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THE LORD OF THE RINGS
MOTION PICTURE TRILOGY:
EXTENDED EDITION

THE LORD OF THE RINGS:
THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

Based upon the first book of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy trilogy, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING tells to story of an all-powerful ring that was forged by the Dark Lord Sauron, which would enable him to rule all of Middle Earth. Just at the moment Sauron should triumph over all those that oppose him in an epic battle, the Dark Lord is defeated when the ring of power is severed from his finger. After the passage of more than two millennia, the ring of power is found by the least likely of creatures- a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). After endowing the hobbit with an unusually long life, the ring is passed to Bilbo’s nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood), when the elder Baggins decides to leave his home in the Shire for the last time.

From the great Wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Frodo learns the deadly nature of his inheritance, with Gandalf informing Frodo that the Dark Lord Sauron has returned… and that his minions will be seeking the bearer of the ring. Because Frodo is one of the few creatures nearly immune to the evil influence of the ring of power, he is forced to undertake a quest to return it the fires of Mount Doom- the place the ring was forged and the only place it can be destroyed. Frodo’s quest brings together a fellowship from the races of the races of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and Men, all of who swear to protect the ring bearer, as he makes the perilous journey to destroy the ring… and prevent it from returning to the Dark Lord’s control. The superb cast of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING also features Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan.

The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING adds of approximately thirty minutes of footage back into the body of the film and makes this incredible motion picture so much better. Let me point out that this Special Extended Edition doesn't change to the plot of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING in any way, but instead, gives director Peter Jackson a chance to provide fans with a richer tapestry that will intensify their enjoyment of the story. I have to admit I was totally mesmerized by the original theatrical cut of the movie, yet at the end of the film's three hour running time, I wanted more… The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING delivers what I wanted by giving fans a version of the movie that further fleshes out the characters and adds more detail to J.R.R. Tolkien's classic story.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS:
THE TWO TOWERS

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS is the middle film in the trilogy and as such, brings the viewer into the middle of the action… without explaining what has come before. As THE TWO TOWERS opens, we discover the Fellowship of The Ring has been broken, with Frodo (Elijah Wood) continuing his quest to destroy Lord Sauron's Ring of Power, aided only by his good friend and fellow hobbit Sam (Sean Astin). Although Frodo is troubled by his final memory of Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen), who saved him and the other members of The Fellowship by standing his ground against the Balrog, there are even worse things come to occupy Frodo’s mind during the long and arduous journey of Mordor.

As Frodo and Sam make their way to Mordor, former fellowship members Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) remain in pursuit of the bloodthirsty orcs, who have snatched away hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). However, when Merry and Pippin escape the Orcs on their own, and wind up in the protective care of the Ent Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), an old friend advises Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli that their services are desperately needed to protect the people of Rohan against an overwhelming army of Orcs created by Saruman the White (Christopher Lee). The cast of THE TWO TOWERS also features Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Bruce Hopkins, Brad Dourif, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving.

THE TWO TOWERS proves to be a much darker film than THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, even though the two could be easily joined together to create a cohesive whole. Situations within THE TWO TOWERS turn dire, with a greater deal of bloodshed, which accounts for the darker tone of the second film. THE TWO TOWERS also features a marked increase in action and violence, as well as a seemingly quicker pace than THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Still, even with the numerous action sequences, director Peter Jackson recognizes that this is very much a character driven story and maintains strong character development throughout the film.

As I’ve stated in the past, the performances are uniformly excellent, with THE TWO TOWERS being more of an ensemble piece than THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, with the focus shifting away from Frodo and onto the plights of the other characters that have been separated from him. I should also mention that one of the film’s most intriguing performances is one that is realized entirely through CGI. The character of Gollum was motion captured from a live performance by actor Andy Serkis, then digitally inserted into the film with amazing results. Gollum is, without question, one of the most wholly believable digital characters to ever appear in a movie.

