- 15-Disc Set (6 BD50 discs, 9 DVDs)
- Digital Copies (online)
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1
- Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
- English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese
- Audio Commentaries (multiple tracks for each film)
- The Appendices: Part 5: The War of the Ring
- The Appendices: Part 6: The Passing of an Age
- Sixteen cast members, including Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, and Miranda Otto
- Easter Eggs: MTV Movie Award Spoof (The Council of Elrod), MTV Movie Awards clip (Gollum accepting award)
- Costa Botes Documentaries: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King: Behind the Scenes (on DVD)
- The Appendices (on DVD): Part 1: From Book to Vision
- The Appendices: Part 2: From Vision to Reality
- The Appendices: Part 3: The Journey Continues
- The Appendices: Part 4: The Battle for Middle Earth
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Best Sellers and Deals
The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy - Extended Editions (Blu-ray)
New Line Cinema / 2001 / 681 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: June 28, 2011
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Monday, June 27, 2011
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of 'The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy
Peter Jackson didn't seem like the most natural pick when selecting a director for one of the most expensive and expansive film series ever created. The New Zealand born filmmaker's previous works had been more wild and imaginative cult offerings, like 'Braindead' (known in the States as 'Dead Alive') and 'The Frighteners,' not big budget special effects laden blockbusters. But fate smiled upon the tubby (at the time, at least) native, as he was given the reins to adapt the literary giant from famed author J. R. R. Tolkien, the three part sequel to 'The Hobbit' known as 'The Lord of the Rings.'
It's safe to say that the end result speaks for itself. Over one billion dollars in domestic ticket sales, and almost double that in foreign take. Opening weekend numbers that nearly doubled from the first film to the last. Best selling home video releases, and incredibly high rankings from fans in IMDb's Top 250. Academy Award wins on each outing, culminating in Best Picture and Best Director wins with the third installment. This fan's favorite literary giant became a fan favorite cinematic giant immediately, but will it be a gigantic Blu-ray system seller?
'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring' - And so begins a journey. A journey that will cross the whole of Middle Earth, with every inhabitant affected by the crusade of the few, the proud, the Fellowship of the Ring. A journey that will take nearly ten hours time in human years, unless one pauses to take a burrito break. From the origins of the rings, to the splitting of a group of kindred spirits who set out to free the world, from humble beginnings to great expectations.
Nine Rings of Power were granted to the kings and rulers of the world. One more, dubbed the One Ring, crafted by Sauron in the volcanic Mount Doom of Mordor, to control them all. War led to the defeat of Sauron, though the greed, treachery, and lust for power of mankind prevented its destruction, and soon after, it was lost for over two thousand years.
Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) didn't think himself much a hero, or much of anything for that matter, as his life consists solely in the safety of his home, the Shire, along with the other furry footed Hobbits. His uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm) has led a life quite the opposite of Frodo's, full of adventure, the defining moment coming with his acquisition of a mysterious, powerful ring. One birthday, upon the guidance of his old friend Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Bilbo bequeaths his possessions to his nephew, so he may live out his life creating a novel of his adventures. And while the ring has laid fairly dormant in the sixty years it resided in Bilbo's pocket, an evil stirring in Mordor has awoken the ring. Evil forces have set out to reacquire their master's long lost possession.
With the assistance of a few fellow mischievous Hobbits (Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin), Pippin Took (Billy Boyd) and Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan)), Frodo sets out to keep the ring safe, with little knowledge of the true powers that are in his control, and the great dangers he is about to encounter. With the forming of a Fellowship to help guide Frodo along his path to Mordor to destroy the ring where it was created, all races have put their fate and faith in their newfound Hobbit friend. The brash and mysterious Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), headstrong Legolas (Orlando Bloom), equally headstrong Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and power hungry Boromir (Sean Bean) will have their wills tested, as the evil Saruman (Christopher Lee), a group of haunting Ringwraiths, and an infinitely powerful Orc army will stop at nothing to plunge the world into chaos once again.
'The Fellowship of the Ring' certainly was a unique and innovative fantasy film upon its release in late 2001, redefining a genre with its lengthy narrative, gorgeous scenery, and numerous themes and messages, all mixed in with sorcery, mischief, and old fashioned warfare. Looking back, with the other films finished, it stands apart as certainly the least polished of the trilogy, but to start out a story with this much bang was just what the series needed.
'Fellowship' does more than just set the entire series into motion, despite the fact that it doesn't have a true conclusion. This isn't some boring three hour trek interspersed with action set pieces, many characters are fleshed out in this chapter, and others in the ones to come. New characters will come into play, along with countless, diverse new settings. In that sense, 'The Lord of the Rings' isn't all that different than 'Star Wars,' save for the fact that each new habitat is on the same planet, rather than one per each varied area.
Frodo Baggins, despite being the obvious focal point of the story, isn't all that fleshed out, and he certainly isn't as prominent or in the middle of danger to the same degree he finds himself with each concurrent entry in the saga. He's still so innocent and naive here, a child, with the size and prominence to match. Besides Sauron, Saruman, and Gandalf, the only character to get real attention is Aragorn, the hidden/obscured/irrelevant king. Mortenson deserves all the praise lavished upon him (and funnily enough, he does get the most praise, more so than Wood), as he provides a career re-defining performance as the mysterious, courageous ranger.
While the second and third entries into the saga could be considered a tad predictable (to those who have obviously not read the books), 'Fellowship' throws a few wrenches into the gears. This film doesn't play the heroes as longtime friends (and really, on a journey this massive, one would have to become friends, or the path would be too insufferable), as they quarrel and bicker on occasion. Inter-species tensions flare. A member of the Fellowship even meets his demise. But the story works its magic in crafting a world so unusual, yet strangely familiar through its decaying powers and landscapes, as well as the multitude of personalities, it draws the viewer in, to get to know and care about the story, easily and painlessly. Themes of industrialization versus the beauty and serenity of nature, the lust for power and the corruption it causes (over and over again, a vicious circle of sorts), on both the body and soul, and the blind, selfless heroism of those from whom it is least expected are pounded away early and often, but in a manner that isn't slap-you-in-the-face blatant or obvious. It's allusions are veiled properly, mixed in with a coming-of-age and responsibility tale, so that viewers young and old can relate to the subject matter.
While the heroes are given proper justice in this first third of the story, it's the villains who get the short end of the stick (and in these theatrical cuts, the villains get the worst treatment, by far, with a few choice exclusions that cannot be explained or rationalized). Sauron is given great prominence and is revered and feared properly, acting as an all-inclusive banner for which evil is done, but his agents are naive, selfish, inherently flawed, failing to give the film any level of tension due to their constant missteps and blunders. When all hope seems lost, the heroes prevail through means not of their doing, but through circumstance and coincidence, really. It kills the narrative, as blind luck doesn't exactly gain respect or honor. The introduction to the Balrog is a key example of such, as its presence scares away a massive throng on the verge of a mass Fellowship slaughter. Lazy, really, almost as lazy as the gifts given to members for no reason other than to be used later in the story. It's funny how they always work out in the end, and no featured gift or offering goes without purpose or point in the grand scheme. 'Fellowship of the Rings' is easy to enjoy, though it can be a bit laborious to sit through at times, and it plants the seeds for a great saga to come, while still performing at a high level of excellence itself.
