The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the third film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Directed by Peter Jackson and based on J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Globally, the film is one of the highest grossing films in cinema history. The film won 11 Academy Awards at the 2004 Oscar ceremony including Best Picture, sharing the world record for most academy awards received with Ben-Hur and Titanic, and also was the first fantasy film to win Best Picture.
The first two films were The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, although the film's story includes later events in the section of the book The Two Towers as well as most of The Return of the King. Like the two previous films, The Return of the King, was a major box office success, grossing over $1.119 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing Middle-Earth film out of all six. The film is the third Middle-Earth film adaptation to be released and the sixth and final film chronologically.
Andy Serkis appears as Sméagol before his degradation into Gollum. This scene was actually held over from the previous film because it was felt that it would have a greater emotional impact if audiences had already seen what the Ring's influence had done to Sméagol. In his degraded state Gollum is played in the movies by a CGI character whose movements are derived from a motion-capture suit worn by Serkis, and sometimes from footage of Serkis interacting with the other actors and then digitally replaced by Gollum.
The city of Minas Tirith, glimpsed briefly in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, is seen in all its glory. The filmmakers have taken great care to base the city closely upon Tolkien's description in the book. Close-ups of the city are represented by sets and long shots by a large and highly-detailed model, often populated by CGI characters.
The film contains key scenes that occurred in the middle portion of the novel The Lord of the Rings but were not included in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. These include the scene where the monstrous Shelob attacks Frodo and is wounded by Sam, who comes to his aid.
Other key events include the Siege of Gondor; the re-forging of the shards of Narsil into Aragorn's new sword Andúril; Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas journey through the Paths of the Dead; the epic Battle of the Pelennor Fields, the charge of the Mûmakil; Merry and Éowyn's role in the defeat of the Lord of the Nazgûl; the destruction of the One Ring; the final fall of Sauron; Aragorn's assumption of the throne and the departure of several heroes to the Undying Lands.
The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy is highly unusual, being the only movie series whose separate installments were written simultaneously and shot all at once, so that it could be considered three parts of a single very long film. This ensured that all three movies were consistent in terms of story, acting, effects and direction.
Gandalf leads Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and King Théoden to Isengard where they reunite with Merry and Pippin. With Saruman defeated, Gandalf retrieves Saruman's palantír. Overcome by curiosity, Pippin steals a glance into the seeing-stone, and suffers a mental attack from Sauron himself. Gandalf deduces that Sauron will attack Gondor's capital Minas Tirith, so he rides there to warn them, taking Pippin with him because Sauron thinks Pippin is the ring bearer.
Meanwhile, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee are led by Gollum to Minas Morgul where they witness the Witch-king of Angmar leading an Orc army to drive Denethor's younger son Faramir and his men from Osgiliath. At Gollum's urging, the three begin climbing a precarious stair carved in the cliff face that will take them into Mordor via a 'secret way'. But having overheard Gollum's plot to regain the Ring, Sam keeps a suspicious eye on him. In Gondor, Pippin follows Gandalf's instructions and secretly lights the beacon to signal Théoden to assemble the Rohirrim and come to Gondor's aid.
While helping Théoden gather his forces, Aragorn is approached by Elrond who says Arwen is dying. After seeing a vision of her son she refused to leave Middle Earth. Elrond then gives Aragorn the sword Andúril, Isildur's sword Narsil reforged, so he can reclaim his birthright while gaining reinforcements from the Dead Men of Dunharrow. Joined by Legolas and Gimli, Aragorn travels to the Paths of the Dead, recruiting the Army of the Dead with the promise to release them from their curse once they fulfil their oath to Isildur.
Faramir is gravely wounded after a futile effort to retake Osgiliath, and believing his son to be dead, Denethor falls into madness. Gandalf is left to command the city defences against the Orc army led by Gothmog. But as Gothmog's forces eventually force their way into the city, Denethor tries to kill himself and Faramir on a pyre. Pippin alerts Gandalf and they save Faramir, but Denethor leaps to his death from the top of Minas Tirith just before Théoden and the Rohirrim arrive. Initially the Rohirrim have the advantage at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, but are eventually overwhelmed by the Oliphaunt-riding Haradrim while the Witch-king mortally wounds Théoden. Though Théoden's niece Éowyn, having posed as a male soldier, battles and slays the Witch-King with Merry's help, Théoden dies of his wounds. Aragorn arrives with the Army of the Dead, they overcome the Orcs and win the battle. The Dead are released from their curse, and the wounded are tended to. Aragorn and the other captains of Men decide to lead all who can march upon the Black Gate as a distraction, so Frodo and Sam can get to Mount Doom.
