Greetings, Quickbeam here.
What is all this business with a 30 disc Blu-ray “Ultimate” edition of LOTR and HOBBIT Trilogies? Why the heck is it priced at $800 when it contains nothing new from previous releases? If you’re curious to investigate the many details behind the sticker-shock; and the wave of fan outrage / bemusement that surrounds this story, then join me as we dig deeper to learn some interesting truths.
After the final Extended Edition of BOTFA came to us, most of the Tolkien fan community assumed it would get quieter around these parts. Ringers everywhere realized the #OneLastTime marketing hashtag epitomizing the theatrical run of the final Hobbit film had more truth to it than they wanted to admit. It was the realization that Peter Jackson’s uber-talented team of filmmakers and creative partners (including Michael Pellerin who created the glorious Appendices for both film trilogies) had, in truth, concluded their grand effort that began way back in 1999.
The “Middle-earth Saga” was now complete. No more films. No more Appendices.
But we still wanted more. And many times over the past 16+ years we heard from PJ himself, the writer/ producer/ director, that there *was* more! More fully-executed scenes that didn’t make the EE versions, more outtakes, more narrative threads tying the six films together, thousands of bloopers (this stuff has the quality of legend, since we have been waiting on it for so long), and always it was spoken of by the filmmakers with the feeling of: “Hold onto hope, fans, because someday I’m sure the studio will be interested in releasing this as a fuller, bigger, maxed-out Ultra Edition!”
Privately among our TORn Staff we have nicknamed this the “Unicorn Edition.” On the ROTK Extended Edition commentary track PJ refers to this many times as a possible “25th Anniversary Edition;” with a few laughs shared between Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens asking to “remind him” after all those years of several shots he had in mind.
My producer and co-host Justin has been talking about this for years on our livestream TORn Tuesday show. It’s aptly named: a Unicorn Edition that’s so ephemeral and seemingly out-of-reach. A version of these films where the unifying of all six would be complete; where that opening prologue of FOTR would see that single shot of Ian Holm finding the Ring replaced with a brief shot of Martin Freeman from AUJ. Where Saruman would actually find and hold a Palantir after the Battle of Dol Guldur in BOTFA. Where Tom Bombadil (!) would be referenced or appear in a cameo. Where we could see the outtakes of TTT where Arwen fights at Helm’s Deep – where Eowyn fiercely defends her kin as the Glittering Caves are attacked – reminding us how mercurial the filmmaking process actually is.
You’ll recall the Number One Rule of Show Business: “Always leave them wanting more.” That dusty adage perhaps holds clenching power over the weird situation we find ourselves in now. Or perhaps it’s because of the wrong-headed management by a strata of marketing people who have no business making such decisions. Perhaps it is the onus of financial reality that dictates everything that follows. Yeah, there’s millions of dollars at stake here.
Well, as you know by now: things are no longer quiet in the land of Ringers. We have a new controversy on our hands with the release of what Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has dubbed the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” 6-film Blu-ray set.
Many of us are reacting with shock, and genuine SMH smack-my-head wide-eyed expressions of “THAT’S JUST RIDICULOUS!” (which I heard verbatim on the phone just now explaining to someone what was offered). Look at how people are responding on Amazon.com and right here on our Message Boards. You’d think rapturous applause would resound at the release of this supposed “Ultimate” package that unifies everything a Ringer could want. Except it clearly does not. It contains no new content, just very luxurious packaging. And it’s priced at U.S. $800 retail.
Someone on our Staff adroitly pointed out that you could get a ticket to New Zealand and get the real Middle-earth experience for that much. Another quipped: “Does Hobbit DNA come with this new set so we can clone our own Bilbo at home?”
So, hey, Warner Bros. are you listening? That’s not applause. Those are gasps. Mass shaking of heads in dismay doesn’t produce a sound but I can hear it quite clearly.
Bill Hunt over at The Digital Bits wrote an excellent op-ed piece [link here] that pretty much sums up how people are feeling. He, and others, had to check with WBHE to see if the price point was not a mistake. It isn’t.
Personally, I feel like the fans who have already spent their money double-dipping on Theatrical DVD’s and then Extended Editions in the early 2000’s (and *then* having to buy Blu-rays that made their advent later) are getting kicked in the teeth. I got to this point of indignation because I know what was really in store for us. But I also recognize the forces at work that brought us to this place.
