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Peter Jackson
Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, John Rhys-Davies
Writing Credits:
J.R.R. Tolkien (novel), Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

This Christmas, the journey ends.

The final battle for Middle-earth begins. Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, continue their dangerous mission toward the fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring. Aragorn struggles to fulfill his legacy as he leads his outnumbered followers against the growing power of the Dark Lord Sauron, so that the Ring-bearer may complete his quest.

Box Office:
$94 million.
Opening Weekend
$72.629 million on 3703 screens.
Domestic Gross
$376.716 million.

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 6.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 263 min.
Price: $119.98
Release Date: 6/28/2011

Available Only as Part of “The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy – Extended Edition” 15-Disc Set

Discs One & Two
• Audio Commentary with co-writer/co-producer/director Peter Jackson, co-writer/co-producer Fran Walsh, and co-writer Philippa Boyens
• Audio Commentary with production designer Grant Major, costume designer Ngila Dickson, Weta Workshop creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designer/set decorator Alan Lee, conceptual designer John Howe, supervising art director/set decorator Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Hennah, and Weta Workshop manager Tania Rodger
• Audio Commentary with producer Barrie Osborne, executive producer Mark Ordesky, co-producer & editor Jamie Selkirk, additional editor Annie Collins, co-producer Rick Porras, composer Howard Shore, visual effects supervisors Jim Rygiel and Joe Letteri, supervising sound editor Ethan Van der Ryn, supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins, Weta animation designer and supervisor Randy Cook, previsualization supervisor Christian Rivers, visual effects DP Brian Van’t Hul, and visual effects DP Alex Funke
• Audio Commentary with actors Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Lawrence Makoake, and Andy Serkis

Disc Three
• Introduction from Peter Jackson
• “JRR Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle-earth” Documentary
• “From Book to Script: Forging the Final Chapter” Documentary
• “Designing Middle-earth” Documentary
• “Weta Workshop” Documentary
• “Big-Atures” Documentary
• “Costume Design” Documentary
• “Home of the Horse Lords” Documentary
• Middle-earth Atlas
• New Zealand as Middle-earth
• “The Peoples of Middle-earth” Galleries
• “The Realms of Middle-earth” Galleries

Disc Four
• Introduction from Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, and Elijah Wood
• “Cameras In Middle-earth” Documentary
• Production Photos
• “Weta Digital” Documentary
• Visual Effects Demonstration
• “Editorial: Completing the Trilogy” Documentary
• “Music for Middle-earth” Documentary
• “The Soundscapes of Middle-earth” Documentary
• “The End of All Things” Documentary
• “The Passing of an Age” Documentary
• “Cameron Duncan: The Inspiration for ‘Into the West’” Documentary

Disc Five:
• “The Return of the King: Behind the Scenes” Documentary


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (Extended Edition) [Blu-Ray] (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 27, 2011)

For full coverage of my thoughts about 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, please check out my review of the theatrical version. For this article, I’ll stick mostly with the differences evident in the SE’s extended cut of the film.

Note that this discussion may include some “spoilers”. If you don’t want to know the content of the extra footage, head to the technical ratings now!

Already a long movie, the “extended edition” adds 52 minutes to the flick. King now runs about 252 minutes versus the original’s 200 minutes. Actually, the entire program lasts 263 minutes, but the final 11 minutes display “Special thanks to the charter members of the LOTR official fan club”.

While the original Blu-ray packed the entire feature onto one disc, the extended version spreads the film across two platters. The first one runs two hours, seven minutes and 40 seconds and cuts as the orcs bring up the “wolf’s head” battering ram. The second disc offers programming that lasts two hours, 15 minutes and 35 seconds if we include the lengthy fan club credits. In a nice touch, when you start Disc Two, it offers a menu that lets you either go right back into the movie or allows you to choose one of the four audio commentaries. Some may see this as a distraction since the film doesn’t simply continue without input from the viewer, but given the myriad of auditory choices, I like the fact the disc’s producers don’t just assume what version you’ll prefer.

As for the actual film footage, this material integrates quite well into the action. I recognized most of the added scenes but not all of them; after three prior screenings, I guess I didn’t know the flick well enough to immediately detect every change. Many of the extended sequences seemed pretty modest in nature. Rather than add a few long bits, this version of King mostly featured a lot of smaller extensions as well as a smattering of new sequences.

