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: 178 min / 179 min / 201 min
Release Date: 4/6/2010
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.
All three films come to us in VC-1 encoded 1080p video. if you would like more information on the encode please see my second post.
It is no secret that many people, myself included, had high hopes for this release. These films were technically groundbreaking during their theatrical runs and deserve the absolute best transfer possible when going to Blu-Ray.
Now the question you’re all asking – just how good do they look?
Sadly the answer is – so so.
Warner has yet again failed to perform due diligence when it comes to an important Blu-Ray release. While the films do get progressively better as far as PQ is concerned as you progress through the trilogy, they are simply good and rarely great. The Fellowship of the Ring has always looked a little “soft” – even in theaters as some of you may recall, but it never lacked in terms of fine detail. Unfortunately, the Blu-Ray release has been subjected to Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) to the extent that some HDTV recordings actually show better fine detail. It appears to me that rather than starting from a rescan of the source film Warner took their existing HD master and threw it through the DNR cycle on medium before making a few color timing fixes, boosting contrast ever so slightly and throwing it onto a disc in average bitrate VC-1.
I know that many of you are going to be disappointed reading this – and let me assure you that I am even more disappointed writing this. These films deserve better, they deserve to be treated with respect and demand that more time and money be invested to ensure they look their best. Warner has done a great job moving to Blu-Ray as a high def format – but they consistently let us down with their Blu-Ray transfers. Films like this should come to us free of DNR and digital tampering beyond what is absolutely necessary to ensure they are true to Peter Jackson’s vision. So little care was in fact taken that there is actually digital noise present in certain dark scenes (00:24:02 in the Two Towers for example).
If the spiel I wrote in my introduction demonstrates anything, it should be just how important these films are to many of us. If I was to make a list of films that deserve to be fully remastered – these films would be right at the top. When I refer to remastering I do not mean taking the current master, applying a smattering of Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) and slapping it into a moderate bitrate VC-1 encode. I refer to a complete rescan of the original film stock at 4k or better resolution and a re-render for any effects that are dated or low res.
Summary: If you’re a picture quality fanatic this release is not for you. The needless and inconsistent use of DNR has absolutely tarnished what could have been a groundbreaking release.
The audio in this release is one area that does not disappoint. The DTS-MA HD audio is both well balanced and lives up well to the impeccable quality that was present on the DVD’s. Bass is prodigious and well balanced and the surrounds are used actively. Dialogue is clearly intelligible and the entire mix covers a wide dynamic range – those watching below reference level will notice when an actor speaks quietly they may not hear it quite as clearly, but in my opinion this is better than a normalized dialogue level throughout.
One caveat for this release:
While the cover art promises “6.1” audio the audio is in fact 5.1ES – I’m not sure if this is a mistake or a blatant lie however I would like to see Warner clarify why we are not getting what the package says we should.
These discs come with an impressive list of extras, each on their own bonus disc. The extras are a duplicate of what was provided for the SD release of Lord of the Rings on DVD - it is disappointing that no HD or new extras are available. In particular it would have been beneficial for them to talk about the making of the Blu-Ray.
Please expand the spoiler tags to see the list of extras - they are extremely long and have been shortened in this manner for readability.
The Fellowship of the Ring:
The Two Towers:
The Return of the King:
Despite a disappointing video transfer, the Lord of the Rings is an impressive experience on Blu-Ray – largely bolstered by the dynamic and powerful DTS-MA HD mix each disc includes. The films themselves are as powerful now as they once were in theaters and are a pleasure to watch. A great list of extras that is more or less unchanged from the DVD release should not disappoint.
While the Extended Edition is more pleasurable to watch in my humble opinion, each cut has its own advantages and tells the story differently. With the Extended Edition due to release sometime in the next two years many of us must face the prospect of double dipping and purchasing both releases - or simply waiting. While I hope that the Extended Edition receives the treatment these films deserve (an actual rescan and remaster) at this point I believe Gandalf said it best:
“There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope.”
While I would usually double dip myself in a situation like this, simply because I’m a rabid fan of the series – the lackluster video quality forces me to give a firm “DO NOT BUY” recommendation for these discs. If Warner wants us to spend money on these discs twice, then they need to give us a degree of quality worth paying for. The only way that we as consumers can truly send studios a message about our dissatisfaction with releases such as this is to refuse to purchase these discs.
Regardless of my complaints, I am grateful that the films are available on Blu-Ray as this release is still a noticeable improvement over the DVD in every way.
If you are a die-hard Lord of the Rings fanatic these may be worth the purchase on the basis of the audio quality alone – however; as I stated above, if you are a picture quality nut you will be sorely disappointed.