Meanwhile, Gollum manipulates Frodo into leaving Sam behind before they arrive at the tunnel leading to Mordor, and then tricks him into lair of the giant spider Shelob, who paralyses and binds Frodo. Sam arrives and drives Shelob away, but believing his friend to be dead takes Frodo's sword Sting and The One Ring for safekeeping. When he sees Frodo's body being taken by Orcs to Cirith Ungol he realises that Frodo is still alive, and gives chase. Sam rescues Frodo from the Orcs, and returns the Ring to him.
Aragorn's army draw out Sauron's forces and empty Mordor, allowing the exhausted Hobbits to stagger to the volcano, but they're attacked by Gollum when they reach Mount Doom. Frodo finally succumbs to the Ring's power and claims it as his own, and refuses to destroy it. Gollum attacks Frodo and bites his finger off to reclaim the Ring, but Frodo fights back and knocks Gollum, who is holding the Ring, into the volcano. While Frodo holds onto the ledge for dear life, Sam manages to save him and both escape the volcano at the last second. The Ring and Sauron are both destroyed, causing a chain-reaction that consumes the mountain, topples Barad-dûr, and kills most of the fleeing Orcs as the ground crumbles beneath them. Gandalf flies in with eagles to rescue the Hobbits, who awaken later in Minas Tirith and are reunited with the surviving Fellowship members.
Aragorn is crowned King of Gondor and takes Arwen as his queen. They, and all others present at his coronation, bow before Frodo and the Hobbits. The Hobbits then return to the Shire where Sam marries Rosie Cotton. Frodo, while happy for his friends, is unable to cope with the traumas of his journey, and departs Middle Earth for the Grey Havens with his uncle Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Elves. He leaves Sam the Red Book of Westmarch which details their adventures. Though saddened by Frodo's departure, Sam is gladdened by the warm welcome he receives upon returning home.
|Gandalf||Sir Ian McKellen|
|Gimli/Treebeard (voice)||John Rhys-Davies|
|Saruman(Extended Edition only)||Christopher Lee|
|Grima Wormtongue(Extended Edition only)||Brad Dourif|
|Bilbo Baggins||Ian Holm|
|Witch-King of Angmar/Gothmog||Lawrence Makoare|
|King of the Dead||Paul Norell|
|Mouth of Sauron(Extended Edition only)||Bruce Spence|
- Academy Award for Best Picture
- Best Director
- Best Original Score (Howard Shore)
- Best Adapted Screenplay
- Best Art Direction
- Best Costume Design
- Best Film Editing
- Best Make-up
- Best Music (song)
- Best Sound Mixing
- Best Visual Effects
However, none of the ensemble cast received any acting nominations. On February 29, the film won all eleven Academy Awards, winning in every category 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.
The film was the first of the fantasy genre to win the Best Picture award. The film's win was also only the second time a sequel had won the Best Picture category (the first being The Godfather Part II).
In the opinion of some critics, however, this accolade was not just for the merits of the individual film, but more a reward for the trilogy as a whole, given that the first two films had not won the major awards of Best Picture or Best Director.
As with the previous movies, several scenes were removed from the theatrical version of The Return of the King, only to be present in the extended edition:
- The scene of Sméagol strangling Déagol is extended.
- Merry and Pippin's conversation at Isengard (prior to the arrival of the others) is extended.
- The heroes' final confrontation with Saruman, leading to the fallen wizard rejecting Gandalf's offer of redemption and having his staff broken. Wormtongue appears more receptive to Theoden's offer to return as a man of Rohan, but when Saruman mocks his servant and slaps him to the floor, Wormtongue stabs him in the back with a knife. Legolas shoots Wormtongue dead as Saruman falls off of Orthanc and onto a spiked wheel, with the palantir falling out of his sleeve and into the water.
- To compensate for the removal of this scene, the theatrical version includes a short dialogue between Treebeard and Gandalf which indicates that Saruman is imprisoned inside Orthanc. Wormtongue is neither seen nor mentioned, but it is presumed that both he and Saruman remain trapped in their tower under the watchful eyes of the Ents.