I liked that approach, for it supplemented the original film but didn’t alter its flow. According to the disc’s booklet, the movie included 13 new scenes and 24 extended sequences. The final new scene appears as Frodo and Sam get stuck in a mob of orcs on their way to Mount Doom. As for the last extended sequence, we see more of Gollum’s initial attack on our heroes as they almost make it to their goal.

To my eyes, the most substantial change occurred early in the film. Saruman was cut out of the theatrical cut, but here we see his fate. Other significant components include an explanation for how Aragorn, et al., took over the corsairs, a drinking game to celebrate the defeat of Saruman, a confrontation between Gandalf and the Witch King, Aragorn and the palantir, Frodo and Sam among the orcs, and a meeting with the Mouth of Sauron. We also get a little greater exposition and more character moments that flesh out some elements, particularly related to Faramir and Eowyn; we see their introduction to each other, and that makes their budding romance at the end seem more sensible.

Although I preferred the extended cuts of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, I think the theatrical version of King probably remains the stronger of the pair, though not by a lot. Too much of the added material detracts rather than contributes to the storytelling. The pacing slows slightly and pads moments that really didn’t need extra delineation.

The Saruman and Mouth of Sauron scenes stand out as the most prominent additions. The former offers a less than satisfying conclusion to that wizard’s journey. Granted, it’s good to see his fate, since the theatrical cut leaves us without satisfaction in that regard. However, his ending comes across as anti-climatic and almost a throwaway moment, which doesn’t seem right given the character’s status.

As for the Mouth, that scene succeeds in theory but not in execution. That’s largely due to the campy presentation. Bruce Spence offers such an over-the-top performance that essentially ruins the sequence. I like its idea but don’t think the final version is very good.

In addition, I could definitely live without the extra moments connected to the army of the dead, though these have some merits. On one hand, it’s cool to see how Aragorn and the others commandeered the boats. However, these remove any tension from the scene in which they appear to save the day. The movie builds those to make us think our heroes are doomed, but since we already know Aragorn’s forces are on the ships, any anxiety deflates.

And in the category of “odd choice”, there’s a pre-battle scene with Eowyn and Merry. Sure, it’s a nice moment of bonding, but it makes no sense because she reveals herself to all the soldiers! Minutes later we see her try to hide her identity from Theoden, so why would she let all these other combatants know who she is? It’s badly inconsistent and illogical.

Some of the extra moments do add to the film. Anything new with Faramir is good, and I do like the fact we see the seeds of his relationship with Eowyn. Aragorn’s moments with the palantir are cool, and I really like the extra parts in which Sam and Frodo get stuck among the orcs on the way to Mount Doom.

Ultimately, the extended King is something of a wash. The weaker sequences don’t badly hurt the movie, but they do create some problems, and the positive additions don’t compensate in full. It’s still an excellent film, but it simply doesn’t work as the best cut.

One nice touch: if you check out the chapter menus on Discs One and Two, you’ll find notations that indicate which ones include either new or extended scenes. This provides a helpful notation for those of us who feel less than secure in our knowledge of the material. This information also appears in the package’s booklet.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A/ Audio A/ Bonus A+

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on these Blu-ray Discs. No concerns cropped up during this excellent transfer.

At all times, sharpness was rock solid. Despite the many very wide shots that occurred, the image remained rock solid. I saw no softness at all, as the picture appeared crisp and detailed. I also detected no jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge enhancement seemed absent. Those in search of print defects will hunt in vain, as I witnessed no specks, marks, or flaws of any sort in this clean presentation.

As with the first two flicks, King continued to display a stylized palette. Here, three types of hues dominated. The Rohan elements went with something of a golden tone, while Frodo’s scenes mainly used a dingy blue/gray. Minas Tirith featured blown-out whites. The disc clearly replicated the movie’s intended palette. The colors were appropriately vivid when necessary and seemed accurately depicted.

Black levels also came across well. Dark shots demonstrated good depth and clarity. Low-light shots were nicely displayed and seemed clear and adequately visible. Shadow detail was clean and tight. I felt totally pleased with this gorgeous image.

The extended edition of King integrated the extra 52 minutes of scenes neatly, and I never noticed any disruptive or awkward edits. The visuals appeared consistently positive for those segments, so I didn’t detect any decrease in quality. The elements flowed smoothly and concisely.

Expect more greatness from the DTS-HD MA 6.1 audio of King. The soundfield appeared active and involving. All five channels presented lots of material that kept the viewer at the center of a realistic and immersive world. Elements seemed appropriately placed and they blended together well. Flying creatures soared from location to location accurately, and other pieces popped up in their proper places too. The whole thing meshed together quite nicely, and the piece worked well. Not surprisingly, battle sequences were the most impressive, but the entire package seemed strong.