The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS adds another forty-three minutes of footage to the film’s already hefty running time, yet I am awed at how much better an already fantastic became thanks to the additional material. In my initial DVD review of the theatrical version of THE TWO TOWERS, I expounded that watching the film made me feel as though I were in the presence of cinematic greatness. Well, the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS that sensation is greatly amplified- as if one were going from a richly woven piece of cloth to a luxuriously fine tapestry. Even the smallest additions to Peter Jackson’s brilliant film add to its complexity, as well as creating a greater understanding of and appreciation for J.R.R. Tolkien’s brilliant fantasy work.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS:
THE RETURN OF THE KING

There is little that one can say about THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING that hasn’t already been said, especially with this majestic fantasy film doing something completely unprecedented for a genre offering- earning eleven Academy Awards, including the top prize for Best Picture. Perhaps the top prize for THE RETURN OF THE KING should considered a cumulative win for the entire trilogy, because THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and THE TWO TOWERS were certainly no less deserving of the award than the final chapter in the trilogy. My only quibble with the Oscars is that Sean Astin’s performance as Sam didn’t get some sort of recognition, especially since, in many ways, his character becomes the emotional center of this final film. Looking at the plight of the two lone hobbits, Sam carriers the largest load, supporting Frodo (Elijah Wood) with his heavy burden to destroy Lord Sauron's Ring of Power, while at the same time, being constantly undercut by the treacherous Gollum (Andy Serkis), who wants nothing more than to reclaim his precious.

With the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING director Peter Jackson weaves an additional fifty minutes back into his Academy Award winning triumph, with generally excellent results, although I felt there were a couple of places where the pacing could have been made a little snappier, by the removal of a few shots. Still, the Special Extended Edition of THE RETURN OF THE KING makes the rich cinematic tapestry that Peter Jackson has brilliantly woven from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel even richer, by adding back both the smaller character moments, as well as embellishing the epic sweep of the enormous battle sequences. Amongst my personal favorites, is finally getting to see the ultimate fate of Saruman the White (Christopher Lee), who was pivotal to the story in the first two films.

THE RETURN OF THE KING starts off with an introduction to the character of Smeagol (Andy Serkis), a Hobbit who was instantly corrupted by the Ring of Power and transformed into something dark and dangerous. This segues to Hobbits Frodo and Sam continuing their journey to Mount Doom, with the assistance of Gollum, who claims to know the secret ways in and out of Mordor. After the victory at Helms Deep, Gandalf The White (Ian McKellen) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) ride to the city of Minas Tirith to warn that the final battle with Sauron's army will be fought on their doorstep. At the same time, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Eowyn (Miranda Otto) prepare to ride into battle with King Theoden (Bernard Hill), while Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) remain at the side of Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), as he prepares to accept his destiny. The cast of THE RETURN OF THE KING also features David Wenham, Bruce Hopkins, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, John Noble, Ian Holm and Sean Bean.

*****

New Line Home Entertainment has made the three films that constitute THE LORD OF THE RINGS MOTION PICTURE TRILOGY: EXTENDED EDITION ($120) available on Blu-ray Disc in 2.40:1 aspect ratio presentations that have been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. For this release, the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING has been given the most significant visual tweaking in terms of digital grading, color timing and contrast. Said visual tweaking has caused something of an uproar amongst some fans. However, these tweaks have been confirmed as the intent of director Peter Jackson and director of photography Andrew Lesnie, and therefore, are what they want the viewer to see on this release. On my system, the visual tweaks, while noticeable, are nowhere near as pronounced as screen captures I have seen floating around the Internet, and therefore, I don’t have any problem deferring to the judgment of Peter Jackson and Andrew Lesnie. Back to the matter at hand, the image on the Blu-ray displays excellent sharpness, dimensionality, fine detail and texturing. In fact, this is the absolute best THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING has ever looked in the home venue. Of course some credit must go to the higher bit rates that can be achieved by spreading this epic motion picture across two discs. Color reproduction is strong, confident and completely stable. The color palette has been retimed to appear cooler, with a decided bump in the cyan register. Flesh tones appear accurate, despite the cyan bump. Black are deep and the whites are crisp and stable. Contrast shows evidence of tweaking, but the image never fails to impress. Shadow detail is relatively strong throughout, with only odd shots appearing a bit impenetrable. Modest grain/noise conveys an organic quality.

