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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a 2003 fantasy adventure film directed by Peter Jackson that is based on the second and third volumes of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It is the concluding film in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, following The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Two Towers (2002).

As Sauron launches the final stages of his conquest of Middle-earth, Gandalf the Wizard, and Théoden King of Rohan rally their forces to help defend Gondor's capital Minas Tirith from the looming threat. Aragorn finally claims the throne of Gondor and summons an army of ghosts to help him defeat Sauron. Ultimately, even with full strength of arms, they realize they cannot win; so it comes down to the Hobbits, Frodo and Sam, to bear the burden of the Ring and deal with the treachery of Gollum. After a long journey they finally arrive in the dangerous lands of Mordor, seeking to destroy the One Ring in the place it was created, the volcanic fires of Mount Doom.

Released on December 17, 2003, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King became one of the greatest box-office successes of all time. It won all eleven Academy Awards for which it was nominated, which ties it with only Titanic and Ben-Hur for most Academy Awards ever won. However, it won 11 out of 11 Academy Awards when Ben-Hur won 11 out of 12, and Titanic won 11 out of 14. It also won the Academy Award for Best Picture, the only time in history a fantasy film has done so. It is the second highest-grossing film of all time worldwide, behind Titanic and it is the twenty-first most successful in North America once adjusted for inflation.

Plot

The film begins with a flashback of how Sméagol recovered the One Ring, before forwarding to him as Gollum, taking Frodo and Sam to Minas Morgul. Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Théoden and Éomer meet up with Merry, Pippin and Treebeard at Isengard, now under the Ents' control, where Gandalf concludes Saruman will pose no further threat. They also recover the palantír from the ruins. The group return to Edoras, where Theoden holds a feast in celebration of the victory at Helm's Deep. Pippin's curiosity gets the better of him at Edoras, and he looks into the palantír, where he sees a vision of a white tree burning, as well as being seen and mentally interrogated by Sauron, though Pippin tels him nothing regarding Frodo and the Ring. From this, Gandalf deduces Sauron is planning to attack Minas Tirith, and he rides off there with Pippin. In the meantime, Arwen, on her way to the Undying Lands, has a vision of her son by Aragorn and convinces Elrond to reforge the sword Narsil that cut the Ring from Sauron's finger long ago. Sam also overhears Gollum's treacherous plans to murder them and take the Ring for himself, but Frodo disbelieves him. Gollum plays on this, trying to turn Frodo and Sam against one another.

Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith to find the steward Denethor mourning over Boromir, and Pippin swears loyalty to him. Gandalf warns Sauron is now ready to strike and urges Denethor to call Rohan for aid, which he refuses, knowing Aragorn is there, and fearing Aragorn and Gandalf plan to depose him. That night, Gandalf and Pippin witness a pillar of green fire rise from Minas Morgul, where the Witch-king sends off his army, heralding the start of the war. Frodo, Sam and Gollum also begin climbing the stairs nearby. The Morgul army, led by the Nazgúl, drives the Gondorians out of Osgiliath, and Faramir is forced to take a doomed ride to reclaim the city. In the meantime, Gollum convinces Frodo to send Sam home on the belief he wants the Ring. Fortunately, Pippin has begun the long line of beacon signals to Edoras, where Théoden and the rest of the Rohirrim ride to Dunharrow to prepare for war. Aragorn also meets Elrond, who informs him of what Arwen has done and warns him they are outnumbered by Sauron's army. Elrond presents Aragorn with the newly reforged Andúril and tells him to brave the Paths of the Dead, where he may acquire the help of the cursed Army of the Dead, who owe allegiance to the Heir of Isildur. Éowyn tries to convince him not to go, confessing her love for him, but Aragorn -knowing Arwen has chosen her love for him over the immortal life of the elves- refuses. Together with Legolas and Gimli, Aragon gains the loyalty of the King of the Dead and his men, then capture the ships of the Corsairs of Umbar, who Sauron had intended to launch a surprise attack on Minas Tirith. Théoden rides off to war with 6000 Riders, unaware Éowyn and Merry are part of the army too.

