It’s hard to believe that it’s been 11 years since Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring first appeared in cinemas and blew audiences with its incredible depiction of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Before the first film was released, many had thought New Line was insane spending several hundred million dollars making the three movies back-to-back, especially as at the time fantasy was seen as box office poison.
However it paid off in spades with 17 Oscars, 2.9 billion dollars at the worldwide box office and scoring a legion of awed fans around the world. Although it immediately had people clamouring for an adaptation of The Hobbit, it’s taken a long time to get it to the screens, largely due to behind-the-scenes issues over the rights and funding, with an extra delay caused by MGM’s bankruptcy (they have long had first refusal over Tolkien adaptations, and while they bowed out of Lord Of The Rings, they didn’t want to miss out on The Hobbit). Now it’s finally here, with the first of the three-part adaptation, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, due out in cinemas on December 13th.
So it’s the perfect time to revisit the first three films. The Extended Editions of Lord Of The Rings have been out on Blu-ray before, but only in a box set that included all the movies and a bucket load of extras. If you wanted to buy the films individually, you were out of luck. Not now though, as they’re being released as three two-disc sets, which include just the films and a quartet of commentaries.
If you’ve got the Extended Editions on DVD, you may be wondering if they’re worth getting again on Blu-ray. The answer is an emphatic yes, as Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth is a lush, rich world that deserves to be seen in the best way possible. And this really is the best way.
As with the DVD editions, each of the films is split in half so that they take up two-discs each. You might be wondering why with the huge capacity of Blu-ray, they didn’t just put each on a single disc, which would have been easily possible. The reason is that to put it on one disc, the image would have had to be compressed, inevitably resulting in at least a little loss of quality. Putting it on two discs ensures it can use as little compression as possible, meaning not just that there’s great detail in the picture but it also ensures the broadest colour palette possible.
It’s what Blu-ray does with colour that’s perhaps the least appreciated aspect of the format and also the main reason it’s streaks ahead of the type of HD you get on TV or stream from the web. Those forms of HD have to massively compress the image to fit it into a reasonably small stream of data, which, amongst other things, involves lowering the number of colours that can be on the screen at the same time. Blu-ray needs to do this far less – and also adds in progressive scan for a much sharper overall image – meaning that as long as the transfer is done well, you get an incredibly rich picture with massive depth of colour, which is most noticeable in the brightest and darkest parts of the picture (which are the aspects that tend to get bled out in lesser formats).
All that means that the Extended Editions of Lord Of The Rings look absolutely gorgeous, showing off every detail of the lush world Jackson created. There are very occasional issues, which mainly concern being able to see the edges and flaws in a few of the special effects. For some reason it’s most noticeable during The Two Towers, and while not bad, the CG or model work sometimes don’t quite match the live-action footage, or the blending on a CGI character is a little too sharp.
That said, to be honest it’s almost miraculous you can’t see more issues with the SFX, as there are vast amounts of effects in the movie, so the fact just a few aren’t perfect – and even then it’s only noticeable on Blu-ray – is actually pretty impressive. Although I can’t be sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if the effects where you can see the imperfections are those done especially for these longer versions of the movie.
And if you’ve only seen the theatrical versions, you’ve been missing out. I can understand the point of view that having an extra two hours inserted into what were already lengthy films sounds like overkill, but they actually just flesh things out and add to the experience. There’s nothing added in that feels like it slowing things down or doesn’t have a place in the trilogy. It’s particularly impressive during the final film, Return Of The King, which was over three hours in the cinemas and has another 50 minutes added for this longer version, yet if anything it makes the film even more exciting and rich.
Any issues with the trilogy, such as the fact that Return Of The King has about four endings and goes on for too long after its emotional climax, were present in the theatrical versions and are a product of telling such a complex tale, where there’s often four or five separate but interlinked plots going on at once. However the addition of things such as an illuminating flashback to Boromir and Faramir reclaiming Osgiliath and a final appearance for Saruman are well worth including. Indeed there are all sorts of tiny little bits and pieces added in to what are complete recuts of the film (rather than just having extra scenes inserted), which give you a far greater feel for what’s going on and for the world of Middle Earth itself, while the theatrical cuts are mainly about propelling the stories forward.
