If you’ve ever wanted to see a bunch of nerds get worked into a righteous fury over the release of a six-disc collection that brings one of film’s greatest trilogies to Blu-ray for the first time, today is your lucky day, because The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy is here.
“But wait,” you might be saying. “Everyone loves the Lord of the Rings movies, and everyone agrees that Blu-ray technology is tops when it comes to delivering a crystal-clear, lifelike picture. Why would people be pissed that LotR is making its Blu-ray debut?”
To understand the answer to that question, you need to try and wedge yourself into the cluttered mind of the fanatic, where studios are, to borrow a phrase from Obi-Wan Kenobi, hives of scum and villainy where jerkwads sit around all day dreaming of ways to rip people off. And the fanatics have a point — as you’re no doubt already aware, at least if you’ve ever bought something on DVD, only to see an expanded “ultimate” edition released later. This is especially common with trilogy-spanning collections like Lord of the Rings, which was already released in multiple configurations on DVD — the kind of flagrant double-dipping that fanboy heroes like LotR director Peter Jackson is totally not supposed to go along with — and now it’s starting again on Blu-ray.
Here’s the problem: The Lord of the Rings movies, although they arrived in theaters at such sprawling, butt-numbing length you might never have guessed it, all have even longer director’s cuts, and the argument of the fans — which is perfectly valid — is that The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy should include the theatrical as well as director’s cuts. New Line will release them later on, as part of yet another collection, and the fear is that some people will be so impatient to see the movies in hi-def (or so unaware of the box’s contents) that they’ll end up buying the movies twice. (And actually, since the people most susceptible to this probably bought the movies twice on DVD, they’ll actually end up paying for them four times.)
It sounds awful, and it sort of is. I mean, if I were a huge Lord of the Rings fan with tons of disposable income, I suppose I might find it hard to resist buying the new collection, even though I know it’ll be supplanted at some point in the not-too-distant future. Here’s the thing, though: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, even at theatrical length, is loooooooooooooooooooong, and The Motion Picture Trilogy collection bundles an extra disc of bonus material for each installment, leaving you with something like 14 hours of viewing.
Going into The Motion Picture Trilogy, this struck me as laughable overkill — but then, I’d seen each installment in the trilogy once, in the theater, where I was the guy writhing in silent agony every time there was a slow-motion shot of Hobbits jumping up and down and embracing in slow motion, and I also thought The Return of the King was at least half an hour too long. What I’d forgotten, though, was just how instantly immersive Jackson’s movies really are — he really did a brilliant job of distilling Tolkien’s gobs of text into a cinematic masterpiece. It’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s emotional, and it plunges you deep inside an expansive fictional universe from the moment the first frame rolls. If you’re a film fan, and you own any kind of library, Lord of the Rings should be part of it.
That doesn’t mean The Motion Picture Trilogy is perfect. While the picture and sound will be more than enough to overjoy most viewers, the bonus discs are all DVDs instead of Blu-rays, a chintzy move that Warners already pulled with the Harry Potter Blu-ray boxes a few months ago. I think there’s an audience for the (relatively) slimmed-down Rings, myself included, but it’s hard not to be at least a little annoyed by hybrid sets like this one — especially since the upcoming One Box to Rule Them All will probably be 100 percent Blu. Still, for $60 you get the movies, tons of extra content, and digital copies of each installment in the trilogy; even if Warner Bros. could have done a better job of bringing LotR to the hi-def market, this is worth owning for the non-fanatics who don’t need to shell out premium prices for the extended cuts.
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With Lord of the Rings, New Line gave filmgoers one of the very few franchises with enough story to fill three excellent movies, as well as the good sense to provide a satisfying conclusion at the end. (That’s what adapting someone else’s classic books will do for you.) The irony here is that in order to make enough money to afford something as epic as LotR, New Line had to fatten its coffers with scads of cheapo sequels that had no reason to exist — and it all started with 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, which also makes its Blu-ray debut this month.
Filmed on the cheap after Wes Craven’s first two experiments with genre horror, Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, the first Nightmare put a nifty half-spin on the slasher genre, giving audiences a ruthless, savagely funny antagonist who reached into his victims’ dreams to kill them. Ugly inside and out, Freddy Krueger was a burn-covered child molester whose murder at the hands of an enraged group of parents only made him more powerful — and with the children of his killers reaching their teens, Krueger was ready to exercise that power. Nightmare on Elm Street was still sadistically bloody enough to satisfy a theater full of goony teenagers, but Craven’s basic idea was pretty brilliant, especially in the context of a genre that usually only bothered to produce mindless villains like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers.
Nightmare has also aged pretty well — this new 1080p transfer will make you wonder all over again why in the hell the studio is rebooting the franchise (although Jackie Earle Haley is admittedly a pretty wicked choice for the new Krueger). The picture is surprisingly sharp and clear for a movie this old, and the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack will fill your home theater with screams; even better, the movie itself still holds up, despite a few distractingly broad performances and the occasional hokey special effect. It may be a stretch to call it a classic, but A Nightmare on Elm Street is certainly one of the decade’s best and most inventive horror movies.
It’s given its due with this Blu-ray, which tacks on an array of bonus features, including a handful of featurettes that range from the fascinating (Never Sleep Again: The Making of A Nightmare on Elm Street) to the silly (Night Terrors: The Origins of Wes Craven’s Nightmares, which includes some eye-rolling interview footage with academic types about man’s long struggle with bad dreams). There are also alternate endings, an interactive trivia track, and a pair of commentaries, one delivered in the traditionally informal style by Craven, cinematographer Jacques Haitkin, and co-stars Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon, and the other recorded piecemeal by a larger group of cast and crew. The first one’s much more interesting. Finally, the disc adds “Ready Freddy Focus Points,” a sexy name for extra footage and behind-the-scenes stuff that occasionally pops up and takes you out of the film. I personally find this kind of thing an annoying distraction no matter what the studio calls it, but if you’ve seen Nightmare a thousand times and you don’t mind the interruptions, it’s got some added entertainment value. You also get a coupon worth $7.50 off a screening of the new Nightmare, so even if it’s destined to be inferior to the original, you can add a piece of history to your collection and save a few bucks in the bargain.