'The Two Towers' - The Fellowship has disbanded, going their separate ways. Some shed of their mortal coil, others to fight the evil of Sauron's forces, to recover captured friends, while two brave hobbits venture alone towards Mordor, with the One Ring in tow. Familiar faces (David Wenham as Faramir, brother of Boromir) will act in familiar fashion, while a fallen friend will show that not even death can slow some men down. Villainous armies will rise and threaten humanity, while Saruman will threaten them further, possessing the King of Rohan, Théoden (Bernard Hill). In the darkest hour, those fighting to free the world from evil must revive treaties of old, and instill bravery in those around them to succeed. Meanwhile, the darkest creature of all, a gangly former hobbit, Gollum (Andy Serkis), threatens to destroy the plan set in motion through his treachery, and unwavering desire to be reunited with his precious, the very item Frodo has been tasked to protect until it can be destroyed.
'The Two Towers' takes the diverse characters introduced so painstakingly in the first film, and throws them to the wolves, in a sense. The new Fellowship of Sam, Frodo, and Gollum/Smeagol is built on anger, distrust, deceit, and vengeance, as Frodo's will and soul are further sucked into the abyss of the One Ring's lure. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the relationship between Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas fastens through a shared goal, as inter-species tension diminish in a bond of brotherhood that was meant for the entire Fellowship. Pippin and Merry have little to do beyond survive their captors cold plans for them. Gandalf the Grey has a change of mood, in a sense, becoming Gandalf the White, paralleling the powers and appearance of his nemesis. He is no longer a fun and games wizard, but a savior, a banner to rally behind, and a cause to come together for.
The new faces in 'The Two Towers' are hardly memorable, but it's the performances behind them that leave an impression. Wenham pales in comparison to Bean, his fictional brother (from another mother), though to be fair, his character is given little to do or grow from. Miranda Otto is a pleasure as Eowyn, the strongest female character in the trilogy, as she feels like a new focal point, easily the most important new character, more so than her brother, the banished Eomer (Karl Urban). Hill is great as a man who nearly gives up on life, only to fight anew with revitalized heart and soul, while his tempter, the slimy Wormtongue (played by Brad Dourif) crafts the kind of slithering, calculating villain that is oft referred to, but rarely seen. Of course, the entire kingdom of Rohan deserves what they got, considering they let a man named Wormtongue near their king, but that's another story. The highlight of the newcomers is Serkis as Gollum, seen briefly in the previous film, but finally given a role here. The work Serkis did is amazing, both with his vocal talents playing the character most representative of the duality of man in the series (obviously), and his body movements, through which the character was computer generated.
With all the great new additions, there has to be a negative somewhere in the mix, and that belongs to Treebeard and the rest of his Ern brethren. These living trees from Fangorn Forest are quite terribly depicted, executed in a fashion worthy of execution. These towering treefolk at first are large enough to stomp an orc without effort, with a single stride, yet later are only fractions of the trees around them, as the scale of the hobbits around them grow as the film progresses. Soon enough, these treefolk wage war against the man that has been pulverizing their ranks for some time, and reek serious vengeance upon their industrial counterparts, with actions very befitting of nature dominating over manmade creation. They are bad analogies, to say the least, and are annoying to boot.
While 'Fellowship' was fairly cut and dry, 'The Two Towers' has a level of comedy that is very welcome, and effective, as the gruff Gimli often finds himself on the butt end of the joke. Whether he cannot see over turrets, cannot escape under a literal dog pile, or volunteers (unwisely) the state of Dwarven female and male relations, the change in tone is often welcome, rather than the dire and deadly serious events that came before it.
'The Two Towers' gets the ball rolling, though, with the urgency that the series had been lacking up to that point. As soon as the fighting element of the Fellowship bands together with Rohan to secure the area's life at Helm's Deep, tension finally builds. Armies of great strength and number are depicted, with diverse talents and purpose. War begins to dominate the film, with a do-or-die defense that is so horribly outnumbered that the proportions are somewhat akin to parable. The friendly competition between warriors is set aside, if even briefly, in the dire circumstances that haunt the night.
But all that goes well for the film is discarded by a repetitive narrative that ruins any real drama. Any single time the Fellowship, or their allies, face defeat, they are miraculously saved. This happened before, with the Balrog and Arwen, but it is much more prevalent here. Trees and the army of Rohan save the two captured hobbits from their orcish oppressors, a throng of Elves arrive at the last minute to help fortify Helm's Deep, and Gandalf comes with an army to save the day soon after. It's lazy, cheap, and contrived. It shows that one need not face their challenges, as when it looks most serious, there will be someone to bail them out.
Jackson's second time conducting the 'Lord of the Rings' freight train is easily more taut, covers more ground in less time, and does a good job maintaining tone, even if some of the branching storylines seem forgotten at times, with lengthy gaps between visits. Acting is on par with the previous film, but with a more diverse cast of characters, locations, and moods, 'The Two Towers' proves itself to be a superior film to 'The Fellowship of the Rings,' if even slightly. With great battles and characters painting the landscape, one can easily make the case for this entry into the series as the most entertaining, even if it isn't the best crafted 'Lord of the Rings' film.
'The Return of the King' - The battle has been won, but what about the war?!
With 'The Two Towers' bringing the first real full-scale battle into the film series, the ante was raised significantly, and with two films worth of build up, the pay off had to be beyond huge. Anything less than a spectacular end cap would have been a massive disaster. Who would have thought 'The Return of the King' would have been this good, though? It's rare to see a film series get better with every entry (the opposite seems the norm)!
Picking up where 'The Two Towers' left off, our heroes have escaped annihilation at Helm's Deep, but a greater battle remains, as the orc army regathers, to attack again at Minas Tirith, aka the City of Kings, which is located incredibly close to the gates of Mordor. A greater battle will ensue, with Legloas, Gimli, and Aragorn having to rally beyond humankind to save humanity. Sam, Frodo, and Gollum's tumultuous relationship is getting rockier, literally, as they pass into Mordor, where looms greater threats than they've ever faced before. Mankind has little time left to assemble and rally to survive, their fate lying on one hobbit, who may not be capable of completing his mission.
With Saruman effectively out of the picture, and no real figurehead to the evil forces besides the anti-Jesus, the omnipresent evil eye of Sauron, yet the film doesn't suffer. Far from it. In fact, the villains in the story become their fear, in a sense, their inability to control their actions and/or minds. Frodo has the One Ring influencing his body, heart, and mind, obviously, as he has a rift with his closest friend, that only comes back to haunt him, as the power of the Ring affects him to the point where he hardly can even function anymore. With Gandalf and the rest of the Fellowship, their struggle is to survive, to continue fighting against immeasurable odds, facing death with every battle head on, and accepting fate, rather than fearing it. Gollum's treachery, often alluded to but rarely seen, comes to fruition, but after his grand, orchestrated betrayal (who would have thought such a lowly creature could plan such a magnificent attack, even with his two personalities?!), his presence hardly matters, as he is (virtually) written off. But despite that, Smeagol/Gollum has to be the most interesting character in this final chapter. The opening of this film focuses on the fateful day he discovers the ring, its deadly repercussions, and his fall from grace, into sheer insanity, and it's hard to not feel for the character for what he once was, just as Frodo does.
