Not so ultimate 3.5 Stars

ULTIMATE – You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Warner’s 31-disc “Ultimate” collector’s edition of Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth Saga brings his six Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films (theatrical and extended cuts) together on both 4K and Blu-ray for the first time. Perhaps that is what Warner means by “Ultimate” when referring to this set, because my definition of “Ultimate” would mean including all previous special features plus a few new ones, and that is where this set becomes a major letdown.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Released: 19 Dec 2001
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 178 min
Director: Peter Jackson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Cast: Alan Howard, Noel Appleby, Sean Astin, Sala Baker
Writer(s): J.R.R. Tolkien (novel), Fran Walsh (screenplay), Philippa Boyens (screenplay), Peter Jackson (screenplay)
Plot: A meek Hobbit from the Shire and eight companions set out on a journey to destroy the powerful One Ring and save Middle-earth from the Dark Lord Sauron.
IMDB rating: 8.8
MetaScore: 92

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 2.39.1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: An Unexpected Journey: 2 Hr. 50 Min. (Theatrical), 3 Hr. 2 Min. (Extended); The Desolation of Smaug: 2 Hr. 41 Min. (Theatrical), 3 Hr. 7 Min. (Extended); The Battle of the Five Armies: 2 Hr. 24 Min. (Theatrical), 2 Hr. 44 Min. (Extended); Fellowship of the Ring: 2 Hr. 58 Min. (Theatrical), 3 Hr. 48 Min. (Extended); The Two Towers: 2 Hr. 59 Min. (Theatrical), 3 Hr. 55 Min. (Extended); The Return of the King: 3 Hr. 21 Min. (Theatrical), 4 Hr. 23 Min. (Extended)
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: Fold-out puzzlebox with individual UHD keepcases for each film
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 11/16/2021
MSRP: $249.99

The Production: 4.5/5

The Hobbit Trilogy: 4.5/5
For years after the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Peter Jackson had hinted that he had wanted to complete the saga by going back and shooting The Hobbit with as many of the same cast members from The Lord of the Rings as possible. And for years, it seemed like a project that would never happen, as the rights to The Hobbit were tied up at another studio (MGM). Eventually, Warner (who had demoted studio New Line to essentially a production company after a string of unsuccessful movies after LOTR) and MGM had come to an agreement to share production costs for two movies based on the much shorter Hobbit novel, with Jackson producing and Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) directing. MGM’s financial woes and eventual bankruptcy in 2010 caused production delays and led del Toro to leave the project, with Peter Jackson stepping in once more to direct what was initially two films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There and Back Again, and Jackson announced that he would be shooting The Hobbit in native 3D on Red Epic cameras in 5K at a higher frame rate of 48fps. Six months before An Unexpected Journey arrived in theaters in 2012, Jackson announced that he would be making three films instead, with the second film becoming The Desolation of Smaug and the finale was re-titled The Battle of the Five Armies four months after the release of Smaug.

Much of the cast from LOTR did return, with Ian McKellan reprising his role as Gandalf, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Christopher Lee as Saruman, Andy Serkis as Gollum and Orlando Bloom as Legolas, with cameos by Elijah Wood as Frodo and Ian Holm as the older Bilbo. Martin Freeman (Sherlock) was cast as the younger Hobbit-era Bilbo, Richard Armitage (Captain America: The First Avenger) as dwarf king Thorin, Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy) as Wood Elf King Thranduil, Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast) as Laketown bargeman Bard, Stephen Fry (V for Vendetta) as Master of Laketown, Ryan Gage (Outlaw) as the smarmy Alfrid, and Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Doctor Strange) as both the Necromancer and Smaug.