Audio quality equaled the positive nature of the soundfield. Speech was natural and distinctive, and I detected no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded bright and vibrant, as the score presented rich and full tones. Effects came across as accurate and concise. No problems with distortion appeared, and these elements were clean and broad. Bass response was excellent, as low-end consistently sounded tight and powerful. The audio of King just narrowly fell short of “A+” territory, as it presented a terrific experience.

How did the picture and sound of this version compare to the original DVD from 2003? Both demonstrated improvements, especially in terms of visuals. The lossless audio boasted a bit more kick, but the picture was where the BD excelled. This version demonstrated easily apparent upgrades in terms of clarity and definition.

For this five-disc release of The Return of the King, we find tons of extras. These closely follow the structure of the first two extended editions. On Discs One and Two, we locate a whopping four audio commentaries. Called The Director and Writers, the first logically comes from director/co-writer/producer Peter Jackson, co-writer/producer Fran Walsh, and co-writer Philippa Boyens, all of whom sat together for this running, screen-specific affair. Both of the prior tracks from this trio worked well, and their final chat follows suit. We get a great look at many elements of the production. Not surprisingly, we learn a lot about the story. We find information about the adaptation, changes made from Tolkien’s source material, and various related issues. They discuss additions to the extended edition as well as why those scenes didn’t make the theatrical cut.

Many general production notes turn up, as Jackson presents good comments about the shoot and connected topics. Nonetheless, those story issues remain the most compelling, and we find a nice encapsulation about all the plot and character challenges. A smattering of happy talk appears, but we also hear some criticism, as the participants acknowledge a few complaints aimed at the movie. A good tone of humor keeps this all moving, and as usual, Jackson acts like a goof so the women can give him a hard time. Here he delights in discussions of the “25th anniversary edition” he claims to already have in the planning stages. This track offers yet another excellent discussion.

Next we find a Design Team track that includes remarks from production designer Grant Major, costume designer Ngila Dickson, Weta Workshop creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designer/set decorator Alan Lee, conceptual designer John Howe, supervising art director/set decorator Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Hennah, and Weta Workshop manager Tania Rodger. Though some of the participants seemed to sit solo for the track, most appeared to be clustered into logical groups. If you listen to this track, you’ll learn about all things visual in regard to King. The program covers props, sets, costumes, miniatures, makeup and pretty much everything else under that falls under that umbrella. We find out about design and execution of these elements.

Though these topics might seem dry, the commentary actually comes across as lively and engaging. The pace moves quickly and provides lots of cool details about the material, with many fun anecdotes along the way. I liked the fact it offered so many notes about the visual design rather than simply “nuts and bolts” issues. For example, we learn about the stylistic concerns related to the computer created characters but we don’t hear about the technical areas; that’ll follow in the next commentary. Many tracks of this sort can drag due to excessive jargon and procedural matters, but this one goes by briskly since it avoids those traps. It offers a great look at the ways the crew brought Middle-earth to life, and it manages to provide a fun and entertaining glimpse at the design issues.

For the third commentary, we find a discussion from the Production/Post-Production Team. This program includes remarks from Audio Commentary with producer Barrie Osborne, executive producer Mark Ordesky, co-producer & editor Jamie Selkirk, additional editor Annie Collins, co-producer Rick Porras, composer Howard Shore, visual effects supervisors Jim Rygiel and Joe Letteri, supervising sound editor Ethan Van der Ryn, supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins, Weta animation designer and supervisor Randy Cook, previsualization supervisor Christian Rivers, visual effects DP Brian Van’t Hul, and visual effects DP Alex Funke. Many of these folks obviously sat together, and it appeared they clustered in logical teams. The results then were edited together to make this track.

This track had the most potential to get bogged down in technical mumbo-jumbo, but it usually avoids those pitfalls. It covers a mix of issues not discussed elsewhere. We hear a little about lighting and other photographic issues, sound effects and dialogue recording, computer and other visual material, the score, editorial decisions, and a few additional subjects. Lots of great anecdotes and notes from the set appear. Some of the funniest comments pop up here, as the participants occasionally delight in taking potshots at the movie. We get some cracks about what a “downer” Elrond is plus some other jabs. It’s an informative and enjoyable chat.