'The Return of the King' succeeds in escalating the tension and urgency created in the earlier entries, a hard task indeed considering that the Helm's Deep battle has to be one of the best battles depicted in cinema period, regardless of genre or series, but that doesn't mean this film is without flaw. Minas Tirith is an obvious opposite of Helm's Deep, with the beautiful white walls, textured gates, and sheer beauty mixed in with practicality and regality, and while the end result is the same, the damage caused to the city hardly draws any emotions. Gandalf the infallible (sorry, Gray) once again acts as a guiding light, a messiah of sorts, to rally around, along with his heroic compatriots, but the character has no charm this third time around. Most frustratingly, the greatest flaw in the previous film (which is due to the original works, of course) reappears in this final entry, as again and again, losing battles are saved by surprise appearances and reinforcements. The moment any situation looks dire, never fear, another army will appear to lessen the load and spread out the enemies. This happens twice in a twenty minute span, so it's hard not to notice. Another nitpick: the less said about Eowyn's slaying of the Witch King, the better. The fact that the ringwraith had a contract, and this woman warrior found an effective loophole in it is ridiculous, while her banter is beyond comic book cheese.
Elijah Wood is spectacular, again, as the pint-sized bling bearer, as his descent into madness and paranoia is very believable, as is his sheer exhaustion. Despite being the lead role in the series, it is so easy to overlook how very powerful this young actor's portrayal is. Beyond Wood, there are some solid performances, particularly from David Wenham, and the underrated John Noble (recognizable most these days from his great character in 'Fringe').
The saga of 'The Lord of the Rings' is timeless, with analogy and parable mixed in beautifully with action, adventure, and a slight hint of romance. There are selfless heroes, sacrificing life and limb, solely for their love of life as they know it, and villains with no regard for life, replaced by the unrelenting thirst for power. Characters and their plights are relatable, the story incredibly multi-faceted and robust, with near infinite replay value. The cast is so deep with talent that the likes of Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, and Cate Blanchett don't even get mentions in the review up until this point. Fans worldwide have flocked to this series ever since its release for a reason. While the animated 'Lord of the Rings' may hold a sentimental place in the hearts of many, as the only real adaptation of the books until this definitive trilogy, neither it, nor few other films, can compare to the lasting appeal and power of this masterwork from Peter Jackson.
The Extended Editions
The obvious selling point of this release is the high def debut for the fan favorite cuts of the film trilogy. On DVD, these editions were released after the Theatrical Edition DVD release of each respective film, timed to coincide with the next film to bow in theaters (while the final Extended Edition release was then released in the same time period as it would have if there were a fourth film). The films now run an epic 228 minutes, 235 minutes, and 263 minutes, with an intermission of sorts caused by the need to change discs. These breaks are located at the formation of the Fellowship, the capture of Sam and Frodo, and the appearance of the wolf's head battering ram.
Detailed comparisons and explanations of the changes between cuts can be found at this website, which hosts a library of comparisons (and may contain NSFW content on titles that add in nudity on alternate/unedited cuts).
'The Fellowship of the Ring' - The first film in the series didn't earn as much praise from me the first go-round in its original cut as it will here. I cannot begin to put into words to how much more I respect, admire, and appreciate the lengthier cut of the film, as I consider it to be the most coherent, best edited, free flowing, and non-repetitive of the Extended Editions.
The fleshing out of the opening sequences, before Frodo is ever in the same room as the ring, they're excellently crafted. We see, in better detail, what truly happened to the one ring to cause it to be lost for centuries. Better yet, now we have reason to care for Bilbo Baggins, and we see what the ring does to him much more clearly. We understand his relationship to Gandalf better, and his relationship to Frodo is much more detailed. The Shire and its inhabitants are more detailed and relatable, as we see more of their carefree existence. Aragorn is given more time to connect to viewers, both before and after his real identity is disclosed, his past more clearly outlined. Galadriel is still mishandled and a loose end, but a future payoff and a once deleted scene in the next film get set up. The beauty is that while there are a number of smaller extensions, everything fits coherently, and the narrative structure of the film remains intact, with no odd moments feeling out of place, thrown in for the sake of. The experience becomes richer, and the journey suddenly is more invested for the viewer.
'The Two Towers' - It's fun to see the Elven rope gag between Sam and Frodo, even if the scene accomplishes nothing, while the Merry and Pippin extension with their Uruk-Hai captors is unnecessarily added, bringing nothing of note to the table. The sequences with Treebeard are lengthened, but to no avail, as they're less than interesting, making one wonder if they were cut, and the character minimized for a reason.
The real problems with 'The Two Towers' lies in the fleshing out of the Faramir/Boromir relationship, in flashback and vision, which completely pulls the film away from its destination on an unnecessary side-quest that would be explained well enough in the film to come. Sometimes a reference is all we need to understand a relationship, and while it's always great to get more Sean Bean, it is done here at the sake of the coherency of the film. Worse still, the climax of the Helm's Deep battle is lessened by the new fate of the surviving Uruk-Hai. There is no doubt in my mind that the Theatrical Edition of this film in the series is infinitely superior, with the right cuts being made for sake of cohesion, something lacking in this story.
'The Return of the King' - 'The Return of the King' was always long...now, it's just really, really long. From the start, we see an extension of the Smeagol/Deagol scene, making the choking death scene much more graphic and intense. But the biggest change in tone and mood is to come. Sauroman is given a proper sendoff, rather than just disappearing, out of sight, out of mind. Wormtongue also gets his comeuppance here. It was blasphemy that a world class actor like Lee was ever cut from an entire film, so seeing his fate is worth the five minutes it takes. The film starts much colder, wrapping up loose ends, showing things are about to get rough.
There's added comic relief with the Gimli/Legolas drinking game, our first look at what the orcs have done to the relics of man with the decapitated statue, and Faramir's failures at Osgiliath are more pronounced, leading to an additional scene where Denethor, his father, further shows how much more he loved his son Sean Bean/Boromir. The cave of the dead gets fleshed out, to add some real creep factor to it, that was seriously lacking before, and Peter Jackson makes a fun little cameo. The final change of note is one removed from the film due to the changes in how the stories intertwine between Frodo and Aragorn's quests, as the change affects how audiences perceive the scene with the Mouth of Sauron, making it somewhat anticlimactic.
The changes to 'The Return of the King' may be cool, but at times, they lessen the payoff, as numerous scenes are spoiled, confrontations extended to the point they have gone on too long, and the pace of the film unnecessarily stalled. The great benefits to fleshing out the first part of the film do not work the same wonders here, as the film becomes a bit redundant.
'The Fellowship of the Ring' film score: 5/5
'The Two Towers' film score: 3.5/5
'The Return of the King' film score: 4.5/5
The Disc: Vital Stats
Fifteen discs...to rule them all, and take up quite a bit of shelf space.
My golly goodness is this one hell of a big box set! The Extended Editions of 'The Lord of the Rings Trilogy' have finally arrived on Blu-ray! The packaging itself is a very sturdy, metallic clasping six sided box that's as golden as can be, with light embossing only adding to its beauty. The front folds open to reveal a map of Middle Earth on the inside of the front and spine sections, with a cast shot atop the case holders. Each film in this set gets its own Blu-ray case (unlike the Theatrical Edition set), with a five disc black cased box with identical layouts on the art. The spines themselves for these titles have a very slight hint, matching the colors of the book-fashioned DVD set: blue for 'The Return of the King,' red for 'The Two Towers,' and green (how fitting) for 'The Fellowship of the Ring.'
