"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Special Extended Edition" (Rated PG-13; List price: $39.99 or $79.92 for the gift set)
Release date: Dec. 14
With 50 minutes of new or elongated scenes, the extended version of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" boasts a four-hour-plus running time. And that doesn't even count the more than six hours of bonus features included in this four-disc collection, which -- like the extended editions of "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers" -- provides days (literally) of viewing material. Honestly, I could probably walk from downtown Washington to Middle-earth before most people have even loaded disc two into their DVD players.
Elijah Wood, Sean Astin and even Gollum appear in the many documentaries in the extended DVD of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."
(New Line Productions)
That's not meant as a criticism. The extended editions of the three "Rings" films, all of which were released as follow-ups to the less-comprehensive DVDs of the theatrical versions, easily count among the finest, most meticulously crafted DVD sets ever made. It might seem that only Tolkien freaks and hairy-footed Hobbit geeks would care about all of this Smeagol-study. But anyone who considers himself a student of cinema will be engrossed by the exhaustive documentaries included here. In fact, I find the making of these movies just as fascinating as the movies themselves.
So what exactly is included?
Documentaries about practically every aspect of the production, including the screenplay's adaptation, visual effects, costume design, principal photography, sound and more; production photos; a profile of young filmmaker Cameron Duncan, a friend of director Peter Jackson's who inspired the Oscar-winning "King" song, "Into the West"; a documentary about "Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien; and four full-length commentary tracks from the director and writers, design team, production team and members of the cast. Nary a moment of the filmmaking process has been left uncaptured, which means fans literally serve as flies on the wall for many private moments, from cast and crew parties to Elijah Wood's final take, after which Jackson steps from behind the camera to tearfully embrace his trusted Frodo.
Many DVDs feature documentaries, but few are created with as much care and class as these. It's clear that everyone involved in "The Lord of the Rings" -- from the actors to the producers to the prosthetics artists -- feels great love for these films. That's reflected in this DVD collection, which will make the unabashedly loyal fans of "King" feel like they're not the only ones who hold Hobbits dear to their hearts.
Must-Watch Bonus Point: So much on this DVD is worthwhile, but if you don't have 24 hours to spend watching bonus features, at least check out the making-of documentary "Cameras in Middle-earth." Among other things, it reveals how many times the Frodo farewell scene had to be shot and re-shot (answer: three); where Peter Jackson's cameo appearances appear; and that heartthrob Orlando Bloom is a lightweight. "Even Elijah [Wood] can beat him at drinking," says costar Dominic Monaghan.
'Just Jack' Bonus Point: During the "From Book to Script" doc on disc three, Wood reveals that at last year's Golden Globe Awards, Jack Nicholson told him he left the theater before seeing the conclusion of "Return of the King." "Too many endings, man," Wood quotes Nicholson as saying.
Nuttiest Bonus Point: As was the case on "The Two Towers" set, the "Soundscapes of Middle-earth" feature unveils the fascinating process of creating sound effects, including dropping coconuts on the ground to mimic the clatter of thousands of skulls in the City of Dead avalanche.
"Mary Poppins: 40th-Anniversary Edition" (Rated G; List price: $29.99)
Release date: Dec. 14
Even the most cynical, anti-Disney viewers may find it hard to resist "Mary Poppins." The 1964 musical, which marked Julie Andrews's screen debut, has been released on DVD before. But this 40th-anniversary version is the best and most bonus-filled incarnation of the family favorite yet. Extra features include a making-of documentary; the deleted song "Chimpanzoo"; footage from the world premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre; the "I Love to Laugh" game; and a commentary track recorded by Andrews and c-ostar Dick Van Dyke. Some of the extras -- particularly the animated short "The Cat That Looked at a King" -- are unnecessary and cloying. But others, like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius: The Making of 'Mary Poppins'," provide a delightful look at a beloved film that, even 40 years later, hasn't lost its charm.
Most Surprising Bonus Point: It's hard to imagine anyone but Andrews in the role of Poppins. But as the making-of doc reveals, other actresses were considered for the part of the nearly perfect nanny, including Mary Martin, Angela Lansbury and even Bette Davis. Yeah, Baby Jane would have helped the medicine go down ... but not necessarily with a spoonful of sugar.
Most Old Hollywood Bonus Point: The footage from the "Poppins" premiere in August 1964 features stars like Annette Funnicello (sporting a skyscraper of a hairdo), Buddy Ebsen and Walt Disney himself. And as the red carpet interviews prove, inane questions from reporters have always been in style.
Coming in Next Week's 'Bonus Points': "The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season" and "Napoleon Dynamite." And don't forget to check out the DVD holiday gift guide.
If you have feedback about "Bonus Points" or want to suggest a DVD for review, e-mail Jen Chaney.