While Jackson wasn’t quite able to capture all of the magic and wonderment in The Hobbit trilogy as he did in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, the movies are still a testament to Jackson’s artistry as a director and ability to create epic movies on a very grand scale. Like the Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson created extended cuts of all three Hobbit movies, and for me I prefer those extended cuts (especially Desolation of Smaug). For the most part, the extended cut of Unexpected Journey expands the prologue and adds some additional dwarf and goblin songs. Smaug contains some additional bits and pieces, with the biggest change being the alternate scene of where Gandolf introduces the dwarves to Beorn. Battle of the Five Armies contains twenty minutes of additional violence, earning the Extended Cut an “R” rating.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: 5/5
Director Peter Jackson’s undertaking of adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings for the big screen was most certainly a history-making event. Originally developed at Miramax, the studio deemed the project too expensive, and the trilogy found a home at New Line Cinema. The three films would be shot as one long production, with principal photography starting in October of 1999 and lasting just over a year, completing in December 2000, with reshoots lasting through 2004 (for the extended cut of The Return of the King).

The first film in the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was released theatrically on December 19, 2001, with Jackson’s extended cut released as a 4-disc special edition DVD set on November 12, 2002 with 30 minutes of additional or alternate footage. The second film, The Two Towers, was released theatrically on December 18, 2002 with an extended cut on 4-disc DVD released on November 18, 2003 with an additional 46 minutes. The third and final film, The Return of the King, was released theatrically on December 17, 2003, going on to win 11 Academy Awards for that year including Best Picture and Best Director, with an extended cut arriving on 4-disc DVD one year later on December 14, 2004 with a whopping 52 additional minutes. That additional running time does not include the fan club appreciation credits. While I enjoyed the theatrical cuts, for the most part I prefer the extended cuts of these films. Both Fellowship and Two Towers have more character development moments, with the additional footage appearing seamlessly within the narrative. The same cannot be said of the extended cut of The Return of the King, however. While that cut does include some rather important new scenes (such as the fates of Saruman and Grima Wormtongue), it also includes scenes that feel a bit repetitive (Aragorn’s battles with the Army of the Dead). There have been many attempts, both before and after Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies, to shoot multiple films almost nonstop (the first two Superman movies with Christopher Reeve, the Musketeers movies by Richard Lester, the latter two Back to the Future movies, the latter two Matrix films, even Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit), but none have been quite as successful commercially and critically.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has provided both the theatrical and extended cuts of each film in this set, with the theatrical on individual discs and the extended cuts spread out over two discs per film for The Lord of the Rings and individual discs for theatrical and extended cuts for The Hobbit. This applies for both 4K and Blu-ray.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

These are the same identical 4K discs that were included in the separate The Hobbit Trilogy and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy UHD/Digital releases from this time last year.

The Hobbit movies were released theatrically in select movie theaters in 3D high frame rate (48fps), a process I found to be nauseating at times, especially on an IMAX screen. Due to the limitations of the UHD format, the films are presented here in 2D at a standard frame rate (24fps). Although each film was originally completed as a 2k digital intermediate in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, a new 4k digital intermediate has been created using original 5k footage where possible (shots with no VFX), upscaling any 2k VFX shots to 4k, and then color graded to match the original DI’s under the watchful eye of director Peter Jackson. The 2160p transfers included in this set also include HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range. There is a noticeable increase in overall detail throughout both versions of all three films, with more natural shadings of colors and better contrast. The result is breathtaking, about as good as these films are likely ever to look. The Blu-ray editions of The Hobbit films appear to be newly authored, using new encodes created for the films, as bitrates differ slightly from the previous Blu-ray releases to accommodate new audio configurations.

All three LOTR films were shot on 35mm in the Super 35 format with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. For this release, shots that did not contain any visual effects were scanned at 4K resolution, often from the original camera negative, while visual effects shots were upscaled from 2K to 4K, all under the watchful eye of Peter Jackson, to create a new 4K digital intermediate with Dolby Vision high dynamic range. The 2160p HEVC-encoded transfer of each film includes both HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR. The result is extremely breathtaking on both versions of all three films, and it is like watching these for the first time. There is a huge improvement in detail, even in the upscaled effects shots, highlighting much of the intricate textures and inscriptions Richard Taylor’s team made on the armor and various swords created for the film. Since these new “transfers” were completed at the same time, the color scheme is now similar across all three films. Contrast is also improved, providing deeper blacks and stronger shadow detail. The Blu-ray editions of The Lord of the Rings films included in this set have been remastered from the new 4K digital intermediates.

