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Blu-ray Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Extended Edition
Dr. Geek, Ph.D.   |  

Lord of the Rings blu-ray trilogy set

The Lord of the Rings
The Motion Picture Trilogy – Extended Edition
Blu-ray
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom
Warner Home Video
Release date: June 28, 2011

If you want to turn a hit theatrical franchise into a long-term moneymaker in Hollywood, it’s all about the home video releases. Sequels or prequels are an often shaky proposition (see The Godfather, Part III and Star Wars Episodes I, II, III, for example.) If you or your company own one or more films with a solid cult following, however, home video releases can be the gift that keeps on giving, usually at reasonable cost and low risk to revenue. George Lucas is a proven master at this, hauling out a new home video revision of one or more of his Star Wars films that highlights some new video format, some different cut of the film (including a reversion back to the original theatrical release), some new documentary extra, or even a preview of some upcoming Star Wars project. Likewise Francis Ford Coppola has cut and re-cut The Godfather films into releases like The Godfather Saga and The Epic Godfather box set that added material and joined scenes in chronological order, as well as offer re-masters like The Godfather DVD Collection and The Godfather: the Coppola Restoration. Some studios and directors take this process even further with direct-to-video revisions of flawed but remembered chapters of well-known franchises like Paramount and Robert Wise did with Star Trek: The Motion Picture The Director’s Edition.

Peter Jackson followed this path with his trilogy of Lord of the Rings films more explicitly than most. Drawing from a detail-rich universe of source material, Mr. Jackson filmed more material from the books of J.R.R. Tolkien than he could ever fit into the running time of even a long theatrical release. Since all three films of the trilogy were made at the same time, the continuity of production made it possible to gather commentary for completed films as they were successfully released. Indeed, the extraordinary success of the films across multiple years made it possible to even invest some funds in documenting the production process itself, allowing Mr. Jackson to build up a wealth of material for home video extras, and to afford to retain the services of the original production and design staff for the creation of special home video releases. Finally, Mr. Jackson followed the path paved by others like Mr. Lucas and Mr. Coppola to its logical end: the DVD releases of the theatrical versions included release dates and teaser material for the Special Editions to come. This resulted in four separate boxed set editions of the film: the original Theatrical Edition released on DVD on May 25, 2004; the Platinum Series Special Extended Edition on DVD on December 14, 2004; the Original Theatrical and Extended Limited Edition on DVD on August 26, 2006; and the Original Theatrical Edition [Blu-ray] on BD and digital copy DVD on April 16, 2010, plus various releases for the individual films.

Now a new boxed set can be added to the list: The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Extended Edition [Blu-ray]. This is an update of the December 2004 Platinum Series Special Extended Edition release to Blu-ray Disc, bringing the video up to high definition 1080p and the audio to DTS Master Audio HD 6.1. Each Extended Edition film is split across two Blu-ray discs. Extras are identical to those found in the December 2004 release: four commentary tracks on each BD (one from the production team, one from the design team, one from the post-production team, and one from the actors), plus three supplemental DVDs per film (called “Appendices”) of production documentaries and art work. The boxed set also includes software keys to obtain each film online via download for iTunes or Windows Media.

Given the number of home video releases this Trilogy has, first-hand comparison of all of them is a potentially expensive proposition — an expense this reviewer is unwilling to assume. So before I get to my thoughts about the Extended Edition [Blu-ray], let me talk a little about how I watched it and what I can use for comparison. Prior to buying this Extended Edition set, I only owned the original theatrical releases, purchased separately on DVD. I saw parts of the Blu-ray discs and the theatrical release DVDs in two ways: one on my home theater setup that included an OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray player and a 42″ Panasonic Viera plasma television in 780p, and on my computer, running Cyberlink PowerDVD 9, and a Samsung 23″ LED monitor.

The video and audio quality of the Extended Edition [Blu-ray] set is positively pristine. Comparing the video between the Extended Edition BDs to their theatrical release DVD counterparts, the BDs bring a higher contrast color palette to all the films, in addition to the extra detail expected from a high definition format. This does not necessarily make scenes on the BD brighter than their DVD counterparts, but it does bring increased depth and subtlety that makes passages of the theatrical DVDs seem almost sepia-toned in comparison. This effect was especially noticeable when I used the OPPO BDP-83/TV combination; it was less so on the computer using the “Default” video settings on PowerDVD 9, but re-asserted itself when I changed the video settings from “Default” to “Theatrical.”

Sound for the Extended Edition films is likewise a very high contrast affair; softly spoken dialogue is punctuated with powerful musical cues and sound effects as the movies progress. The quality of the BD sound was very good, but a quiet listening space or headphones are almost a necessity. Put these films on a home theater system with background noise like a fan or an air conditioner running nearby and the softer parts require a volume high enough to disturb the rest of the house (or the neighbors) during the louder passages. Still, sound quality is what the producers wanted, and it is what they got — even the quietest whisper is rendered crisply and cleanly.

Seeing the theatrical releases of the Lord of the Rings films always made me want to re-read the books afterward, and I never found either the book or the film wanting after doing so. I feel that this is one of the highest compliments that one can pay to a screenplay adapted from a book. The extra two-plus hours of material in the Extended Edition versions of the films only increases this desire on my part. It is a deeper dive into the world of the books that adds further nuance, and little of the extra material is worthy of criticism. Looking back at the continuity of the series as a whole, I wonder why some of this material was cut (the scene The Voice of Saruman and the scene Gilraen’s Memorial). About the only complaint that can be offered about the extra material is that it runs against some of the basic production decisions for the films made by Peter Jackson and the production team (the scene The Mouth of Sauron).

