We’ve been through all of this before, have we not? Dear Blu-ray obsessed friends, I hate to have to say it, but when I’m right, I’m right. And in the case of The Lord of the Rings on Blu-ray, I was right all along. In April of 2010, Warner Bros. released their Lord of the Rings trilogy on Blu-ray. At the time, reviewers like myself made the not-so-bold prediction that it wouldn’t be the last time we’d see this epic trilogy on the highest of definition formats. Chief among our reasons, the multiple dipping DVD releases Warners has put out over the years, from “limited edition” box sets to extended edition collector’s sets to extended editions in boxes that looked like those big talking trees. Lord of the Rings is perhaps the most re-released home video franchise in history, and the reason they can do it is because they know we’ll buy it — every time. It’s sad, but oh so true. Look around your own DVD and Blu-ray collection. How many copies of Fellowship of the Ring do you own? I have 3, and as you’re about to see, I’m not even that big a fan of this trilogy.
With that in mind, what are we to do about this new, Extended Edition Blu-ray set? Should we pick this one up and add it to the Middle Earth-sized pile in the center of our home video collections? Or should we pass and continue to play the waiting game, with hopes that Warner Bros. will finally release a set with 47 more hours of extras packaged in a lifesize Frodo statue — on sale for only $1500)? Come with me on this magical journey and we’ll explore…
As I hinted above, I’ve never really been into the world of Hobbits, Orcs and fiery eyeballs created by masterful fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien. But I would never begrudge anyone their delights, so I can’t say I blame the adoring fans of this franchise, both literary and cinematic. There’s something vast and meticulously woven about the layers of story within The Lord of the Rings, each layer rich with interesting characters and enduring themes. It’s all just a bit slow for me. Especially when you get to hour three of Return of the King and you know you’ve got another hour and a half left. These extended editions, in their full-force glory, are meant mostly for the most fervent fans. Those kinds who complain about all of the things from the book that were left out of the movie. Having not read LOTR, I can’t confirm this, but my best guess is that little was left out of these extended editions. And for many, that will be seen as a great positive. These are the most epic of epic depictions, seen through the incredible craftsmanship of Peter Jackson and the folks at Weta. It’s hard not to appreciate what they’ve accomplished on levels technical, creative and logistical. Years down the line, these films will be looked upon as the Panama Canals of filmmaking — we will stand in awe of the sheer manpower and will behind them, and appreciate the incredible balance between their size and complexity. I still won’t want to sit through 235 minutes of The Two Towers, but at least I’ll be able to appreciate the fact that it exists.
This Blu-ray set presents, at least for me, a great conundrum. It’s a big, beautiful box set with all the special features you could possibly want from a Lord of the Rings set. Yet, there’s something about it that feels unfinished. First, the HD transfers on the films are sharp, but some of them do have some color timing issues. Those who have been following this release closely will not that many a technofile has complained that Fellowship of the Ring is tinted green in a fairly noticeable manner. And even though it’s a fairly green film, there is a little extra color washing over that film. Does this mean it doesn’t look great? Not at all. The image is incredibly sharp and clean, it’s just a little greener than it was before. Perhaps that is how Peter Jackson wanted it in the first place. Even the biggest imperfections in this HD transfer (all of which are relatively minor) are overpowered by the awesome beauty of seeing the films in full 1080p.
The other piece to the great Extended Edition Conundrum of 2011 is the selection of special features. Clocking in at an estimate 4,000 hours (based on my best guess), the extras within this edition appear to be the most widely compiled set of bonus features in the history of bonus features. It doesn’t appear to be anything new, not since that April 2010 release, but again, it’s everything in existence that has to do with these movies — I hope. For example, here’s the rundown on the Two Towers set:
13 Behind the Scenes Documentaries
2 Interactive Middle Earth Maps
Over 1,500 images with audio commentary
4 audio commentary tracks
One feature length making-of documentary
I can’t imagine wanting, needing or hoping for much more than that. In fact, if you make it through all of that, you should win a prize. The only kicker on the extras is that they are contained not on Blu-ray discs, but on DVD discs. This will undoubtedly be a sticking point for some, but not for me, and I’ll tell you why. Much of this footage was shot for DVD. Remember that these films began production in 1998, whereas Blu-ray wasn’t even invented until 2004. They were shot, produced and packaged for DVD. Upconverting them now seems like an unnecessary expense, both for Warner Bros. and us. The quality difference would be minuscule, so why not accept that a LOTR: EE Blu-ray release priced under $100 is a gift from the lords of.. well, you get the idea. The extras are great, no matter what format they’re on.
The final and perhaps most impressive thing about the presentation of these discs is the packaging. I love the book-like outer box, sturdy and complimented with a great topographical map of Middle Earth. The individual film sets (5 discs each) are encased in their own standard, albeit a little thicker, Blu-ray cases. Not some non-standard size or ridiculous design. If you were to take them out and put them on your shelf they’d fit perfectly alongside other Blus and still look fairly majestic.
The set also includes Digital Copies of each film.
The Bottom Line
There is no good reason why any die hard Lord of the Rings fan shouldn’t pick up this set. It is everything that you are probably ever going to get from this franchise, even if it’s not the final time we see it on Blu-ray. All the extras in the world, beautiful packaging and solid transfers are exactly what I would want, if I were dying to get this set in my collection. Even in my stringent non-fandom, I’m glad to have this box set as part of my collection. Because you just never know when you’re going to need 726 minutes (just over 12 hours) of time spent with the characters of Middle Earth. In that unlikely, but completely possible situation, I’m confident that this set has me covered.
Recommendation: A buy for die hard fans and anyone who doesn’t already own LOTR on Blu-ray.
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