The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy - Extended Editions Blu-ray Review
“Hmmmm … that doesn't make much sense to me. But then you are very small.”
All three films in this Region B-coded set are presented 2.40:1 and come via AVC transfers. I have only seen the UK set, and not the US one – but I have no doubts whatsoever that both sets carry identical transfers. The same issues seem apparent to me as have been reported ad nauseum on the net. Though I certainly wouldn't have gotten my mithril knickers in a twist over them!
So, now we get to the big bugbear with LOTR's transition to Blu-ray in its extended form. Long awaited by fans, there was understandable surprise and, indeed, dismay, at the “green” appearance of FOTR. Sadly, even now, weeks down the line from the set's release on both sides of the Pond, there remains no definitive word from Peter Jackson on the matter of the new colour-grading. But I think we have to take it as being intentional. Jackson always said he and DOP Andrew Lesnie never had time to go back and tweak the first film to get it visually in-line with the second and third. Now, it would appear that they have found the time.
Some people claim not to notice it. Some simply accept it. But there are plenty who seem distinctly unhappy with it. Whilst we can certainly not dispute the improved level of detail and depth that the extended cut of Fellowship has been bestowed – it does, indeed, look mostly excellent in 1080p – the greener hue to the image is something that it appears we will have to live with. I cannot foresee any rethinking, re-pressing or exchange program being brought to bear on this one. Personally speaking, I wasn't at all perturbed by the appearance of the film, although I could immediately see that it looked, well, greener than before, but not to any detrimental degree … at all. Some scenes may even seem a touch more striking and atmospheric than they did previously on account of this – I'm thinking of the scenes set in the Hobbiton, which are instantly more vibrant and lush, as are those out in the woods of Lothlorien and Parth Galen. And, further from this, the supposedly weird cast to other sequences set on the way to Caradharas with wrong-looking skies and snow – well, they do seem different, but altogether more arresting, and absolutely not stricken with the green push that so many screen-grabs would have you believe. Having said that, certain moments now seem doctored, in a way, though this could well just be down to knowledge of the alteration fooling the eye into thinking something glaring has occurred.
The lengthy Moria sequence, including the moments spent outside the mines, are actually surprisingly drab and mushy and, I'm afraid, did not impress me at all. It is important to note that they've always looked this way, though. It's just that the greenish-blue hue, to my eyes at any rate, seems to flatten the image out a bit further during this sequence, destabilising the blacks and the shadows. Another thing is that Elijah Wood's immense blue eyes appear somewhat neutered with this cast, to the point where they seem the same shade as Pippin's coat. They lose some of that intense gemstone aspect that radiates from the screen throughout the second two parts.
I'm not at all averse to changes being made to how films look. Star Wars, Halloween, Jason And The Argonauts and The Evil Dead have all been retuned in one way or another, and the fact is that if I like the changes I'm going to find it hard to mark them down providing there was a valid reason for them having taken place. At the end of the day, this comes down to the aesthetic preferences of each individual. The official word is that this is how Jackson and Lesnie want the film to look. I've also heard that intentions were that each film would have its own specific appearance. Green. Brown. Grey. Now I would be inclined to be more forgiving with this theory if each of the three instalments actually did have a distinctive and individual signature look. There are rustic browns and greens for The Two Towers, and stone grey and livid red for Return Of The King. It's easy to see these codes in abundance in the plains of Rohan, and then in Gondor and in Mordor and Mount Doom, but these are not quite the visual design ethics that we now see taking place with Fellowship. In the second and third parts of the trilogy, the visual look of the films is quite natural to the environments in which they are set. In Fellowship, the cyan grading seems to apply to well, anywhere, really … snowy mountains and down in caves. And the fact that it has been applied right across the board, even down to the opening titles (though not to the degree that some images have shown – to me they still look predominantly white), and at such a later date doesn't bode well for this particular assumption. To my mind, anyway.
It is also interesting to note that scenes in the besieged port hamlet of Osgiliath in Two Towers and the entire sequence set outside Shelob's lair when she punctures the Ring-bearer and Sam then battles her in Return is bathed in a very similar green/blue hue and, now, they instantly remind you of Fellowship – which only gives credence to the idea that all three films should have a similar visual connection.
But this is only a part of what these transfers serve up.
With only a smidgeon of the edge enhancement, but none of the more obtrusive DNR of the theatrical cuts (some waxiness still exists), the image for these three films is tremendously sharp, wonderfully three-dimensional and amazingly well detailed. Object delineation is keen and robust even in the darker, more subterranean phases of the trilogy. Detail is frequently tremendous – that pan of sausages, bacon and tomato that Sam fries-up early on really does look good enough to pluck from the screen and eat – with lots of clarity available on armour, material, landscapes and vegetation. Fellowship does look softer all round, than its travelling companions, with a lot more scenes becoming flatter and murkier. Two Towers and Return are very noticeable improvements over it, appearing fresher, more colourful and very highly detailed and with a tremendous sense of depth that is lacking from all but the travelogue scenes in Fellowship that haven't been enhanced with any CG ruins or castles or anything. Distant landscapes really possess keen depth and spatiality now, particularly in the second two films which rely more on vast, open plains and far away mountain ranges.
