- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: Platinum Series Special Extended Edition from New Line Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, rated PG-13, $39.99, and Lord of the Rings: The Third Age from Electronic Arts for PlayStation 2 and Xbox, rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $49.99.

Fans looking for a saturation and extension of the famous Middle-earth fantasy will be happier than Gollum stumbling upon a school of fresh catfish as they devour a pair of multimedia packages loaded with “Lord of the Rings” legends and lore.

First, director Peter Jackson’s Academy Award-winning finale of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic returns to the digital video realm filled with extras that reflect the filmmaker’s devotion to the man behind the source material.

The four-disc set, similar to the two previous films’ extended DVD packages, shines. Mr. Jackson has unleashed an extra 50 minutes of new scenes and scene extensions; cinema devotees can learn of Saruman’s fate, are introduced to a Ringwraith in serious need of a dentist and see what Faramir did to woo Eowyn.

The director then presents more than four hours of behind-the-scenes footage, featurettes and tributes to Tolkien’s complicated writing style. Do I need to know Tolkien had developed two Elvish languages by 1920, the significance of the palantirs (ancient seeing stones) or that the Minas Tirith set was built on top of the Helm’s Deep set to enjoy the film? No, but it sure highlights the complexity of the “Rings” trilogy and the monumental effort put forth by the folks who brought it to the big screen.

Popping the fourth disc into a PC further expands upon the magic behind the movie while exploring the possibilities of the DVD medium. Users can build a “Lord of the Rings”-style journal or stationery in a robust art program, scrutinize plans of the sets, view the murals of Rivendell and use a palantir to investigate the film careers of the major actors and production people.

After digesting this enormous version of “Return of the King,” viewers can participate in a role-playing adventure that extends and liberally reinterprets the entire adventure.

Electronic Arts’ Lord of the Rings: The Third Age may be remembered by technology historians for its beauty rather than action, but it delightfully turns the once-complicated world of on-screen role-playing adventures into an accessible genre for the average player who wants to take part in a classic tale of good versus evil.

Playing out more like an immensely detailed interactive storybook than a traditional role-playing game, the title spends little time forcing players to banter with on-screen characters and meticulously manage menu systems but instead gets to some turn-based action.

The story involves the former captain of the Citadel Guard of Minas Tirith, Berethor. He is sent on a mission to find Boromir and forms an alliance with the Elvish swordswoman Idrial, Ranger bowman Elegost, Morian dwarf Hadhod, female Gondorian warrior Morwen and Rohirrim horseman Eaoden.

The player controls a single character as he searches for treasure chests to add spells, armor and weapons to the group’s repertoire. Eventually, he decides the battle moves of the entire fellowship who join him on the quest.

At its simplest, the game leads characters along a linear path as they try to catch up with the films’ primary protagonists. When a battle occurs, a trio of new friends shows up on-screen to fight against the likes of wargs, Uruk-hai, Grima Wormtongue, the Witch King of Angmar and a whole lot of Orcs. Each character is put into play as he takes a turn to attack.

A booming musical score from Howard Shore combined with growling Nazgoolian sound effects will burn into a player’s eardrums as he explores memorable locations such as the Mines of Moria, Helm’s Deep and Pelennor Fields.

The game definitely is not for multitasking, button-mashing types. Methodical missions had me completing just a couple of percentage points of the game every hour.

The clever simulation also has actor Ian McKellan vocally acting as Gandalf as he narrates, expounds and assists, eventually giving players access to 109 compiled clips from the trio of “Lord of the Rings” films.

Additionally, Electronic Arts has added the ability to take part in the epic as a bad guy and retrace many of the missions, which offers a fun, time-consuming twist to an already lengthy title.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]washington times.com).

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