Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 14, 2004)
After all that we finally move to DVDs Three and Four, where boohoogles of additional extras reside. 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, DVD 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.
DVD 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 DVD 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 DVDs. 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 DVDs, “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 DVD 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.
In the “nice touch” department, New Line added both English and Spanish subtitles for all the extras. Too few studios do this, so it’s always great when this text appears.
One comment about this package’s extras: it duplicates absolutely nothing we found on the original 2-DVD set. I regard that as good and bad. On the positive side, it’s cool that we find so much new content, and it rewards purchasers of both sets as it gives them a total of three DVDs totally devoted to supplements. However, it means that we can’t consider the “Extended Special Edition” as totally definitive since it lacks basics like trailers. It’s too bad that New Line didn’t put together a set that combines this release with DVD Two of the original version; that would give die-hard fans everything from both versions in one place.
But one should think of these comments as nit-picking in the extreme. I can always think of something that could have appeared, but that shouldn’t obscure the astonishing amount of information on display here. With nearly 17 hours of audio commentaries, almost eight and a half hours of video footage, and well over 1900 frames of stills and more, this package stuffs a mind-boggling array of material.
Almost more astonishing is the fact that almost all of it’s good. With so many pieces, the law of averages dictates that at least a few of them should seem dull or lifeless. That rarely occurs. I love all four commentaries, and most of the video programs also come across as useful and enjoyable.
One might wonder how the Special Extended Edition of The Return of the King compares with its two predecessors, the four-DVD versions of Fellowship and Two Towers. In regard to the three sets’ extras and construction, they seem very comparable. Actually, I didn’t need to rewrite much of my reviews for the earlier releases; the three packages shared enough similarities to allow me to cut and paste a lot of material.
However, the extended cut of King included a moderate increase in its running time when compared to the extra footage of the earlier movies. Towers gave us an additional 44 minutes, while Fellowship an extra half an hour. Again, this wasn’t a huge change, but it was there.
When I looked at the other extras, they seemed very comparable between the two sets. Both had four commentaries of similar quality, and the third and fourth DVDs came packed with the same excellent kinds of materials. Note that King did expand the length of all the video components. By my estimation, it had about two hours more footage than Fellowship and an extra 90 minutes compared to Towers.
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, and perhaps I’ll later warm up to the parts I now perceive as problematic. The package displays absolutely stellar picture and audio as well.
And then there are its extras. The Special Extended Edition of King lives up to – and indeed betters – the astonishing array of supplements found on its two predecessors. It took me more than 30 hours to work through this package – all for one movie! That’s amazing.
If you dig that kind of thing, that is. That notion somewhat affects my recommendation. On one hand, despite my lukewarm attitude toward the new cut of King, I still absolutely adored the Special Extended Edition and want to urge every fan to pick up a copy. It’s a stellar set that thoroughly entertained and informed me. However, I’m a dedicated fan of supplements; even after I’ve reviewed more than 2000 DVDs, I still get a kick out of this stuff. Many people are like my Dad. He’s never listened to a commentary or watched a DVD documentary, and no matter how strongly I espouse the wonders of King, he doesn’t plan to change his tune now.
So here’s the bottom line: if you own no version of King and you like extras, you should go for the four-DVD Special Extended Edition. If you already have the two-disc theatrical cut and enjoy supplements, snag the bigger package as well. If you currently own the old DVD and don’t give a hoot about extras, stay with it. If you don’t have the prior release and don’t care about supplements or added footage, also go with the theatrical cut. It’s moderately superior to the extended one and makes the most sense for anyone who isn’t all that interested in the extra stuff.
This is a more equivocal recommendation than I made for the first two special edition DVDs, largely due to my opinion of the longer cut of the film. I definitely preferred the extended takes on Fellowship and Towers to their theatrical renditions, whereas that’s not the case here. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t negate the fact that the 4-disc King offers a spectacular package. I can’t praise it enough, as it presents yet another stunning release that stands as arguably the greatest DVD ever released.
Back to Discs 1 & 2