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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

New Line Home Entertainment
Movie A+
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 7.5 (out of 10)

I've heard some people complain about New Line's release of two versions of each Lord of the Rings film to DVD. What a strange complaint that is. You don't have to buy both the theatrical and extended editions, but isn't it OK to have that choice? While Director Peter Jackson toils away on his special, extended-edition, super DVD of The Return of the King (to be released in November), we get the pleasure of his terrific theatrical version of the movie, a picture that finally garnered the groundbreaking series a Best Picture Oscar. Jackson also took home the Best Director Oscar, something he certainly earned. The Lord of the Rings is the single greatest fantasy film series ever put to screen, even surpassing Star Wars. In many ways, each film is equally good, but King certainly boasts the series' greatest battle sequence, the remarkable Battle of Pelanor fields. As performances go, Sean Astin's emotional work as Samwise Gamgee in the third film equals, if not upstages, the fine work of Ian McKellen as wizard Gandalf, and Viggio Mortensen as the valiant Aragorn. Perhaps even stranger than the two-DVD release complaint is all of the whining about this film's extended ending. As for me, I never wanted to say goodbye to the characters of the series, so every minute of movie was, to quote Mr. Gollum, "Precious!" Set aside a week or so and watch the whole series again, at home, all at once for the first time. And diehard fans rejoice: Jackson's complete vision of the story is only a few months away.

Special Features: The sound and visuals on this disc are magnificent, and did you know that the Beatles tried to make a Lord of the Rings movie with John as Gollum and Paul as Frodo? That's some of the interesting trivia revealed in A Filmmaker's Journey: Making the Return of the King. This two-disc set is well worth owning, containing some nice documentaries such as The Quest Fulfilled: A Director's Vision, in which Jackson tells the story of how he got New Line's blessing for not one, but three Lord of the Rings movies. As with the other film's first DVDs, the featurettes produced for lordoftherings.net are gathered. There are no audio commentaries; expect quite a few on the extended edition. Sadly, there's no glimpse of the next film in the series, because it's all over. Actually, it's over until Jackson gets the rights for The Hobbit. Let's hope he does that soon.


In America

20th Century Fox
Movie A
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

This semi-autobiographical film from writer/director Jim Sheridan tells the story of an Irish immigrant family seeking a fresh start in Manhattan after suffering the loss of a child. The family winds up in a tenement building with a dying artist (Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou) in the downstairs apartment and a bunch of pigeons who take up residence in their flat. While Samantha Morton also received an Oscar nomination for the role of a tormented mother trying to survive the loss of her son, Paddy Considine was more deserving of recognition as the grieving father trying to support his family and start an acting career. Real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger bring their natural sibling dynamic to the story as the family's surviving children, and they are excellent. This is one of 2003's best films, and Sheridan's finest work since In the Name of the Father.

Special Features: Sheridan contributes a funny, often grouchy commentary. He introduces himself as "The egomaniac who wrote and shot a film about himself," and proceeds with a hilarious, droll delivery. Plenty of decent deleted scenes and a making-of film provide a nice treatment for a very nice movie.


Paycheck

Paramount
Movie C-
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 2 (out of 10)

Ben Affleck followed up his Gigli debacle with this, something that looked like a sure thing. Based on the Phillip K. Dick story, directed by the great John Woo and co-starring Uma Thurman, this one had some momentum going for it. Too bad the finished product is nothing but proof that Woo is stuck in some sort of slump, with this misfire and Windtalkers. In the futuristic story, Affleck plays a man who goes through a medical procedure to have his memories erased for monetary gain. When he awakens from the procedure, he finds himself in a lackluster science-fiction movie. Woo needs to get back on track, and Affleck (who followed this with the lousy Jersey Girl) is officially in big trouble.

Special Features: Amazingly, Woo shows up for a commentary, willingly sitting down to watch his botch job again. There are some deleted scenes and featurettes for those who find the film tolerable.

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