Review for The Return of the King
The first threat has been surmounted; the alliance between Sauron and Saruman disrupted, when the assault on Rohan is thwarted at Helm’s Deep, and the Ents destroy Saruman’s industry and confine him to his tower. But this is just the overture. The real threat of Sauron still persists, and his flaming eye now turns to the Kingdom of Gondor. Gondor has no king; it has a Steward in Denethor, whose line has been guarding the throne until the line of kings is restored. But Denethor is being slowly overwhelmed by madness in his grief over the loss of his firstborn son, and holds onto his power with an iron grip. Gandalf tries his best to prepare Gondor for Sauron’s assault, but the kingdom may still fall unless Aragorn finally embraces his destiny. And meanwhile, Frodo and Sam continue into Mordor, with the dubious help of Gollum, bearing not only the burden of the one ring, but also the hopes of all free people in Middle Earth.
Just like The Two Towers, The Return of the King gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with DTS-HD MA 6.1 Surround English and optional English SDH subtitles. The presentation is akin to the previous film, in that the quality is really quite pleasant, no issue with colour timing or the like. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are excellent, and the colour design is really impressive, making the most of the locations and sets, while keeping a consistent narrative tone. Some shadow detail might be a little lacking though, but it’s not too persistent an issue. And of course, New Zealand’s epic countryside is the star of the film. The audio too is nice and effective, immersive and impactful when required, while Howard Shore’s expressive score is presented with the required majesty.
Click here for the extra features listing.
I was all set to pile on to The Return of the King, having expressed my ire towards The Two Towers, and only really recalling the negatives about the final film from the last time I watched it. Those negatives are still there, but the last two nights, I was reminded of the positives as well, and came away from the film having enjoyed the experience... after a fashion.
Following on from The Two Towers, the Fellowship is still split up, and following their own paths, although early on in the final film, Merry and Pippin are themselves separated, with Merry staying with the Riders of Rohan, while Pippin winds up at the court of Denethor. With the Ring getting closer to Mount Doom, and Sauron’s forces massing for the attack on Minas Tirith and the Kingdom of Gondor, the narrative heads towards its crescendo. But the pacing is still excruciating at times, with the one arc from the Two Towers carried over to the final film taking a veritable age to unfold, the confrontation between Sam, Frodo, and Shelob. The first disc in the Extended Edition is all anticipation and tension.
The second disc, two hours into the movie, is where all the payoff for the trilogy begins, and that, right with the first scene. The problem that I had with the action in The Two Towers is still evident here, less emphasis on action choreography and narrative in favour of lots of shaky-cam mayhem counterpointed by the momentary visual set piece within the chaos. But I don’t mind it so much here as the overall direction of travel becomes apparent. It’s all heading to a satisfying climax to the story, a well-deserved ending.
And then the film continues to end for the next hour. There are a lot of character arcs and narrative to tie up following the dramatic climax of the movie, and it’s hard to say that something should be left out, although for me, the most important moment of character development in the conclusion, the Scouring of the Shire isn’t in the movie. There are moments during the lengthy conclusion that I expect a boy on a flying dog-thing to show up, and Limahl to start caterwauling. Then again, this is the Extended Edition and not the Theatrical Version, and I shouldn’t really be complaining about length.
The Return of the King is a lot like The Two Towers in structure, but benefits from having a point, a clear destination. But once again, the digital effects technology of 2003 is showing its age in 2021, whereas the practical effects and model work still remains strong. The image and audio quality on these discs is perhaps the best of the three films though, surprising given it’s the longest of the three, and takes up more disc real estate.
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