Wood and Astin had really grown into these roles by this point. The ordeal Frodo and Sam have been through as they continue their march toward Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring gives the actors more emotional range to express. Astin, in particular, walks away with the film’s best performance as Sam is not only abandoned by Frodo, but still finds the courage to continue doing what is right. As the voice and motion capture subject of Gollum, Serkis continues to mine the duality of the character. We despise him, especially after the devastating opening flashback sequence, but we also feel sorrowful over the sight of a once normal person who has long since lost his soul.
There’s a lot more to the movie, of course, and as with the previous installments, I feel it is overstuffed with characters that aren’t essential. For instance, Éowyn’s (Miranda Otto) unrequited crush on Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) leaves me not only unmoved but also uncaring. But I’ve come to better appreciate the lived-in, complex world that Jackson and his team have created. Some have complained about the extended versions being split in half between two Blu-ray discs. Not only was this necessary to preserve the excellence of the video transfers, it also effectively splits the trilogy into a six-part series. Watching one of these films, let alone all three, requires a significant time commitment. Since none of them really has a defined beginning, middle, and end to begin with, splitting them into roughly six two-hour movies makes the whole thing a little more economic, time wise.
The 1080p transfer is awesome, with a crystal clear image that boasts a tremendous amount of fine detail. As with the previous two films, the clarity of high definition sometimes reveals the limits of its era’s special effects technology. But on the other hand, some of the CG work is deliriously effective, with the fleshy texture and detail of the huge elephant beasts displayed with fantastic quality. Another scene that looks great is when Shelob, the gigantic spider, attacks Frodo. Despite being a dark, black arachnid, the details of each segment of its body are a highly impressive sight. It might sound like a cliché, but The Return of the King is truly a feast for the eyes.