple of Mordor scenes are lost - the one where the Hobbits join the Orc hordes and the Mouth of Sauron. The latter scene featuring Bruce Spence, was cut because of the different plot structure adopted by Jackson over the Tolkein original.

So what do these add up to? A lot of screen time and not just more singing Hobbits. Interestingly the Extended Edition and the theatrical cut are identical for the last 8 scenes prior to the credits.

Tipping the scale at just over 3 1/2 hours The Return of the King is a mighty achievement by any measure. Watching it again for the first time in a while is confirmation of the power not just of the film but of the trilogy. This is a series that begs to be watched from beginning to end.

That's not to say that Return lacks great moments. To my mind it contains at least three of the greatest moments in cinema: the lighting of the beacons of Gondor, the plunge of the Rohirrim into the Orc hordes at Pelennor Fields and the moment, in slow motion, when Aragorn says "For Frodo!" before charging before the Black Gates of Mordor.

But the legacy of the film is the series, the greatest modern work of adaptation, turning a much loved classic into something different and , dare I say it, more compelling and dramatic than the source material. The proof will be in another 10 years. Will we be pulling out the films for a 11 hour journey or turning instead to the Avatars and subsequent 3D delights? I think this trilogy of movies will endure because the films, though loaded with spectacle (which will be less impressive with every subsequent technological game changer) are still at heart about timeless core issues of hope and courage that will continue to resonate through the ages. The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to an end with The Return of the King , a mighty 3 1/2 hours of epic drama, huge battles and lots of goodbyes. The film was not only one of the most successful of all time at the box office but dominated critical favour. Fans still have the right to be galled that this first entry of the film on High Definition is the much shorter theatrical release, but I defy anyone not to be drawn in to the sweep of this majestic work of art. The Blu-ray is of excellent quality, both in sound and vision terms. Bring on the next editions!

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The Return of the King, like the earlier two films, is presented in its correct cinematic aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It uses the VC1 codec and occupies 35.9 Gb of this dual layer Blu-ray disc. I could not detect the timing of the layer change on my player.

As with Two Towers this is a wonderful looking, extremely sharp, Blu-ray transfer.

Colours are stable and rich as well as being accurate. Once again the costumes come to the fore with the varying livery

The CGI work is tremendous and improved from the previous films. Not only is this noticeable in the spectacular scenes of Fellbeasts snatching soldiers from the ramparts of Minas Tirith and huge creatures trampling over the massive battlefields but also in the amazing detail of the face of Gollum. Just take a look at his body whilst he is pretending to sleep at (91:46). Each line in his face is perfectly etched making him look all the more like a flesh and blood creature. Jackson recognised this in the DVD commentary for The Return of the King, remarking that he wished he was able to go back and improve the visuals of the earlier films, the Wargs (90:37) being one such example.

There is no hint of compression throughout. This is a blessing in a film that contains many scenes where the actors are passing through mist and smoke. All are handled well.

The print is clear and free of any damage, dirt or artefacts. There is light grain consistent with the film source.

There are subtitles for the Hearing Impaired which give a good account of on-screen action. Elvish language scenes are also subtitled.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

  The Blu-ray of The Return of the King, like Fellowship and The Two Towers carries but one soundtrack - a comprehensive English 6.1 DTS -HD Master Audio track. Being a lossless track it doesn't run at any consistent bit rate.

As said in my review of the previous films DTS Master Audio has one clear advantage over its rival HD sound format, True HD, in that it downconverts to DTS if the player can't decode the higher format. For that reason one soundtrack will do.

As with Fellowship and Two Towers this is a mightily impressive soundtrack. The surrounds are used effectively throughout, creating a real sense of immersion. The sub-woofer is pushed to its limit in a few moments, most notably the devastating pounding power of Grond - the Hammer of the Underworld on the gates of Minas Tirith (107:00) and the thumping of the Oliphaunts on the plains of Pelennor Field (124.00). Naturally the bits at the end (you know what they are) contain enough bass to flatten nearby forests.

A word about the score. Howard Shore won a well deserved Oscar for his score to this film (as well as Fellowship). The task of creating music for this epic series was an enormous role as music is used almost unceasingly in the film. Indeed, so prevalent is the score that the one moment of silence when Gandalf turns to see the eye of Sauron is shocking. Shore created themes which are unforgettable; the main theme, the violin music for Rohan, the wistful Shire music and the shrieking, dissonant Mordor and Isengard music, not to mention the choral sounds and individual song. Having the three soundtrack DVD's is not an exercise in repetition but a collection of masterworks.

Dialogue is in sync and can be heard clearly at all times. The whispered dialogue comes through effortlessly, such as the scene between Gandalf and Pippin as the Orcs enter Minas Tirith, and Gollum's strained vocals are comprehensible.

It is an all-round excellent track.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

As with the earlier films there are no real extras of substance on this barebones Blu-ray. I watched them so you don't have to. They are:

Teaser 1 (2.53)

Theatrical Trailer (0.56)

Lord of the Rings - Supertrailer (6.39)

Trailer from Lord of the Rings Videogame - Aragorn's Quest

This game is apparently coming out this year. The graphics resemble World of Warcraft and it is telling that it will be on DS, Wii and PS2 but not Xbox 360 or PS3.

R4 vs R1

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

  There are a couple of different editions about. Some retailers have a Region B Exclusive Edition which contains a host of extras from previous DVD editions. The same goes for the US Region A which also has a Digital Copy of the film as a supposed extra.

In my view they are the same.

Summary

  The Return of the King bring to a close the mighty Lord of the Rings fantasy trilogy. The film is both spectacular and personal with some fine performances and expert CGI work and set design. The ending challenged audiences with "when is the end not the end" but after 10 hours of living amongst these people it seems fitting (alright, perhaps the last goodbye - Frodo's voice-over to Sam, could have been cut.

This Blu-ray transfer is pretty much faultless.

Once again the lack of extras is a disappointment but understandable given the nature of the releases and the pricepoint.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Monday, April 26, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
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