The Morgul army begin the siege of Minas Tirith, and many missiles are traded between Orc catapults and Gondorian trebuchets, whilst the Witch-king and the other Ringwraiths on their Fell Beasts wreak havoc on the city. They break into the city using the enormous battering ram Grond, and the defenders are forced to retreat as legions of Orcs, Trolls and worse swarm into the city. At the same time Gollum betrays Frodo to the monstrous spider Shelob, but Sam returns to fight her off. Sam believes Frodo is dead and takes the One Ring, planning to complete the quest, but when Orcs from the Tower of Cirith Ungol take Frodo, he overhears that he is still alive. At Minas Tirith, Denethor falls into madness and prepares a pyre for him and the unconscious Faramir. Pippin warns Gandalf and together, they manage to save Faramir, though Denethor perishes. The Rohirrim arrive and charge into the Orcs at full pace, trampling and slaying them into retreat, but Haradrim reinforcements, including huge numbers of Mûmakil and the Witch-king, overwhelm them. Aragorn finally arrives with the undead on the captured Corsair ships and counter-attack, routing the Orcs and Mûmakil, whilst Éowyn and Merry kill the Witch-king. Théoden passes away, and Aragorn holds the Dead Army's oath fulfilled, freeing them from their curse.

Sam rescues Frodo from the tower, mostly empty following a fight amongst the Orc garrison over the mithril shirt, and they begin the long trek to Mount Doom. Gandalf realizes that 10,000 Orcs now stand on the road between Cirith Ungol and Mount Doom, making Frodo's journey all but impossible, and Aragorn leads the remaining soldiers to the Black Gate to distract them. Sam carries Frodo up to Mount Doom but Gollum attacks them, just as the Men of the West furiously battle the Orcs. Frodo, at the Crack of Doom, succumbs to the Ring's power. However, Gollum steals the Ring by biting off Frodo's finger that held the ring. They both fight to get it back and fall off the precipice. Frodo grabs the ledge but Gollum and the Ring fall into the pools of lava below. Sam rescues Frodo and the Ring is destroyed. The Tower of Barad-dûr collapses, whilst Sauron, finally defeated, fades into nothing. The destruction of his form creates an immense shockwave that kills most of the Orcs; the rest perish as the whole of Mordor collapses into a gaping chasm, leaving the men of the West unharmed.

Frodo and Sam are stranded until Gandalf arrives with the Eagles, and they awake in Minas Tirith, reuniting with their friends at long last. Aragorn is crowned King, heralding the new age of peace, and is reunited with Arwen. When Aragorn meets the hobbits who bow before him, he stops them and says " You bow to no one". He and the whole of Minas Tirith bows to the Hobbits in honour of their sacrifice. The hobbits return home to the Shire, where Sam marries Rosie. But Frodo is dealing with the psychological trauma of being the Ring-bearer, and also pain and illness on the anniversary of his wounds, and he leaves Middle-earth with Gandalf, Bilbo, Elrond, Celeborn and Galadriel at the Grey Havens, leaving his account of the story to Sam, who peacefully continues his family life.

Cast

Like the preceding films in the trilogy, The Return of the King has an ensemble cast, and some of the cast and their respective characters include:
The following only appear in the Extended Edition:


There are also cameos from Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, Gino Acevedo, Rick Porras and Andrew Lesnie on the Corsair ship, although all of them but Jackson only appear in the Extended Edition. Jackson also has another unofficial cameo, as Sam's hand stepping into view when he confronts Shelob. Sean Astin's daughter played Sam's daughter Elanor in the last scene of the movie. Jackson's children also cameo as Gondorian extras, whilst Christian Rivers played a Gondorian soldier guarding the Beacon Pippin lights, and is later seen wounded. Royd Tolkien cameos as a Ranger in Osgiliath, whilst in the Extended Edition Howard Shore appears as a celebrating soldier at Edoras. Additionally, four of the designers of The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game are featured as Rohirrim at the Pelennor. At the end of the film, each cast member gets a sketched portrait by Alan Lee, an idea suggested by Ian McKellen.

Comparison with the source material

The film contains major scenes that occurred in the middle portion of the novel, The Two Towers, but were not included in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, such as Shelob and the palantír subplot, due to Jackson realigning the timeline as described in the book's Appendices, but not in the main prose. Saruman's murder by Gríma (seen only in the Extended Edition) is moved into the Isengard visit due to the cutting of the Scouring of the Shire. In the movie, Saruman drops the palantír, whereas in the book Gríma throws it at the Fellowship, unaware of its value.

