Title: The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Theatrical Editions) [Blu-ray]
Starring: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Sir Ian McKellen, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys Davies, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Liv Tyler, Andy Serkis
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: J.R.R. Tolkein
Adapted Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair
Studio: New Line(Warner Brothers)
Runtime: 681 min (films only)
Release Date: June 28, 2011
HTS Overall Score:96
The Lord of the Rings motion picture trilogy is based upon the novel "The Lord of the Rings" originally written by J.R.R Tolkein. Tolkein's book is considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written and to this day is regarded as the pre-eminent fantasy fiction work in existence. The story follows Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) a young hobbit who inherits a magical artifact of immense power from his uncle Bilbo. Forged by the dark lord Sauron in Mount Doom millennia before Frodo's birth, this ring has the power to enslave all life. In the final great battle of the last age the ring was cut from Sauron’s hand by Isildur, a prince of Gondor, using the broken blade of his dead father. When the ring was separated from Sauron his physical form was destroyed – leaving only his spirit behind - forever tied to his ring.
Over the centuries as the Ring was lost to the passage of time Sauron’s spirit has strengthened – now the maleficent spirits greatest source of strength remains the One Ring to which his soul is bound. Upon his reunion with the One Ring, Sauron will regain his former power and once again rule over Middle Earth.
When the wizard Gandalf (McKellen) discovers that Frodo's ring is the One Ring he must send Frodo on a desperate quest to the elven settlement of Rivendell to seek council and keep the ring from the clutches of Sauron's lieutenants, the nazgul. When Frodo and his hobbit companions Sam, Merry and Pippin arrive in Rivendell a council of the races of Middle Earth is convened and it is decided that the ring must be taken to Mount Doom - the only place where it can be destroyed. Frodo volunteers to be the ring bearer, and is joined by an alliance of humans, an elf and a dwarf on his quest to save Middle Earth.
Frodo and his companions will journey from the deepest dungeon to the highest peak in their attempt to reach Mordor without being sighted by the forces of Sauron. As the fellowship fights to survive the ring itself is the greatest enemy, always playing upon the desires of those nearby. Eventually it is left to Frodo and his best friend Sam along with an unlikely ally to take the ring into the heart of Mordor and destroy the dark lord once and for all.
The battle for Middle Earth first wowed viewers almost a decade ago as The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theaters. Over the next three years The Two Towers and Return of the King would be released to even greater acclaim. Many of us have waited for these to be available in a high definition format since the day we viewed Return of the King the first time in theaters – I count myself among this crowd. At the time of their release, each of these films broke new ground in terms of effects, cinematography, makeup, and overall film making. Together the three films have garnered an impressive 30 academy award nominations and 17 wins and still rank amongst the best movies of all time.
Rating: All three films are rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and scary scenes. There is nothing inappropriate in the films – though young viewers may be frightened by the orcs, goblins and other creatures depicted.
As opposed to the VC-1 encode of the Theatrical Editions, the Extended Editions come to Blu-Ray with a high bitrate AVC encode spanning two discs for each film. The short answer is that we are finally free of the rampant DNR seen in the prior release. Since these are such important films, I'll discuss the picture quality of each release separately.
The Fellowship of the Ring:4stars:
Warner listened to fans and reviewers and at long last we have a DNR free version of this film. Although the Fellowship of the Ring has always looked a little “soft” – even in theaters as some of you may recall, it never lacked in terms of fine detail. This time around, Warner has done a new transfer from the original 2k digital intermediate, and for the most part - left the picture alone. According to many news outlets, Peter Jackson and DP Andrew Lesnie personally oversaw the new release and even went so far as to redo the color timing for this release. This has many fans in a second albeit smaller uproar over an apparent shift from warm 6500k whites often approaching the Whiter-than-White colorspace, to the green/cyan end of the scale. While this is true in the release, it's quite shocking how easily you become accustomed to it and forget the change. Screenshots will show obvious differences but for the viewer it's quite hard to tell in motion that anything is amiss. The whole film appears to be slightly dark as a result of these changes as well, which is surprising given the prior releases. While I'm grateful we have our detail back - there is no explanation for why a film like this looks like it has lost about 20% of its brightness and whites never quite look like they do in the detergent commercials.
There is no doubt that the color timing changes will have enthusiasts debating until their fingers fall off and forums crash due to server load, thankfully, the other elements of the PQ are slightly less contentious. The horrible DNR present in the original Blu-Ray release is absent, and fine detail is back in all its glory. Gandalf's beard no longer looks like a crayon drawing, and facial detail like pores, stubble and skin texture is noticeable - even to the extent of makeup becoming visible on occasion. Detail is excellent and is truly at the resolvable limit of technical possibility given the DI was only at 2K resolution. Keep in mind the age of the film and even the most avid (and critical) videophile will be hard pressed to complain overmuch (color issues aside). Sharpness and clarity is excellent when called for but recall that stylistically much of this trilogy relies on softer focus during certain scenes as a story-telling mechanism. Although the "changes" have made the film as a whole darker, shadow detail is generally superb, with many fine examples in the night-time Shire chase and Moria. Blacks are inky and appropriately dense in Moria, but there is also some minor crush at certain points in the film - again mostly in Moria and the Shire chase. The overall brightness of the film is somewhat diminished, however this is going to be a subjective decision on the part of the viewer, provided your display is bright, you may not see much to complain about at all. The scenes where "detail" is lost in the darkness are mostly CGI to begin with, and on my bright display I didn't find any issues with the overall brightness, though the lost detail was a minor quibble. Very fine grain pattern remains visible throughout and truly enhances the epic film-like quality of this release.
