Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has released The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in a 9-disc set on 4K UHD Blu-ray just in time for holiday gift-giving for the home theater enthusiast.
The Production: 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.
3D Rating: NA
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. Unfortunately, Warner has decided for this release to only include these films on 4K UHD Blu-ray – there are no Blu-ray editions included in this set.
The Lord of the Rings films 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.
Special Features: 0.5/5
Warner has opted to not include any special features in this set, not even the extensive commentary tracks from the original 4-disc DVD Extended Edition sets. The studio has announced, though, that “a 4K UHD ‘Middle Earth’ Ultimate Collector’s Edition featuring the theatrical and extended cut of all six films, along with new bonus content, previously released Blu-ray discs of The Hobbit Trilogy, and remastered Blu-ray discs of The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be released in the summer of 2021.” The press release also mentioned that remastered Blu-ray discs of the 3 films will be released this time next year. However, it is rumored that the Ultimate collection will not include any previously released special features (other than what was included on The Hobbit Blu-ray discs).
The only “extra” included in this set is a Movies Anywhere code to redeem digital copies of both theatrical and extended cuts of all three films in UHD. Redeeming the included code gives you access to the following special features within the Movies Anywhere app:
The Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition:
The Fellowship of the Cast (SD; 34:39)
A Day in the Life of a Hobbit (SD; 13:08)
Scale (SD; 15:35)
The Two Towers: Extended Edition:
The Taming of Sméagol (SD; 39:36)
Warriors of the Third Age (SD; 20:59)
The Return of the King: Extended Edition:
Home of the Horse Lords (SD; 30:16)
The End of All Things (SD; 21:29)
The Passing of an Age (SD; 25:13)
It’s been a long time coming, but Warner’s UHD release of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is outstanding from a presentation standpoint, with either edition of all three films being excellent demo material. Fans may want to wait six months, though, for the Ultimate Collector’s Edition to see what new special features will be included. Otherwise, hold on to your previous Blu-ray or DVD editions, as it appears that most if not all of the archival special features are not going to be included.
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