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Fans can revel in return of 'King'

The 'Lord of the Rings' finale will be released May 25 on DVD and tape, with a version laden with extras due later in the year.

March 08, 2004|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

The stunning Oscar sweep by "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" may have felt like the final chapter in the remarkable saga of Peter Jackson's "Rings" trilogy, but in fact the book is not closed.

New Line Home Entertainment is announcing today that "Return of the King" will be released May 25 on DVD and VHS, at a list price of $29.95 and $24.97, respectively. As with the previous two "Rings" pictures -- "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers" -- this first edition will be a relatively modest set including the theatrical cut of the film plus a smattering of extras. The true bonanza, with an avalanche of extras and a longer cut of the film, will come closer to the end of the year, geared toward gift-giving. The extended edition is expected to be about $40.

This also marks the third year in a row that New Line has found a way to squeeze two home video releases from a single theatrical film. Stephen Einhorn, president and chief operating officer of New Line Home Entertainment, said the company has been especially sensitive toward fans regarding any sense of "double dipping."

As for any consumer confusion or disgruntlement, Einhorn maintained, "That issue has completely gone away."

The dedication of the "Rings" fan base is now the stuff of legend, and it is easy to imagine there is a strong contingent of fans who would buy anything put on the market. Regarding the appetite for both theatrical and extended editions, Einhorn said, "We have done a fair amount of research trying to find out how much of our audience buys one or buys both and how many defer to buy the extended set. A lot of people, for example, say that they intend to defer to buy the extended versions but they don't because they just can't wait to get their hands on it."

There's actually not much mystery about who is buying which edition, according to Scott Hettrick, editor in chief of Video Business magazine. "With the first two films, the first edition sold much better than the extended editions. I think that's mostly because of pricing, in that they're much less expensive."

Tim Lucas, editor of Video Watchdog, a publication dedicated to horror, fantasy and other fringe films, concurs. "I don't know that there really are casual fans where these films are concerned," he says. "You could almost call them the everyman edition and the fan set ... because the expanded editions really do play to the fans."

The main difference in the release of "Return of the King" and the previous two installments in the trilogy is that those came out in August and September instead of May. Einhorn insists the film's Oscar success was only part of the reason why the film is coming out earlier.

However, as Hettrick points out, an accelerated release makes good marketing sense. "They're going to be able to capitalize on the awards marketing and the intense awareness the film has built up," Hettrick said.

Einhorn declined to discuss specifics of when or how the "Rings" trilogy might be packaged as a box set. So once "Return of the King" comes out as an extended edition this year, the tide of "Rings" releases will, for the time being, cease.

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