It was widely known when Peter Jackson was shooting the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy a decade ago that there would be more than one version of the films for home theaters. Fan club memberships were sold with a promise of founding members getting their names in credits of the extended editions. Those watching the films in theaters the last two weeks have seen that promise still fulfilled again on screen at the cineplex.
There was even discussion of eventual superior editions in high definition once the debate over HD DVD vs. Blu-ray was settled. The Extended Edition DVDs, with far superior extras, were a big hit on DVD and were released for marathon watching sessions in select cities on “Trilogy Tuesday”. (Check out these links for a window back into time. They provide historical context.)
With the release today of the Extended Editions, the best possible version of the films in the highest possible quality will be in the hands of consumers. While there are some who claim the already lengthy films are made too long by the additions in the EEs, there are few readers of this site who can’t appreciate the character nuances and deeper explanations of Middle-earth they provide. For my money, the Extended Editions are the preferred editions and that was brought home again in theaters with rare theater screenings the last two weeks around the U.S.. They contain treasures worth mining.
But readers here know all that. Long-time readers may own several versions of the films already. Some have them on VHS tape, were moved to convert to DVD by the films, including the promise of the EEs, may have several editions of them on DVD and here a third format beckons the yet unconverted-to-Blu-ray. Those with Blu-rays already know the vast jump forward in formats but these remastered films absolutely deliver on a level the theatrical Blu-rays did not.
IMAGES AND SOUNDS
The process to deliver these films wasn’t adding in extra scenes but involved a complete remastering from the original digital files. On my own HD TV and Blu-ray player with 1080p and seven speakers, the trilogy was astounding. I very carefully compared my DVD EEs, my theatrical Blu-rays and these new Blu-ray EEs, and the new version was a clear-cut winner but with a qualification that we will tackle in a moment. Presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this is simply lovely visual satisfaction.
I looked for and found better details and improved contrasts. While I am much closer to an “everyman” when it comes to home theater than I am to a technical expert, I do have a strong background in still photography and know my way around images and words and home presentation. This feels like film, not the sometimes complained about cold exactness of digitally shot material. In short, the technical display here, from a non-technical guy, is unequivocally, the best version. But, and this is a big but, it isn’t perfect.
Many TORn readers have been deeply concerned about reports regarding the color timing of the films. It can safely be termed a controversy at this point. So far as I can discover, no official statements have been released regarding it but with rumors floating around I checked with independent sources that are definitely in-the-know, and director Peter Jackson and director of photography Andrew Lesnie were directly involved and approved the changes in color to the films. But, after careful examination, I have concluded without relying on any other internet source or image, “Fellowship of the Ring,” seems to have some issues not shared with the other two films in the trilogy on Blu-ray EEs.
For those not all that aware of visuals and are just in it for the story-telling, be aware that blacks should be black and whites should be white while each retains detail. The eye does a marvelous job of finding this in real life but replicating it on screen is a challenge as old as film. As previously stated, the already rich visual feel for these films has been improved but FOTR has some obvious greens added in this edition that are especially obvious over strong whites. For example, as the Fellowship climbs steep, snow covered peaks in bright sunshine, the scene actually looks like it has a green filter over it. Not only are the whites off here but the blacks in the snowy scene take on a greenish hue as well. Comparing it to a scene in “Return of the King,” where a certain white wizard on a white horse rides up the streets of the white city make it absolutely clear that something is drastically different between the two. It is also obvious when compared to the previous Blu-ray release.
I have a strong, but completely unconfirmed suspicion that something went wrong in the scan or transfer process. I quickly admit however that I am no expert regarding the process and perhaps Jackson and Lesnie wanted just that look, but to me, and other sets of eyes I enlisted for second and third opinions, the green tint was dramatic. Admittedly, I was watching for it but there it is.
Having just given all that space to a color issue, let me emphasize with clarity that what I deem a problem isn’t severe enough for me to retract a strong recommendation for the beauty of these films or this transfer. Being transparent about the issue in no way means it spoils the film. In a perfect world I would be willing to pay cost for replacement discs (assuming Jackson even agrees it is a problem) but for most it will not even be an issue and for all but a very few it will be a minor blip in a marvelous viewing experience.
And, in other portions of the same film, I found the colors more pleasing than in any previous version. Legolas’ arrow fletchings were extra yellow, the details on Gimli’s helm shone a bit more golden and skin tones were pleasing. It remains a visual wonder but not a perfect one. I didn’t find similar issues with “The Two Towers” or “Return of the King.”
All three films are presented on two discs each and while initially this will surprise some who think the new format should allow one disc to store all the data but this choice allows the most dramatic use of the Blu-ray format and the maximum data storage to provide the top-notch audio and visuals. WB must be praised for the decision not to compress the films along with commentaries and all its glory on one disc.