Denethor, the Steward of Gondor was a more tragic character in the book. The film only focuses on his overwhelming grief over the death of Boromir as to ignore Sauron's threat (in the book he already lights the beacons), and is driven over the edge by Faramir's injury. The film only hints at his use of the palantír which drives him mad, information revealed in the Pyre scene, which is more violent than the book. Jackson also has Denethor jump off the Citadel in addition to burning himself on the Pyre, one of the earliest changes.

The Battle of the Pelennor Fields is altered: Faramir never goes on a suicide mission, and is a simplification of the siege of Osgiliath. Generals such as Forlong and Imrahil are also absent, only leaving Gandalf in command. The Orcs also never get into the city in the book. The Witch-king enters and stands off against Gandalf before the Rohirrim arrive, but in the film Orcs invade the city after Grond breaks the Gate. The confrontation takes place whilst Gandalf journeys to save Faramir in the Extended Edition, during which Gandalf has his staff broken. A subplot in which the Rohirrim are aided by the primitive Drúedain into entering the besieged Gondor is also excised. The Red Arrow brought by a messenger from Gondor to ask for aid is absent. Éowyn's presence to the reader on the battlefield is unknown until she takes off her helmet, but in the film the audience is aware, as it would have been difficult to have Miranda Otto playing a man. When hope seems lost, Gandalf also comforts Pippin with a description of the Undying Lands, which is a descriptive passage in the book's final chapter. The film depicts the Army of the Dead fighting in the Battle, whereas in the book they are released from service prior to this, after helping Aragorn defeat the Corsairs of Umbar at the port city of Pelargir in Lebennin; Aragorn's reinforcements are merely more Gondorians, and the Dunedain, Aragorns people (the rangers of the North). An unstoppable and invulnerable force, the Dead wipe out Sauron's forces. The film also cuts out several supporting characters, such as: Halbarad, a friend of Aragorn's, who helps lead the Dunedain, Beregond, a member of the Citadel Guard of Gondor, who Pippin befriends, and Elladan and Ellrohir, the twin sons of Elrond who deliver Aragorns banner and accompany to the Pelennor Fields. Elladan and Ellorohir are replaced by Elrond in the movie, instead delivering Anduril, and then returning to Rivendell. The film also altered the circumstances of Theoden's death; his death speech, in which he names Éomer the new king in the book, is trimmed and delivered to Éowyn instead, with an earlier scene in the Extended Edition even implying that she is next in line for the throne. Theoden's rallying cries before the initial charge are in fact spoken by Éomer in the book upon his realization that Éowyn is also apparently dead.

The romance that develops between Éowyn and Faramir during their recoveries in the Houses of Healing is also largely cut, presumably to keep the focus on Aragorn and Arwen; the subplot is only briefly referenced in the Extended Edition with a scene where the two hold hands.

Sam and Frodo's major rift in their friendship, due to Gollum's machinations, never takes place in the book, but the writers added believing that it added drama and more complexity to Frodo. Frodo enters Shelob's lair alone in the movie, whereas in the book he and Sam entered together. This was done to make the scene more horrific with Frodo being alone, and Sam's rescue at the last minute more dramatic. Also, in the movie we don't know that Sam has the ring until he gives it back to Frodo, whereas in the book the reader knows that Sam has the ring. Gollum's fall into the lava of Mount Doom was also rewritten for the film, as the writers felt Tolkien's original idea (Gollum simply slips and falls off) was anti-climactic. Originally, an even greater deviation was planned: Frodo would heroically push Gollum over the ledge to destroy him and the Ring, but the production team eventually realized that it looked more like Frodo murdering Gollum. As a result, they had Frodo and Gollum struggle for possession of the Ring and both slip over the edge by accident.

