The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions – Error Correction
By Jim Bray
It was one of the most anticipated film series in the history of cinefantastique when it hit Blu-ray in 2010, but some fans were disappointed that it was only the shorter theatrical versions, and even they had their issues.
Now, however, it appears Alliance Atlantis has listened to the fans because they've released this new boxed set of all three of Peter Jackson's classic films in all their extended glory, and all of them look and sound fantastic.
The latter point is arguably just as important as the former because in the original Blu-ray release, the picture quality of the first of the trilogy – The Fellowship of the Ring – was appreciably worse than that of the latter two films. It was inexcusable for a movie of recent vintage, especially one as important in the panoply of epic movies as the LOTR trilogy.
Jackson's Lord of the Rings is a remarkable achievement – marvelous movie entertainment that's true to the spirit of the source material. As I noted in my review of the theatrical release's Blu-rays, I hope that it, along with such other movie successes as the Harry Potter and Narnia stories will encourage others "To make classic movies out of classic books without throwing the book away in the process."
'twould have been great to see such adaptations of classic sci-fi novels such as Starship Troopers and I, Robot as well, not that the existing films didn't have certain things going for them. And there are so many other great books in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy that would make great movies if only they'd not ignore the original material.
Anyway, each of Jackson's Lord of the Rings films is the type of BIG Hollywood epic we used to see from the likes David Lean, William Wyler and Cecil B. DeMille – and even people like John Huston ("The Man Who Would Be King") and Richard Attenborough ("Gandhi"). We're talking "cast of thousands" stuff here, except that in Jackson's trio of masterpieces they use digital technology to create armies and crowds that would otherwise be difficult, or impossible, on the budgets he had at his disposal.
Alliance Atlantis gives consumers a nice break, too, in putting the entire Blu-ray trilogy into a single set, rather than the separate "Extended Edition" DVD's of a few years ago. It would have been even better to have been given both versions – theatrical and extended – in one set, using the "branching" technology that makes it possible, though that could have led to some issues of its own.
Particularly, if they'd offered us this "hybrid" version initially, consumers would undoubtedly have to suffer through a "Fellowship" that featured the not-up-to-snuff picture quality of the first Blu-ray release, and that would be a shame. Also, the extended editions occupy two discs each, whereas the theatrical ones only occupied a single disc each, so why force fans of the shorter version to change discs half way through?
Whatever. I'm glad to see this extended edition available now. And it not only includes what I consider easily the definitive versions of the films, but also enough extras (on DVD's, not Blu-rays) to please dedicated LOTR fans.
And what a set it is: 15 discs in all, six Blu-rays for the movies themselves and nine DVD's of extra stuff.
As mentioned, the extended editions of the movies are by far the better versions. Sure, they make three long movies even longer, but they also allow the story to unfold more at its own pace, and they also let us get to know the characters better. Right off the bat in the extended "Fellowship," we get to see more of what Hobbits are all about, their peaceful life untroubled by international events. And there's lots more stuff added to all three films that flesh out the characters and the story – so much so I don't understand why they were cut in the first place other than the fact that they'd make for some very tired bums in movie theater seats.
Since the extended editions require you to change discs half way through, the force an intermission into the movies that wasn't there before (maybe that's how they could have managed the extra length in theaters, too). Not only have they chosen good places to break the films up, however, but the breaks provide a welcome chance to replenish snacks and drinks – or to return drinks you've had earlier.
Oh, and the extended editions don't play out as if they're padded; the music and special effects are all finished and blend with the theatrical stuff seamlessly, as they should.
The set comes in a nice box containing three plastic cases, one for each of the movies and its extras. They're jammed into the box a tad tightly and that makes it difficult getting them out, but that's about all there is to complain about concerning the packaging. And besides all the extras, you can also partake of digital versions of all three films.
All of the films are presented in 1080p widescreen at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. Audio is dts-HD Master Audio 6.1.
I was nervous going into "Fellowship" because of the aforementioned picture quality issue. The original Blu-ray's video quality was spotty. As I said then, it was often too soft and flat, and rarely exhibiting the superb detail and that great "pop off the screen" depth you find with the best Blu-ray presentations.
Rest assured, though, this new version is much more like it! In fact, it's great. Some of the shots show incredible detail and black levels – and though some other reviewers have complained about a green/cyan tint to the film I didn't find it that way at all so if it is there, I daresay it's subtle enough to not be an issue for most people.
I still think The Two Towers has the best picture quality of the three, the one that comes closest to being a true demo-quality disc. But with all three movies, you can easily make out individual hairs on the characters (and beasts), the textures of the costumes' materials comes through beautifully, and there's wonderful fine detail on such things as the Ents' bark and leaves and Gimli's helmet – you name it, it all looks great. There's even lots of that great, 3D-like depth that can make Blu-rays so spectacular.
I had hoped that most spectacular of the films, The Return of the King, would have the most spectacular picture quality as well, or at least as good as "Towers," but it doesn't. It's close, though. So while in a perfect world all three films would have the same spectacular picture quality, we end up here with three films that are all varying degees of excellent, with one that's just a bit better than the others.
Speaking of the audio, it's superb – and it's loud and brash. I ran the dts-HD Master Audio soundtracks through my large home theater (the one with the biggest screen, of course!), with 500 watts per channel of fine Rotel power (at its usual default volume) and there were times when the room was vibrating from the low frequency effects. So make sure your pictures and stuff are attached well to the walls!
Even better than just being room-rattling, the overall sonic fidelity is top notch, with excellent use of all the home theater's channels (Mine's only 5.1 channel, which I find more than adequate for my room). Dialogue is clear and clean, the music soars appropriately, and the entire soundfield is enveloping and immersing – just as it should be. Top marks for the sound.
Each film is also accompanied by two DVD's of "Appendices," which include the abundant extras released on the Extended Edition's DVD release. There's a lot of great stuff here, too, and the package itself includes a printed legend you can use to help navigate the cornucopia of LOTR delights to be found on the discs.
The other DVD in each set is a documentary on the making of each film by Costa Botes, which weren't available in the previous DVD package (but which were, apparently, sold separately). There are also commentary tracks on each film's Blu-rays.
The digital copies basically consist of a piece of paper that has a URL and download code information on it so you can access them via the Internet.
One thing that rubbed me the wrong way about the presentation is the series of trailers at the beginning of each film. You can skip ahead once they start, going from one trailer to the next, but I couldn't just skip them altogether and head straight to the main menus.
Still, while that's annoying, it's hardly a deal breaker for what's, on the whole, the definitive Lord of the Rings set, with excellent picture and sound – the most important thing about the Blu-rays – and enough extra material to choke Sauron himself.
This is definitely a set LOTR, and Blu-ray, fans will want to own.
Copyright 2011 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.