Lastly, we find a Cast commentary that provides material from actors Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Lawrence Makoake, and Andy Serkis. (The latter appears as himself and also does some in-character work as Smeagol and Gollum.) Two pairs of hobbits clearly sat together for their pieces; we get Astin/Wood and Monaghan/Boyd. It appeared that the others were taped separately.

Yet another fine track, this one covers a mix of subjects. We get insight into the characters as well as scads of anecdotes connected to the shoot. At times it degenerates into too much praise; that’s more of a problem here than on the other three tracks. However, a good deal of substance shows up and fills us in on different aspects of the production. The commentary moves briskly and remains consistently engaging.

After all that we finally move to Discs Three, Four and Five, where boohoogles of additional extras reside on standard DVDs. Disc Three starts with a 93-second Introduction from director Peter Jackson. He offers a little note about the end of the road. Jackson then gives us a quick overview of what to expect from these platters and also provides tips for navigation of them.

Entitled The War of the Ring, Disc Three initially splits into six subdomains. J.R.R. Tolkien – The Legacy of Middle-earth offers a 29-minute and 29-second program that mixes short movie images, archival pieces, and interviews with Jackson, Boyens, Howe, The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy author Brian Sibley, Tolkien linguist Bill Welden, Tolkien and the Great War author John Garth, Tolkien and CS Lewis author Colin Duriez, JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century author Tom Shippey, Tolkien language translator David Salo, actor Viggo Mortensen, Defending Middle-earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity author Dr. Patrick Curry, The Visual Companions author Jude Fisher, and Tolkien’s publisher Rayner Unwin.

As one might expect, this program covers topics related to the author and his construction of the books. We hear about the creation of the various languages and also a history of the Rings backstory. The participants discuss some of the personal elements from Tolkien’s life connected to the tales. They also go into some character and story insight along with structural issues. All these pieces add up to an enlightening and lively program.

The 20-minute and 56-second From Book to Script: Finding the Story gives us some shots from the set, movie clips, and interviews with Sibley, Rhys-Davies, Shippey, Jackson, Fisher, Boyens, Wood, Mortensen, McKellen, Wood, Serkis, Astin, Lee, Selkirk and Ordesky. They get into more adaptation challenges, with specifics connected to King. We hear about the parts of Two Towers the novel that ended up in King the film, trimming down the story and deviations, and character issues. We get information about the excision of the Scouring of the Shire. We get to see a little alternate footage from when Frodo tells Sam to go home and a couple other alternate concepts. There’s even a funny story in which Wood tells us about Jack Nicholson’s reaction to the flick’s multiple endings. As with prior entries in this series, “Story” gives us a solid examination of the adaptation process.

Also under the “From Book to Script” banner, we find Abandoned Concept: “Aragorn Battles Sauron”. In this five-minute and 18-second clip, we see animatics for the sequence in question as well as an alternate version of Frodo’s fight with Gollum. We heard a bit about these in the prior documentary, but this area gives us a more complete look at the material as planned.

Five smaller segments make up the content of Designing and Building Middle-earth. “Designing Middle-earth” lasts 39 minutes and 57 seconds and uses the standard format with movie clips, behind the scenes footage, and interviews. We hear from Jackson, Dan Hennah, Howe, Porras, Alan Lee, Chris Hennah, Major, Astin, Wood, Wenham, Noble, Fisher, Boyd, Monaghan, Bloom, Mortensen, Osborne, first assistant director Carolynne Cunningham, construction supervisor Ed Mulholland, and stunt performer Shane Rangi.

The emphasis in “Designing” is on the sets. We see their design and construction as well as many details. It presents the material logically and with complexity, and we learn many cool tidbits, such as all the little nuances in the sets. The program gives us a tight look at the creation of these elements.

Another documentary appears via “Weta Workshop”. It runs 47 minutes and 23 seconds and examines that studio’s work on King. It features interviews with Jackson, Taylor, Rodger, Porras, Howe, Wenham, Lee, Boyd, Monaghan, Mortensen, Makoare, Rygiel, Dickson, Shippey, Rivers, armor weapons/standby John Harding and Greg Tozer, Weta designer/sculptors Ben Wootten, Shaun Bolton, Warren Mahy and Daniel Falconer, prosthetics makeup Bill Hunt, Weta prosthetics supervisors Dominie Till and Gino Acevedo, Weta designer/sculptor Jamie Beswarick, Weta Workshop supervisor Jason Docherty, visual effects producer Dean Wright, Weta models supervisor Matt Aitken, Weta creatures/prosthetics Ben Hawker, visual effects art director Jeremy Bennett, and Weta on-set production manager Jamie Wilson.