There are several changes in the Battle of the Black Gate: Merry is not present there in the book, Pippin does not kill a troll as he does in the novel, and Aragorn kills the Mouth of Sauron in the extended edition of the film but not in the book. There was an even larger change planned: Sauron himself would come out in physical form to battle Aragorn, who would only be saved by the destruction of the Ring. Jackson eventually realized it ignored the point of Aragorn's true bravery in distracting Sauron's army against overwhelming odds, and a computer generated Troll was placed over footage of Sauron in the finished film. The ending is streamlined so as not to include the Scouring of the Shire, which was always seen by the writers as anti-climactic. It is referenced, though, in Frodo's vision of the future in Galadriel's mirror in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Production

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is unusual in that it is, to date, the only one whose separate installments were written and then shot simultaneously (excluding pick up shoots). Jackson found The Return of the King the easiest of the films to make, because it contained the climax of the story, unlike the other two films. The Return of the King was originally the second of two planned films under Miramax from January 1997 to August 1998, and more or less in its finished structure as the first film was to end with The Two Towers' Battle of Helm's Deep. Filming took place under multiple units across New Zealand, between 11 October 1999 and 22 December 2000, with pick up shoots for six weeks in 2003 before the film's release.

Design

Middle-earth as envisioned by Jackson was primarily designed by Alan Lee and John Howe, former Tolkien illustrators, and created by Weta Workshop, who handled all the trilogy's weapons, armour, miniatures, prosthetics and creatures, as well as the Art Department which built the sets. Richard Taylor headed Weta, whilst Grant Major and Dan Hennah organized the planning and building respectively.

The city of Minas Tirith, glimpsed briefly in both the previous two films is seen fully in this film, and with it the Gondorian civilization. The enormous soundstage was built at Dry Creek Quarry, outside Wellingtonmarker, from the Helm's Deep set. That set's gate became Minas Tirith's second, whilst the Hornburg exterior became that of the Extended Edition's scene where Gandalf confronts the Witch-king. New structures included was the 8m tall Gate, with broken and unbroken versions, with a working opening and closing mechanism, with its engravings inspired by the Baptistry of San Giovanni. There were also four levels of streets with heraldic motifs for every house, as inspired by Sienamarker.

There was also the Citadel, the exterior of which was in the Stone Street Studios backlot, using forced perspective. It contains the withered White Tree, built from polystyrene by Brian Massey and the Greens Department with real branches, influenced by ancient and gnarled Lebanese olive trees. The interior was within a 3 story former factory in Wellington, and colour wise is influenced by Charlemagne's Chapel, with a throne for Denethor carved from stone and polystyrene statues of past Kings. The Gondorian armour is designed to represent an evolution from the Númenóreans of the first film's prologue, with a simplified sea bird motif. 16th century Italian and German armour served as inspiration, whilst civilians wear silver and blacks as designed by Ngila Dickson, continuing an ancient/medieval Mediterranean Basin look.

Minas Morgul, the Staircase and Tower of Cirith Ungol as well as Shelob's Lair were designed by Howe, with the Morgul road using forced perspective into a bluescreened miniature. Howe's design of Minas Morgul was inspired from the experience of having wisdom teeth pulled out: in the same way, the Orcs have put their twisted designs on to a former Gondorian city. Cirith Ungol was based on Tolkien's design, but when Richard Taylor felt it as "boring", it was redesigned with more tipping angles. The interior set, like Minas Tirith, was built as a few multiple levels that numerous camera takes would suggest a larger structure.

The third film introduces the enormous spider Shelob. Shelob was designed in 1999, with the body based on a tunnelweb spider and the head with numerous growths selected by Peter Jackson's children from one of many sculpts. Jackson himself took great joy in planning the sequence, being an arachnophobe himself. Shelob's Lair was inspired by sandstone and sculpted from the existing Caverns of Isengard set.

The Return of the King also brings into focus the Dead Men of Dunharrow and the evil Haradrim from the south of Middle-earth, men who ride the mûmakil. The Dead Men have a Celtic influence, as well as lines and symmetry to reflect their morbid state, whilst their underground city is influenced by Petramarker. The Haradrim were highly influenced by African culture, until Philippa Boyens expressed concern over the possibility of offensiveness, so the finished characters instead bear influence from Kiribatimarker, in terms of weaving armour from bamboo, and the Aztecs, in use of jewellery. Also built was a single dead mûmak. Other minor cultures include the Corsairs, with an exotic, swarthy look, and the Grey Havens, Elven structures adapted to stone, with influence from J. M. W. Turner paintings.