The “physical disc” home video marketplace has been in decline for a long while. Consumers are shifting to their preference of streaming services, digitial downloads, etc. New tech has already arrived with 4K Ultra High-def televisions and content providers struggling to keep up. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality is the next wave of influence we shall be caught up with (Pokemon Go, anyone?).
While it was a long-held belief that adding Special Features, Behind-the-Scenes documentaries, and other “value added” content to a disc would improve sales by enticing buyers to get the goodies, the studios ran the numbers and discovered that, no, it didn’t make much difference. People would buy the stripped-down movie-only disc as much as the fancier version. The studios asserted then that after spending money on producers/ writers/ editors to make spiffy added content for discs they still didn’t see increased sales. It became a tougher prospect to get more added into a home video release of anything; as with all business they were watching their bottom line.
I’ve heard from many sources that Michael Pellerin himself had quite a fight on his hands with Warner Bros. to keep the same format of continuing “The Appendices” on the Extended Editions of HOBBIT. The studio didn’t want to match what was done years earlier for LOTR because it cost a pretty penny to make those beautiful extras, believe me. It took a lot of convincing to get the materials and coverage and do honor to the filmmakers’ efforts. It very nearly didn’t happen. We are all thankful that it did.
The studio has overspent themselves in the past with regard to a splashy home video release. Let me tell you a wee story:
Before Warner Bros. completely ‘absorbed’ them, the LOTR Trilogy VHS tapes and early DVDs were released by New Line Home Entertainment. On June 28, 2011, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment spent a ton of money on a special party in Los Angeles for the “Ultimate” LOTR Trilogy Blu-ray Extended Editions that was to the be single must-own item for Ringers. At this release event, staged at a Best Buy parking lot on the west side of L.A., they held a locked down parking lot disrupting the store for over 9 hours, caging off an area expecting about 2,000 fans or more to queue up and be part of the spectacle that included John Noble and Sala Baker as the special stars from the cast. The live-feed from New Zealand brought us Oscar-winner Sir Richard Taylor and our friend WETA artist/author Daniel Falconer together to livestream their review and judging of a highly-anticipated “Ultimate Fan Costume Contest” sponsored by Air New Zealand that was won by a super-creative fan for her saucy “Vegas Showgirl Balrog” outfit. I remember it so vividly because I’d been asked to M.C. the stage event – it was quite something. If you’d seen the Gollum-shaped fireworks display atop the Best Buy parking lot you would’ve sworn this was a million-dollar blowout party held by an indulgent Saudi Prince who happened to love Tolkien.
This spectacle was, from New Line’s perspective, a huge bust. 2,000 people didn’t show up. About 45, tops. The low turnout at that event stung New Line like nothing else. The fans didn’t show up simply because, as other Senior Staff at TheOneRing.net will recall, there were endless weeks of legal bickering (without agreement) between Best Buy’s legal arm and New Line, and the poor fan site sitting in the middle of this was TORn, not being allowed to disclose or promote to the wide world the Fan Costume Constest that was about to take place. All was frustrated, like the long-term plans of ‘Saruman of Many Colours.’
They also felt this would reflect on lower anticipation and thus lower sales of that Blu-ray set. I’m convinced *this* new 6-film “UCE” is suffering from that burden of association. WBHE, for lack of a better term, inhereted this property from New Line, and now they don’t want to spend another cent. Frugality is how they maximize profits.
I can understand the exigencies of getting the most bang for your buck, but seriously, the other side of this argument is that Warner Bros. seems woefully out of touch with what the fans really, REALLY want. Remember that stinging “open letter” published last week calling out their C.E.O. for mishandling many properties and losing the course of their ship? [link here] That sentiment reflects the feelings of many (including me, especially with respect to their D.C. Comics Extended Universe) but it should be said that Peter Jackson’s production and handling of HOBBIT was not indicative of problems at Warner Bros., that was MGM’s fault from way before.
Now it comes to it. All my thought is bent upon this. I have reached out to Warner Bros. and at the time of this posting they have offered no comment. Dutifully I reached out to Peter’s team at Wingnut Films in Wellington, and they immediately replied with: “We have no comment as this time, but if we do decide to in the future we will come to you.” To both entities I say: you’re always welcome to come onto our live show and discuss it with the fans around the world, or correspond with us so we can provide equal time. We would love to have their thoughts.
