The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

New Line Home Ent., $39.99

IF YOU INSIST, I'll first mention the $79.92 collector's edition of LOTR: ROTK (also out Dec. 14), with box design by Alan Lee, musical concert disc, and a little model of Minas Tirith you can set on top of your TV to, um, impress visitors. But it includes the same four discs as this cheaper extended version, which adds 50 minutes of footage to the acclaimed Oscar winner. Clocking in at 250 minutes, that almost makes it a miniseries in its own right, particularly when you add the prior two LOTR DVDs, which were also similarly expanded. Given what Peter Jackson probably still has in his vaults, he could launch his own Middle-earth cable channel.

Among the new scenes, Christopher Lee's evil wizard Saruman, trapped atop his tower, gets the end he deserves, but only after a long passage of dialogue. Sensibly impatient, Gimli chimes in, "Shoot him!" sounding like Scott Evil admonishing his father about Austin Powers. The romance between Faramir and Éowyn gains a few more scenes of support. Elsewhere, a disguised Frodo and Sam fall in with some orcs. (Funny how orcs are so easily fooled—slap a helmet on your head, and you're soon singing campfire songs with them.)

In truth, it's the extended scenes, trimmed for pacing in the theatrical cut, that help lend to ROTK's grinding grandeur. Sure, it's too long, but the new DVD bulk helps weigh against the end-heavy tendency of the original release. Just hit the pause button regularly—or take an in-home intermission for dinner—and the whole thing feels a bit more balanced.

As with the previous two LOTR sets, the production quality of ROTK is first-rate; menus are clear, navigation is easy, and the extras are well organized. (The brochure's diagrams of the bonus discs are particularly helpful in this regard.) One neat feature—among dozens—is an illustrated atlas of Middle-earth, with maps and pop-up scenes to help sort out all those confusing place names. It's like GPS for hobbits—perhaps another future business for Peter Jackson.

DEC. 28 MAY BE too late for some holiday shoppers, but you can look for Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Kirsten Dunst in the tennis rom-com Wimbledon. Also out, the fizzled stalker thriller Wicker Park, the local thriller Inheritance, Ghost in the Shell 2, Will Ferrell in Anchorman, the shark movie Open Water, and the sci-fi picture Code 46, starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton. If you can't get enough of Zach Braff on TV, there's also Garden State.

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