- Title: Lord of the Rings The Return of the King (4 Disc Ext. Ed.)
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Studio: New Line Cinema
- Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy
- Cast: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Ian Holm, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Bernard Hill, Mirando Otto, Karl Urban, David Wenham, John Noble
- Format: Widescreen, Color
- DVD Format: R1, NTSC, 4-disc Extended Edition
“He’s always followed me. Everywhere I went, since before we were ‘tweens. I would get him in to the worst sort of trouble, but I was always there to get him out. Now he’s gone. Just like Frodo, and Sam.” — Merry
“One thing I’ve learned about Hobbits, they are most hardy folk.” — Aragorn
“Take heart, Merry, it will soon be over.” — Eowyn
“My Lady, you are fair, and brave, and have much to live for and many who love you.” –Merry
For complete summary of The Return of the King, see review of the two-disc edition, here I will highlight the differences and added scenes in the extended edition. Again, the added scenes make the film richer, and more enjoyable, though unlike the other two extended editions, many, though not all, of the “new” scenes are extensions to the battle and fight scenes in the film. Or new battle scenes altogether. However, there is more characterization, and Merry and Eowyn get additional scenes and dialogue which is most welcome.
Return of the King is a magnificent film. It is a truly wonderful film. The heart of the film is the emotional journeys of the characters, which are now fulfilled in the third and final chapter of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s book is loved by so many, including myself, because not only are there a lot of characters, but those characters each have an important and interesting journey to take — and they each have a part to play in the story. In adapting the books to film, I think many directors would have been tempted to only show us Frodo and Sam’s story — and that might have been okay, heck it might have even been fine; but such a film would have lacked the richness of the books. Peter Jackson choose to adapt all the story lines of the books — and allowed each of the major characters to have their stories and for them to be completed. That makes these films masterful.
Now on to specifics about the Extended Edition.
The prologue scene of Smeagol murdering Deagol to get the Ring, seems longer.
Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, with Theoden and Eomer, ride through Fangorn forest, which now lies between Helm’s Deep and Isengard, to Isengard. Merry and Pippin, at Isengard, talk a bit more about Longbottom Leaf pipeweed and ale.
There’s a confrontation between Gandalf and Saruman. Saruman has the Palantir. Gandalf breaks Saruman’s staff, casting him from their Order of Wizards. Theoden asks Grima to give up his loyalty to Saruman, and return to Rohan as a loyal subject. Grima stabs Saruman in the back, and he then falls to his death, landing on his back on his own machinery which crushes him. The Palantir falls from his hand and then Pippin sees it and gives it to Gandalf.
I like this better than in the shorter version of the film, where Gandalf simply leaves Saruman and Grima in his tower (a line added to the film in ADR, when the above scene was taken out). Saruman’s death at Orthanc is closer to the book, than merely leaving him there. In the book, he and Grima escape, after Grima throws the Palantir at Gandalf and Company, and Saruman is responsible for the Scouring of the Shire. However, Saruman does meet his end at Grima’s hands, who stabs him in the back. If the filmmakers were determined to drop the Scouring of the Shire, for there own reasons, some of which were sound (partially it was a matter of time), then actually showing the death of Saruman is considerably more satisfying than just saying “we’ll leave him in his tower” and that’s that, and the general audience has no idea what happened to him.
In Rohan, at the celebration feast/wake for the fallen warriors, Gimli and Legolas have a drinking game, and Merry and Pippin sing and dance. However, during the Hobbits’ song, there’s a pause as Pippin looks at Gandalf.
During the Smeagol/Gollum discussion in Ilthilien, Gollum flashes back to killing Deagol.
Pippin looks into the Palantir, and his separation from Merry is still heart-breaking. However, not only does Merry climb to the top of one of the watchtowers to watch Gandalf and Pippin leave, he talks to Aragorn of what his cousin means to him, that Pippin always followed him.
The introductory flyby shot of Minas Tirith is breath-taking, and the city is very beautiful.
Pippin flashes back to Boromir’s death, when Denethor mentions that he knows his son is dead. Pippin offers his service and explains Boromir was pierced by many arrows defending his kinsman and him. Denethor claims Lord and Kingship, saying he will not bow to the Ranger from the North (e.g. Aragorn).
Gandalf explains what’s happened in Gondor, where the stewards come from.
Frodo talks to Sam of not coming back. Sam encourages him that they’ll go there and back again, like Bilbo. They reach the Crossroads, and see the statute of the king, with it’s Orc pumpkin-head like thing. The proper head of the statute is on the ground a few feet away, covered with a crown of flowers. A beam of light hits the flowers, making them shine like a crown of gold, this heartens the Hobbits.
I loved that scene in the book — the description of the crown and the sun, and the way it gives hope to Sam and Frodo, is very beautiful and meaningful. I was so disappointed it wasn’t in the shorter version of the film when I saw it in the theater, so I was very glad to see it here in the extended cut.
Sam threatens Smeagol, basically saying he will kill him if anything happens to Frodo.