I’ve done a bit of investigative sleuthing and found out the facts that have me seeing red: Peter Jackson faithfully and very earnestly offered (almost a year and half ago, perhaps two years back) to make this current “UCE” into a true “Unicorn Edition.” Michael Pellerin and PJ together proposed to WBHE that this combination of all six movies would be the perfect opportunity to send-off the Middle-earth Saga with a comprehensive look back. It would allow them to do brand spanking new 2-hour documentaries for each of the films featuring those outtakes and bloopers I have extolled; with even more frank discussion about “hot button” issues they couldn’t talk about at the time but now with the ease of time passing could be elucidated.
Imagine – not just dragons – but imagine seeing all that footage from the past – the glorious warts-and-all approach of looking at their accomplishements with a 16 year difference of time! Imagine where we, the avid audience, are given the benefit of seeing so much creativity in a whole new light. It is not an understatement that PJ and Company rose to the heights of film history with LOTR, winning 11 out of 11 Academy Awards for ROTK, the biggest clean sweep in Oscar history; and setting a bewildering high-watermark for filmic storytelling that redifined what long format stories can do for the cinema.
The kicker: Warner Bros. refused to pay for this. They balked and said, “We would only do ONE two-hour documentary, not a whole bunch of them, so let’s scale this whole thing back.” I’ve been told by the most reliable sources that PJ decided he would rather not do a half-assed retrospective and it would not be in alignment with what he had been enthused about for so long (we’ve all heard him in the Director’s Commentaries mentioning this possible “Unicorn Edition” even though he didn’t use that exact term).
We now know his “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” has been on the table for quite a long time. The end result was not guided by the original plucky Kiwi director who had always loved Tolkien. Sadly it was goverened by a team of marketing people who are not Tolkien fans, people who have been tone-deaf to the worldwide audience by the very release of this “UCE,” and neglecting what we have been anticipating – and VOCALIZING – for damn near 17 years. Does anyone at the studio read message boards or social media streams to glean what kind of appetite we have? Did anyone bother to listen to Sir Peter Jackson all this time and note what he has always promised was waiting for us at the end of this journey? I mean really!
Who wants to spend $800 on a regurgitation of previous existing Blu-ray content anyone could acquire at a fraction of the cost? The wooden shelf is nice and the Red Book simulacrum with accompanying art prints is cute, but it’s not what we really wanted. It is not clear who among our fan community this release was intended for, knowing how avidly we have already bought the previous home video products.
We are standing up right now and telling you, Warner Bros., what we most passionately want.
If the guardians at WBHE would like to remedy this there is still a chance. The studio has not categorically said: “We will NOT ever do this Unicorn Edition with all the archives/ outtakes/ bloopers/ from 16 years ago.” I am willing to bet that the next wave of 4K Ultra High-def may see some possible movement on this in the future.
The content is there. It can be done! The outsized larger canvas of LOTR being Extended yet again is, by itself, enough to motivate potential buyers. The rest is just gravy. There are indeed costs involved with re-scanning the negatives from LOTR up to the highest resolution possible. HOBBIT was shot on the Red Epic cameras 48fps so we know that material is already at that state. The trasnfer of older DVD behind-the-scenes into upscaled resolution is also possible. The cost would be justified when they saw fans ferociously buying the new content.
And it would look amazing on 4K, I’m quite sure.
I’ve never believed in Unicorns (probably because Tolkien never wrote about one in his stories, and I hope Peter S. Beagle forgives me) but I’ve seen the hope they inspire. This far-away concept for a TRUE “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” doesn’t seem so far away as we watch the landscape of home entertainment evolving around us.
It is up to the fans themselves to send their thoughts and desires to Warner Bros. through every media and thread we have available. We must speak up and declare where we stand on this issue.
This 6-film release is not the end of the Middle-earth Saga. There’s much more to be discovered. With the will of the creative team, the support of the studio (which just needs a little more foresight in these matters), and by speaking with our dollars AS WELL AS with our keyboards, we can see this thing happen.
Instead of #OneLastTime we have a new hashtag: #OneMORETime
Much too hasty,
Follow on Twitter: @quickbeam2000
Author’s Note: this article has been updated with corrected dates.