The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King on GameCube, PS2, and Xbox ruled because it took the same approach to behind-the-scenes material as the extended edition DVDs did for the films. Those massive four-disc sets were shaped like weighty tomes you would find in some dusty corner on a library shelf, with two DVDs devoted to the movie and two additional discs bursting with more featurettes than you could shake a severed hobbit finger at. I spent countless hours as a kid watching making-of documentaries about the process of Peter Jackson and his collaborators pitching the film, finding the actors who would portray the Fellowship, and building the elaborate sets, props, and miniatures that made cinema's most epic trilogy come to life.
The tiny GameCube disc couldn't pack in all that information, but developers EA Redwood Shores (and Hypnos Entertainment who handled the GameCube port which I played) did their best. The game was packed with film production stills, extra interviews with the cast of the film, and included live-action footage from the movie (which was especially cool because the game hit store shelves two months before the film started playing in theaters).
In general, it’s a very good game. The hack-and-slash gameplay isn't especially deep, but with memorable levels based on the film's setpieces, a huge roster of characters, and RPG progression which grants more points depending on how well you fight your way through the endless waves of orcs, it was a game I happily returned to for years after I first played it.
But, it's the interviews with many of the actors from the film that elevate it to an essential piece of media for people who love the trilogy. There's less information here than on the extended edition discs, but there are plenty of fun moments. Like when Dominic Monaghan makes fun of Billy Boyd for not being able to locate the X button on the controller during the "Hobbits on Gaming" unlockable video. Or when Christopher Lee compares Saruman's power to that of a skilled chess player who can be beaten with enough consideration. Or when (again in that Hobbits on Gaming featurette) Elijah Wood claims that he's so good at gaming that he occasionally enters a flow state which causes the controller to levitate off the table.
There are interviews with the other cast members, too, including behind-the-scenes footage of Christopher Lee recording his imperious voice work for the game and Sean Astin talking about how he likes that the game showcases Sam's heroic side and that, while playing, he actually gets to stab the Orcs instead of having to pull back for the stunt person's safety.
Then there's the concept art exclusive to this release, which shows sketches from the making of the game. There's concept art from the making of the film, too, but you can get a lot more of that on the DVDs. Here you get peaks at various locations as the video pans over early depictions of Helm's Deep, Shelob's Lair, and the ruins of Osgiliath, alongside the heroes and enemies who would eventually populate them. Some of these pictures include arrows drawn over the art so that you can tell how the development team planned for players to move through the level, glimpses of the process they went through in transforming iconic cinematic locations into explorable digital environments.
Though the game can't compare to the wealth of bonus materials offered on the DVDs for the extended editions, the DVDs didn't include all of that the first time either. The theatrical versions included some featurettes, but it wasn't until New Line Cinema released the big box sets that we got most of the information we now know about the films' productions. Though the game is now 19 years old, I'm holding out hope that someday (maybe for that fast-approaching 20th anniversary?) it gets the same treatment.
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