The Return of the Return of the King
This extended version is more like the one for The Fellowship of the Ring than it is for The Two Towers; it is essentially an embellished version of the same movie. The additional footage rounds out characters and fills in blanks, like it did in FOTR. But where the extended TTT was a very different experience from the theatrical release, to the point where it had been considerably restructured by the additions, The Return of the King is still the same movie. Like TTT, however, the extensions improve the pace of the film, so even though it is considerably longer, it feels much brisker than the theatrical release.
Like TTT, the extended footage satisfied what few reservations I had about the film in terms of its source material. Because of the fact that the film had to concentrate on Frodo and Sam in the first place, they have the least amount of new material (although what is there is great stuff). There is a much smoother transition from the self-doubting Aragorn of TTT to the determined leader he becomes in ROTK. Merry is given a bit more to do, allowing him to take more of a center stage, and Gandalf and Pippin's misadventures in Minas Tirith have much more weight.
Many of the extensions are little things, such as an extended Nazgul attack on the fleeing Osgiliath garrison before Gandalf arrives, a brief look to acknowledge that somebody an extra line here or there that clarifies a point. There are also the big ones, including the confrontation with Saruman, Gandalf's battle with the Witch-King (which I was somewhat disappointed with, although what happens there makes total sense), Frodo and Sam getting caught in an Orc army in Mordor and Aragorn using the Palantir to reveal to Sauron that he is Elessar (this was mondo-cool). All of them add immeasurably to the total effect.
The best aspect of the extended footage round out both Eowyn and Faramir, although their relationship with each other, while acknowledged, gets kind of sidelined by the end. It is no secret to anybody that know me that Eowyn and Theoden are among my favorite characters, and I loved how the filmmakers treated their relationship. Eowyn gets some more screentime that allows her to better explain herself and her motives. Faramir is shown dealing with Pippin and there is more of him and Denethor, which puts what we have seen in the theatrical release into sharper focus.
The emotional core of the film is intensified by the additions by making it clearer how much of everything is at stake. These films are the best of what the epic format can offer; awe-inspiring visuals and feats combined with a human drama that is both intimate and larger-than-life.
The trilogy is now complete. And it is amazing.
The availablility of all three films in extended format also has made me more inclined to watch them as a process. As I've indicated earlier in context of just FOTR and TTT, a habit I've found myself getting into was making a "mini-series" of the films. Since each film is in two parts, one can watch the entire trilogy now in six evenings. I have always found the platter breaks to be excellent (and, as a laserdisc enthusiast from back in the day, I know all about side breaks!), and thus leaves me satisfied.
There will be soon a screening of the complete eleven-hour work at some point in the future. Raz will probably be down, and I know suitboyskin is. I wouldn't necessarily expect that kind of patience from people whose addiction to these films isn't quite as strong (waystone would be down, but I don't see her getting out New York ways any time soon).
As for the music... well...
I can't wait for this CD box set - the only thing better than that package would be if they released it as hybrid SACDs or DVD-Audio... I love the 5.1/6.1 mixes of the score as heard in the films.