I think we do deserve an official statement from Jackson and Lesnie regarding the color on this one, but like my previous review, I'm not expecting us to be saved by the next edition this time. Unless Warner agrees to exchange discs, this is it folks. Assuming that the color issue never gets resolved, my closing comment is from the perspective of choosing the lesser of many evils. While it's technically imperfect, this is unquestionably a massive improvement over its predecessor. While we would all prefer a release that doesn't have a deep-sea tint to it, this is still the version of the film to own. The value of high level detail, preserved grain structure and absence of digital manipulation far outweighs the tint and crush issues in my opinion.
While I am not a betting man, I suspect that when the entire Lord of the Rings Saga comes out (along with the two Hobbit films) in a few years, we'll quietly see a non-green tinted FOTR sneak back into the new collection, that is, when the extended saga finally comes out in 2017.
The Two Towers :4.5stars:
Like its predecessor, The Two Towers is also greatly improved in this release. Though the DNR was less apparent in this film during the previous release as well, I can safely say that any DNR is no longer present. The quality of the picture maintains the trend seen in all previous releases, as each subsequent film looks better than the last. The Two Towers is full of rich detail, inky blacks and gorgeous shadow detail. Effects do look slightly dated at times, but given the age of the film they are mind-blowing and the folks at Weta Digital were far ahead of their time. No aberrations or artifacts are visible throughout the more than three hours of running time, and thanks to the two disc split, no quality is sacrificed. Film grain is maintained throughout and high level detail is very good. Facial detail from pores and stubble to wrinkles and scars is superb and organic. Unlike the TE, this release doesn't make it hard to distinguish hairs in some scenes and on the whole is a huge improvement. While there are some instances where a close-up shows a little bit of shimmer (particularly on hair) as a result of the chroma-keying process, this is an extremely limited occurrence and represents a technical limitation and not a picture quality issue.
The Return of the King:4.5stars:
The Return of the King is the star of the show, with the best picture overall. Like prior releases, the newest film looks the best. Detail is superb and colors are rich and organic. From start to finish Return of the King borders on reference level and despite a few minor quibbles with respect to chroma keying (see the head shot of Frodo as Aragorn bows to him at the end) this is a great transfer and really benefits when DNR is absent. Don't be shocked by apparent softness in the image from time to time - this appears consistently and is a stylistic choice. Ultimately this film is a pleasure to watch from start to finish, even as hour four approaches. While I wish all three could look this good, Return of the King is a fine example of how the trilogy can look and is well worth your hard earned dollars.
Oh you want justification? Here goes:
From the first utterance of dialogue and detonation of a pilfered firework, the tone is set for the audio in this trilogy. Clarity of dialogue is incredible and never suffers intelligibility issues as a result of the mix. While Eowyn's voice is a little muffled during an extended conversation with Aragorn in Edoras, this is a result of the mic position and recording and not the mix.
Ambient sound and atmospheric effects are equally impressive as even the finest sonic detail is accurately reproduced. When the stolen firework explodes the surrounds come alive as tendrils of smoke and magic fizzle behind the viewer, and as the dragon plummets towards the party your sub will begin the start of an 11 hour workout. Without getting too verbose, from start to finish the trilogy of films has superb sound - deep prodigious bass, shocking dynamics, delicate and detailed atmospherics, and crystal clear dialogue. Howard Shore's score is as magnificent as ever and anchors the experience in rich and detailed instrumentals and powerful, moving vocals. No matter your preference, this folks is a fine example of reference.
While there are no HD extras as we have come to expect, the sheer number and length of the extra content given here is mind blowing. I would love nothing more than to see these in HD, but I highly doubt the investment would pay off for the studio.
Please expand the spoiler tags to see the list of extras - they are extremely long and have been shortened in this manner for readability.
Despite its flaws, there can be no question that this release is the best that the trilogy has ever looked or sounded. Color timing issues in Fellowship aside, the picture quality as a whole is dramatically improved and all the ugly DNR is now gone. Fine detail, shadow delineation, and inky blacks are all present and accounted for. The unique style of these films, in combination with an encode/transfer that does them justice is a welcome change. Regardless of your level of obsession with this trilogy, or your manic obsession with picture quality, there can be no doubt that this is the best these films will ever look short of a complete re-scan and re-render of the effects. Fans have been waiting for an extremely long time for this release, desiring to own the full unabridged extended versions of these films on Blu-Ray. For those fans who held off on the theatrical release due to picture quality concerns, or simply to avoid double dipping, your time has come.
Irrespective of whether Warner does something about the first film's color issues, this is the time to buy the trilogy. As I stated in my original review, we could only hope that the DNR would be absent in the Extended Edition, and here I sit a year and a half later amazed that this is indeed the case. From start to finish, this is a great viewing experience that lasts over eleven hours. The reference quality audio never misses a beat and will give your sub and entire speaker system quite a workout playing back the dynamic and brilliant sound design present in these films. And at long last, the picture quality is finally worthy of our beloved Lord of the Rings - Warner might offer replacements on Fellowship, in fact I hope they do - but regardless, there is no higher fidelity way to own this trilogy at the time of my writing this. I strongly encourage you to go out and buy this release, a few gallons of high-caffeine beverage, 28 pounds of popcorn, and enjoy a sunup to sundown Lord of the Rings marathon. If you still have energy after all this, feel free to write an angry letter to Warner decrying the terrible green hue you just witnessed 8 hours ago. Most of you I suspect will be far too satisfied, bleary eyed and hopped up on caffeine to bother. I wish you many happy repeat viewings of this trilogy and the associated extra content, Highly Recommended.