- In Edoras, Éowyn gives Theoden the cup of kings before he toasts "the victorious dead".
- Legolas and Gimli's drinking game (which Legolas wins handily).
- Pippin stares at Gandalf for a few seconds during his dance with Merry, foreshadowing his later use of the palantir.
- During the night, Aragorn comes upon Éowyn in Edoras' main hall. She tells him about a dream she had (of a great shadow moving over a green countryside) before Aragorn continues on to the balcony to meet with Legolas.
- Merry tells Aragorn about his past life with Pippin as Shadowfax rides to Gondor.
- Gandalf and Pippin's first meeting with Denethor is expanded; the Steward of Gondor commands Pippin to tell him how Merry and Pippin survived when Boromir did not, and Pippin tells him that Boromir died protecting him and Merry. After Pippin relates Boromir's last stand, the scene continues as in the theatrical version, with Pippin offering his service to Denethor.
- After meeting with Denethor, Gandalf and Pippin go to the edge of Minas Tirith, where Gandalf tells Pippin that the weather above Mount Doom is not the weather of the world.
- Frodo, Sam, and Gollum arrive at the Crossroads of the Fallen King, where they see a statue that was defaced by Orcs. Sam notices the original head of the statue lying nearby, with flowers growing around its forehead - when the sun disappears behind a cloud, the flowers vanish and the trio carries onward.
- As they begin climbing the stairs of Cirith Ungol, Sam warns Gollum that he will kill him if he tries any tricks.
- The beginning of the orcs' final push at Osgiliath is extended, showing Faramir's group trying to predict where the next attack will come, ultimately having one of Faramir's soldiers killed by an orc archer.
- As the Rohirrim prepare to leave for Dunharrow, Merry enters Theoden's service as a soldier of Rohan.
- After Faramir's conversation with Gandalf, Denethor berates his son for not bringing the One Ring to Minas Tirith when he had the perfect opportunity to do so.
- Faramir notices Pippin wearing his old clothes and talks about his relationship with Boromir and Denethor.
- Éomer tells Éowyn that Merry would flee the second he sees battle.
- Aragorn's conversation with Éowyn during the mustering of the Rohirrim is extended.
- At Dunharrow, Legolas shows Aragorn and Gimli where the Paths of the Dead are.
- As Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli travel the Paths of the Dead, they discover a large pile of skulls, setting up a later scene.
- After Aragorn demands the Army of the Dead's allegiance, the ghosts disappear, having seemingly refused his offer. The cavern begins to collapse, causing an avalanche of skulls that Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli narrowly escape. Emerging from the Paths of the Dead, the three heroes see the Corsair ships advancing through the burning remains of Gondor's southern colonies. As Aragorn falls to his knees in despair, the King of the Dead reappears and tells him that the Army of the Dead will fight for him.
- During the siege of Minas Tirith, Gothmog stops another orc from moving forward.
- The orcs attempt to use a regular battering ram on the gates of Minas Tirith, but the ram proves too small and the gate too strong and well-defended. Seeing this, Gothmog tells Murgash that Grond will break through and orders his army to "bring up the wolf's head", leading to the theatrical version's scene where Grond approaches the gate.
- Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli encounter the Corsair ships, and Legolas kills their captain (after being "accidentally" bumped by Gimli). When the remaining pirates refuse to surrender, Aragorn summons the Army of the Dead to attack them.
- Merry and Éowyn discuss the former's courage as the Rohirrim ride towards Minas Tirith.
- Pippin briefly watches the carnage raging at the base of Minas Tirith before he notices Denethor and the guards on their way to the Tomb of Kings.
- Gandalf and Pippin encounter the Witch-King on their way to save Faramir. Setting his sword aflame, the Witch-King breaks Gandalf's staff while his fell beast keeps Pippin paralyzed with fear, but the horns of Rohan distract him from killing either the wizard or the hobbit.
- In the theatrical version, the horn that stops the Witch-King from killing Gandalf was heard, but in a different context. In the theatrical version, Gandalf is looking at something - presumably the battle or Pippin, as in the extended edition - when the horn sounds, and the shot of the Witch-King taking flight to see the incoming threat is removed. Gandalf is still seen with his staff when Pippin finds him, and since the encounter with the Witch-king does not occur, the absence of Gandalf's staff is a mystery in the theatrical cut. It does explain though why Gandalf is seen holding it again at the Grey Havens, as it hasn't been destroyed.