Principal photography

The Return of the King was shot during 2000, though Sean Astin's coverage from Gollum's attempt to separate Frodo and Sam was filmed on 24 November 1999, when floods in Queenstownmarker interrupted the focus on The Fellowship of the Ring. Some of the earliest scenes shot for the film were in fact the last. Hobbiton, home of the Hobbits, was shot in January 2000 with early scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring, with the exterior shot at a Matamatamarker farm, whilst interior scenes shot at Stone Street Studios in Wellingtonmarker, shared with the Grey Havens sequence. Due to the high emotions of filming the scene, the cast were in despair when they were required to shoot it three times, due to a costume continuity flaw in Sean Astin's costume, and then negatives producing out-of-focus reels. Also shared with the previous films was the Rivendell interior in May.

The Battle of the Black Gate was filmed in April at the Rangipo Desert, a former minefield . New Zealand soldiers were hired as extras whilst guides were on the look out for unexploded mines. Also a cause for concern were Monaghan and Boyd's scale doubles during a charge sequence. In the meantime, Wood, Astin and Serkis filmed at Mount Ruapehumarker for the Mount Doom exteriors. In particular, they spent two hours shooting Sam lifting Frodo on to his back with cross-camera coverage.

Scenes shot in June were the Paths of the Dead across various locations, including Pinnacles. In July the crew shot some Shelob scenes, and in August and September time was spent on the scenes in Isengard. Monaghan and Boyd tried numerous takes of their entrance, stressing the word "weed" as they smoked pipe-weed. Christopher Lee spent his part of his scene mostly alone, though McKellen and Hill arrived on the first day for a few lines to help.

Edoras exteriors were shot in October. The Ride of the Rohirrim, where Théoden leads the charge into the Orc army, was filmed in Twizelmarker with 150 extras on horseback. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields has more extensive use of computer-generated imagery, in contrast to the more extensive use of live action in the Battle of Helm's Deep in the second film. Also filmed were the attempts by Faramir to recapture Osgiliath, as were scenes in the city itself. At this point production was very hectic, with Jackson moving around ten units per day, and production finally wrapped on the Minas Tirith sets, as well as second units shooting parts of the siege. Just as the Hobbit actors' first scene was hiding under a Ringwraith, their last scene was the bluescreened reaction shot of the inhabitants of Minas Tirith bowing to them.

Pick-ups

The 2003 pick ups were filmed in the Wellingtonmarker studio car park, with many parts of sets and bluescreens used to finish off scenes, which the design team had to work 24/7 to get the right sets ready for a particular day. The shoot continued for two months, and became an emotional time of farewells for the cast and crew. The film has the most extensive list of reshoots given for the trilogy. Jackson took his time to reshoot Aragorn's coronation, rushed into a single day under second unit director Geoff Murphy on 21 December 2000. Jackson also reshot scenes in and around Mount Doom, and Théoden's death, right after Bernard Hill was meant to wrap.

There was also the new character of Gothmog. This was a major new design addition for the film, as Jackson felt the Mordor Orcs were pathetic compared to the Uruk-hai of the second film after watching assembly cuts, and thus Weta created grotesque new über Orcs, as antagonists for the audience to focus on. Christian Rivers also redesigned the Witch-king and all of his scenes were reshot, due to confusion from non-readers over whether or not Sauron was on the battlefield.

With the positive response to Orlando Bloom, Legolas was given a fight with a mûmak, and Howard Shore also got a cameo during Legolas and Gimli's drinking game at Edoras. The final scenes shot were Aragorn escaping the Skull avalanche, and Frodo finishing off his book. The cast also received various props associated with their characters, although in the case of John Rhys-Davies, he burnt his final Gimli prosthetic. Viggo Mortensen headbutted the stunt team goodbye. Pick-ups ended on 27 June 2003.

Scenes shot afterwards included various live-action shots of Riders for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and a reaction shot of Andy Serkis as Gollum finally realizing Frodo intends to destroy the Ring, shot in Jackson's house. For the Extended DVD, Jackson shot in March 2004 a few shots of skulls rolling over for the avalanche scene; this was the final piece of footage ever shot for the trilogy, and Jackson noted that it must be the first time a director had shot scenes for a film after it had already won the Oscar.