Audio: 5/5

The Hobbit films were also released theatrically with Dolby Atmos soundtracks, but at the time of their releases on Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos was not yet available on the format (the first Blu-ray release with Dolby Atmos was Transformers: Age of Extinction on September 30, 2014, less than three months before Battle of the Five Armies arrived in theaters). The DTS-HD MA 7.1 mixes found on those Blu-ray releases were reference quality (and very demo-worthy) at the time of their releases, yet the new Dolby Atmos mixes included on these 4K UHD Blu-ray discs are phenomenal. Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum in Unexpected Journey and his encounter with Smaug in Desolation of Smaug make excellent use of spatial audio as Gollum and Smaug can be heard wondering around the caverns behind and above us with pinpoint accuracy, so much so that you may be tempted to look where the voices are coming from and be disappointed that you don’t see anything. LFE is strong, providing extra emphasis on heavy footsteps, smashes, explosions, etc. Howard Shore’s score is also much more immersive, completely surrounding the viewer. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout. Although not listed on the initial press release, the newly authored Blu-ray editions of The Hobbit movies now include Dolby Atmos tracks.

The Lord of the Rings were released theatrically in 5.1 mixes with 6.1 mixes created for the extended cuts. Both versions of all three films have now been remixed in Dolby Atmos, providing even more depth and width to the listening area. All three films have never sounded better! Sauron’s “voice” is much more powerful, coming out of all speakers around and above the listener, almost as if it was coming from inside your head. Gandalf’s dragon firework that is ignited in the shire during the first act of Fellowship of the Rings really does sound like it is flying overhead in this new Dolby Atmos mix. LFE is much stronger than on previous releases, providing more impact to Orc attacks and smashing rocks. Howard Shore’s score is also much more immersive, completely surrounding the viewer. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout. As expected, the Blu-ray editions now also include Dolby Atmos tracks.

Special Features: 2.5/5

Kudos to whoever came up with the packaging for this set. Not only is it gorgeous, but it is practical and functional as well, using a puzzle-box design that can be configured to sit nicely on your shelf along with the rest of your physical media collection. Each film also comes in its own UHD keepcase. The same cannot be said of many of the studios previous “Box of Junk” editions from over the years.

 

 

 

 

 

Where the set becomes overly frustrating and Warner’s definition of the word “ultimate” becomes rather questionable is in its lack of archival special features, and the omission of one that was released on, of all places, YouTube. None of the Special Features discs from the myriad of release on various formats over the years are included or ported over. This includes all of the Appendices from the 4-disc DVD sets of each of the Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings films and Blu-ray editions of The Hobbit films. The argument could be made that most, if not all, of those features can be found across many of the Movies Anywhere retail partners, but in most cases, that also requires that you own an Apple TV device, as that is where the motherload of the special features can be found. I am sorry, but that just does not sound very “ultimate” to me.

As before, the 4K discs contain absolutely no special features, while the Blu-ray editions simply carry over most of the same special features that were included on the movie discs on previous releases. An exclusive Special Features disc has been included, with four new features, but what is puzzling is that the Middle-Earth: Behind the Scenes with Peter Jackson 6-minute featurette that Warner Bros. released on YouTube last year that covers the restoration work that went into these films was not included.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Theatrical) Blu-ray:
New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth
(1080p; 6:35)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Extended) Blu-ray:
The Filmmaker’s Commentary
New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth (1080p; 6:35)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Theatrical) Blu-ray:
New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth, Part 2 (1080p; 7:11)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Extended) Blu-ray:
The Filmmaker’s Commentary
New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth, Part 2 (1080p; 7:11)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Theatrical) Blu-ray:
New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth, Part 3 (1080p; 6:07)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Extended) Blu-ray:
The Filmmaker’s Commentary
New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth, Part 3 (1080p; 6:07)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Theatrical) Blu-ray:
Trailers (1080p; 13:51): Includes Trailer One, Trailer Two, Final Trailer, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Supertrailer.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended) Blu-ray Disc One:
Audio Commentary with the Director and Writers

Audio Commentary with the Design Team

Audio Commentary with the Production/Post-Production Team

Audio Commentary with the Cast

Easter Egg: MTV Council of Elrond (upscaled 1080i; 3:31)

