The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Special Extended DVD Edition)
dir. Jackson
Now Available

Grossing over $2.9 billion worldwide, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was lauded by audiences and critics alike. Now, the last and best of the films, The Return of the King, has made its second appearance on DVD. Like The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers before it, director Peter Jackson follows up Return's prior bare-bones DVD with a four-disc set containing a drastically extended cut of the film and more bonus material than you can shake a palantr at.

The few criticisms of the theatrical version still apply--the movie takes too long to find its pulse; Elijah Wood is occasionally weak as Frodo; the film refuses to end, bringing back epilogue after epilogue. For this DVD, Jackson's added 50 minutes of footage (now four hours in length, the film's a long haul for even an Elvish-quoting fanboy such as myself); astounding picture and sound quality aside, the new material includes everything from entire subplots to subtle character moments--it's not a whole new movie, but it's a markedly different (and better) one.

The best of the set's 13 documentaries include both nerdy Tolkien scholars discussing the novels and discussions with Jackson, who, along with co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, offers interpretations of Tolkien's work and justifies the films' deviations from the texts. Then there are the endless galleries, commentaries, effects breakdowns, and poignant clips spanning from the trilogy's gestation to Return's sweep of last year's Oscars.

But more fascinating is what Jackson, et al., bring to the discs--a profound sense of love for the material and an exhausted joy at having successfully completed it. Like watching the epic films themselves, you're at first in awe of the audacity with which the filmmakers decided upon their task--and then you're doubly amazed that they pulled it off so extraordinarily well. ERIK HENRIKSEN