Editing

Post-production on The Return of the King began in November 2002, with the completion of the 4 1/2 hour assembly cut of the film that Annie Collins had been completing over 2001 and 2002, from 4 hour dailies. For example, Théoden leading the charge went from 150 minutes of takes to a finished 90 seconds. Jackson reunited with longtime collaborator Jamie Selkirk to edit the final film. Like The Two Towers, they would have to deal with multiple storylines, and Jackson paid attention to each storyline at a time before deciding where to intercut. Most importantly they spent three weeks working on the last 45 minutes of the film, for appropriate intercutting and leaving out scenes such as the Mouth of Sauron, and the fates of characters like Legolas, Gimli, Éowyn and Faramir.The film inherited scenes originally planned to go into the second film, including the reforging of Narsil, Gollum's backstory, and Saruman's exit. But the Saruman scene posed a structural problem: killing off the second film's villain when the plot has Sauron as the main villain. Despite pick-ups and dubs, the scene was cut, causing controversy with fans and Saruman actor Christopher Lee, as well as a petition to restore the scene. Lee nonetheless contributed to the DVDs and was at the Copenhagenmarker premiere, although on the other hand he says he will never understand the reason for the cut and his relationship with Jackson is chilly.Jackson only had a lock on 5 out of 10 reels, and had to churn out 3 reels in 3 weeks to help finish the film. It was finally done on 12 November. Jackson never had a chance to view the film in full due to the hectic schedule, and only saw the film from beginning to end at the 1 December Wellingtonmarker premiere; according to Elijah Wood, his response was "yup, it's good, pretty good".

Visual effects

The Return of the King contains 1,488 visual effect shots, nearly 3 times the number of the first film, and almost 2 times the number of the second film. Visual effects work began with Alan Lee and Mark Lewis compositing various photographs of New Zealand landscape to create the digital arena of the Pelennor Fields in November 2002. Gary Horsfield also created a digital version of the Barad-dûr during his Christmas break at home by himself, for the film's climax. In the meantime, Jackson and Christian Rivers used computers to plan the enormous battle up until February 2003, when the shots were shown to Weta Digital. To their astonishment, 60 planned shots had gone up to 250, and 50,000 characters were now 200,000. Nevertheless they pressed on, soon delivering 100 shots a week, 20 a day, as the deadline neared within the last two months, often working until 2 a.m.

For the battle, they recorded 450 motions for the MASSIVE digital horses (though deaths were animated), and also had to deal with late additions in the film, such as Trolls bursting through Minas Tirith's gates as well as the creatures that pull Grond to the gate, and redoing a shot of two mûmakil Éomer takes down that had originally taken six months in two days. On a similar note of digital creatures, Shelob's head sculpture was scanned by a Canadian company for 10 times more detail than Weta had previously been able to capture.

Like the previous films, there are also extensive morphs between digital doubles for the actors. This time, there was Sam falling off Shelob, where the morph takes place as Astin hits the ground. Legolas attacking a mûmak required numerous transitions to and fro, and Gollum's shots of him having recovered the One Ring and falling into the Crack of Doom were fully animated. The King of the Dead is played by an actor in prosthetics, and his head occasionally morphs to a more skull-like digital version, depending on the character's mood. The Mouth of Sauron also had his mouth enlarged 200% for unsettling effect.

The Return of the King also has practical effects. In the Pyre of Denethor sequence, as the Steward of Gondor throws Pippin out of the Tomb, John Noble threw a dwarf named Fon onto a lying Billy Boyd, who immediately pushed his head into camera to complete the illusion. A few burning torches were also reflected off a plate of glass and into the camera for when Gandalf's horse Shadowfax kicks Denethor onto the pyre. Because of Jackson's requirement for complete representation of his fantasy world, numerous miniatures were built, such as 1:72 scale miniature of Minas Tirith, which rises 7m high and is 6.5m in diameter. 1:14 scale sections of the city were also required, and the Extended Edition scene of the collapsing City of the Dead has 80,000 small skulls, amounting in total to a single cubic meter. The miniatures team concluded in November with the Black Gate, after 1000 days of shooting, and the final digital effects shot done was the Ring's unmaking, on November 25.

