The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest trilogies of all time, not only because of its sweeping story arcs and extraordinary production values but because it was filmed as one, long movie that happened to be split into three parts. There is also little argument that the extended versions of the three movies, with over two hours of additional footage, are superior to the theatrical releases. In fact, it’s hard to think of not watching the extended versions.
When Warner Brothers asked me to review their new Blu-ray releases of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, I heartily agreed. After all, I own the DVD versions but have not seen the films in high definition. When I read “five discs”, however, I foolishly thought the studio was referring to the whole set.
The set is not a set at all, and there are not five discs. Warner Brothers has taken their Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Trilogy and broken it into three individually purchasable Blu-ray collections, each of which contains five discs.
That’s fifteen discs total, with a deadline a week out to review them all. What’s a reviewer to do!
Hint: not watch everything.
Each disc is packed with so much material that not only would it be unrealistic for me to watch everything in one week, but it’s unnecessary for me to do so. If you want to know about how a film gets made, or how a massive trilogy of books get adapted, or what J.R.R. Tolkien was thinking or eating when he wrote a specific chapter, these Blu-rays have everything you need to know.
I chose to focus on The Return of the King, even though it’s my least favorite of the three movies. The battle scenes look spectacular in high-definition, and I could watch the climactic battle between Frodo and Gollum, with Howard Shore’s score raging through my living room, over and over again. But of course the movies look great.
The lengthy featurettes are as detailed and informative as featurettes can be. There’s no attempt to be promotional, and the cast and crew talk candidly about the films, including what worked and what didn’t. “J.R.R. Tolkien: The Legacy of Middle-earth” features a bunch of scholars who are much more versed in The Lord of the Rings than any person should be and has them talk at length about the themes found within the books. “From Book to Script” is an especially refreshing featurette, for director Peter Jackson and others talk about some of the challenges they faced in adapting the movie, including moments that in hindsight weren’t very effective. Rarely do you see filmmakers talk about their movies in such ways, but I suppose when you’ve made billions of dollars and earned multiple Oscars, there’s no harm in being honest.
Even with four audio commentaries per movie, I was disappointed that each edition couldn’t fit on a single disc. Blu-rays are supposed to hold five times the story capacity of traditional DVDs. It would have been great to be able to watch each movie from start to finish without having to swap discs.
As good as each of these Blu-ray collections are, Lord of the Rings fans shouldn’t get overly excited. Most of the bonus features provided, including the ones discussed above, are found on the original DVD sets. And from what I hear, the only difference between these collections and the Blu-ray Extended Trilogy is that the movies are now available for individual purchase.
In other words, unless you’ve broken one of your discs, why buy these movies individually?
Oh, and on behalf of Warner Bros., we’re giving away all 15 discs to one lucky winner. Enter to win now.