Gandalf tells Pippin there’s an opportunity for the Shirefolk to prove their great worth, when sending him to light the beacon.
Faramir is with his guard in Osgiliath, and his aide-de-camp tells him of sending out scouts to the north. Then we see Orcs on boats. Faramir takes his men to the river to attack the Orcs. Faramir and his men fight the Orcs with swords.
Then we see Pippin lighting the beacon, and the beacon fires going one by one to Rohan.
Merry offers his service to Theoden King, who accepts it, naming him Esquire of Rohan.
Gimli talks to Legolas, wishing he could bring a legion of Dwarves to the battle.
More of Faramir’s battle in Osgiliath. He begins to call for retreat to Minas Tirith, and a Nazgul attacks. They make a run for it. Faramir’s aide-de-camp (or second in command) is killed. Gandalf rides out, with Pippin, to challenge the Orcs and Nazgul and help Faramir’s men safely get to Minas Tirith.
Denethor criticizes Faramir about sending the Ring with Frodo to Mordor. Faramir states he wouldn’t use the Ring. Faramir tells Denethor, Boromir would have used the Ring and been corrupted — they wouldn’t know him. Denethor has a vision of Boromir standing near Faramir. Denethor kicks Faramir out of his chamber.
The Witch-King orders the Orc Captain to take the city and kill them all.
The men of Gondor ask Gandalf if Rohan will come.
Pippin wonders what he’s done, offering his service. He meets Faramir who tells him the armor he’s wearing was once his own. Faramir talks to Pippin of Boromir, Pippin tells him he has strength of a different sort. Then we see Pippin formerly swear loyalty to Denethor, and the service of the guard in Gondor.
Cuts to Sam, Frodo, and Gollum sleeping. Gollum throws away Lembas, the Elven waybread, setting up Sam. Frodo sending Sam away is heartbreaking.
The men of Gondor leave the city, at Denethor’s order, women throwing flowers — it’s a very mournful scene. Gandalf tries to stop Faramir — Faramir states this is the City of the Men of Numenor and he will die defending it.
Then Denethor asks Pippin to sing, and Pippin’s song is still intercut with Faramir’s men riding out to a hopeless battle — where they are all going to get killed.
The shorter version tightens up the editing of this sequence, but keeps Pippin’s song and the intercutting between that, Denethor stuffing his face, and Faramir and company riding out to their doom. The slightly shorter, more tightly edited version is actually better, even though it makes sense that Gandalf would try to stop Faramir. Gandalf can’t succeed at that, and Faramir must prove his loyalty.
During the muster of Rohan, Eomer talks to Eowyn of war, but you can see in her eyes it hasn’t dissuaded her.
Aragorn has nightmares of Arwen dying. As he wakes from the nightmare, a messenger asks Aragorn to see Theoden. Elrond comes to Aragorn, talks to him of the Oathbreakers in the mountain, gives him Anduril, the Flame of the West, the re-forged Narsil. Elrond also encourages Aragorn to become king.
Aragorn tries to dissaude Eowyn from her plans. Then he, Legolas, and Gimli take the Paths of the Dead. Legolas talks a bit more in detail of the prophecy that the heir of Elendil, who shall come from the North, will call on those who are Dead to fulfill their Oaths.
There’s a quick shot of the Orcs marching on Minas Tirith.
Legolas sees ghosts of men and horses under the mountain. There are mists of ghosts near Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn. There are skulls in the cave. They reach the cavern where Aragorn asks for the allegiance of the dead. There are more shots of the dead army. Aragorn raises Anduril, summons the dead, commands them to fight for their honor.
There is an avalanche of skulls. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas leave the path and see the Cosair ships. Aragorn seems completely defeated. Then, the dead King arrives, swearing they will fight.
Injured Faramir is returned to Gondor. The heads of the rest of his men are flung into the city by Orc catapults. Pippin realizes Faramir is still alive, no one listens.
Denethor begins to break, blames Theoden for betraying him.
Gandalf leads the battle, the battle begins in earnest. The battle is longer. Pippin makes his way to Gandalf, saves him from an Orc and is ordered back to the citadel by Gandalf. (This was in the shorter edition).
The Orc Captain orders that Grond, the flaming Wolfshead ram, be used to break the city gate.
End of Part 1
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli meet the Corsair ships. Aragorn denies them passage. The dead attack the ships.
Smeagol leads Frodo into Shelob’s lair. Frodo tells Smeagol he must destroy the Ring for both their sakes. Smeagol attacks Frodo and falls down a cliff. Frodo continues on through the pass of Cirith Ungol.
The men of Rohan gather at the camp. Eomer reports the scouts say Minas Tirith is surrounded, the lower levels in flames. Eowyn and Merry talk, he tries to raise her spirits.
Flaming stones or rocks are sent into Minas Tirith.
One flower blooms on the tree in Minas Tirith — despite Denethor saying Gondor is lost.
Denethor argues it is better to die soon rather than late, for ‘die we must’; then he calls for wood and oil to burn himself and his son.