The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS comes to Blu-ray with a very similar appearance to that of its theatrical counterpart. As the story turns ever darker in this middle film, the color palette becomes more drained of color and the visuals just demonstrate a darker, heavier cast. Sharpness, definition, fine detail and dimensionality all show signs of improvement over the Theatrical Version of the film, as the Special Extended Edition has been given more breathing room by virtue of being spread across two discs. Contrast is uniformly excellent and this wonderfully dark film always demonstrates impressive detail. The presentation is filmic and beautifully rendered.

Like THE TWO TOWERS, the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING also displays visual characteristics that are similar to its theatrical counterpart. Once again more apparent sharpness, fine detail, texturing and dimensionality can be pulled from the materials, thanks to the increased bit rates achieved by expanding the presentation across two discs. Colors take on a renewed vibrancy in the third film, except for the passages that occur within the bleak confines of Mordor. Blacks are pure perfection, as are the whites. Contrast and shadow detail are almost always exemplary. Despite all the digital trickery, the image maintains an organic quality.

The films that comprise THE LORD OF THE RINGS MOTION PICTURE TRILOGY: EXTENDED EDITION are presented on Blu-ray Disc with 6.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. Taken as a whole, the trilogy offers a demonstration quality sonic presentation, with no single film sounding better than the others. Each film’s sound design is nothing short of a glorious sonic revelation that delivers absolutely everything that genre fans expect from big budget fantasy movies appearing on Blu-ray. Discrete sound effects are non-stop symphony of sonic wonder, whether they be during an epic battle, or during a more quiet introspective moment, there is always a richness and a sense of life that plays out through one’s home theater system. Sounds will emanate from every direction; many of which effortlessly sweep around the soundstage. Thanks to the lossless encodes, fidelity is stunning for its clarity, musicality, lightness and even weight. Howard Shore’s musical scores always sound majestic and even haunting, while the sound effects never fail to convince. The bass channel is full, deep forceful and shakes the ground with authority. Voices have a warm, natural quality, plus the film’s dialogue is totally understandable. Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the discs, as are English, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, the majority of which are contained on nine DVDs, with three DVDs of material corresponding each individual film. These DVD based supplements appear to be direct ports of the discs offered with the original disc releases of the Special Extended Editions. The amount of material contained in this set is just staggering; this amount of material is certain to keep fans busy for an incredibly long marathon session, or for weeks of watching at their leisure, so I will just provide a disc-by-disc breakdown.

Discs one and two offer four running Audio Commentaries for THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING; the first features The Director and Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens; the second features The Design Team: Grant Major, Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah, Chris Hennah and Tania Rodger; the third features The Production/Post-Production Team: Barrie M. Osborne, Mark Ordesky Andrew Lesnie, John Gilbert, Rick Porras, Howard Shore, Jim Rygiel, Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, Randy Cook, Christian Rivers, Brian Van't Hul and Alex Funke; the fourth features The Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee and Sean Bean. The Lord Of The Rings: War In The North – The Untold Story Trailer and clip from the 2002 MTV Movie Awards close out the standard supplements on discs one and two.

Disc three is entitled The Appendices Part 1 From Book To Vision and features the following programs and ancillary materials: Peter Jackson Introduction, JRR Tolkien: Creator Of Middle-Earth, From Book To Script, Visualizing The Story, Designing And Building Middle-Earth, Middle-Earth Atlas Interactive and New Zealand And Middle-Earth Interactive. Disc four is entitled The Appendices Part Two From Vision To Reality and features the following programs and ancillary materials: Elijah Wood Introduction, Filming The Fellowship Of The Ring, Visual Effects, Post Production: Putting It All Together, Digital Grading, Sound And Music and The Road Goes Ever On…. Disc five features a Behind-The-Scenes Documentary that was created by filmmaker Costa Botes, during filming of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.