The first two discs for each film are BD50s, each with half of the film. Yes, dear fans, you'll have to get up off the couch to switch discs. Yes, I know, burning calories is the antithesis of a proper marathon viewing, I get it. However, the end result is worth said minimal strain (and, come on, you'd have to get up to switch movies anyways!). The third and fourth disc for each film contain the Appendices, the final two discs on their respective original Extended Edition DVD releases. The fifth disc in each set contains the Costa Botes documentary for the respective film. Due to the way this set sprawls out, every extra from the DVD releases can be found here, whereas the Botes documentaries were not found in the four disc book packs. The final score on this set is Blu-ray: 6, DVD: 9, where the DVDs could have all easily fit on a single BD50 disc per film (even at a maxed out DVD9, that would just be barely more than a BD25 disc, before reconfiguring and updating menu systems. Like the previous Blu-ray release, there are again Digital Copies, though this time, they're non-disc, contained on a piece of paper with URL and download code information.
There is no extended/new scene indicator, as is found in some other alternate cut home video releases; however, the chapter selection for each film has single and double apostrophes next to each chapter indicating what changes are made. Each film has a booklet in its respective black case, that has a chapter selection (with additional indicator marks), as well as a spreadsheet for the supplement package. There isn't, though, any space in the black cases for anything else, whatsoever. Put in the additional paper inserts in the case (the shameless advertising, such as a Harry Potter mini-catalog...what's that about?!?), and the case will bulge and have difficulty closing.
As of yet, there is no announced release date for these films individually, but it's sure to happen, just as it did for the Theatrical Editions on Blu-ray.
'The Fellowship of the Ring' - When 'The Lord of the Rings' debuted on Blu-ray last year, with the versions that hit theaters, the video qualities created quite the controversy, with 'The Fellowship of the Ring' being the most...well, disastrous. Riddled with DNR, the film looked like no film at all, really. The latter two films in the series had their problems, sure, but nowhere near the scale of 'Fellowship.' So, when Warner Bros. and New Line announced that the Extended Editions, the fan favorite cuts of the trilogy, would arrive on Blu-ray in 2011, the only film mentioned as receiving a remastering for the upcoming release was, naturally, the one that created the big stink.
Now, with the Blu-rays of the Extended Editions falling into consumer hands earlier than street date, controversy again would erupt. Much like 'The French Connection,' 'Fellowship' received some altered color timing, it would seem. The internet would soon become loaded with screenshots, comparisons, all sorts of science analyzing this first film in the set to the point where the improvements in the video became secondary to the puzzling "greenness" of it all. What did Peter Jackson or Andrew Lesnie intend for the video to look like, and did they have a hand? Is the Blu-ray release exactly to their specifications? The answers, or rather, the truth of the matter has not yet become clear, and at this point, it's all theory and conjecture. Intentions are great, but actuality usually beats them out. So, what is this controversy about? Is it legit? Is there something wrong with the Blu-ray for 'Fellowship' for the second time? Has the whole situation been blown out of proportion?
For this review, I went back and compared the new Extended Edition of 'The Fellowship of the Ring' to its Theatrical Edition counterpart, especially in scenes that I found to be...questionable, shall we say. Until Jackson (or Lesnie) himself speaks out on the matter, there may not be such a thing as "right" or "wrong," so, neither of those words will be used to describe the video. However, regardless of "right or "wrong," I want to stress that distractions, jarring moments or changes that alter the way a scene is perceived do, and will, affect the scoring on this release. A film may be, sometimes, locked in to how good it will ever look, with numerous standard definition films having arrived on Blu-ray, and no matter how truthful they are to the source, the end result just does not compare to other films that are faithful to their source and aren't an eyesore.
The big to-do on this first film in the series, the talk of the movie forums and blogs, is the color timing, so let's just hop right into that before anything else. Is 'The Fellowship of the Ring' tainted, or tinted, in a greenish, sometimes cyan hue, in ways that it was not on the previous Blu-ray release? Yes, but, and this is a very important but, it is not as much a travesty as some believe it to be. For starters: the entire film may be tinted, but many alterations or changes can be unnoticeable and/or borderline indistinguishable, rather than being the eyesores or distractions some are making them out to be. There is little doubt in my mind that this tint effects the entire run time, but for some reason or another, some sequences become blatantly obvious while others are still pretty darned passable, as there are many sequences where there is no tint in sight, with believable grays and whites. Skies aren't always turquoise, as beautiful marine blues do show up to provide fantastic brightness to a number of sequences. But...there are those moments where the changes seem hard to miss. Mists, which appear white in previous releases, now have an odd tinge to them, as they are no longer pure or unsullied, and what was once beautifully clean, white snow can look like someone was making snow cones with watered down dye. The title card for the film has a very slight hint of green to it, as well, while rocks in the shire have an odd taint that isn't from moss. Arwen's dress, which originally looked like a sparkly, completely white beauty in Frodo's hallucination, now looks like beautiful emerald, like a key lime pie, and the moment before, where Aragorn fights the Ring Wraights, their cloaks and his attire have olive hints and tints. Skin tones wear this issue, as well, as there are more than a few moments in the film where characters look ashen due to the way red levels are overpowered by greens, when they aren't excessively affected by lighting, far more than the other films in the set. The cyan tints are odd, and make some random sky shots a massive distraction with their new peculiar tint, while there are times where actors look like they have spider veins. That's not good.
There is no comparing the Extended Edition Blu-ray of 'Fellowship' to the previous release, though, as, hands down, this new edition thoroughly and regularly trumps its shorter cousin mercilessly. Detail levels are beyond improved, and the amount of tinkering and tampering has been reduced so dramatically that, get this, it looks like a film again! Beards never get blurry, not once, and facial features remain pure. I dare any viewer to have a staring contest with Gandalf's beard, since, I promise you, there's no aliasing or DNR in sight in what was once their most obvious home. Edges are much more natural, with nary a moment that caught my eye as being egregious or obviously enhanced. Depth? Hoo boy, does this release have it in spades! Crush? Not one inch of it touches the film, no matter how dark some sequences get. The picture is wonderfully clean, with only a tiny, tiny blip here and there, spread so far apart that it takes a keen eye to spot them all. Textures, they're so vivid, so strikingly real, metal surfaces reflect where applicable, rough blades feel dingy, the forest, water, wood, it's so marvelous, it's hard not to get sucked in to the beauty of this release (when it isn't the home of the Green Goblin).
Yes, I'll admit, I did tire of the randomly blue eyes or teeth. I also got a bit tired of the constant contrast between the wonderfully vivid, colorful moments and those that are obviously afflicted by some excessive color change stigma. The random darkness of the film also got to me, especially when Gandalf first knocks on Bilbo's door, as that shot looks the same on this release as it would if you watched the Theatrical Blu-ray wearing sunglasses, and that isn't even an exaggeration. This release has its flaws, serious, unmistakable flaws that do rain on what should be its parade. Is this a truly satisfying, breathtaking, stunning image? Not as much as it should be, nor as much as its untampered with brethren are. So, sadly, what may be the finest long cut of the trilogy is (there is no may be's or possibly's here) the weakest visually, with completely unnecessary little "fixes" that don't quite fix anything. If you love the color green, this may very well be the an "achievement unmatched in the history of cinema." If you love films looking natural, realistic, and untampered with...this may be the new test case for what all can go wrong when revisionist history takes a spin at creating a new look for a film people have seen so many times that they cannot accept the differences made. A remastering was necessary. A re-envisioning was not. No matter what gets said down the line (if anything is said at all), the end result is a picture that is not as engaging or inviting as the other two films in the epic motion picture trilogy. No words can change this problem, be it an intentional change or a mishap, unless they are the phrase Paramount has had to utter quite often with their Sapphire Series: disc exchange.
