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Friday, December 10, 2004

Review: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Extended DVD Edition

What can I say? The only thing that would have prevented me from getting this today would have been, since I ordered it via amazon, Royal Mail. But on this occasion at least I was not let down. I've now watched the extended version, and I'll spend the next few weeks watching the appendices and listening to the commentaries.

My first thoughts on the extended version are quite simple: like my basic feelings after watching RotK in the cinema these three films are good, are very good, but could have been so much more. Am I a purist? Partly yes, but I would rather they had stayed true to the spirit of the tale. Where they did, I had no problems with the changes, but where they varied (such as with Farimir) I felt the story weaken. This is not a tale that needs improvement. As such, I think RotK is the weakest of all the 3 films, because it has the bear a weight that it cannot stand - too many foundations have been shifted.

One of the most frequent comments on RotK in the cinema was that the ending was too long - that does not change, or rather becomes even more obvious just how much Tolkein packed away in those final chapters. The film only nods in their direction, and in this extended version we get several more nods throughout the story, but I feel they mostly just continue to illuminate the weaknesses.

As to the extra bits themselves, Saruman is included. Indeed, the scene of Saruman at Isengard is very well done, considering that Peter Jackson opted not to do the Scourging of the Shire. Frodo and Sam also visit the crossroad of the Kings in Ithilien in this version, something I am very happy about. In the battle of Minas Tirith there is also the confrontation between Gandalf and the Witch-King, and also Frodo and Sam's joining of the orc march in Mordor. There is also a brief moment in the Houses of Healing. We also get an extra Faramir-Denethor scene, and a good one.

OK, there are some other little episodes as well, but I think these are the chief additions of note. They are basically good additions, but the main problems of the cinema version remain: Denethor is a parody, Gandalf becomes a cipher for Aragorn, the whole business with Arwen is weak, and the army of the dead on the Pelennor fields is tacky.

That all sounds very negative, but really it is just an expression of my disappointment. I am rarely disappointed by a film, but FotR had given me cause to hope. Alas.

Anyway, the extended version is an improvement of the cinema, and well worth buying, but the basic weaknesses remain. I'll get round to writing about the extra bits once I've watched them.

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