“Workshop” looks at the design and construction of many King pieces and it also gets into the creatures, weapons, armor, and various other pieces. “Workshop” features discussions of the building of the monsters, prosthetics, and additional practical components. At one point, we see Richard Taylor as he walks through the different props and other things and tells us about them. The emphasis remains on showing us the ins and outs of the various elements, and it tosses in more than a few fun anecdotes for good measure. We also get nice insight into the design processes; the parts about Shelob and the Mouth of Sauron are particularly good. Overall, “Workshop” offers an entertaining and informative glance at the film’s many practical elements.

“Big-atures” offers a 20-minute documentary about the film’s small-scale sets and objects. It includes comments from Osborne, Funke, Lee, Howe, Jackson, Porras, Mortensen, Wright, Taylor, Mahy, Weta miniature builders Mary MacLachlan and John Baster, head model technician Paul Van Ommen, and Weta sword smith Peter Lyon. We get specific information about the following topics: “Minas Morgul”, “The Tower of Cirith Ungol”, “City of the Dead”, “Minas Tirith”, “Grond”, and “The Grey Havens”. It shows these components in nice detail and allows us to gain insight into their creation. We also hear some general notes about the crew and all the work they did. It’s especially terrific to take closer looks at the miniatures.

For this area’s last program, we get “Costume Design”. It fills 12 minutes and three seconds with information from Dickson, Serkis, Boyd, McKellen, Tyler, Wenham, Otto and Noble. We learn about the outfits created for pre-ring Smeagol, military hobbits, Gandalf the White, Faramir, Denethor, Eowyn, and Arwen. Of all the participants, Dickson definitely plays the strongest role, as she dominates the proceedings. She offers a great look at her goals for the clothes and their details. The actors also let us know how they worked with the costumes. We find many nice elements in this informative program.

This area concludes with two sets of “Design Galleries”. This area splits into two smaller domains: “The Peoples of Middle-earth”, “The Realms of Middle-earth” and “Miniatures”. “Peoples” further divides into “The Enemy”, “The Fellowship”, “Gondor”, “Smeagol”, “Deagol”, “Eowyn”, “Eomer”, “Arwen”, “Bilbo Baggins”, and “The Army of the Dead”. Unsurprisingly, many of these then break down into character-specific galleries, and with so many of them at hand, I won’t list them all. Within the “Peoples” section, we find galleries for 21 different characters or types. Each of these includes between nine and 143 images for an amazing total of 1442 stills. The shots show concept drawings as well as costume tests and other photos.

In addition, 45 of the stills include optional commentary. An icon notes when this becomes available for certain shots, and we find statements from Warren Mahy, Ben Wootten, Daniel Falconer, Christian Rivers, Gina Acevedo, John Howe, Alan Lee. Their remarks provide some nice insight into the design of the various participants.

The other section of the “Galleries” features “The Realms of Middle-earth”. This divides into seven smaller domains: “Smeagol’s Story”, “East Ithilien”, “Gondor”, “Rivendell”, “Dunharrow”, “Paths of the Dead”, and “Mordor”. These areas provide between seven and 108 stills for a total of 466 individual images. Like the “Peoples” domain, these mix photos and concept art. We also get 58 more commentaries for various shots; the remarks here come from Lee, Howe, Mahy and Jeremy Bennett.

Now we move to Home of the Horse Lords. This 30-minute and 15-second program includes notes from Jackson, Bloom, Osborne, Hill, Otto, Rangi, Monaghan, Wenham, Boyd, Urban, Porras, McKellen, Mortensen, featured orc/riding double Jed Brophy, horse trainer Grahame Ware Jr., riding doubles Jane Abbott and Len Baynes, second unit director Geoff Murphy, New Zealand casting director Liz Mullane, and New Zealand stunt coordinator Kirk Maxwell. We get information about the horses used in the film, their training and work, and their interaction with the actors. We also watch a lot of footage from the set and get details about the issues related to shooting the horse-filled sequences. As always, the anecdotes add spice; these go over amusing facets of the shoot. It’s another informative and entertaining piece.

With the Middle-earth Atlas, we can examine the “geographical context to the events that take place in The Two Towers”. It allows you to follow four different paths: Frodo and Sam, Merry, Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli, or Gandalf and Pippin. Essentially this means we wind out way through the map and see brief movie clips to illustrate each location. Frankly, the “Atlas” seems a bit lame. I’d prefer some greater depth of information about the different places instead of this abbreviated version of the film.

