Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [2003]

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films gave "double-dipping"--releasing a DVD then releasing an improved version shortly afterward--a good name by offering both a better film and stupendous extras in the Extended Editions. This "triple-dip" 2006 Limited Edition trilogy falls far short of that standard but is still of interest to devoted and casual fans. What do you get? Both the theatrical and extended versions of all three films--The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King--are on three double-sided discs. The versions use seamless branching, meaning that the scenes that are common to both versions are stored on the disc only once. If you choose to watch the extended version, the disc "branches" out to the added or extended scenes. What does this mean to the viewer? Not much. The viewing experience is the same because the branching is imperceptible. But because both versions of the film don't have to be stored on the disc in their entirety (which would be six or seven hours total for each film), both versions together fit on two sides of one disc. The downside is that whichever version you watch, you have to flip over the disc halfway through; the film breaks at the same spot it did on the Extended Edition. Also lost are the meager features included on the theatrical edition, plus the four commentary tracks, two discs of bonus features, and DTS 6.1 ES sound from the four-disc Extended Editions. What's new? Each film has a second disc with a documentary directed by Costa Botes, who was personally selected by Peter Jackson (about five hours for all three documentaries. Rather than the formal documentary structure of other editions, they consist of off-the-cuff interviews with Peter Jackson, Alan Lee, and others, and random bits of behind-the-scenes action and special-effects work. Those who have worked their way through the many hours of bonus content on the other editions might recognize some of this footage, such as the Hobbit actors mocking whichever of them is not around, then greeting him warmly when he shows up. Other things--Liv Tyler riding a fake horse, interviewing the rank-and-file cast members, touring Peter Jackson's trailer, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd clowning around as a framing device, Ian McKellen flubbing his lines and conducting the crowning ceremony in a flowery wig--seem new. And some bits seem geared to those who've watched the other material--for example, some of the visual tricks explained there are only glimpsed without explanation here. They're entertaining, but because there's no structure (there are chapters, but no menu or chapter listing), they're not as convenient to watch, and go back to, as a documentary broken up into bite-size pieces. Note: New Line Home Entertainment couldn't release this material on its own a la the King Kong Production Diaries due to contractual restrictions. Bottom line: Do I need this trilogy edition? This Limited Edition combination of theatrical and extended versions plus new documentary seems likely to appeal to two camps. One is the devoted fan, who already owns all the previous editions but has to have everything LOTR. The other is the casual fan who liked the movies in theaters, heard good things about the Extended Editions, and doesn't need a ton of bonus material. This edition is attractively priced for that buyer, and the packaging is quite handsome. In between is the devoted fan who already owns all the previous editions but doesn't feel the need to watch more bonus material. When watching the movies, that fan will always choose the Extended Editions, but keeps the theatrical editions for (1) watching with guests, (2) the music videos, or (3) the convenience of skimming through favorite scenes without having to change discs. That fan can safely skip this edition, as can home-theater fans who love DTS. --David Horiuchi

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