'The Two Towers' - No controversy here. 'The Two Towers' didn't get a new transfer, so there is no lime tint, green mist, or bizarre ice. That also means it also doesn't quite match 'The Fellowship of the Ring' when it comes to sheer detail. Since the original Blu-ray of this film wasn't an utter pile of...stuff..., the folks at WB and New Line didn't give it the treatment you'd expect from what may be their most profitable franchise. As such, it's somewhat locked in the same strengths and flaws of the Theatrical Edition Blu-rays.
It's nice, though, to see white, white snows and azure skies, as they're such beauties to behold when they're the right color. Textures and color clarity are amazing from the start, and it stays this way for the rest of the film. We have a rich, sharp, beautifully white title card, mists that don't look like poisonous clouds, and fantastic skin tones that aren't as dramatically altered by lighting and/or color balance as they were in the first film. Greens themselves are no longer neon, and finer details, like the scars on Gollum's back, leap right off the screen in ways never before seen on home video.
Sadly, we see some very light edge tampering, sporadically, with protruding spears being the most obvious sharpened image in the film. There's a tiny moire in Arwen's dress, but looking at it, it's hard to fault the disc, when the material was so obviously intricate. DNR, which is literally nowhere on the first film, does pop up from time to time, so keep an eye on beards and hair for some random blurring and patching that doesn't quite make sense. It's nice that there's no aliasing or artifacting, especially in some of the more frenetic or sharply moving moments, but this particular entry in the Extended Edition set isn't any significant upgrade from the previous disc. It's passable, but definitely not a real winner.
'The Return of the King' - The trilogy end cap does not feature a new transfer, but it may be the best looking overall disc in the trilogy, even if the sheer detail levels aren't as amazing as 'Fellowship' and its new appearance. What's on display here is the most film-like appearance of the trilogy, even if it has a few minor troubles.
Close ups are absolutely superb, and picture depth is no slouch this time around, with amazing clarity on tap readily and constantly. Little pores on fingers from midrange? You got it. Wear and tear? Nonstop. Edges are absolutely splendid the third time around, even if some other tampering exists. The clarity of the picture is so good that special effects start to look poor, with the flooded Isengard being the most obvious special effect failure of the series, with water that looks, well, nothing like water. Artifacting and banding are nowhere to be found in this nearly five hour cut, and skin tones are constantly pitch perfect. The varying color schemes, from the greens of nature to the grays and whites of cityscapes, as well as the browns and blacks near Mordor, all come through brilliantly, vividly, and make the aesthetic changes obvious and wonderful to stare at. Best of all, this time around, the mists that are green were actually supposed to be green. How awesome is that?!
'The Return of the King' isn't perfect, as there are some very minor traces of DNR from time to time still, while noise pops up on more than a few occasions (interestingly enough, most prominently behind Gimli in each of its appearances!). But taking into account the optimization of the disc, with commentary tracks replacing dubs and subtitle tracks, and the video portion of these two particular discs benefit greatly from the wide open space to breathe. If all three films in this set looked like this, you wouldn't hear any complaints from any reviewer.
'The Fellowship of the Ring' video score: 3.5/5
'The Two Towers' video score: 4/5
'The Return of the King' video score: 4.5/5
I said it once, and I'll say it again:
"Three films, three DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 mixes, one reason why this release may rule them all."
The adage concerning not fixing what isn't broken applies to the audio New Line provided 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy. In fact, I'm much more impressed with the sound this time around than I was back then, even if nothing has changed in terms of what type of mix has been provided. The entire trilogy sounds quite literally flawless, for its entire runtime. Not once in the entire viewing marathon did I have a moment where I wished some element was heftier, or some speaker had more activity. This was perhaps one of the most pleasant, accurate to the action on screen mixes I've encountered in some time.
All three tracks are nothing short of splendid, with pitch perfect dynamics, wonderful directionality, constant and appropriate localization effects, superb clarity, impeccable prioritization, wonderful volume spikes, and plenty of down and dirty bass to keep the entire experience engaging, no matter how thoroughly worn out you are by the length of the material. The soundstage is constantly filled, putting you in the middle of the experience throughout the entire affair, be it in a not-so-crowded hall or a battle littered with combatants from all angles. There's never an inappropriate moment or sound, not a single hair out of place. Range is brilliantly unchecked, and the echoes found in this trilogy, there may not be any better example on this format! I loved how regularly the bass had a different kind of roar, with frequencies and potencies changing, creating a fun new experience each time there was the need for extreme power, and I loved even more the fact that not once in the entire runtime did I need to adjust the volume settings on my receiver. The sharp clangs of sword on sword, the cold thumps of bodies hitting the ground, the whizz of arrows swooping across the room at any given angle, the thunder beneath a massive creature's footstep, the haunting melodies, the sharp spikes of victorious yells and screams, the screeching of the undead, the rumble of a volcano...all part of a perfect audio experience. The Extended Editions of 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy all earn perfect marks, with no regret or nitpicks. The most thunderous element after these three tracks played was the sound of my applause for a job more than well done.
'The Fellowship of the Ring' audio score: 5/5
'The Two Towers' audio score: 5/5
'The Return of the King' audio score: 5/5
The original Blu-ray release of 'The Lord of the Rings' had a minimal amount of extras available (or none at all if you bought the Wal-Mart exclusive versions), mirroring the already heavily aged original DVD releases by stealing their supplement discs and repackaging them. This Extended Edition set does the same thing, in essence, by taking two discs from each DVD version of the first releases of the book packed Extended cuts, as well as the documentary found on each of the second release versions of the Extended Editions (which also came with the Theatrical Cuts, the only editions so far to do so), packing three discs per film with the two discs for each film (which contain four commentaries each!), to create a monolithic supplement package that definitely rules them all.
All films, discs 1 and 2: Commentaries
- 'The Fellowship of the Ring' - Now I like how WB and New Line laid out the menu for this set. Pick the commentary option in the special features, and while each track has a generic name, there is a further pop up that shows who is in it, and what their capacity in the film was. Pretty damned smart, if I may say. Even smarter, due to some tracks being so heavily populated, the name of each speaker pops up on screen when they get a turn. While each film has the same four themes for its tracks, the participants do change ever so slightly, so the attributed contributors are listed for each film.