Soundtrack

The music was composed by Howard Shore, who previously composed the first two parts of the trilogy. Shore watched the assembly cut of the film, and had to write seven minutes of music per day to keep up with the schedule. The score sees the full introduction of the Gondor theme, originally heard during Boromir's speeches at the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring and at Osgiliath in The Two Towers Extended Edition. Actors Billy Boyd, Viggo Mortensen and Liv Tyler also contributed to the film's music. Boyd sings on screen as Faramir charges towards Osgiliath, Mortensen sings on screen as he is crowned King, and in the Extended Edition Tyler sings as Aragorn heals Éowyn.

Renée Fleming, Ben Del Maestro and Sir James Galway also contribute to the soundtrack. Fleming sings as Arwen has a vision of her son and when Gollum recovers the One Ring. Del Maestro sings when Gandalf lights his staff to save fleeing Gondorian soldiers from Osgiliath as the Nazgûl attack. Galway plays the flute as Frodo and Sam climb Mount Doom. The end title song, "Into the West", was composed by Shore with lyrics by Fran Walsh. Annie Lennox (formerly of Eurythmics) performed it and also received songwriting credit. The song was partially inspired by the premature death from cancer of a young New Zealand filmmaker named Cameron Duncan who had befriended Peter Jackson.

The Sound department spent the early part of the year searching for the right sounds. A tasmanian devil was Shelob's shriek, which in turn gave inspiration for Weta's animators, whilst the mûmakil is the beginning and end of a lion roar. Human screams and a donkey screech were mixed into Sauron's fall, and to avoid comparison with 9/11, broken glass was used for the collapsing sounds. For missile trading during Minas Tirith's siege, construction workers dropped actual 2 ton stone blocks previously lifted by a construction crane. Mixing began at a new studio on 15 August, although unfinished building work caused some annoyances. The mixers finished on 15 November, after three months of non-stop work.

Release

After two years of attention and acclaim since the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, audience anticipation for the final instalment of the trilogy had reached fever pitch when the movie was complete. The world premiere was held in Wellingtonmarker's Embassy Theatremarker, on 1 December 2003, and was attended by the director and many of the stars. It was estimated that over 100,000 people lined the streets, more than a quarter of the city's population.

Critical reception

The film received nearly universal acclaim from most critics. The film has a 94% rating of positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Richard Corliss of Time named it as the best film of the year. The main criticism of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, was its running time, particularly the epilogue. Even rave reviews for the film commented on its length. Joel Siegel of Good Morning America said in his review for the movie (which he gave an 'A'): "If it didn't take forty-five minutes to end, it'd be my best picture of the year. As it is, it's just one of the great achievements in film history." There was also criticism regarding the Army of the Dead's appearance, rapidly ending the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

In February 2004, a few months after release, the film was voted as #8 on Empire's 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, compiled from readers' top 10 lists. This forced the magazine to abandon its policy of films being older than 12 months to be eligible. In 2007, Total Film named The Return of the King the third best film of the past decade (Total Film's publication time), behind The Matrix and Fight Club.

Box office

The film's first day saw a U.S. box office total of $34.5 million — an all-time single-day record for a motion picture released on a Wednesday, until Spider-Man 2 grossed $40.4 million. The film opened a day earlier for a midnight showing and it accounted for about $8 million. Whereas The Return of the King opened around Christmas time, Spider-Man 2 opened in the middle of summer. This was nearly twice the first-day total of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (which earned $18.2 million on its opening day in 2001), and a significant increase over The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as well (which earned $26.1 million on its debut in 2002). Part of the grosses came from the Trilogy Tuesday event, in which the Extended Editions of the first two films were played on December 16 before the first midnight screening.

The final North American box office stands at $377 million and the worldwide take is $1.1 billion (about $742 million overseas). It was the second film in history to earn over $1 billion in box office revenue in its initial release (the first being Titanic in 1997 and after The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and The Dark Knight also achieved this feat). This compares favourably to the first two films of the trilogy: in their first 35 weeks of theatrical release in North America, the gross domestic income of the first two movies was $313,364,114 and $339,789,881 (total gross income for the other two movies are $870,761,744 and $925,282,504, respectively). The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, has helped The Lord of the Rings franchise go on to become the highest grossing motion picture trilogy worldwide of all time, beating other notables such as the Star Wars trilogies.