Rewatching the films it’s also interesting how Jackson has essentially cut the Extended Edition as one very long movie. There’s no recap at the beginning of each film. Things just pick up where they left off so it really is just one 10 and a half-hour narrative (the discs actually run just over 12 hours, but the credits alone take up well over an hour of that). It’s one of the most remarkable achievements in cinema that he manages to keep things going for so long and it never gets dull or seems too silly. And to be honest, if you take a step back it should be silly – from the talking trees to the fact the main villain is an eye on top of a tower. It’s not simply that it’s based on Tolkien that makes it work, but the fact it’s such a complete, immersive world, which allows even the daftest thing make perfect sense.
Each part of Middle Earth is distinct and yet they all tie together into one cohesive whole. They’re also impressively timeless. One of the biggest issues with fantasy is that it tends to reflect the time it was made far more than you might expect, so that very quickly the sets, hairstyles and cut of the costumes begin to look old-fashioned and date the movies horribly. So far it’s not an issue with Lord Of The Rings and I’d imagine it will stay that way, largely due to how well put together it is. It’s very deliberately not an early 2000s take on the Tolkien fantasy, and is instead rooted far further back in history. For example the capital of Rohan, Edoras, is essentially as incredibly grand Iron Age hill fort, while Gondor has echoes of the Byzantine Empire. And of course on these Blu-rays you really can revel in the incredible production detail and design that went into the films.
As you may have noticed, I haven’t talked much about the plots, but that’s because I presume you’ve seen the movies, so you know it follows Frodo and his Hobbit friends as they travel from the Shire, with the aim of getting the One Ring that controls the fate of Middle Earth to Mount Doom, so they can destroy it. To do this they form a fellowship with men, a wizard, an elf and a dwarf, who initially travel together but soon split up and take on different parts of a fight that will determine whether the forces of darkness rule the land.
Of course there’s also the question of whether the relationship between Frodo and his pal Sam is, well, a little bit gay. While I don’t think there’s any suggestion that they’re bumming each other every time the action switches to another location, it is very much played as a love affair. With things such as Sam’s pain at Frodo’s rejection (caused by the power of the One Ring) and his dislike and sometimes jealousy of Gollum – as well as the the two Hobbits’ constant proclamations of how much they mean to one another – it’s written and acted like a romance. It is undoubtedly about a true love between men that never shies away from the emotional depths that can reach, even if it’s not sexual. It’s both very gay and yet not gay at all.
The films have good acting, breathtaking storytelling, a gargantuan scope, amazing special effects (with those few provisos noted above) and astonishing production design, and on Blu-ray looks utterly magnificent.
The only real question is whether all the special features that are included in the Extended Editions box sets interest you (you do still get a fun quartet of commentaries on these discs). If you have the Extended Editions on DVD, you’ll already have most of them. The BD box set does add in a lengthy extra documentary for each movie by filmmaker Costa Botes though, which are interesting but not essential (and have been included on limited edition DVD releases before).
However if you’re not too fussed about extras or don’t want the extra Botes docs, these individual release are perfect (although you may want to wait for the price to come down a little, as at the moment it’s around the same price to buy the box set as it is to purchase the films individually, even though you get fewer discs and features). But whatever way you get them, get the LOTR Extended Edition on Blu-ray, as it’s as beautiful as you could hope and helps return the magnificent scope these films had in the cinema. With an excellent transfer and an amazing colour palette, these are great discs.
Overall Verdict: The Lord Of The Rings: Extended Editions are a must see on Blu-ray – rewatching the films in 1080p took my breath away in a way these film haven’t since they were in the cinema. They’re also the perfect way to prepare for The Hobbit.
Fellowship Of The Ring: The Lord of the Rings: War in the North – The Untold Story Trailer, Commentary with Director & Writers, Commentary with Design Team, Commentary with Production and Post Production, Commentary with Cast
The Two Towers: The Lord of the Rings: War in the North – The Untold Story Trailer, Commentary with Director & Writers, Commentary with Design Team, Commentary with Production and Post Production, Commentary with Cast
Return Of The King: The Lord of the Rings: War in the North – The Untold Story Trailer, Commentary with Director & Writers, Commentary with Design Team, Commentary with Production and Post Production, Commentary with Cast
Reviewer: Tim Isaac