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended) Blu-ray Disc Two:
Audio Commentary with the Director and Writers

Audio Commentary with the Design Team

Audio Commentary with the Production/Post-Production Team

Audio Commentary with the Cast

Easter Egg: Sneak Preview of “The Two Towers” (1080p; 3:52)

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Theatrical) Blu-ray:
Trailers (1080p; 11:50): Includes the Teaser, Theatrical Trailer, and a reprise of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Supertrailer.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended) Blu-ray Disc One:
Audio Commentary with the Director and Writers

Audio Commentary with the Design Team

Audio Commentary with the Production/Post-Production Team

Audio Commentary with the Cast

Easter Egg: MTV Best Virtual Performance (upscaled 1080i; 2:54): Gollum wins the MTV Movie Award, but someone forgot to perform the anamorphic stretch when upscaling.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended) Blu-ray Disc Two:
Audio Commentary with the Director and Writers

Audio Commentary with the Design Team

Audio Commentary with the Production/Post-Production Team

Audio Commentary with the Cast

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Theatrical) Blu-ray:
Trailers (1080p; 10:43): Includes Trailer One, Trailer Two, and yet another reprise of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Supertrailer.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended) Blu-ray Disc One:
Audio Commentary with the Director and Writers

Audio Commentary with the Design Team

Audio Commentary with the Production/Post-Production Team

Audio Commentary with the Cast

Easter Egg: Interview with Dominic Monaghan & Elijah Wood (upscaled 1080i; 9:00)

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended) Blu-ray Disc Two:
Audio Commentary with the Director and Writers

Audio Commentary with the Design Team

Audio Commentary with the Production/Post-Production Team

Audio Commentary with the Cast

Easter Egg: Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn Pitch a Sequel to Peter Jackson (upscaled 1080i; 5:53)

Special Features Blu-ray:
Alamo Drafthouse Presents The Lord of the Rings Cast Reunion: The Fellowship of the Ring (1080p; 39:39): Stephen Colbert hosts this reunion of the hobbits, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, and Dominic Monaghan.

Alamo Drafthouse Presents The Lord of the Rings Cast Reunion: The Two Towers (1080p; 32:25): Stephen Colbert hosts this reunion with Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, and Viggo Mortensen.

Alamo Drafthouse Presents The Lord of the Rings Cast Reunion: The Return of the King (1080p; 29:50): Stephen Colbert hosts this reunion with Ian McKellan, Peter Jackson, and Andy Serkis.

Festival De Cannes Presentation Reel (1080p; 26:55): A look at some early rough edited material screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2001.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: A Collection of Costume Sketches, Photography and Production Notes: 64 pages of photos and sketches with brief essays, about the size of a Blu-ray case.

Set of Seven Art Cards: Each card features an old-style travel poster and images from iconic locations from Middle-Earth.

Digital Copy: Two inserts (one for each trilogy) contain codes to redeem 4K copies of both theatrical and extended editions of the films on Movies Anywhere.

Overall: 3.5/5

Frustrating may be a better word than Ultimate to describe this set that pretends to be exhaustive but really isn’t once you look under the hood. For everything included, there is so much more missing. Warner’s Middle-Earth Ultimate Collector’s Edition is a definite missed opportunity.

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Published by

Todd Erwin

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Lord Dalek

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One small correction: The theatrical Lord of the Rings cuts were issued with Dolby EX and DTS-ES 6.1 mixes originally as well.

Also wow they botched this.
 

Robert Crawford

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Thanks for your review. I think most of us are better off just purchasing the 4K sets that came out last December. It's going to be a lot cheaper as the benefits from this combined six-movie collection just isn't significant enough for me to buy the more expensive 4k disc release. There might be some discounted opportunities for the 2020 releases during the next month or so.
 

Sam Favate

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I passed on last year's 4k releases, knowing that this was coming and the promise that it would be an "ultimate" collection. Now, if I want the films in 4k (and i do), I have to buy an overpriced set with little in the way of bonus features. At $260, this set prices each film at $40 each! That's a lot for films that I've bought multiple times over 20 years. To think, I passed on the 4k steelbooks because I thought $30 per film was a lot.