But perhaps even more revelatory is the integration of the visual effects with the live-action footage. There were always some dodgy elements that sort of disappointed, even at the flicks. The image of the Fellowship as they straddle the mountain ridge was always a bit iffy. So was the flinging of the Hobbits across the chasm in Moria, or the appearance of the tentacled Watcher in the Dark outside the gates. Then there was the sudden arrival of the pirate Corsairs in Return and, worst of all, the Warg battle in Two Towers that really stood out as being quite unrefined and hasty. Well, I am pleased to say that almost all of these elements now look much more impressive. I'm not saying that Jackson and Weta have gone back and touched-up these bits but that the hi-def process, far from accentuating their compositing, has actually had the effect of smoothing it out. One thing I still miss is the sight of a car roof moving above the hedgerows of the Shire as the vehicle trundles along a country lane – but this has been missing from all but the very first theatrical release print. For those who may still have an, ahem, dodgy copy of this print floating about, it is when Sam realises that if he takes one more step, it will be the furthest he has ever been from home.
The colours are excellently rendered and it is something of a surprise to discover just how varied and decorative both Two Towers and Return really are. From the shades of the landscapes to the intricacies of the costume designs, and from the weathered and rusted hulks of some of the siege engines to the scintillating hues of Orc eyes and the weird and wonderful skin-tones of their mutated flesh, these transfers scrub up the spectrum with a terrific attention to even the smallest details of fidelity. Flames are livid and bright, blood is rich and red. There is no smearing or overt banding taking place. Contrast is more than satisfying and the black levels are often vigorously deep and solid. Shelob retreating back into darkness, for instance, or the interiors of the Tower of Orthanc. Midnight blues, so important to the majority of the Helm's Deep battle, respond well, as do the smothering clouds of green that issue forth from the gates of Barad-dur, or those accompanying the Army of the Dead, literally glowing with eerie life. And look at the wonderful clarity and golden gleam of the Elvish writing on the Ring and sizzling to life on the hidden gates to Moria – so clear and bright and neatly scored.
Compression artefacts are few and far between. I spotted some vague aliasing taking place during the more close-up action in Minas Tirith in Return, and what looks like a speckling of noise over Pippin's shoulder as he craftily coerces Treebeard to take him and Merry south. But really, these are fantastic transfers. To hold off because the “green issue” is just ridiculous. It is noticeable, yes, but it is hardly problematic and … in many cases, it suits the film.
Picture-wise, Fellowship gets an 8 out of 10, although I believe I wouldn't award it any more than that even if it didn't have the green tint. Both The Two Towers and Return of the King get 9 out of 10. They do look a lot more impressive than the first instalment. So, overall, the transfers for this set get a 9.
“Taters? What's taters, Precious?”
Assessing the audio for the Trilogy is much, much easier and far more satisfying.
Each film carries a blisteringly good DTS-HD MA 6.1 mix that is spectacularly exciting and an utter delight for fans of gut-shrivelling bombast, intense wraparound dynamics and all-round precision and acoustic accuracy.
Natural ambience is finely reproduced, from the forests to the mines, to the crowded scenes and the quieter, more reflective ones. Width, separation and spatiality are spot-on. Effects are directed around the set-up with accuracy, and movement is aided by seamless panning and transparency. The big stuff is all present and correct. Arrows flash past us from a variety of angles and trajectories. Horses' hooves arrive and exit via appropriate speakers, their movement across the soundfield precisely followed, a superb example being when Arwen and Frodo take flight from the Black Riders. Flies buzzing around the traveller's heads in the marshes, the screeching of Saruman's winged spies. The echoing of spectral Elvish speech sometimes floats around the rear speakers with a gliding ease, as does the voice of the Ring - “I seeeee YOU!”. And then there's Treebeard's wail of fury at the sight of the dastardly deforestation, which moves and hovers and then fills the room. The swirling and shrieking of the Nazgul during the confrontation on Weathertop flurries all around. We can enjoy the chittering and hissing of Shelob, if enjoy is the right word for such a thing, as she scuttles her bloated girth through the tunnels of Cirith Ungol, and the thudding of her weird hooves as she manoeuvres around Sam. The Nazgul screech and squeal as they dive-bomb the battlements of Minas Tirith is another great example of pin-point steerage. The battle of the Pelennor Fields is literally full of effects doing a complete 360-degree runaround. Arrows flying, all manner of man, Orc and beast screaming, shouting and roaring, crashing Mumakil and tumbling bodies emanate from all speakers, totally immersing you right in the thick of it. There is a riotous cacophony for sure, but the little things within all of this are not forgotten about, or clumsily engineered at the expense of maintaining a frightening bombast. The sound of rainfall on armour, say, the creaking of a bow-string. I will say, though, that dialogue may seem dialled down slightly more than necessary during some of these really big moments. But speech is never less than clearly discernible at any time.