- Denethor explains to Gandalf why he is burning himself before he drops the torch onto his pyre.
- Theoden sees Éowyn fighting orcs during the Battle of Pelennor Fields
- After narrowly dodging the falling mumakil that separated him from Éowyn, Merry is shown fighting some Haradrim soldiers
- In the theatrical version, the first part of this scene is shown just before the Witch-King picked Éowyn up by her neck, setting up Merry's surprise attack against the Lord of the Nazgul. In the extended edition, Merry's scene is shown before Gandalf talks to Pippin about a "far green country"
- After being dismounted and separated from Merry, Éowyn kills an orc and then fights Gothmog. Ultimately, she punches him in the face and wounds his leg, giving him a limp.
- After the death of the Witch-King, Gothmog pursues a wounded Éowyn in an attempt to kill her, but is himself killed by Gimli and Aragorn as they arrive with Legolas and the Army of the Dead.
- The night after the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Pippin finds Merry's leaf brooch on the battlefield shortly before finding Merry himself underneath a dead orc. In the theatrical version, Pippin sees Merry himself, and the scene is not altered to appear as nighttime, implying that Pippin found Merry shortly after the battle.
- After the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Éomer finds a wounded and unconcious Éowyn and thinks she is dead; Aragorn then heals her at the Houses of Healing, where she meets Faramir and discusses the state of the world, with Faramir expressing his view that the darkness of Sauron will not endure.
- The scene of the orcs fighting each other at Cirith Ungol is extended.
- During the Last Debate, Gimli's final comment comes before Gandalf says that Sauron will not take the bait, to which Aragorn replies that he thinks Sauron will.
- After the last Debate, Aragorn finds the palantír of Minas Tirith and uses it to confront Sauron.
- While walking through Mordor in orc armor, Frodo and Sam are forced to join a contingent of orcs marching to the Black Gate, only to escape after triggering a brawl.
- On their way to Mount Doom, Frodo and Sam remove their orc disguises and stop for a short rest. Sam sees a star in the sky, but Frodo is too exhausted to notice.
- When Aragorn challenges Sauron at the Morannon, the Black Gate opens slightly, allowing the Mouth of Sauron to emerge. After taunting the assembled Free Peoples with the claim that Frodo was dead, he is decapitated by Aragorn, after which Sauron's army emerges as in the theatrical version.
- During Gollum's battle with the Hobbits on the slopes of Mount Doom, Frodo reminds him that "Smeagol" promised to serve him. Gollum retorts that "Smeagol lied", although it is unclear if "Smeagol" had been lying the entire time or if the "Gollum" personality is simply mocking Frodo.
- Saruman and Wormtongue are presented as part of the main cast, and then afterwards they are both casted in the entire cast
- Unique fan club credits are present at the end of the movie.
Stock footage from The Fellowship of the Ring include:
- Déagol's hand taking the ring at the bottom of the river (interestingly, one who watched FOTR before watching ROTK would think that was Gollum's hand)
- Isildur slicing Sauron's finger.
- Boromir getting shot by arrows.
- On Weathertop, the Witch-King prepares his sword then Frodo screams. The actual stabbing scene is absent.
Stock footage from The Two Towers include:
- Elrond says to Arwen: "There is nothing for you here, only death".
Stock footage from earlier on in the film include:
- Sméagol strangling Déagol
The creator of the dP wiki was an extra in this movie.
Deviations from the Book
According to British newspaper reports appearing on November 13, 2003, Christopher Lee was unhappy to learn that a seven-minute scene featuring a confrontation at Isengard in which Gandalf casts Saruman out of the order of Wizards, would not be appearing in the finished film, and he decided to boycott the premiere as a result. Peter Jackson confirmed that this scene, although not in the theatrical release, would be included in the extended VHS and DVD editions. These were released on December 10 2004 in the UK and December 14 in the U.S., with an expanded length of 250 minutes (4 hours, 10 minutes) (slightly shorter in PAL versions). The final ten minutes of the extended DVD comprises a listing of the names of the charter members of the official fan club.
Christopher Lee apparently reconciled his differences with Peter Jackson because he appears on the behind-the-scenes documentaries and Cast Commentary on the extended DVDs.
