NEW YORK – Eager "Lord of the Rings" (search) fans today will get their first extended look at "The Return of the King," (search) the hotly anticipated final installment of the blockbuster movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy.
New Line Cinema, which has limited fans to a brief teaser trailer in theaters, has put 10 minutes of new and tantalizing footage on the DVD for "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," which hits stores today.
Included is a glimpse of the upcoming film's awe-inspiring centerpiece, the climactic battle between the dark forces of Lord Sauron and the beleaguered coalition of races from Middle Earth at Pennelor Fields.
Computer-generated images were used to augment hundreds of real-life actors and animals, so that the battle involves an eye-popping 200,000 people and thousands of horses in what's said to be the biggest battle sequence in movie history, dwarfing the fight for Helm's Deep in "The Two Towers."
Stars Elijah Wood (search), Ian McKellen (search), Viggo Mortensen (search) and Christopher Lee (search) return for the third and darkest installment of the $300 million trilogy, which director Peter Jackson (search) filmed simultaneously with the first two in his native New Zealand.
"This is the best installment of the three," Jackson boasts on the DVD.
Says Wood, whose Hobbit Frodo is seen suffering a breakdown from the stress of being the bearer of a magical ring: "It's better than the first two combined."
The DVD is the opening salvo in a $50 million-plus campaign to market "The Return of the King" and to push it for the Best Picture Oscar.
To that end, extended versions of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers" will play in theaters in early December to whet moviegoers' appetites for Dec. 17 debut of "The Return of the King."
Because the two earlier installments were nominated for Best Picture, "The Return of the King," is already viewed as the front runner in this year's Academy Awards race.
But the top Oscar has never gone to a fantasy film - "Star Wars" (search) and "E.T." were passed over, along with the two earlier "Ring" installments" - and this year's fierce competition includes "Master and Commander" starring Russell Crowe and "Cold Mountain" with Nicole Kidman, as well as the final installment in a competing trilogy, "The Matrix: Revolutions," starring Keanu Reeves (search).