Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: Pierre Vinet
Josh Wolk
May 28, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

If, like me, you aren’t a fan of fantasy, you’ve likely enjoyed the ”Lord of the Rings” films with only a vague understanding of (or interest in) plot specifics. With such exhilarating, inventive fight scenes, it didn’t matter that Whosythor begat Whatsistan in the kingdom of Wheresville or that monkey fairies didn’t like the helmet bunch…or was it vice versa?

But something will happen to wizard-phobes revisiting the series finale, The Return of the King, at home. Already familiar with the film’s monumental effects (which still shimmer on DVD), they’ll follow the story more closely and discover what Tolkien-philes knew on their first viewing: Director Peter Jackson’s touching tale of friendship, loyalty, and bravado (winner of 11 Oscars) is all the more potent in its dedication to the details of the books’ mythology and characters. Every one of the heroes is so vibrant as he marches to his individual climax that even a tear in Sam’s eye during his final ”he-ain’t-heavy-he’s-my-hobbit” Frodo haul proves as wondrous as a field full of computer-generated armies.

However, a fantasy newbie can go only so far in embracing Jackson’s accomplishment, considering the DVD’s weak extras. Two making-of docs not only are shallow but annoyingly share much of the same interview footage. And a ”National Geographic” special likening the ”Rings” characters to historical figures feels like an unhip junior-high principal’s transparent attempt to relate to the kids today. The truly incisive info is likely being saved for December’s extended DVD — so if you think you’ve gone geek now, just wait until Christmas.

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