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In this third and final chapter, the hobbit with the task of returning the all-corrosive Ring to its origins in the molten rock of Mount Doom, Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his loyal hobbit friend Sam (Sean Astin) have been joined by Gollum (Andy Serkis), who offers himself as their untrustworthy guide through the dangerous terrain of Mordor. Sauron's forces have attacked Gondor's capital, Minas Tirith, in the final terrible attack on mankind. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) tries to move the broken forces of Gondor to action, against overwhelming odds. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) must take the lead to unite the scattered remains of men against this devastating enemy, and lead them as their King. . . to their death, or survival. And Frodo must squeeze his last ounce of energy to try and complete his epic journey, while battling evil forces, Gollum's treachery - and the Ring's corrupting power.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
All the great elements of the human condition - good, evil, courage, loyalty, sacrifice, love, duty, fear, death, hunger and pain - swirl through this final section of the trilogy with heightened values and greater urgency. And with absolute digital clarity on DVD, providing a superbly intimate - and powerful experience - that isn't the same as on the big screen, but it's certainly not inferior. Just different. We know from the previous two films (all three were made as one single film) that the craftsmanship of Peter Jackson's team and the artistry of his cast are superb; now we want to experience the most demanding aspect of story telling, as Jackson reaches The End.

We the audience have invested a two-year time span in this mammoth movie, and not inconsiderable emotional and nervous energy. It must pay off now, and in the same currency as we know: authenticity, humanity, grand big picture and intimate small picture, all welded together by imagination and the values we hold most dear, values held in the section of our psyche known as compassion. In my view, satisfaction is guaranteed: this giant spectacle pays emotional tribute to the little people of the world, hobbits being the symbols for us ordinary folk who are sometimes thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Frodo is. Frodo endures. Frodo succeeds.

And of course, humanity wins, against the collective evil of dark forces and their despicable creatures (our own dark side?). But even metaphors aside, The Return of The King plays with enough gusto and guts, greatness and goodness, to satisfy our hunger for the story, the characters and the various resolutions of the journey, which must come at some cost, some price. No victory is satisfactory without that. The major battle scenes are unequalled in power, thanks to the imagination and craftsmanship of the team. Yet the intimate scenes are lyrical in their beauty and haunting in their emotional potency.

The film ends on a muted note, the celebration of mankind's survival poignantly encapsulated with a little man returning home - tried, tested, scarred but wiser and stronger - to his wife and two little kids.

But where the film ends, Disc 2 begins.... The Lord of the Discs, in a way, starting as it does with The Quest Fulfilled: A Director's Vision, a 25 minute feature that encapsulates some of the key issues about Peter Jackson's eight year journey. It's a summary of the big issues.

The 30 minute Filmmaker's Journey: Making The Return of the King is a narrated doco, and amongst its revelations are Tolkien's refusal in the 60s to allow The Beatles to make a movie of his book, which would have seen Paul as Frodo, Ringo as Sam, George as Gandolf and John as Gollum. Other than that, it tends to be a little repetitive, but this is third disc, after all, and so much has already been done.

The six featurettes created for the official website are included, and the Digital Horse Doubles is probably my favourite. It's five minutes of filmmaking witchcraft that explores the most difficult aspects of one of the major elements of this film: the extraordinary battle scenes.

Predictably, the 50 minute National Geographic Special is rich and thorough; it reworks the story and its themes, revisits the final chapter's core, namely Aragorn's reluctance to take on the mantle of king. The narration draws a parallel with the 13th century Scotsman, William 'Braveheart' Wallace. Neither sought power for its own sake. Aaaah, the nobility of it; if only they lived today. This doco sets the film into a historical setting, providing all that we have seen on Disc 1 with a gravitas, a sense of occasion and of great value.

Published May 27, 2004

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CAST: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving

PRODUCER: Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Frances Walsh

DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson

SCRIPT: Philippa Boyens, Frances Walsh, Peter Jackson (book by J.R.R. Tolkien)

RUNNING TIME: 192 minutes

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1, 16:9 enhanced; DD 5.1, DD 2.0; English & Greek subtitles

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: feature. Disc 2: The Quest Fulfilled: A Director's Vision; A Filmmaker's Journey (Making of); National Geographic Special; Featurettes - Aragorn's Destiny; Minas Tirith; Battle of Pelennor Fields; Samwise the Brave; Eowyn White Lady of Rohan; Digital Horse Doubles; theatrical trailers and TV spots; video game preview

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: May 25, 2004

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