The sound, while not as easy to measure, seems a little more powerful in the lower end was uniformly outstanding for all three films. Sounds are crisp, bass is booming, ambiance is full and colors are distinct and the award winning sound design and mix from the theatrical films is wonderfully featured. It comes in 6.1 English DTS-HD and in Portugese with subtitles in several languages. The audio commentaries are the same, divided among aspects of the films and each well-worth a listen. Those who have forgotten the quality of the commentaries or who never took the time or had the chance to listen will find a deeper appreciation for the accomplishments on screen. All sound aspects remain excellent on every level. Some additional commentary might go on a future-edition wish list, but more about that later.
LOOK AND DESIGN
Absolutely nothing was wrong the design and packaging of the theatrical edition Blu-rays. It packed a lot of content into an efficient box and made the films easy to watch. But these surpass them in every way. The golden toned design announces that these are a more valuable addition to a buyer’s library and incorporates a character-centric look unlike the DVD EE’s. But the subtle color coding on the spines is a nod back to the DVDs and goes along well with the interior design. Hearkening back to the credit sketches of Alan Lee and John Howe, the interior discs choose class over flash and the design team must receive credit for every choice. The 15-discs are compactly stored and work cohesively for each film without being confusing. They also smartly protect the contents against damage, compact and not cramped.
The inclusion of a digital copy, while standard, is still a welcome and attractive part of the package, allowing the consumer the ability to have the films portable on the device of choice.
The home video market has changed mightily since the DVD EE’s hit shelves. Film studios are currently reluctant to invest heavily in extras when films are getting less expensive in stores and sinking money into more content for the same money is a bad investment. The extras here are identical to the DVD EEs but with the addition of the behind-the-scenes Costa Botes documentaries for each film. They are a nice addition but like all the extras, they come on DVDs and are not in hi-def and don’t have the same quality as the films. In other words, they are duplicate content, in a new box.
The content, to be sure, is still among the very elite produced for any film for home use. There are only a handful of film packages that belong on the same shelf. The story of the making of the films coupled with the organization of the material and the willingness of the those involved to talk extensively about the work are astounding. And, with a soft market as mentioned above, studios aren’t as likely to invest in such extras very often so we may not see their like again or at least not very often.
All this excellent, watchable content is still only in standard def, which is how it was shot so presenting it on DVD is as good as it will ever be. Further, a great deal of content fans have never seen still exists. Blooper reels are the tip of the iceberg but that alone would be clamored over by an audience that loved the source books by J.R.R. Tolkien with a deep passion and loves these films with a similar fervency.
The good news is that with two “Hobbit” films on the horizon, there is a good opportunity for these films to be revisited again in 2014 or 2015. So Warners, please be aware that a core of fans is aware of material shot and still in storage (hopefully!) and that they want a future, more complete release just as Jackson has hinted at. On my personal wish list would be new commentaries with Jackson’s team and film historians and actors (as available) and perhaps even some journalists about these films with a decade of perspective. But, far, far more important is all the hinted-at material by Jackson and Ian McKellen and other actors and production in many interviews over the years about material that has never seen the light of day. Anybody want to see the audition tape Elijah Wood made and sent to Jackson in order to land the role of Frodo?
Those few of us who have seen bits of a blooper reel know the mis-takes are priceless.
More good news is that the same team responsible for all the extras excellence is thought to be on the scene in New Zealand for the filming so far on “The Hobbit,” and hopefully those films will be the exception to the current trend to release films with minimal and obvious extras features. And, I will venture to guess, all ‘Hobbit’ material will be shot for potential Blu-ray extras.
Extended Editions of three films in 1080p and DTS HD-MA 6.1 audio. Deluxe 15-disc set includes 9 special features DVDs with over 26 hours of behind-the-scenes material Including the rare Costa Botes documentaries.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (extended edition) With the help of a courageous fellowship of friends and allies, Frodo Baggins embarks on a perilous mission to destroy the legendary One Ring. “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (extended edition) In the middle chapter of this historic movie trilogy, the Fellowship is broken but its quest to destroy the One Ring continues. “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (extended edition) The final battle for Middle-earth begins. Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, continue their dangerous mission toward the fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring.
Each film is on two Blu-ray discs with two DVD extras discs each plus the Costa Botes documentaries on a third disc for each film.
Official site: lordoftherings.net/.
FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FILM
This trio of films have aged well. A decade can diminish a movie’s impact but that is not the case here. The films are best when they hold closest to Tolkien’s characters and spirit. Looking back now, FOTR is virtually as perfect a film as can be found at home or in theaters and while the tale and storytelling later became complicated, much of it works because of the foundation laid in the first film. I was surprised to realize how excellent Liv Tyler was in limited time on screen but high-level performances are the norm here, in a fantasy film no less. And of course the greatness of Weta is fully on display. Many things combined to create this film trilogy, as ambitious and accomplished as any, ever and this edition of the films is the very best available to date. And, if we weren’t absolutely sure a decade ago, there can be no doubt now, these films are absolutely classics.
If you purchase the discs through WB, you get a set of actor portraits as well.