The release of the theatrical edition had originally been scheduled for worldwide release in late August but actually appeared on May 25. The early release of the standard edition had led some fans to hope that the extended edition might be released as early as August, but the release was actually put back from mid-November, presumably because of the amount of work involved in preparing the extra footage and bonus material.
Other rumours suggested that the extended DVD might be a five or six-disc set, with the movie occupying three discs rather than two, and that the extended cut might be as long as six hours. In January 2004, Peter Jackson indicated that the then recently completed extended edition is actually four hours and ten minutes long. He mentioned the inclusion of the "Mouth of Sauron" scene, as well as Frodo and Sam running with the Mordor orcs. He also stated that not all of the unused footage shot for the movie would necessarily appear in the extended cut. (In the Director and Writers' Commentary on the extended DVD edition he jokes about including some scenes in a 25th Anniversary edition, provided he is not too senile to remember by then.)
The extended DVD is actually a 4-disc set like its predecessors, with the movie and commentaries occupying Discs 1 and 2 and the behind-the-scenes material on discs 3 and 4. A Collectors' Box Set was also released, which also included 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.
Fans also hoped that the extended discs would feature deleted scenes and outtakes, but none are included except for a few in the behind-the-scenes documentaries. There are further rumours of an even more spectacular Lord of the Rings Trilogy box set in the future, and Jackson has half-seriously mentioned the possibility of re-editing the trilogy into a TV miniseries, along the lines of the Godfather movies.
A sequence that did not make it from the book into the film at all despite the hopes of many fans, was the "Scouring of the Shire", in which the Hobbits return home at the end of their quest to find they have some fighting to do, owing to Saruman's takeover of the Shire. Jackson felt that it would tax the audience's patience to mount another battle scene after the critical conflict, the defeat of Sauron, had already been resolved.
In the book, the fall of Saruman takes place at the end of the scouring, but in the film's theatrical release Saruman is left trapped in the tower of Orthanc by the Ents. In the extended edition Saruman appears on the roof of Orthanc bearing a Palantír and taunts Gandalf and his company with hints of a darkness in the heart of Middle-earth which will destroy them. (This is apparently a reference to Denethor's madness.) Saruman is shown to be far more hostile in this encounter. In the book, Gandalf destroyed Saruman's staff as a sign of casting him from the order of the wizards, but in the film, this is provoked by a fight. Saruman shoots a fireball at Gandalf, to no effect, and Gandalf commands Saruman's staff to shatter, defeating him. When Wormtongue appears, Theoden tries to encourage him to abandon Saruman. Wormtongue seems to consider this, but Saruman assaults him. Saruman is finally stabbed by Gríma Wormtongue (which in the book occurs at the end of the Scouring of the Shire) and Gríma is shot by Legolas (in the book he is shot by three Hobbits). Saruman falls from the tower and is impaled on a wooden stake projecting from a mill-wheel. (This is an homage to Lee's Dracula movies; Peter Jackson wanted to be the last director to drive a stake through his heart.) The Palantír then falls into the water where it is found by Pippin. In the theatrical version, the Palantír falls out of Saruman's voluminous sleeve into the water as the mill-wheel turns. In the book, Gríma throws the Palantír at the company, not realising its value.
Fans hoped that several other key scenes from the book would be included in the extended cut, although inevitably not all of them were.
Several changes can be found in the scenes encompassing the Siege of Minas Tirith. In the film Denethor loses his mind and tells everyone to run for their lives, and Gandalf knocks him unconscious and rallies the defense of Minas Tirith. This did not happen in the book.
The Witch-King never broke Gandalf's staff in the book, and there was never any indication that Gandalf feared him in the least.
The pyre scene in the book involved Gandalf's rescuing Faramir, and Denethor's revealing the Palantir before burning himself. The film gives a more violent depiction, in which Gandalf physically assaults Denethor so that Pippin can pull Faramir off the pyre. Denethor tries to stop him, but Gandalf has Shadowfax kick Denethor into the flames. Before he dies, Denethor actually sees Faramir regain consciousness. Denethor is somehow able to run all the way to the peak of Minas Tirith and jump to his death. Denethor never reveals the Palantir itself, although he makes a clear reference to it with the line "... the eyes of the White Tower..." in an earlier scene.