Warner used to be good at this. Used to.
 

TravisR

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You guys are way too hard on Warners. I applaud them for saving me a ton of money. If they had made this a good release, I would have bought it and paid about $200. Since they screwed up the incredibly simple task of including already existing bonus discs, I can just buy the previous UHD releases for a total of $125 (or less- who knows what Black Friday sales may bring) whenever I see those ones on sale. Thanks, Warners- your ineptitude saved me at least $75!
 

Robert Crawford

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You guys are way too hard on Warners. I applaud them for saving me a ton of money. If they had made this a good release, I would have bought it and paid about $200. Since they screwed up the incredibly simple task of including already existing bonus discs, I can just buy the previous UHD releases for a total of $125 (or less- who knows what Black Friday sales may bring) whenever I see those ones on sale. Thanks, Warners- your ineptitude saved me at least $75!
Don't lump me in with Sam as I feel the same way as you do.
 

Bryan^H

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I thought that when the initial 4K discs ( I ended up buying the LOTR set) were released they would be bare bones, and was told by many to wait for the definitive edition as that would include all the special features previously released on other discs. What a letdown.
 

Scott Burke

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I know I’m probably in the minority, but the only extra I actually watch over and over is the trailers. In my youth, I would purchase the deluxe, ultimate, collectors, etc… editions to get all the extras. I’ve found that in most cases I never actually watch most if any of the extras provided. Therefore, I’m cool with this release as long as the presentation is stellar. Don’t have time to watch the rest. 😬
 

Robert Crawford

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I know I’m probably in the minority, but the only extra I actually watch over and over is the trailers. In my youth, I would purchase the deluxe, ultimate, collectors, etc… editions to get all the extras. I’ve found that in most cases I never actually watch most if any of the extras provided. Therefore, I’m cool with this release as long as the presentation is stellar. Don’t have time to watch the rest. 😬
I might be in the minority too, but I rarely watch trailers. It’s just not my thing, but I love good audio commentaries.
 

Dave MJ

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What's most aggravating to me is that Jackson has stated many times over the years that he purposely saved some of the best material (additional deleted scenes, behind the scenes, etc). for a true "ultimate" release. Warner declined to budget including that material on the blu-rays and now it looks like we may never see it.
 

TravisR

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I know I’m probably in the minority, but the only extra I actually watch over and over is the trailers. In my youth, I would purchase the deluxe, ultimate, collectors, etc… editions to get all the extras. I’ve found that in most cases I never actually watch most if any of the extras provided. Therefore, I’m cool with this release as long as the presentation is stellar. Don’t have time to watch the rest. 😬
If you don't care about the extras, you definitely want to go with the two trilogy UHD sets released last year because they're significantly cheaper and you get the same UHDs as included in this set. About the only reason to get this is for either the small number of new special features or if you really want Blu-rays using the new transfers.
 

Todd Erwin

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If you don't care about the extras, you definitely want to go with the two trilogy UHD sets released last year because they're significantly cheaper and you get the same UHDs as included in this set. About the only reason to get this is for either the small number of new special features or if you really want Blu-rays using the new transfers.
The remastered Blu-rays are also being sold separately in trilogy sets.
 
Last edited:

Wayne Klein

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A surprisingly botched set from Warner, glad I purchased the 4K stripped down editions when they were on sale. Nobody who knows anything will buy this. How disappointing. Good news-Warner saved me a ton of money.
 

noel aguirre

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There will be tons of these next Prime Day 2022 discounted next to nothing, if not earlier. Then and only then would I ever consider. No one wants this- it’s universally reviled. Especially after what Peter Jackson promised.
 

OliverK

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Dear Warner and other studios who I am sure are involved: Please call it ultimate if and when you actually put in some real effort to bring these to UHD Blu-ray in the quality that these movies deserve.
 

Todd Erwin

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Dear Warner and other studios who I am sure are involved: Please call it ultimate if and when you actually put in some real effort to bring these to UHD Blu-ray in the quality that these movies deserve.
To be fair, the presentation quality of the films are excellent. Calling this set "Ultimate" but not including most of the previously available special features is not anywhere near "ultimate."