For specific location information, we move to New Zealand as Middle-earth. It leads us through the sites for East Ithilien, Dunharrow, Paths of the Dead, Pelennor Fields, the Black Gate and Mordor. You can examine these individually or use the “Play All” to see them as one 16-minute and eight-second program. It includes remarks from Jackson, Murphy, Bloom, Monaghan, Major, Boyd, Wenham, Dan Hennah, Porras, Mullane, Astin, Osborne, Mortensen, second unit director John Mahaffie, and supervising location manager Robin Murphy plus lots of video footage from these places. We see the crew as they scout the spots. “New Zealand” offers a quick and efficient glimpse of these locations, and the original video shots of them offer interesting contrasts with their appearances in the flick. I must admit that I’m getting really sick of the stories related to the military range, though.

Disc Four receives the title The Passing of an Age and divides into six smaller sections after a 99-second Introduction from Boyd, Monaghan, and Wood. It serves the same purpose as Jackson’s opening on Disc Three.

We begin with Filming The Return of the King, which then splits into two subdomains. Though its title implies a fairly technical program, “Cameras in Middle-earth” really offers more of a production journal. The 73-minute and eight-second documentary goes through different realms as it conveys general details about the shoot. In addition to the scads of on-set footage, we get comments from Jackson, Murphy, Wood, Cunningham, Bloom, Serkis, Ordesky, Monaghan, Boyd, Osborne, Porras, Christopher Lee, McKellen, Urban, Rhys-Davies, Astin, Noble, Maxwell, Murphy, Van’t Hul, Mullane, Acevedo, Weaving, Till, Taylor, Rodger, Hill, Otto, Makoare, Mortensen, Harding, and Tyler.

“Cameras” remains mostly anecdotal in nature as it provides documentation of the shoot. We follow the production from location to location in the order they appear in the film. These elements show lots of behind the scenes material that aptly displays the various challenges and issues. The interviews tell us more nuances of the production and toss in some nice details. The behind the scenes shots are the best; we hear a lot of this information elsewhere, but this segment lets us see those elements. “Cameras” remains engrossing and informative from start to finish. It does get weepy at the end, but this seems appropriate.

(Speaking of weepiness, does Miranda Otto ever not cry? That’s a running theme of these discs. She’d sob at the opening of a Burger King.)

This area finishes with a collection of “Production Photos”. We get 69 shots from the set.

When we move to the Visual Effects realm, we split into two subdomains. For information about computer effects, check out “Weta Digital”. This 42-minute and one-second piece offers statements from Jackson, Osborne, Letteri, Porras, Astin, Bloom, Serkis, Rygiel, Wright, Aitken, Bennett, Alan Lee, Rivers, Weta visual effects producer Eileen Moran, Weta senior animator Richard Moore, Weta 3D sequence supervisor Eric Saindon, Weta 3D supervisor Theresa Ellis Rygiel, Weta production manager Annette Wullems, Weta 2D sequence lead Erik Winquist, Weta 2D sequence lead Mark Lewis, Weta Massive supervisor Jon Allitt, software developer Steve Regelous, Weta mocap technician John Curtis, mocap combat choreographer Carrie Thiel, Weta creature supervisor Dana Peters, Weta senior animators Mike Stevens, Stephen Buckley and Matt Logue, Weta 3D sequence supervisor Guy Williams, Weta Barad-Dur destruction lead Gray Horsfeld, Weta 3D sequence lead Christopher White, and Weta lead creature TD Andrea Merlo.

This program covers most things computer animated, with a particular emphasis on digital sets and creatures. Some of the better moments relate the details about the Pelennor Fields battle, the mumakil, and Shelob. Though we already learn similar facts on prior discs, “Weta Digital” still includes lots of nice information and is an enjoyable piece.

In addition, “Visual Effects Demonstration” lets us look at “The Mumakil Battle”. Through the multi-angle options, you can go through pre-vis, environment, live action, animation, Massive, rough composite, and final film. Each segment presents a 31-second clip, and these can be viewed with or without commentary from a variety of participants; the different snippets include different speakers. This feature gives us a fine look at the stages, and the commentaries help flesh out our understanding of the elements.