These figures do not include income from DVD sales, TV rights, etc. It has been estimated that the gross income from non-box office sales and merchandise has been at least equal to the box office for all three films. If this is so, the total gross income for the trilogy would be in the region of $6 billion, a very respectable return for a $300 million ($426 million including marketing costs) investment.

Compared to the profits of other films, The Return of the King is probably one of the most lucrative movie investments of all time. Including marketing costs, it made a 1408% profit over the original outlay from New Line Studios. Comparatively, John Carpenter's Halloween made $55 million worldwide from a $325,000 budget, giving it above a 16,000% profit. The Blair Witch Project (including marketing costs of $25 million) made a profit of 992% (though without it would be over two million percent) and Titanic, the highest grossing film of all time, made a profit of 768% over production and marketing costs.

Awards and nominations

On 27 January 2004, the film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Song, Visual Effects, Art Direction, Costuming, Make-up, Sound Mixing and Film Editing. On 29 February, the film won all the categories for which it was nominated. It tied with Ben-Hur and Titanic for the most Oscars ever won by a single film, and broke the previous record for a sweep set by Gigi and The Last Emperor at 9.

However, none of the ensemble cast received any acting nominations, making the movie the first Best Picture winner since 1995's Braveheart to have not received any, though 2008's Slumdog Millionaire would later go on to achieve the same feat. The film was the first in the fantasy film genre to win the Best Picture award. It was also only the second time a sequel had won the Best Picture category; the first being The Godfather, Part II.

The film also won four Golden Globes (including Best Picture for Drama and Best Director), five BAFTAs, two MTV Movie Awards, two Grammy Awards, nine Saturn Awards, the New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Picture, the Nebula Award for Best Script, and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. It is the most honoured fantasy film in history.

Home media

The theatrical edition of the movie was released on DVD on 25 May 2004. The DVD was a 2-disc set with extras on the second disc. The theatrical DVD sets for the two previous films were released eight months after the films were released, but Return of the King's set was completed in five because it did not have to market a sequel (the previous films had to wait for footage of their sequels to become available for a ten minute preview). However, it contained a 7 minute trailer of the entire trilogy.

The Return of the King followed the precedent set by its predecessors by releasing an Extended Edition (252 minutes) with new editing, and added special effects and music, along with four commentaries and six hours of supplementary material. However, this set took longer to produce than the others because the cast and crew were spread all over the world working on other projects. The set was finally released on 10 December 2004 in the UK and 14 December in the U.S.. The final ten minutes comprises a listing of the charter members of the official fan club who had paid for three-year charter membership. A collectors' box set was also released, which included the Extended Set plus a sculpture of Minas Tirith and a bonus 50-minute music documentary DVD, Howard Shore: Creating The Lord of the Rings Symphony: A Composer's Journey Through Middle-earth. The DVD has a DTS-ES soundtrack. The DVD also features two humorous Easter Eggs, one where Dominic Monaghan plays a German interviewer with Elijah Wood over a phone, and another where Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller attempt to convince Jackson to make a sequel, originally shown at the 2004 MTV Movie Awards. Both can be accessed via a Ring icon on the last page of both Disc 1 and 2's scene indexes.

On 29 August 2006, a Limited Edition of The Return of the King was released. This Limited Edition contains two discs. The first is a two-sided DVD (also known as DVD-18) that contains both the Theatrical and Extended editions of the film. At the beginning of each side of the disc, the viewer can choose which version to watch. The second disc is a bonus disc that contains a new behind-the-scenes documentary.

In May 2008, Jackson stated that he was working with Warner Bros. on releasing the trilogy in high-definition Blu-ray format, although no release date has been confirmed. On April 16, 2009, Warner Bros. announced that it would be releasing the theatrical versions of the trilogy on Blu-ray in a boxed set later in 2009. Jackson also said that the Extended Editions were in development for Blu-ray and would be released in conjunction with the theatrical release of The Hobbit in 2011. In July 2009, Jackson announced in an interview that the Extended Editions will be released sometime in 2010 on Blu-ray with possibly new special features to be made.

References

External links




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