Discs six and seven offer four running Audio Commentaries for THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS; the first features The Director and Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens; the second features The Design Team: Grant Major, Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah, Chris Hennah and Tania Rodger; the third features The Production/Post-Production Team: Barrie M. Osborne, Mark Ordesky Andrew Lesnie, John Gilbert, Rick Porras, Howard Shore, Jim Rygiel, Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, Randy Cook, Christian Rivers, Brian Van't Hul and Alex Funke; the fourth features The Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, John Noble, Craig Parker and Andy Serkis. The Lord Of The Rings: War In The North – The Untold Story Trailer and clip from the 2003 MTV Movie Awards close out the standard supplements on discs six and seven.

Disc eight is entitled The Appendices Part 3: The Journey Continues and features the following programs and ancillary materials: Peter Jackson Introduction, JRR Tolkien: Origin Of Middle-Earth, From Book To Script: Finding The Story, Designing And Building Middle-Earth, Gollum, Middle-Earth Atlas Interactive and New Zealand As Middle-Earth. Disc nine is entitled The Appendices Part 4: The Battle For Middle-Earth and features the following programs and ancillary materials: Elijah Wood Introduction, Filming The Two Towers, Visual Effects, Editorial: Refining The Story, Music And Sound and The Battle For Helm's Deep Is Over…. Disc ten features a Behind-The-Scenes Documentary that was created by filmmaker Costa Botes, during filming of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS.

Discs eleven and twelve offer four running Audio Commentaries for THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING; the first features The Director and Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens; the second features The Design Team: Grant Major, Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah, Chris Hennah and Tania Rodger; the third features The Production/Post-Production Team: Barrie M. Osborne, Mark Ordesky Andrew Lesnie, John Gilbert, Rick Porras, Howard Shore, Jim Rygiel, Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, Randy Cook, Christian Rivers, Brian Van't Hul, Alex Funke and Joe Letteri; the fourth features The Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, John Noble, Craig Parker, Andy Serkis, Lawrence Makoare, Smeagol and Gollum. The Lord Of The Rings: War In The North – The Untold Story Trailer and an Elijah Wood Interview close out the standard supplements on discs eleven and twelve.

Disc thirteen is entitled The Appendices Part 5: The War Of The Ring and features the following programs and ancillary materials: Peter Jackson Introduction, JRR Tolkien: The Legacy Of Middle-Earth, From Book To Script, Designing And Building Middle-Earth, Home Of The Horse Lords, Middle-Earth Atlas and New Zealand As Middle-Earth. Disc fourteen is entitled The Appendices Part 6: The Passing Of An Age and features the following programs and ancillary materials: Introduction, Filming The Return Of The King, Visual Effects, Post-Production: Journey’s End, The Passing Of An Age and Cameron Duncan: The Inspiration For Into The West. Disc fifteen features a Behind-The-Scenes Documentary that was created by filmmaker Costa Botes, during filming of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING. Each film is also BD-Live enabled (requires a Profile 2.0 Player). A Digital Copy is also provided for each film.

The Blu-ray release of THE LORD OF THE RINGS MOTION PICTURE TRILOGY: EXTENDED EDITION marks the definitive high definition edition for fans. The controversy surrounding the visual tweaks applied to THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING by Peter Jackson and Andrew Lesnie probably won’t go away anytime soon, but I found the Blu-ray presentation of that film, in addition to the two others to be of demonstration worthy caliber. The tremendous amount of supplemental material is beyond reproach. Absolutely, positively recommended.

 
THE LORD OF THE RINGS MOTION PICTURE TRILOGY: EXTENDED EDITION 


The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended Edition + Digital Copy) [Blu-ray]

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DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright 2011 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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