PictureIn terms of presentation, Return Of The King has a lot to live up to, as both of its predecessors were considered by many to be the pinnacle of DVD audiovisual quality, at least in their Extended Editions. Well I am happy to report that the enthusiast will be delighted with the picture quality in this heavily stylised but nonetheless beautiful print. The four-hour behemoth is spread over 2 discs to be able to maintain the amount of extras, and both the stunning soundtrack (more of which later) and the excellent visuals. As the end of all things draws closer, and our heroes converge on Mordor, the picture takes on a dark and brooding appearance, primary colours become muted, apart from the Smeagol/Deagol opening, and the lush orange hues that blossom in the Cracks of Doom. Skin tones become pallid, and the monochromatic feel is at its strongest in the city of Minis Tirith, the white city, that gleams like the edge of a blade in front of the subdued tones of Pelennor Fields. None of this detracts from the quality on offer. Detail is high in both the filmed and the digital shots, of which over 1500 are present (more than the first two movies combined) and, with the notable exception of the Hobbits receiving adulation from the rest of Middle Earth at Minis Tirith, they are wondrously combined and blended to provide totally believable characters and places.
So if the picture is so good why not a full 10/10? Well since The Two Towers Extended Edition, the others have certainly caught up, with some of the Superbit discs in particular, providing a visual benchmark that matches and yes, occasionally, just surpasses the detail and sharpness that ROTK provides. Anyway they deserved to lose a point for that useless blue screen shot of the Hobbits in Minis Tirith.
SoundIn these discs, which are of exceptional quality, there is a feature that shines like a beacon from Gondor to Rohan, the glory that is the DTS-ES 6.1 soundtrack. Listening to ROTK has brought a whole new respect for the equipment I use in my viewing room, I did not believe my bass could go so low, that my amp could handle such demands on its power and precision, or that I would be grateful for the day when my installer said “Do you want us to install these centre surround speakers or what?” and I said “Yes”
The whole four hour marathon is an audio tour de force. The audio design is masterful from the warm and wistful reminiscence of Gandalf as he comforts Pippin in the midst of the battle for Minis Tirith, to the thundering of the Rohan cavalry charge, as they ride toward the screaming Mommakil with every footfall sounding like an earthquake. The Fell Beasts swoop around all six channels, Shelob scuttles from one corner of her lair to the other, and drops from the back of you viewing room to attack. It had me jumping round my seat like a nervous kitten. The bass is awesome, staggering, and breathtaking. It underpins every moment of the movie but it hits you like a train in the chest in two scenes, the first is when the gates of Minis Morgul open, and spew forth the Witch Kings army, and the second...well it would give away the ending for the three people on the planet who have not seen the movie so I will let you discover it yourselves.
No soundtrack can live on effects alone, and composer Howard Shore has produced a soundtrack of haunting themes that are outstanding. Their emotional resonance is huge, and they merge seamlessly with the onscreen action to create fear in the dissonant chords of Shelobs Lair, or despair in the soulful strings as Faramir rides to Osgiliath, or a rousing call to arms in the stirring Ride of the Rohirrim. The score tingles your spine, it makes your hair stand on end, it swells your chest, and it chokes your throat, and this glorious sound mix places it all around you to overwhelm the senses in the most wonderful way.
This is the best soundtrack I have ever heard on any disc...ever. It is an audio orgasm.
ExtrasReviewing discs, and in particular the extras, referred to as value added material in the trade, can be a tiresome business. Not so with this wondrous box set. Discs one and two contain four, count 'em, four full feature length commentaries provided by director and writers, the design team, the production team, and of course the actors, except somewhat inexplicably Viggo Mortensen. Discs three and four contain, in essence a huge documentary, split into bite sized pieces, on every aspect of the pre-production, shooting schedule, and post production process, up to and including the siege on the 2004 Oscars which saw the movie garner 11 awards. It would take pages and pages to describe the contents of all of these extras, but I will say they are all extremely worthy of your attention, and before you ask, yes I have watched every minute, and listened to every word spoken, and it was a delight from start to finish. Strolling through these extras containing personal recollections and revelations by cast and crew alike, it gave me the same sense of fellowship that they all felt in the making of the trilogy, I had the same sense of sorrow at their parting as the project reached its end, and I shed tears as they said their goodbyes. If the extras did this, just consider the emotional wreck I was after watching the movie.
VerdictI doubt whether anyone reading this review is using this as a purchasing decision, but if you are you should leave now and buy a copy, and if you can't afford one, sell a kidney, hey you've got two.
ROTK is the glorious climax to moviemaking history, the like of which we will never witness again. Thanks to Peter Jackson, an unassuming Hobbit of a man, and the tirelessly talented cast and crew, Middle Earth and the struggle of the third age is a real place and describes a real time. Thanks to the wonderful Extended Edition DVDs it is a place you can visit again and again as they take us there....and back again.
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