The .LFE can reach bowel-loosening levels. There are such deep impacts and booming resonances throughout that will have the neighbours convinced that rioters are charging down your street. But I have heard more energised and tremendously gut-punching bass in things like the battles of Saving Private Ryan and The Expendables, and in the building demolitions of War of the Worlds and Transformers. No-one is going to complain about the sheer sonic aggression on offer here though, the clashes wrought-about in the Rings guaranteed to toughen-up your ear-drums. From the bass utilised in Shore's orchestra to the landing of blasted slabs of the Deeping Wall on the heads of the Uruk-hai; from the clanging of steel down in Isengard's foundries to the tumbling of felled Trolls; from the masonry dislodged by catapults to, my favourite of all, the terrifying pounding of those massive Mumakil feet as they trample the ranks of the Rohirrim – this is subwoofer gold. Things like the pounding and chanting of the Uruk-hai outside the walls of Helm's Deep is also blood-curdlingly effective, especially as we glimpse the terrified women and children huddled below in the Glittering Caves. Or even the distant marching of the same army as witnessed by a bedraggled Aragorn and Brego from a ridge.
It's all great stuff, marvellously directional and totally involving at all times.
And finally, the score is extremely well catered-for, issuing forth with warmth and a full range that embraces the choral aspects, the vocal elements and soaring string sections. Listen to the violins see-sawing in panic during Frodo's anxious probing of Shelob's lair, for example. The blend of high action and score is nigh-on exemplary, with neither force swamping the other, and both coming together in a perfect marriage of scene-embellishment.
I have heard more extreme audio mixes, but those for the Rings don't put a foot wrong. Awesome and a full 10 out of 10 across the board for this set.
“The rock and pool … so nice and cool ...”
There's way too much to go into here, folks, and the overwhelming majority of it all very familiar to those who already have the SD extended editions. So I am not going to go into any detail about the extras that overload this lavish boxset, suffice to say that if they were Palantirs it would take about ten trolls to carry them.
Multiple commentaries adorn each film, some of them classics. Participants from both sides of the camera get to sit with us and discuss, in clinical, technical, philosophical and often quite hysterical detail what it took to get this leviathan production made. Stand-outs would have to be from the Hobbits, themselves, as they are forced to witness that epic tear-stained and blubbery farewell to Frodo, but there is such candour and rapport from these guys throughout that it is a simple pleasure to accompany them as they reflect upon their fantastical journey. Jackson, himself, is terrific value, as always, providing crucial insight into decisions that he made, his marshalling of such big crowds and gargantuan action set-pieces, his take on the mythology and the realism that he strived to bring to it and, of course, his cameos.
Comprehensive documentaries, including those feature-length ones from Costa Botes, visual FX breakdowns, character studies, production design, galleries, interactive maps of Middle-earth, detailed dissection of costumes, weaponry, locations, makeup FX, the creation of the score and the whole concept of turning Tolkien's acclaimed classic for the screen cover every aspect of what it took to make these films and how they were received.
Exhaustive, fascinating, inspiring and totally warts 'n' all fan-friendly, this collection leaves no stone unturned, no Orc un-prodded in its attempts to take us on the background journey that Jackson, Weta and his astonishing cast went on. Alongside the Alien and Blade Runner collections, this has to be the benchmark of what can be supplied to film lovers, even if this release makes no new use of what Blu-ray can do with presenting such material.
Unmistakably, top scores again.
“Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?”
Green or no green, this boxset of extended cuts for Peter Jackson's epic LOTR adaptation is essential to any film collection. Even more mightily lavish than either Spartacus or Ben-Hur, infinitely more powerful and intelligent than the entire Star Wars franchise, more thought-provoking and deeper than Potter, and just as visceral and exciting as the likes of Braveheart and Gladiator, these three instalments, together, represent all that Cinema can achieve without the glossy emperor's new clothes of 3D. Whether you look at the performances, some of which are career-defining (or crowning in the case of Orlando Bloom), the visual effects, the grand art design, the sumptuous score, the blistering action set-pieces, or simply sit back and revel in the total immersion of being in another, but totally believable world of swords and sorcery, myths, magic and monsters, you won't be able to find a single damning fault. Unless you count what could have been done with those Eagles, of course! This is grand storytelling illustrated by all the technical wizardry that could be mustered at the time of production. With Jackson now embroiled in bringing The Hobbit to life with just as much gusto, detail and authenticity, now is the perfect time to revisit Middle-earth in all its dark, dangerous and mysterious glory.
The extras are the very epitome of exhaustive and all of them are worth your time and effort even if they are still lumped on to SD DVDs. The AV quality is pretty much superlative, although potentially stricken, for some people, with that bloody green tint for Fellowship. Although, as I've said, this will certainly come down to your personal preference at the end of the day. Personally speaking, I don't think it should be there, but I can definitely live with it. And, most importantly, it shouldn't be enough to put anyone off.
So, what are you waiting for …
“Fly, you fools.”
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