The first 'Ring' film gets four tracks, the first featuring the writers and directors (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens), the second covering the design crew (Grant Major, Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah, Chris Hennah, and Tania Rodger), the third full of production peoples (Barrie M. Osborne, Mark Ordesky, Andrew Lesnie, John Gilbert, Rick Porras, Howard Shore, Jim Rygiel, Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, Randy Cook, Christian Rivers, Brian Van't Hul, and Alex Funke), and the fourth covering the cast members (Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, and Sean Bean). Jackson acknowledges the difficulty in starting the film, so the fact that the beginning is one of the very biggest things changed in the Extended Editions is a great focal point. The three person track covers the prologue issues with the studio, the casting, how Hobbit scale worked, experiences of the cast on set (particularly around mostly strangers), the fate of the Baggins Hobbithole set, the idea of subtitling locations, and some random order anecdotes, including the director riffing on smoking in films, and how this trilogy got away with it, no questions asked. There is some odd feedback behind the participants at times, which isn't quite as annoying as the ringing in 'Sin City' or the horns behind 'Dilbert: The Animated Series,' but if you can hear it, it's massively distracting. The design track covers scale difficulty and logistics, to the nth degree (including the number 1.38), focusing on the difficulties and intricacies of the scenes, the underappreciated, possibly even ignored minute details that make or break a film of this caliber. In the producer track, we hear about the infamous car (which was removed), removed footage that didn't work or was difficult to film, the combinations of matte, miniatures, and live action, sometimes overanalyzed, Lee's audition as Gandalf and real life relationship with Tolkien (and his general awesomeness), real life locations for scenes, as well as some fun focuses on practical (mostly impractical) effects. The cast track has a ton of random quirky info, like women doubling as men (or horses!), casting misfires (including a non-Viggo Aragorn), the homage to 'The Hobbit' with the hidden cave trolls, McKellen bringing sexuality into the conversation (as well as an awesome dig at Ian Holm in old man makeup), and some random observations about each actor's respective character. This track is different from the other cast tracks, due to the fact that much of the later participants in the other two films had yet to debut on screen, so they're not involved, so there's a whole lot of Hobbit talk going on, but since most characters get introduced in a very short span, it fixes itself in a hurry.
- 'The Two Towers' - Four more tracks, featuring writing/directing (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phiippa Boyens), design crew (Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger, Grant Major, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah, and Chris Hennah), production folk (Barrie M. Osborne, Mark Ordesky, Andrew Lesnie, Mike Horton, Jabez Olssen, Rick Porras, Howard Shore, Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, Randy Cook, Christian Rivers, Brian Van't Hul, and Alex Funke), and finally the cast members (Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, John Noble, Craig Parker, and Andy Serkis). The director/writers commentary is interesting, but having viewed the Appendices (keep reading) before the commentary tracks, there was a lot of retreaded ground. Changes between cuts are explained, and the Andy Serkis performance is detailed in shots containing Gollum, along with lots of banter about the shooting experience. The design commentary talks about LARPers who obsess over Legolas, creating special effects, especially practically, the crafting of props and costuming, with seamless transitions and a nice, interesting tone. Production is smooth and fast moving, an easy listening track that doesn't dig all that deep, scraping by on the surface of random elements almost at random. It's scatterbrained, to be sure, but not necessarily in a bad way. The actors track is the best of this bunch, as Rhys-Davies is pure awesomeness with his analysis and dry wit, characters explain direction they were given for little quirks that get lost in the mix, random filming anecdotes and frustrations, some silly interactions, and explanations of what happens on screen, which happen a bit much more than anything else from a few contributors. A solid track, but not the best, as there's lots of wasted time on jibber jabber.
- 'The Return of the King' - Four more tracks, again with writing/directing (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens), designing (Grant Major, Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah, Chris Hennah, and Tania Rodger), production and post (Barrie M. Osborne, Mark Ordesky, Jamie Selkirk, Annie Collins, Rick Porras, Howard Shore, Jim Rygiel, Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, Christian Rivers, Alex Funke, Joe Letteri, Randy Cook, and Brian Van't Hul), and cast (Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Karl Urban, John Noble, Andy Serkis, Lawrence Makoare, Smeagol and Gollum). The Jackson commentary flows perfectly, with the director dominating the track, with his compatriots giving him slight breaks, egging him on to make other comments. It's informative, especially in providing context to the other films, the books, or the actual experience in filming. The design team commentary isn't as interesting, as it feels very "matter of fact," focusing on the minutia rather than the big picture, harping on minor details that are somewhat insignificant. This track gives more of a technical look at the film, from costumes to effects work, with some short, random anecdotes, but nothing significant in terms of story or plotting. The design commentaries may not be the best listens unless you work in craft or have a severe obsession with creation. Production fares a bit better, with cuts discussed and explained, compositing moments revealed, themes analyzed, and tricks of the trade, goofs included, hinted at. The coverage is solid on this third track, the flow is easy, and the comments are worth listening to, not jarring random thoughts like the design track. The fourth and final track for 'Return' is the cast, and it includes Andy Serkis along with his two alter egos in the film. Sadly, there isn't too much from the fictional characters, mostly just the cast discussing what's on screen, with some random anecdotes, a few attempted gags, and a fast pace. This could have been more. If anything, this could have been all Andy Serkis. It probably should have been!
All films, discs 3 and 4: The Appendices
- The Appendices, Part 1 (SD) - The first supplement disc for 'The Fellowship of the Ring,' titled "from book to vision." Features found here include a one minute introduction by Jackson, then a series of six featurettes (J.R.R. Tolkien- Creator of Middle Earth (22 min), From Book to Script (20 min), Visualizing the Story (13 min), Designing and Building Middle Earth (95 min), Middle Earth Atlas: Tracing the Journeys of the Fellowship, and New Zealand as Middle Earth (10 min)), with a play all option. The focus on Tolkien is solid, a very important history of a man and his mythology, and may be the best feature in this entire set, in terms of coverage and interest versus time spent. The script feature covers how Jackson and company created the script, from title treatment to the final draft, over a number of years. In pre-viz, we get the feature showing the planning involved, the intricacies, from storyboarding to creating animatics, yet another step in making the film before making the film. The design and building feature is an interesting four part look at the landscape at times, and the difficulties and painstaking process of planning out these lengthy films, and a number of areas of the series are explained, shown in detail here. We then move on to the Weta Workshop, the creators of countless iconic screen visions who play a vital role in bringing Middle Earth to life. Costume designing, normally a feature I'd ignore, is an interesting look at the ridiculous logistics crafting the appearance of the film. Design galleries has two main areas of interest, and a number of subdivisions of each, with some photos including commentaries explaining them. Extensive isn't the word to describe this, it's much, much more than that. The final feature on this disc, which features various New Zealand locations that were utilized to create a world that no amount of special effects or green screen could realize. The Atlas, tracing the journey, is a really interesting, if archaic, DVD feature that allows you to retrace the Fellowship's steps, and witness what happens at each locale.
