Finishing what The Fellowship Of The Rings and The Two Towers started, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King finalizes the epic tale of a hobbit's journey to save Middle-earth from evil. The Return Of The King swept the 76th Academy Awards®, winning in every category in which it was nominated, including Best Picture (a feat in itself, being the first-ever film in the fantasy genre to win). As The Two Towers wrapped up, the dissociative creature Smeagol/Gollum (Serkis) had revealed his intent to betray Frodo (Wood) and Sam (Astin). As the three make their way toward Mordor, he leads them up the stairs of Cirith Ungol to a great and terrifying uncertainty. As Isildur's true heir, Aragorn (Mortensen) ventures into the Paths Of The Dead to enlist the help of thousands of cursed souls who had not fulfilled their oath to fight against Sauron with Isildur. Along with Gandalf The White (McKellen), Gimli (Rhys-Davies), and Legolas (Bloom), Aragorn leads the last of the great men of Gondor and Rohan against the looming enemy forces. And as fate lays in the hands of a halfling from The Shire, the battle of good versus evil rages on. But you can be sure that, by the final (final!) end of the movie, everyone has hugged. (Suzanne Hodges)
Disc One features Part 1 of the film and special features include commentary with the director and writers, commentary with the Design Team, commentary with the Production/Post-Production Team, commentary with the cast, The Lord Of The Rings: War In The North Trailer: The Untold Story (HD 01:38), an Easter Egg (SD 08:59), and BD-Live. Disc Two features Part 2 of the film and includes the same commentary tracks as on Disc One, an Easter Egg (SD 05:50), and BD-Live. Disc Three is the DVD of Part 1 of the film and Disc Four is the DVD of Part 2 of the film. Both discs include special features. Disc Five is also a DVD and includes a behind-the-scenes documentary. Also included in the packaging is a booklet.
Consistent with the extended Blu-ray Disc editions of The Fellowship Of The Rings and The Two Towers, and the previous anamorphically enhanced DVDs reviewed in Issues 85 and 93 and the Blu-ray in Issue 148, the 2.41:1 1080p AVC picture, spread across two BD-50 discs, is a satisfying visual experience far superior to the DVDs and is the crown of the trilogy. While images can be sharp and detailed with, at times, excellent textures, the picture can also have a soft, hazy, or filtered look, as with the previous editions. The color palette is often very dark and at times rich, but suitable to the depicted locations and emotions of the movie. The majority of the film takes place in territories near the fiery realm of Mordor, so ashy grays and cold, dreadful blues are utilized to enhance the tone and heighten the tension of the overwhelming evil. In the Paths Of The Dead and the battle at Pelennor Fields, the glowing green souls of the Men Of The Mountain radiate in the desaturated color scheme. Blacks are occasionally grayish and milky. Edge enhancement and pixelization are also noticed at times, but neither are terribly obtrusive. For viewers who have an eye for the usage of digital video noise reduction (which causes some smearing in the picture), the process was used to tone down grain structure evident in some shots for the theatrical release, and is, therefore, carried over into the look of the DVD. Also green scene artifacts are noticeable at times. Still, the transfer is overall stunning and sure to please fans of the trilogy. This version is definitely the definitive edition, both content-wise and visually. (Gary Reber/Suzanne Hodges)
The DTS-HD Master Audio™ 6.1-channel soundtrack, with the Surround EX encoding, is a brilliant accomplishment. Without any noticeable faults, this is as near a perfect presentation as you'll ever experience. It really is quite astonishing that one soundtrack could contain as many exemplary moments as this one contains. It's no wonder why this film won the Oscar® for Best Sound. Dialogue is dead-on accurate with exquisite reproduction of the most subtle of vocal inflections. Even during the very loud and heavy sound-effect-laden scenes, dialogue holds its intelligibility and clarity without any sort of degradation in vocal quality. Spatial dimensionality is also impressive, as the sonic soundscape presented here seems to make the walls of the theatre completely disappear. The wide soundfield and immersive qualities of this audio mix places the listener directly into the world of Middle-Earth. One of the reasons why this presentation is so immersive is in the very effective use of pans within the listening environment. This movie is filled with an unbelievable amount of transparent horizontal, vertical, and diagonal pans. Sound effortlessly travels back and forth, side to side, and corner to corner throughout the presentation. Chapters 28 through 44, during The Battle Of Pelennor Fields, are an all-out assault on the senses and are numbing, due to the sheer amount of sonic elements involved. It's just spectacular to watch the way these scenes unfold as they grab ahold of the listener and just never let go. The immensity of the battle between good and evil literally takes your breath away. If you're looking for a soundtrack with system-threatening bass, then look no further than this title. LFE activity is unmerciful and relentless, especially in Chapter 37. Not only is the LFE channel ever-so-powerful, but bass extension is tight and controlled with varying degrees of deep bass punch that accurately reflects the action onscreen. Channel separation in Chapter 37, as well as during the rest of the presentation, is superb. The musical soundtrack from Howard Shore is an amazing piece of work, which rightfully won the Oscar for Best Score. His score is mesmerizing, poetic, serene, and beautiful. Every note that plays captures the pure emotion of the presentation. Even in the louder scenes, and there are many of those to be sure, Shore's score never loses its effectiveness and sheer potency. Make no mistake about it, this lossless DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is a sonic marvel of amazing proportions. With incredible panning and imaging around the entire holosonic® soundfield, it is extremely easy to forget you are sitting in a room filled with loudspeakers, instead feeling as if you are sitting in the middle of the action. If you want to hear what a state-of-the-art soundtrack sounds like, look no further than this Blu-ray Disc. The team at MiCasa Multimedia, who worked with the remix and mastering of the first DVD release, as well as the original creators of the soundtrack, did an excellent job with the new segments relevant to the special edition and dovetailing them into the original film version. Fans deserved this treatment, and it is delivered here on the special extended edition Blu-ray Disc installments, now the definitive versions of the trilogy. (Gary Reber/Jeffrey Kern/Danny Richelieu)