Gandalf is still commanding Gondor’s soldiers.
But when Gandalf and Pippin return to the citadel to confront Denethor and rescue Faramir they are stopped by a Nazgul, the Witch-king. Gandalf’s staff is broken. Pippin starts to charge and then stops — the Witch-King leaves at the sound of the horn of Rohan.
I’m glad this scene WASN’T in the shorter version of the film, and it makes no sense here. It also slows down the sense of urgency to rescue Faramir. I mean, seriously, Denethor is already in the midst of commiting murder and suicide — Pippin and Gandalf need to get there quickly to stop it. Saving Faramir is one of Pippin’s great heroic scenes, breaking it up isn’t necessary and actually lessens the tension rather than adds to it. Also, as powerful as the Witch-King is, he shouldn’t be able to break Gandalf’s staff — only another Wizard can do that, and the only other one left is Radagast the Brown who’s never seen in the films, and is barely mentioned in the books. (There are meant to be five Wizards, but the remaining two aren’t even named).
Gandalf and Pippin do, though, get into the tomb. They are unable to rescue Denethor, but Pippin saves Faramir.
Back to the Battle of Pelennor Fields, which the men of Rohan have joined. There are more Oliphaunts and men of Haradrim in the Battle, and it’s more complex and longer.
Merry fights in the Battle, and Eowyn fights the Orc Captain.
Then the Nazgul arrives, attacking Theoden. Eowyn goes to defend her Uncle and King, and her fight with the Witch-King is longer. Merry gets the first strike on the Witch-King, then Eowyn stabs him with her sword through the head, destroying him. Thus the Witch-King, whom “no man can kill” is destroyed by a woman and a Hobbit.
The ships arrive, but it’s Aragorn and his army. Note that in the films this is just the Army of the Dead, who make short work of any orcs and evil men still alive in the Battle of Pelennor Fields. In the book, the Battle is even bigger, and involved even more variety of forces than just Gondor and Rohan — Aragorn brings with him Dunedain from Dol Amroth in Belfalas.
Aragorn and Legolas defeat the Orc Captain that Eowyn was fighting before she was distracted by a Nazgul.
King Theoden’s dying speech to Eowyn is longer.
After the battle, Pippin first finds Merry’s Elven cloak.
Eomer finds Eowyn and screams.
We see Eowyn in the Houses of Healing and Aragorn acting as a healer. He succeeds in healing her, and she also meets Faramir there and they fall in love.
Pippin searches for Merry, finally finds him. Pippin swears to take care of his older cousin.
In a departure from the book, rather than also being brought to the Houses of Healing, where Aragorn heals him, Merry rides with Pippin and the rest of the company to the Black Gate to provide a distraction so Frodo and Sam can get to Mt. Doom.
Insert shot of Sam approaching the tower where Frodo is held. There is also a tiny bit more dialog between Frodo and Sam as they enter Mordor.
Aragorn challenges Sauron in the Palantir in Minas Tirith, shows his sword.
Aragorn sees Arwen, and the Evenstar pendant falls and breaks on the marble floor.
Faramir courts Eowyn.
Frodo and Sam are forced into a line of Orcs that marches for the Black Gate and are whipped. Frodo has Sam start a fight and they are able to escape. They start to climb up the slopes of Mt. Doom. Frodo talks of the weight of the Ring. They dump the extra armor.
At the Black Gate, the Mouth of Sauron shows Frodo’s mail. Pippin cries, and Gandalf is near to crying himself. Aragorn decapitates the Mouth, and says he will not believe it. Eomer with Merry, Gandalf with Pippin, and Aragorn return to the line as the army of Orcs appears.
Aragorn gives his awesome Men of the West speech.
Gollum attacks Frodo and nearly kills him. Gollum bites Sam. Frodo runs up the side of Mt Doom alone.
Aragorn goes down at the Battle before the Black Gate.
Screen blacks out as Frodo says, “I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things,” before Gandalf comes to the rescue with the Eagles.
The end is the same as in the shorter version, as is the Fate of the Ring. But the film is satisfying, though long. The break between part one and two is welcome and helpful. I even found myself watching some of the extra features immediately after seeing the film yesterday because I wanted more — which is the same feeling one gets when reading the books. I really think Peter Jackson did the best he possibly could. The cast is absolutely brilliant. New Zealand is the perfect place to use for filming Middle-Earth. The effects, including new ones developed for the films are top-notch, but seamless — one doesn’t sit in a movie theater or at home watching the films thinking, “oh, what a nice special effect”. Great care was given in adapting the novels, and though one can quibble about this or that, I think Peter Jackson did the best he could, and created a nearly perfect adaptation and visualization of the books.
Film is a different medium than the written word, and that changes how storytelling is done. Also, hopefully, many of the films’ legions of fans picked up and read the books, or re-read them if they had read Lord of the Rings before. Overall, I can’t complain too much because I really, really love the films, and the books as well.
Recommendation: See it! If you can add both versions of Return of the King to your DVD Library, but if you must choose only one, choose this one.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Majestic