- The Appendices, Part 2 (SD) - The second 'Fellowship' bonus disc, titled "from vision to reality," covers six more areas: Filming 'The Fellowship of the Ring' (97 min), Visual Effects (55 min), Post-Production (14 min), Digital Grading (12 min), Sound and Music (25 min), and The Road Goes Ever On... (7 min), again with a short introduction and a play all option. We have a lengthy period spent with the characters discussing the filming experience with a bunch of strangers, also providing insights into their characters versus their personalities and insights on others, in both regards. It's also hilarious hearing the discussion of how awful John Rhys-Davies would be as a wrestler, as he wouldn't telegraph hits, and would actually smash the stunt men with his faux axe. Then, it's off to viewing "A Day in the Life of a Hobbit," where we see actors get dressed and makeup'ed up as Hobbits, as well as interacting behind the scenes. "Cameras in Middle Earth" is interesting with the idea of having two Baggins homes, for scale for each sized actor, along with a bunch of filming anecdotes both shown and told, with each setting in the film split up by location. We then go to "Scale," which is a feature solely featured on the logistics in making actors look smaller and bigger, through various practical means. "Big-atures" is yet another feature concerning the miniature use in the film, and there's yet another Weta feature, with the special effects work in the film analyzed and broken down. The two post features cover editing the film, with an added demonstration with six screens composited to the final product. The "Digital Grading" extra is quite important on this release, due to, you know, color grading, that sort of thing. It's a must watch for those interested in the tampering done to 'Fellowship,' or anyone wanting to get really, really mad. There are two sound features, with "Soundscapes" covering the basic sound design, creating noises and effects, and the other covering the score, from Howard Shore. The final feature on the second Appendix covers the media, the premieres and dockets.
- The Appendices, Part 3 (SD) - "The Journey Continues" marks the start of the first 'The Two Towers' bonus disc, with the introduction followed by six categories: J.R.R. Tolkien: Origins of Middle-Earth (29 min), From Book to Script: Finding the Story (21 min), Designing and Building Middle-Earth (89 min), Gollum (44 min), Middle-Earth Atlas, and New Zealand as Middle Earth (14 min). Yes, these look an awful lot like the ones featured on the first Appendix disc... The Tolkien feature doesn't focus on the man as much as his writing inspirations alongside C.S. Lewis, alongside the politics of the time concerning the publishing. The script/writing feature covers the ways the story and it's slots, with what items happen where, were changed due to storytelling devices on screen. The "Designing" feature has three parts, with the first covering, well, designing the film from start to finish, crafting the appearance of the flick. The second part is a Weta feature, which covers the creation of the beasties in the film, and with the first major battle taking place in this volume, now is a great time to show the attention to these nasties and various good guys. There's also another design gallery for characters and locations, same as on the first Appendix. We get into the good stuff with the Gollum features, with the first covering the realization of the character, complete with tons of Andy Serkis on set performances that are beyond intriguing. We also get an animation reference and a feature about a stand-in day for another actor in the "gimp suit," as well as a design gallery showing the evolution of the character. The Middle-Earth Atlas is the same as before, but now features four different paths you can revisit. Lastly, the feature concerning New Zealand locations doubling as Middle-Earth is once again pure awesomeness, short as it may be.
- The Appendices, Part 4 (SD) - "The Battle for Middle-Earth Begins" just in time for my battle to stay awake while reviewing extras all day becomes a real struggle. After yet another intro, we have five features here: Filming 'The Two Towers' (89 min), Visual Effects (51 min), Editorial: Refining the Story (22 min), Music and Sound (47 min), and "The Battle for Helm's Deep is Over..." (9 min). The Filming feature has three sections, with a feature on stunt work creating warriors from varying factions with unique fighting styles and personalities, a feature that is generically concerned with filming on locations and the difficulties of doing such, with some random, interesting, sometimes amazing anecdotes, along with a photo gallery full of production photos. There are three VFX categories, with miniatures getting the first focus, with Helm's Deep getting the first focus before moving on to the Black Gate and the forest, and on to an animatic concerning the Isengard flooding that has to be seen to be believed, along with a miniatures photo gallery. From there, we get a Weta Digital feature discussing the countless digital shots in the film, crafting them from nothing to full high def glory, and lastly two abandoned segments, featuring a slideshow of a Slime Balrog and an endless staircase. On to editing, we see the differences in styles between films, focusing on multiple shots, the positioning of the film in the series in regards to storytelling, and on to cutting the action sequences. There are then three sound features, one focusing again on Shore's score, the sound design, creating the noises for the film, which is a real treat, before finishing off with a sound demo for Helm's Deep, which isn't as fun as the video demos. This appendix ends with a short feature looking back at the film as a whole, just the experience of making it.
- The Appendices, Part 5 (SD) - Phew...two more to go! "The War of the Ring," which was Tolkien's desired name for the third book, is the first Appendix for 'Return of the King,' with the standard intro, and six categories: J.R.R. Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle-Earth (29 min), From Book to Script (30 min), Designing and Building Middle-Earth (119 min), Home of the Horse Lords (30 min), Middle-Earth Atlas, and New Zealand as Middle-Earth (16 min). Yep, same categories, again, for the most part. As always, the Tolkien feature is a must watch, focusing on the linguistics, the structure and creation of the novels. The scripting has two features, with storyboards of Aragorn facing off against Sauron and a different ending for the one ring, as well as the feature discussing the changes, rearranging portions of the books, some of which for the better, some for the worse. The designing features are plentiful, with three featurettes and two galleries. We start with the creation of the sets and settings, moving on to miniature work, separated into sections about each setting that utilized non-CG elements. Weta is up next, and the third time around doesn't feel all that much different than the first two times we focussed on the craftsmen who design the fantasy elements of the flicks, before ending up at costume designing and design galleries. I said it before, I'll say it again: the costuming is a definite must watch, to truly understand how big an undertaking this big. The Horse Lords feature is a great look at the animal use in the films, an often understated, underappreciated challenge in the series. The Atlas feature is the same as before, with the four paths you can follow to trace the Fellowship's journeys. Wrapping up this disc is the New Zealand feature, where real life locations are shown as their Middle-Earth doubles.
- The Appendices, Part 6 (SD) - "The Passing of an Age" is an apt title for the final Appendix disc, as I feel as though I've been viewing these features for weeks instead of days! Aside from the final intro, we have five more categories: Filming 'Return of the King' (73 min), Visual Effects (43 min), Post-Production: Journey's End (85 min), The Passing of an Age (25 min), and Cameron Duncan: The Inspiration for Into the West (15 min). The filming portion has a camera feature as well as a photo gallery, where we see the difficulties, the twists and turns in production, the varying choices and unexpected good and bad fortunes. With VFX, there's another Weta feature (digital), as well as a demonstration. Really, halfway into the Weta feature, I had enough, as this is the sixth Weta feature, and it all started to blend into being the same damn thing over and over, but the demonstration of course is great, with an optional commentary track where six screens are combined into one final scene. In post, we get four extras, with the editing taking the first turn, where Jackson's longtime editor comes back for the final 'LOTR' flick, while the music focus, Shore's third bow in the extras, yet again shows us the recordings, the planning of material and themes. The soundscape once again shows us how many sounds were recorded in the silliest of practical manners. The final portion of post shows how much was happening at once, which must have been a real difficult few months for Jackson and company. The Passing of an Age covers the final premiere for the film, in New Zealand, a splendid event indeed. The Cameron Duncan features are really not related to 'The Lord of the Rings' all that much, just a couple bits of footage that are too big to be trailers, and are too boring to be watchable.
All films, disc 5: Costa Botes documentaries
- 'The Fellowship of the Rings' (SD, 85 min) - These documentaries, found originally on the second releases of the Extended Editions on DVD (those thin cased flipper editions) were filmed by documentarian Costa Botes. This one starts out in the pre-production phase, with character designs, costuming concerns, and even comments about Gollum being bigger than Jar Jar Binks. Lord help us, they invoked the unholy name. Of all three film documentaries, this one features the absolute least amount of on set footage, though what little there is is quite interesting, when you can actually see what's going on; it's also the shortest, running a good twenty minutes thinner than its peers. Storyboards are shown, as are animatics, and we see the film through cameras complete with framing guides. The focus on weapon creation is superb, the weapon training, not so much. Jackson's trailer...well it's pretty damned cool. This may be the most coherent, in depth Botes documentary of the three films, as it hits so much, so fast. A great first chapter!