The Army of the Dead have an expanded role, including their leader the King of the Dead. The Dead not only defeat the Corsairs of Umbar, but follow Aragorn all the way to Minas Tirith and abruptly end the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The extended edition shows the Dead destroying their city, presumably because they have no further need of it.
The Mouth of Sauron is decapitated by Aragorn, which is ironic given that the Mouth claimed to the right not to be assailed in the book, as he was an emissary. Gandalf also assured him of no harm.
Gollum does not topple over the edge of the precipice in Mount Doom. Instead, Frodo attacks him in an attempt to regain the One Ring, which results in both of them falling over the edge, with Gollum and the Ring dissolving in the lava and Frodo being saved by Sam.
The Scouring of the Shire is removed altogether, although elements of it are preserved in the death of Saruman at Isengard.
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 admitted The Return of the King was 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 October 11, 1999 and December 22, 2000, with pick up shoots for six weeks in 2003 before the film's release.
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 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, is seen fully in this film, and with it the Gondorian civilization. The enormous soundstage was built at Dry Creek Quarry, outside Wellington, 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 Bapistry of San Giovanni. There were also four levels of streets with heraldic motifs for every house, as inspired by Siena.
There was also the Citadel, the exterior of which was in the Stone Street Studios backlot, utilizing 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, 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.
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 tunnel web 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 lines and symmetry to reflect their morbid state. 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 Kiribati, in terms of weaving armour from bamboo, and the Aztecs, in use of jewellery. Also built was a single dead Mumak. 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.
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 November 24, 1999, when floods in Queenstown 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 Matamata farm, whilst interior scenes shot at Stone Street Studios in Wellington, 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 lookout 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 Ruapehu 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 Twizel with 150 extras on horseback. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields has more extensive use of CGI, 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.
The 2003 pickups were filmed in the Wellington 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 December 21, 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 mûmakil, 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 head-butted the stunt team goodbye. Pick-ups ended on June 27, 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 a few shots of skulls rolling over for the avalanche scene in March 2004, the final piece of footage ever shot for the trilogy.
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 back-story, and Saruman's exit. But the Saruman scene posed a structural problem: killing off the second film's villain when the plot was 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 Copenhagen 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 November 12. Jackson never had a chance to view the film in full during the hectic schedule, and only saw the film from beginning to end at the December 1 Wellington premiere.
The Return of the King contains 1,488 visual effect shots, nearly 3 times the amount of the first film, and almost 2 times the amount 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 2a.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 into two days. On a similar note of digital creatures, Shelob's head sculpt 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 Mûmakil 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 onto a mirror and into the camera for when Gandalf's horse Shadowfax kicks Denethor onto the Pyre. Due to Jackson's requirement of complete realism with 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.
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 installment of the trilogy had reached fever pitch when the movie was complete. The world premiere was held in Wellington's Embassy Theatre, on December 1, 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.
The film has a 94% rating of positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was named best film of the year more than any other according to criticstop10.net. It was named 'Best film of 2003' by such critics as Lisa Schwarzbaum Entertainment Weekly, Richard Corliss of Time, Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal, and James Berardinelli of Reelviews.
An indication of the film's popularity amongst general audiences is the weighted average of 8.8/10 from 214,204 IMDb voters, placing it as the tenth best rated film. 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. 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.
There is some extra dialogue in Merry and Pippin's first scene at Isengard reuniting them with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. There is also the final confrontation between Gandalf and Saruman, in which Saruman is killed by Wormtongue, who in turn is killed by Legolas. Saruman lands on a spike on a wheel and drops the palantír. Edoras is extended, with the party containing a drinking game between Legolas and Gimli. Right before Pippin takes the palantír, Aragorn enters the Great Hall and has a conversation with Éowyn about a dream she had, about a great wave over a green countryside, which was originally Faramir's dream in the book.
At Minas Tirith, Pippin explains to Denethor how Boromir died, and Gandalf explains to Pippin how Gondor fell into ruin. Frodo, Sam and Gollum discover a ruined and defaced statue at the Crossroads. When the Morgul signal for war begins, Sam warns Gollum about betrayal, eventually setting up the separation. When the Orcs cross the river it is shown the Gondorians were surprised, expecting an attack at Cair Andros. To further set up the battle, we also see Merry swearing loyalty to Théoden at Edoras after the lighting of the beacons. After Faramir arrives in Minas Tirith, there is a scene where Denethor confronts him for not taking the Ring, which includes his vision of Boromir. There is a friendly chat between Pippin and Faramir which sets up Pippin's later attempts to rescue him.