As for the Extras, there is too much material to watch, let alone digest, in one sitting. With three commentaries for each film — one describing the process of the producing the film, one describing the design and crafting of the film’s sets, props, and effects, one describing the post production, sound, and effects, and one describing the experiences of the actors on each film — it is possible to go for days watching these films and never seeing them exactly the same way twice. The Appendices also represent a huge amount of material, with documentary featurettes and galleries of the kinds of pre-production artwork and animatics that are commonly lost or destroyed after a project wraps.

One of the more fascinating bits of material I came across during my dive into this wealth of material was the featurette From Book to Script: Forging The Final Chapter, describing the production decisions that shaped the script of Return of the King. It provided an insightful sense of film as process, first of being taken from book to script, then script to performance, and then performance to completed film… even when some ideas did not make it through to the end. For example, there was an idea to have Aragorn personally fight Sauron at the Gates of Mordor. Peter Jackson and his collaborators were passionate about this idea, even though it was an active departure from the book; they felt (wrongly, in my opinion) that it provided a visual and emotional climax that was a counterpoint to the struggle of Sam, Frodo, and Gollum to get to Mount Doom. This sequence was filmed, and visualizations of the effects were started. Only when a rough version of the scene was assembled did some problems become clear: it caused visual confusion between Sauron and the Nazgul, and it diluted the dramatic punch of Aragorn making a stand at long odds simply to provide a distraction that lets Frodo destroy the Ring. In the end, the concept was (correctly, in my opinion) abandoned and the footage re-used in different ways in the final cut of the film.

This, to me, highlights two things. First, the creative process is fragile. These films could have ended up far less true to the books than they were. Second, it shows the size of the financial bet made by New Line Cinema. Without the time and money in the budget to ensure that any early creative mistakes were corrected, we would have seen an inferior product in the final cut.

Is The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Extended Edition Blu-ray Edition a great package that delivers the goods? Yes. Should you run out and buy it now? Well, that depends on what you want and what you already have. This essentially is a retread of the Platinum Series Special Extended Edition from 2004. If you own that set, then the only new material here are the six Blu-ray discs containing the three films. For someone like me, who only owned the theatrical releases (a pre-release and sale price on Amazon.com of $69.99; now at $88.50) made this an absolute no-brainer. What about you?

Bonus Features

Films included are…

  • The Fellowship of the Ring
  • The Two Towers
  • The Return of the King

Discs #1 and #2
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (BD)
Over 30 minutes of footage incorporated into the theatrical release of the film
Commentary by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens
Commentary by the design team
Commentary by the production/post-production team
Commentary by 10 actors, including Elijah Wood and Ian McKellen
Easter egg: MTV Movie Award Spoof (The Council of Elrod)

Disc #3
The Appendices, Part 1: From Book to Vision (DVD)

  • Peter Jackson introduction
  • J.R.R. Tolkein: Creator of Middle Earth
  • From Book to Script
  • Visualizing the Story
  • Designing and Building Middle Earth
  • Middle Earth atlas interactive

Disc #4
The Appendices, Part 2: From Vision to Reality (DVD)

  • Elijah Wood introduction
  • Filming The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Visual effects
  • Post-production: Putting it all together
  • Digital Grading
  • Sound and music
  • The Road Goes Ever On…

Disc #5
Costa Botes Documentary: The Fellowship of the Ring: Behind the Scenes (DVD)

Discs #6 and #7
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (BD)
Extended edition of the film, incorporating 43 minutes of footage incorporated into the film
Commentary track by writer-director Peter Jackson and writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens
Commentary track by the design team
Commentary track by the production/post-production team
Commentary track by 16 cast members, including Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, and Miranda Otto
Easter Egg: MTV Movie Awards clip (Gollum accepting award)

Disc #8
The Appendices, Part 3: The Journey Continues (DVD)

  • Peter Jackson introduction
  • J.R.R. Tolkein: Origin of Middle Earth
  • From Book to Script: Finding a Story
  • Designing and Building Middle-Earth
  • Gollum
  • Middle-Earth Atlas interactive
  • New Zealand as Middle Earth (map with video location)

Disc #9
The Appendices, Part 4: The Battle for Middle Earth (DVD)

  • Elijah Wood introduction
  • Filming The Two Towers
  • Visual effects
  • Editorial: Refining the Story
  • Music and Sound
  • The Battle for Helm’s Deep is Over

Disc #10
Costas Botes documentary: The Two Towers–Behind the Scenes (DVD)

Discs #11 and #12:
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (BD)
Extended edition of the film, with 50 extra minutes incorporated into the film
Commentary track by writer-director Peter Jackson and writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens
Commentary track by the design team
Commentary track by the production/post-production team
Commentary track by 16 cast members, including Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, and Bernard Hill
Easter Egg: Dominic Monaghan interviewing Elijah Wood by satellite

Disc #13
The Appendices, Part 5: The War of the Ring (DVD)

  • Peter Jackson Intro
  • J.R.R. Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle-earth
  • From Book to Script
  • Designing and Building Middle-earth
  • Home of the Horse Lords
  • Middle-earth Atlas: Tracing the Journeys of the Fellowship: interactive map
  • New Zealand as Middle-earth: interactive map with on-location footage

Disc #14
The Appendices, Part 6: The Passing of an Age (DVD)

  • Elijah Wood/Sean Astin/Billy Boyd/Dominic Monaghan intro
  • Filming The Return of the King
  • Visual Effects
  • Post Production: Journey’s End
  • The Passing of an Age
  • Cameron Duncan

Disc #15
Costas Botes documentary: The Return of the King: Behind the Scenes (DVD)

  • :(

    Disapointing that the movies are on 2 discs even though they used the 50GB Dual Layer bluray discs…really who wants to get interrupted 1/2 way through the movie to change the disc. :(

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