- 'The Two Towers' (SD, 106 min) - Hobbits and blowup dolls! Tree climbing, and walking tree designing! Making Gollum heads! Watch Andy Serkis on set, vacuuming a great hall after rehearsing scenes, check out some injuries and precautions, horse logistics, set preparation, and more set preparation. There's a ton of footage on set between takes, rehearsing, and it does get a bit monotonous after a while, and while it's fun to watch Helm's Deep being made, and seeing Gimli outtakes rules all else, this Botes documentary doesn't compare to the other two. It's too generic, same stuff over and over, with little in terms of intrigue.
- 'Return of the King' (SD, 112 min) - Witness why Jackson was a tad overweight as he loads plates full of bacon! Meet the caterers, the assistant directors, the makeup people, the various crew members who make the film work, as you're delved deep into the creation of the film, with each and every element given a peek, putting you on the set, in a way. It's so fun seeing cars on the set where everyone is in costume alongside their horses, it's neat watching the monitors while Jackson shouts instructions, and it's even more fun watching the orcs dance on their barges, goofing off between takes in their full regalia. With Jackson getting a cameo in this third film, we see him in the chair briefly, before quickly cutting away to the construction of a city, of sorts. Move forward with Frodo in the cave, tangled in spider webs being assaulted by prosthetic spider legs, and then onto the various orc encounters in Mordor. When it's all said and done, we see Jackson address his crew one more time. No expense is spared, no miniscule portion of production ignored; the Costa Botes documentaries are a fan's dream come true, putting you on the set, to witness the randomness, the light spirits and the tricks behind the magic. Also, you get to see Gollum on the can, briefly. I'm sure that wouldn't fit into the time period of the film.
'The Fellowship of the Ring' supplements score: 5/5
'The Two Towers' supplements score: 5/5
'The Return of the King' supplements score: 5/5
There are technically two new features found on each disc 1 of the trilogy, but they earn no points, whatsoever on this release. The sheer amount of data and information found in this release that was previously released is more than enough to keep a fan preoccupied for a long, long time. The only reason there's any high-def exclusive points for this review is because of a single piece of paper.
- The Lord of the Rings: War in the North Trailer - The Untold Story (HD, 1 min) - What's that? A video game based on 'The Lord of the Ring' is coming? Quick, advertise it on each and every disc one of the set! This one looks pretty damned generic and no different from all the other 'LOTR' games that have come out in the last ten years.
- BD-Live - A generic portal that does nothing, and takes up menu and disc space! That's exactly what I was looking for in this release, yes! Can I also have a lengthy load time only to discover that big whopping nothing? I can?! Hip hip, hooray!!!
- Digital Copies - Wouldn't it be funny if there were disc based Digital Copies on top of all the other DVD discs? Thankfully, that isn't the case. A single paper slip with three codes and a URL is included loose in the box. The expiration date on these downloads is June 26, 2012, and they are both Windows and Mac compatible. Best of all: these are the long form versions of each film, not the same ones found on the previous Blu-ray release. Now you can fill your iPad or other portable device with six 'Lord of the Rings' films!
There are three "easter eggs" on the Blu-ray discs, with each being found on the disc one of each film, in the supplements tab, where an entire tab is a ring. They're not exactly hidden all that well, to be frank, so putting them here is a bit of a stretch, but ah well!
On the 'The Fellowship of the Ring' disc, we get a three minute SD alternate version of the council of Elrond, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jack Black. This one has to be seen. It's definitely not for children. It's horribly crude, yet hilarious at times, especially the Frodo gag.
On the 'The Two Towers' disc, a three minute SD MTV movie award acceptance speech is shown, as Gollum won an award for best virtual performance (tough category, that). It's pretty poor, really, but calling Dobby a %$@ing &^% is quite epic.
On the 'The Return of the King' disc, there is a nine minute SD interview between Monaghan and Wood, played off as a hoax of sorts on Wood. Monaghan doesn't do a bad German, but the joke here is on us, not Wood, as it isn't all that funny.
On the Appendices DVD discs, there is a symbol at the bottom of each page that is a not-so hidden link to the DVD credits.
The following Easter Egg has been found by one of our readers (John Bowdle, take a bow, and thanks!): After finishing 'The Fellowship of the Ring,' watching through the end credits (or even fast forwarding through it all), you are brought back to the main menu, and if you let the screen sit for a short while, past where the audio cuts out, the menu seems to make a choice for you, the screen goes black, and Peter Jackson introduces the theatrical preview for 'The Two Towers.' Jackson says DVD, and it's in SD, so you know this is an old bit of footage from a past home video release, but a three minute HD clip of the second film, that's something, isn't it?
Researching this tip further, when this trick is done to the 'The Two Towers' disc...nothing happens. I kept waiting and waiting, but after four minutes, I had enough. Since there's no way 'The Return of the King' would have a trailer for 'The Hobbit' or one of the previous two films in the series, I didn't even investigate that disc.
Thanks go to reader/forum member Tiny Angel for spotting this extra. On disc two of 'The Return of the King' Blu-ray, at the black screen, select to view the main menu. From there you get a traditional menu, and another not-so-well-hidden ring in the supplements tab. This six minute MTV feature has Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Peter Jackson sitting down as the two actors faux-interview Jackson about making a sequel to the 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy. It's not bad, by any means, and gets better as the runtime rolls on. Still, MTV means it panders quite a bit.
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Oh, how I wanted to give this set my first ever five star overall score, the mark of perfection or an incredibly close near miss, a set that eclipses its competition so thoroughly that it makes even great releases look shameful. At the end of the day, I just couldn't give this set that highest of honors. The Extended Editions of 'The Lord of the Rings' are just what the fanboy in all of us desires: the films we enjoy or love, but much, much more of them. The changes in the films are mostly improvements, even with the added runtime turning an already difficult marathon into a real endurance test.
The original Blu-rays for 'The Lord of the Rings' were controversial, and once again, controversy looms (or reigns, depending on your viewpoint), with the only new transfer in the set creating a feeling that doesn't make the other films green with envy... The audio and extras are pitch perfect (even if the massive supplement package does retreat steps on more than one occasion), and those interested in delving head first into this repackaged supplement section will have a few days worth of viewing in store for them, at the very least.
So, what's the deal with the color timing? Is it per Jackson's specifications, or is it an accident, a slight effect that went awry? So far, no one has spoken up about this miniature debacle. All that matters, at this point, is what the consumers get, and they get a film that has some very ugly skin tones, green mists and ice, and turquoise skies. Even if Jackson came out tomorrow and fully endorsed this new transfer, I'd refuse to regrade this release, since all that matters is how it looks, especially since it never looked this way before! This entire little controversy may upset hardcore fans and potential customers, but it is still more tolerable and less distracting than the way the Theatrical Editions DNR'ed the film to death and back again. This fifteen disc set may be 60 percent DVD, but it's 100 percent must own, especially when it goes on sale.
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