Post-Production: Journey’s End includes four components. “Editorial: Completing the Trilogy” gives us a 22-minute and 14-second featurette about this topic. We hear from Jackson, Selkirk, Collins, Wood, Boyd, Monaghan, Porras, Serkis, Ordesky, Boyens, Christopher Lee, Osborne, and Two Towers editor Mike Horton. They discuss the reasoning behind the use of a different editor for each of the three movies, challenges presented by the film’s multiple story lines, using shots created for Two Towers, pickup shoots, structure, Lee’s reaction to being cut from the theatrical version, and other story-telling issues. The show includes coverage of many intriguing topics as it ably presents all of the concerns faced by the editorial staff. Some fun rough footage shows up too, such as Serkis’s living room floor performance of one key scene. It gives us a good look at the assembly of the movie.

Unsurprisingly, ”Music for Middle-earth” concentrates of the film’s score. In this 22-minute and two-second piece, we get comments from Jackson, Porras, Mortensen, Tyler, Wood, Boyd, Noble, Boyens, Serkis, composer Howard Shore, executive music producer Paul Broucek, sound mixer Peter Cobbin, music editor Nigel Scott, and re-recording mixer Mike Hedges. They go through various themes and elements of those. We also learn about cues that stretch across the three movies, vocalists, and some other aspects of the music. It’s a good look at the music and all its components.

“The Soundscapes of Middle-earth” lasts 22 minutes and nine seconds as it presents remarks from Jackson, Ordesky, Osborne, Logue, Rivers, Hopkins, Hedges, Porras, ADR editor/recordist Chris Ward, post-production supervisor Rosemary Dority, supervising sound editor/co-designer Ethan Van der Ryn, sound effects editor Brent Burge, foley editor Katy Wood, sound designer David Farmer, Park Road post sound manager John Neill, and re-recording mixers Chris Boyes and Michael Semanick. Among other parts, we learn of recording various elements, the concept behind different pieces of audio, consultations between the audio and visual departments, and creating the Battle of Pelennor Fields. We also see the building of a mixing studio in New Zealand. The focus seems somewhat scattershot as it flies from one topic to another, but it remains consistently entertaining. The addition of shots from the various recording sessions and ideas adds to the documentary. I always find sound design fascinating, and this program offers a nice look at how they brought the audio of Middle-earth to life.

Finally, “The End of All Things” offers a 21-minute and 29-second piece. We hear from Jackson, Porras, Collins, Selkirk, Osborne, Scott, Ordesky, Hedges, Wright, Semanick, Farmer, Van Der Ryn, Letteri, Cook, Saindon, Theresa Rygiel, Wullems, Williams, Aitken, Rygiel, Broucek,Horsfeld, Moran, Burge, Dority, Hopkins, Wood, Funke, Bennett, associate music producer Mark Willsher, and production manager Brigitte York. Essentially, “End” tells us of the intense time pressures that affected King. We learn how much work had to be done in a brief period of time. This is an interesting subject, but the show becomes somewhat monotonous as it beats us over the head with the stresses involved.

The Passing of an Age runs 25 minutes and 11 seconds as it offers a valedictory statement for the movie. We find statements from Jackson, Ordesky, Astin, Rodger, Bloom, McKellen, Wood, Hedges, Boyd, Osborne, Collins, Mortensen, Tyler, Monaghan, Porras, Serkis, Selkirk, Christopher Lee, Taylor, Rhys-Davies, Hill, Dickson, Semanick, Rygiel, Major, actor Sean Bean, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, Shore and Cunningham. The program covers the various King premieres as well as the Academy Awards and general thoughts about the whole enterprise. The best of the three ending statements, this one summarizes things neatly and acts as a nice send-off for the package, especially since it concludes with a couple of minutes of credits for the folks who put together this amazing set.

To complete the package, we find Cameron Duncan: The Inspiration for “Into the West”. In this area we get a 32-minute and 21-second feature with the same title. It presents notes from Jackson, writer Fran Walsh and Duncan’s mother Sharon as well as some archival comments from Cameron himself. We learn a little about Duncan’s life, his battle with cancer, his filmmaking efforts, and his interaction with the Rings crew. Jackson also talks of how Duncan influenced the song “Into the West”. It details Duncan’s impact in a touching but not sappy or mawkish manner.

The “Duncan” domain also presents “DFK6498” (four minutes, 37 seconds) and “Strike Zone” (11:16). These short films already appear in “Inspiration”, but it’s cool to get them on their own. It’s also a nice legacy to the young filmmaker that his work will be available to millions.