The Paths of the Dead sequence is heavily revised, with ghostly arms, the avalanche of skulls and Aragorn's emergence from the mountain where the King of the Dead accepts his offer. This leads onto Aragorn attacking the Corsair ships, which includes a cameo by Peter Jackson as a character killed by Legolas. During the siege of Minas Tirith, the Orcs use a small battering ram on the gates before Grond arrives, and Gandalf's confronts the Witch-king as he comes to rescue Faramir, when his staff is broken. Gothmog also fights Éowyn during the battle, and attempts to finish her off as the battle closes before he is killed by Aragorn and Gimli.
The scenes between the end of the Pelennor battle and Black Gate battle is longer. Pippin's search for Merry is digitally graded to night to give the impression he has been searching for him all day. Éomer also finds Éowyn on the field and mourns when he thinks she is dead. Aragorn heals her and she falls for Faramir. Before Aragorn sets off, he confronts Sauron in the palantír, however Sauron shows Aragorn an image of an unconscious Arwen, which frightens Aragorn into backing away. Sam and Frodo get more time in Mordor: the fight among the orcs in the tower of Cirith Ungol is longer, and after Sam rescues Frodo, we see a surviving Uruk sneaking off with Frodo's mithril shirt. Frodo and Sam are also diverted into the Orc march to the Black Gate and escape on a long journey, during which they throw away the last of their gear. Sam also sees a star through the clouds, symbolizing hope whilst Frodo merely rests with a burn on his neck. At the Black Gate, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, Pippin, Merry, and Éomer are first confronted by the Mouth of Sauron, suggesting that Frodo is dead, providing additional meaning to Aragorn's line "For Frodo". There is a final line of dialogue in which Gollum admits he lied about protecting Frodo.
Box office records
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 installment of the trilogy had reached a fever pitch when the movie was finally released to theatres on December 17, 2003. New Line Cinema reported that the film's first day of release (a Wednesday) saw a 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 came along and grossed $40.4 million). 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 first day of release in 2001), and a significant increase over The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as well (which earned $26.1 million on its first day in December 2002).
The substantial increase in initial box office totals caused optimistic studio executives to forecast that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would surpass The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in total earnings. If this proved to be true, then this would be the first blockbuster movie trilogy for each successive film to earn more at the box office than its predecessor, when all three films were blockbuster successes. (The general opinion in movie circles in 2003 was that a movie had to earn more than $150 million to be considered a "blockbuster").
These forecasts proved accurate. According to Box Office Mojo, between the time of the film's release, its winning the Academy Award for Best Picture on Sunday, February 29, 2004, and Thursday, March 11, 2004, Return of the King had earned approximately $1,052,547,293 in worldwide box office revenue—$368,875,000 in North America, and $683,649,123 in sixty countries worldwide. The final North American box office stands at $377,027,325, and the worldwide take is $1,118,888,979 (about $741 million overseas). The worldwide revenue is slightly enhanced compared to the earlier movies when converted to US Dollars because of the decline in the dollar's exchange rate in 2003. 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). This compares favourably to the first two films of the trilogy: in their first 35 weeks of theatrical release in North America, the gross income of the first two movies was $313,364,114 and $339,789,881.
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 investment (although not by any means the best profit ratio ever seen in Hollywood - that prize belongs to The Blair Witch Project).
The theatrical edition of the film was released on VHS and DVD in 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 seven-minute trailer of the entire trilogy.
The Return of the King followed the precedent set by its predecessors by releasing an Extended Edition (251 minutes) with new editing and added special effects and music, along with four commentaries and six hours of supplementary material, plus 10 minutes of fan-club credits. However, this set took longer to produce than the others because the cast and crew, no longer based in New Zealand for the trilogy, were spread all over the world working on other projects. The set was finally released in December 2004 in the UK and US. 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 via satellite 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. In 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 containing both the Theatrical and Extended editions of the film. The second disc is a bonus disc that contains a new behind-the-scenes documentary.
The theatrical Blu-ray release was released in the United States in April 2010. The individual Blu-ray disc of The Return of the King was released in September 2010 with the same special features as the complete trilogy release, except there was no digital copy. The Extended Edition was released in the United States in June 2011. It has a runtime of 263 minutes.