A few years ago at PAX, Tycho from Penny Arcade had the opportunity to brush Felicia Day’s hair. “It was,” he said, “like brushing a unicorn.” Yesterday, I finally got the chance to open up my Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition Blu-ray set. And if grooming Felicia Day is like brushing a unicorn, then opening up this package can only be described as undressing some equally alluring mythical creature.
I’m not kidding even a little bit. There simply isn’t another Blu-ray release that has haunted my dreams like this one. Not Star Wars. Not The Big Lebowski. (Because, let’s face it: the Dude would be just as Dudely on VHS, but half the experience of The Lord of the Rings is the audiovisual splendor.) Not even the
Reader’s Digest theatrical versions of The Lord of the Rings quenched my thirst. If the truncated versions of the films weren’t bad enough, their lackluster presentations at first bat on Blu-ray only made things worse.
But here we have it: the trilogy to end all trilogies in its full and proper form, with a spiffy new transfer and all of the extras from the extended edition and limited theatrical/extended edition combo DVD set. Was it worth the wait? Well, I still contend that the wait was artificial. These are the Blu-rays we should have had to begin with. But after digging through all fifteen discs in this collection, I’m a helluva a lot less grumpy about the delay than I was before.
Mostly because the films themselves look very nearly perfect. Gone is the vast inconsistency between the quality of Fellowship of the Ring and the other two films. Gone is the flat, digital-looking presentation that marred the theatrical version on BD; these new transfers look positively unprocessed (which is a bit misleading, because every frame of the films was digitally manipulated in one for or another before release, but for all that, they look wonderfully film-like and utterly cinematic here). Detail is downright phenomenal here in contrast to the theatrical versions. Richer contrasts lend an incredible amount of depth to the image that was lacking before. The edginess on long shots is greatly diminished. On the whole, it’s hard to imagine the films looking much better.
Or sounding better, for that matter. The Extended Edition of Fellowship on DVD has long been my go-to disc for difficult dialogue clarity when reviewing speakers, owing to the DTS track’s dense mix, which tended to make voices a struggle to hear in spots even on the finest of systems. If you’re upgrading straight from the extended DVDs, having bypassed the theatrical Blu-rays, you’re in for perhaps even a bigger treat than the wonderful visuals — the DTS-HD Master Audio mixes for the Extended Edition Blu-rays are a downright audio rollercoaster, a dynamic feast for the ears. The bass is wholly startling in spots, and Howard Shore’s iconic score is delivered with heart-tugging fidelity. The louder bits are louder; the quieter bits are quieter; and through it all, dialogue rings through with the utmost of effortless clarity.
All of the commentaries from the Extended DVDs have carried over, as well, along with the Easter Eggs, and — a point that may disappoint some, but not me — the two-disc-per-film structure, which I’m going to guess is a significant contribution to this set’s visual superiority over the theatrical release (although there are enough differences in color and contrasts that less compression alone simply can’t account for all the improvements).
Each film also comes with three DVDs’ worth of extras: the complete Appendices from the Extended Edition DVD sets, as well as Costa Botes’ candid behind-the-scenes documentaries that graced the Original Theatrical & Extended Limited Edition DVD release. The former are all presented in anamorphic widescreen, while the latter are unfortunately letterboxed only, meaning you’ll have to deal with not only black bars above and below, but also black (or gray) bars on the left and right of the image, as well. It’s a shame the docs couldn’t have been reformatted to 16:9; despite the fact that no additional resolution would have been gained, it would be handy not to have to hit the Zoom button every time I pop these discs in. But such is life. That’s my only real complaint about the set as a whole.
I can see some fans complaining about the packaging, though. And perhaps they’ll have a point; the three five-disc cases included in the magnetically sealed slipcase don’t have quite the same aesthetic elegance as their DVD brethren did. (Much less so if you had the deluxe box sets with Sideshow statues and an extra DVD apiece). But function wins out over form for me in this case. It’s much easier to flip through these cases, in contrast to having to unfold the delicate cardboard wallet of discs that the DVDs came in, especially in the dark, between discs of the same film.
What else can I say, really? If you’ve never seen the Extended Editions of the films, you’re missing out on one of the greatest achievements in cinematic history. Even if you loathed the films in theatrical form (as I did The Two Towers) you owe it to yourself to give these a shot. And if you’ve never dug through the hours and hours (and more hours) of amazing featurettes in the Appendices, you’re denying yourself perhaps the most fascinating, entertainment, enlightening movie-making exposés ever committed to video. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone who hasn’t seen the films or the Appendices, but if you’ve waited this long, you’re certainly going to be doing it right the first time. Even if Jackson makes good in his promise to further tinker with the films and release even more extras down the road, this Extended Edition Blu-ray release is the pacifier we deserved to begin with. And if not — if this is all we’re going to get — I don’t feel slighted one bit.
Order it now at Amazon: [The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended Edition + Digital Copy) [Blu-ray]]