The sole extra found on Disc Five comes from a Behind the Scenes documentary. A work by filmmaker Costa Botes, the program lasts one hour, 51 minutes and 57 seconds. Through this show, we get a “fly on the wall” view of the production and check out various elements of the shoot. We find comments from director Peter Jackson, 3rd AD Chris Husson, on set caterers Lucinda Sherratt, Lizzie Aitken and Ingrid Van Der Ley, stunt performer Steve Reinsfield, physical effects coordinator Karl Chisholm, medic/safety officers Mike Hayden and Steve Butler, makeup and hair designer Peter Owen, senior machinist/engineer Dominic Taylor, Gandalf riding double Basil Clapham, horse trainer Don Reynolds, horse wrangler Mark Kinaston-Smith, dolly grip Dean Maxted, key grip Terry Dosten, visual effects unit director Brian Van’t Hul, swordsmith Peter Lyon, Weta art director Kayne Horsham, producer Barrie M. Osborne, New Zealand casting Liz Mullane, Weta Workshop’s Richard Taylor, foreman Alan Wyllie, hammerhand Pete Loveridge, carpenter Martin Ulrich, set finishing supervisor Kerry Dunn, New Zealand stunt coordinator Kirk Maxwell, 1st AD Carolynne Cunningham, 2nd unit 1st AD Dave Norris, 2nd unit DP Simon Raby, DP Alun Bollinger, visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel, senior keyframe animators Elisabeth Arko and Stephen Buckley, animator Michelle Meeker, 3D sequence supervisor Greg Butler, set finisher/props maker Hamish Wain, Weta machinist/engineer Bill Thomson, senior keyframe animator Matt Logue, senior animators Christopher Hatala, Mary Victoria and Andrew Calder, animator supervisor Adam Valdez, Weta Digital chief technical officer Scott Houston, scan/record supervisor Nick Booth, projectionist Tam Webster, digital colour grading supervisor Peter Doyle, lead colourist Florian Martin, on set dresser David Kolff, model technician Bruce McNaught, visual effects DP Alex Funke, visual effects producer Dean Wright, miniatures builder David Tremont, 2nd unit 1st AD Liz Tan, VFX compositor Tony Cole, 3D sequence supervisor Eric Saindon, best boy Ants Ferrell, motion capture combat choreographer Carrie Thiel, lead massive technical director John Haley, lead creature technical director Julian Butler, animator David Clayton, rotoscoping/painting supervisor Sandy Houston, sound effects editor David Whitehead, visual effects concept designer Christian Rivers, 3D sequence supervisor Dan Lemmon, senior animator Paul Story, armour weapons standbys Emily-Jane Sturrock and John Harding, designer/sculptor Shaun Bolton, boom operator Corrin Ellingford, lighting technician James Kennedy, New Zealand Army’s Lt. Grahame Doull, DP Andrew Lesnie, Barad-dur Destruction Lead Gray Horsfield, 3D sequence lead technical director Chris White, sound designer David Farmer, physical effects technician Peter Zivkovic, effects technician Scott Harens, focus puller Stephen Allanson, and actors Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Sean Astin, and Dominic Monaghan.

The piece looks at locations and sets, stunts, fights and sequence specifics, physical pieces like dummies, fake animals, wigs, skulls and swords, working with horses and extras, technical details, and a visit from Sir Edmund Hillary. From there we see crew cameos, physical effects and action scenes, motion capture for Gollum and connected animation topics, the design and execution of the Shelob elements, and various digital processes. The rest of the piece views makeup and costumes, miniatures, CG animals and characters, audio, and other challenges.

If you hope to find a comprehensive, beginning-to-end examination of the film’s creation, you’ll not find it here. Like its predecessors for Fellowship and Two Towers, this show is more experiential than strictly informative. Yes, we learn a bit about different areas, but the other extras here offer much better detail and depth in that regard.

Nonetheless, I find a lot to like about this program. I always enjoy footage taken from the set, and the show includes many fun and interesting shots. No, it won’t provide a concise overview of the film’s making, but fans will dig it anyway.

My only quibble with the extended edition of The Return of the King relates to the cut of the film itself. It remains a strong movie, but I think the added bits don’t always benefit the story. Nonetheless, they do help flesh out some moments. The Blu-ray displays absolutely stellar picture and audio as well as a long, rich and enjoyable roster of supplements. As I noted with the first two extended movies, I’d like the option to see the theatrical cut here as well, but even without it, I’m very happy with this release; it’s a killer.

Note that as of June 2011, you can only purchase this version of King as part of a 15-disc “The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy: Extended Edition” package. This includes all three movies with copious amounts of extras for a retail price of $119.98.

To rate this film visit the original review of LOTR: THE RETURN OF THE KING

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