Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended Editions) (Warner Bros., 2011)

Well, you knew it was coming. If you went ahead and bought the Lord of the Rings trilogy when the theatrical cuts hit Blu-ray, you might be kicking yourself now — but this hefty box of hi-def goodness is still calling to you. (Yes, dammit, the same way it called out to Gollum. Sheesh.) Is it worth buying the movies all over again? And if you had enough willpower to hold out for the extended editions, does the new, presumably final collection justify the wait?

Let’s dig in and find out.

Synopsis: The Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy, revered as one of the most thrilling epic adventures in motion picture history and one of the highest-grossing adventure film franchises to ever be created, was born with the release of The Fellowship of the Ring, followed by The Two Towers and The Return of the King. Now they are offered on Blu-ray with more than two hours of extended scenes that were carefully selected under the supervision of director Peter Jackson.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy tells the story of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), a hobbit who battles against the Dark Lord Sauron to save his world, Middle-earth, from the grip of evil. In the films, Frodo and his fellowship of friends and allies embark on a desperate journey to rid Middle-earth of the source of Sauron’s greatest strength, The One Ring — a ring that has the power to enslave the inhabitants of Middle-earth. The trilogy tells tales of extraordinary adventures across the treacherous landscape of Middle-earth and reveals how the power of friendship, love and courage can hold the forces of darkness at bay. Beside Wood, the films star Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, featuring Sean Bean, and Ian Holm, with Andy Serkis as Gollum. The films also star Marton Csokas, Craig Parker and Lawrence Makaoare.

Video: The short answer here is that all three films look incredible, with a marvelously broad, dynamic color palette and absorbing levels of detail. The long answer is that director Peter Jackson and his director of photography, Andrew Lesnie, went back and altered the color and contrast for The Fellowship of the Ring, enriching the picture in some ways (heightened contrast) and simply making it…different in others (an overall change in the tint for the entire film). It’s the kind of thing ordinary film fans won’t notice, but given that we’re talking about the extended cuts of films beloved by a deeply passionate fanbase — packaged in a box with a steep enough price tag to keep out most casual buyers — it is, in this case, the stuff of wild controversy.

Depending on how inclined you are to go over the picture with a magnifying glass and compare it with the other versions, you’ll either be perplexed or enraged by the changes to Fellowship. Personally, it didn’t bother me at all; I wouldn’t have noticed if it hadn’t been pointed out by a number of other outlets, and I didn’t think it detracted from the film one bit. Your mileage may vary. Either way, this is a clear, rich, immersive visual experience — there are always nits to be picked, but if you’re in this to simply sit down and enjoy the films, you won’t be disappointed.

Audio: I’ll put this as simply as I can: Turn up speakers. Speakers go boom. Boom make happy. This is one beautiful soundtrack, delivered in DTS-HD MA, complete with all the orchestral goodness and thunderous special effects you could hope for — real demo stuff to rattle the windows, impress your friends, and generally erase the line between your living room and a theater near you. If it isn’t perfect, I couldn’t tell.

Special Features: Holy mackerel. This is a massive brick of a box set — even without taking the special features into account, it’s six discs, with each of the films taking up two — offering towering loads of bonus material. You get a full nine discs of extra stuff (all on DVD, but that’s to be expected), adding up to 26 hours of content in all. That is not a typo. TWENTY-SIX HOURS. Commentary tracks, Easter eggs, documentaries, oodles of featurettes, you name it — if someone filmed something related to one of these movies and it’s worth watching, you’ll find it here. Like the films themselves, you can get lost in here.

Bottom Line: When the theatrical trilogy came out on Blu-ray, I scoffed at the notion that anyone would ever need the extended cuts, but now that I’ve seen them, I cheerfully admit I was wrong. As immersive as the trilogy was the first time around — and as silly as it sounds to say two-hour movies needed to have anything extra tacked on — they’re even better here. The slower pace gives the films more time to envelop the viewer in the LotR mythology — and as vast as these longer cuts are, you can feel Middle-earth sprawling even further into the distance. It’s, you know, cinema.

As often as I write about films, I’m generally not the type of viewer who returns to them more than once — but at this point, I’ve seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy three times (once in the theater, once with the theatrical Blus, and now), and each time, I’ve enjoyed them more. So many movies are so utterly disposable that it’s hard to overstate the importance of one that really sticks with you. Is that worth your hard-earned $80? If you’re any kind of film fan, I have to think it is.


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