Third Party Politics

'The Return of the King' ushers in a fellowship of friendsters

Watching The Return of the King gives you a curiously postmodern feeling--an anticipation of the commentaries, the making-ofs, the post-game assessments. It has become so natural by now to have instant access to all the explanations of intent that a working draft of them hovers as ghostly accompaniment to the screening itself. We know we can expect another special edition DVD featuring a new cut of The Return of the King. And no doubt they'll eventually release the full experience--all three director's cuts back to back--with new commentaries and documentaries in which talking heads assess the movies' impact on the culture, and actors and crew retrospectively reflect on the process in its entirety. And lots of us will probably spring for it.

Stare masters: Sean Astin and Elijah Wood in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King'
New Line Cinema
Stare masters: Sean Astin and Elijah Wood in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King'

On the Two Towers commentary track, talking over an extra scene that delves deeper into Gondor's leadership crisis on the eve of war, Jackson and Walsh, along with co-writer Philippa Boyens, joke that they could go on making Rings films each and every year, drawing on the exhaustive backstories that Tolkien provides. They also muse about the possibility of rearranging the whole thing in chronological order (like the famous DVD Easter egg that flipped Memento forward), and then suggest that Final Cut Pro-savvy fans take a shot at doing it for them. Where George Lucas would seem to prefer suing the perpetrators of phantom edits, these artists thrive on irreverent populism. Howard Dean is shrewd in seeking to match the Rings trilogy's contemporaneity and cred.

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