“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
December 14, 2004

Believe it or not, the extended DVD version of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”–which clocks in at a solid 4 hours and 10 minutes — doesn’t feel any longer than the film everybody saw at the multiplex. In stores today, the DVD includes 50 extra minutes of never-before-seen footage added into the original theatrical release, which won 11 Academy Awards.

Does the story play fine without that additional footage? Absolutely. But for fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy — as well as the puckish director Peter Jackson — the extended version ties together loose ends that may have bothered fans the first time around.

At a time when filmmakers can barely hold audience attention spans for two hours at a time, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy has proved that if you present a beautifully filmed story, moviegoers will sit still long enough to see it through. The beauty of this four-disc DVD set is the movie is divided onto two discs, allowing you time to take care of business and stock up on refreshments for the final two hours.

There are some small additions fans will easily pick out: Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) falling to his knees in despair when he believes his warriors are outnumbered by the Orcs; Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) engaged in a drinking contest, and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) puffing away on one of Pippin’s “pot”-like cigarettes.

But it’s the longer additions that enhance the story line the most. Christopher Lee fans will be happy to see his portrayal of the evil Saruman resurrected here. The scene — the only one in which Lee was featured in the final piece of the “Rings” trilogy — was cut from the theatrical release, and the actor was very vocal in criticizing the omission. Sporting a fierce white mane and a piercing scowl, Saruman warns that Aragorn “shall never be crowned king.” While it’s interesting to see how Saruman dies (his underling Grima Wormtongue kills him), the best additions come later.

One troublesome element of the big-screen version was the flirtation between Aragorn and Eowyn (Miranda Otto). After he told her he just wasn’t that into her, she looked heartbroken but, by the end, she was seen cozying up to Gondorian warrior Faramir (David Wenham). The film alluded to a relationship, but the moviegoer had no idea how they got there, since this is the only time we saw them together.

In the extra 50 minutes, the two interact at an infirmary after they are both injured during the battle of the Pelennor Fields. It’s a sweet vignette, as we remember how the two had been regarded as second best — Faramir was secondary to his deceased brother Boromir (Sean Bean) and Eowyn couldn’t replace the memory of Arwen (Liv Tyler) in Aragorn’s heart.

The second disc starts with a cameo by Jackson, who plays a hammy pirate. His five seconds of on-screen fame end with an arrow through his body, courtesy of Legolas. The scene sets up the alliance between the army of the dead and Aragorn.         There are a few inconsistencies. After Sam helps Frodo escape, they disguise themselves by donning Orc uniforms and are forced to march with the Orc brigade. Never mind that they barely could pass as baby Orcs. Previously, the Orcs were proficient at sniffing out fresh hobbit flesh. Why can’t they smell them now?

This is a minor quibble, though, with an otherwise flawless extended version. If there was just one change I would have welcomed, it would have been a stronger ending to both the film and the extended DVD.

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The magic number is 666. That’s how many minutes it would take to watch all three extended parts of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Don’t have 11 hours and six minutes to spare? We’ll give you some of the highlights on what you missed if you only saw the film in theaters.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING” * Theatrical release running time: 178 minutes * Extended DVD running time: 208 minutes * Highlights of the extended DVD: Seamlessly edited into the original theatrical release, the additions range from the microscopic (Hobbits dancing atop a bar) to the obvious (Bilbo Baggins’ journal entry, which serves as a short history of the Hobbits). As for the two discs of extras, there’s plenty on there to keep any “Ring” geek in viewing heaven. The sections devoted to building Middle-earth are fascinating, as is the “Day in the Life of a Hobbit” vignette.

“THE LORD OF THE RINGS: TWO TOWERS” * Theatrical release running time: 175 minutes * Extended DVD running time: 208 minutes * Highlights of the extended DVD: Anyone who saw “Two Towers” in theaters will recognize that the film’s beginning is different. Before Gollum confronts Frodo and Sam, the pair are shown joking and pratfalling before they realize exactly how lost they are. Their always-ravenous fellow hobbits Merry and Pippin also get extended play, at one point floating through a sea of delectable treats. We also learn that the studly warrior and would-be king, Aragorn, actually is an old man of 87. The best backstory, though, is that of Boromir and his brother Faramir. The DVD version shows how their misguided father always favored Boromir at Faramir’s expense. This four-disc set also includes extras such as production documentaries, photo galleries and a really cool look at the making of Gollum/Smeagol.

“THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING” * Theatrical release running time: 200 minutes * Extended DVD running time: 250 minutes * Highlights of the extended DVD: The superb finale to the trilogy ties up all the loose ends. There are some nice touches here — Aragorn covering Eowyn with a fur-trimmed blue coat as she sleeps, Gimli attempting to rid members of the army of the dead by blowing at them as if they were birthday candles, and Pippin prancing around in Faramir’s childhood armor. Also adding to the “Is Frodo dead or alive?” mystery is the fellowship’s encounter with the Mouth of Sauron, who dangles the hobbit’s tiny chain-mail shirt as proof Frodo is dead. Had the voice of the figure not sounded like a cross between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the scene would’ve held much more impact.


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