Review for The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended Edition)
This is either the ultimate in procrastination, or it’s that point where I question my choices. Do I actually like The Lord of the Rings movies? I certainly liked them when I saw them in the cinema, twice. I still liked them when I bought the extended edition DVDs, which I watched on more than one occasion. But the last time I watched them, close to ten years ago now, I made a vow that I would review them the next time I watched them, and I put them on the review pile. It wasn’t long before I upgraded the DVDs to Blu-ray, and the HD discs took their places, ready to be watched at my first convenience. And since then, every new purchase has gone on top of that pile, to take precedence in being reviewed.
This year for the 20th Anniversary, the Lord of the Rings trilogy has had the 4k UHD treatment, with all new transfers, and a new Blu-ray collection has been released based off the restorations (at the time of writing an HMV exclusive). It apparently fixes a major issue with The Fellowship of the Ring, but reading around the forums, it seems it introduces a bunch of whole new issues, that has fans debating which collection to keep. I haven’t bought the new set, I’m just staring at the ten year old one on my shelf, shedding tears at the way I’ve ignored it all this time. Well, I’m ignoring it no more, although I admit that the sole reason is that I have very little else left on my watch pile (damned Covid!)
Straight off the bat, contemplating reviewing these Extended Editions of the films is daunting enough. I would have balked at the Theatrical Versions, but these Extended Editions come with two discs per film, multiple commentaries, and two DVD discs per movie of extra features. The Blu-ray release adds another disc of extras for each film, making this a fifteen disc collection.
The real question however is, do I even like The Lord of the Rings? I certainly don’t like the book, which I bought long before the movies. I’ve read it twice. Well I say I’ve read it, but any novel where you forget what happened 100 pages previously while you’re reading it lacks for a certain impact. The second time around, I took notes, which didn’t help in the slightest, although it did reiterate my opinion of Tolkien as an author. In the Lord of the Rings, he wrote a saga, a fictional narrative history, a colourful recitation of events, one after the other, with no need for complexities of plot, or deep dives into character development. The mission statement is there right at the beginning, Gandalf tells Frodo that he has to dispose of the ring. 1000 pages later, he disposes of the ring. What happens in between these two events fills the intervening pages, and none of it really stays with me. The films were marginally better in this regard, or so I recall, but I also remember that Peter Jackson had to create complexities of plot, and incorporate more characters into the script to give the films some life. At this point, not having seen the films in years, my memories of them are being coloured by the book, which might be to their detriment. Also, earlier this year, I finally caught the Hobbit trilogy when it was broadcast on television, and found those films to be utter drek, making me wish that I’d watched Bernard Cribbins read the book on Jackanory instead.
And that’s the mindset with which I’m approaching this review of The Lord of the Rings trilogy on Blu-ray, a sense of tired dread, as I confront this tale where Gandalf tells Frodo to dispose of a ring, and twelve or so hours later, he does, and all that happens in between.
Below, you’ll find links to the movie reviews and an extras listing.
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King
To be honest, I like the DVD Extended Edition packaging better, but the Blu-ray release is pretty good. The big box looks like a book, all gold leaf and the image of the ring on the front. The box opens up with a map of Middle Earth on the inner leaf, and a photograph of the characters. Inside there are three fat BD Amaray cases for the films. Inside each Amaray case you’ll find a fold-out leaflet that has the chapter listing and extras listing for that film. You get the two movie Blu-ray discs on one hinged panel, two DVD Appendices discs on another panel, and a fifth Behind the Scenes disc at the back of the case. And this is repeated three times for each movie.
You can see my heart went out of this venture the further I got into it, when you look at the length of the reviews. I went with my usual length for The Fellowship of the Ring, and by the time I got to The Return of the King, I could barely muster two-thirds of the word count. I just didn’t have much to say about films which really aren’t that complex when you think about it. The best thing that I can say about them is that they are as close an adaptation of the original novel as you are likely to get. Given what I think of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1000 page stream of consciousness, it’s also the worst thing I can say about them as well.
Liberties had to be taken to make the story work in a cinematic medium, when it comes to pacing and character, which is all well and good. But once in a while a little bit of modern sensibility creeps in as well, especially in the sense of humour (Gimli’s a case in point), and the odd character attitude (particularly Eowyn), which I find throws me out of the experience, not that I’m ever fully committed to the experience to begin with.
The Fellowship of the Ring has the most heart to it; it’s where the character development happens after all, and there is a greater sense of narrative and drama to it. The rest of the trilogy feels more like a dry recitation of faux-history. I’m torn between saying that I enjoyed the films, which I did, and saying that watching them was a chore, which is also true. I’ve certainly lost that momentary fanboy feeling I had twenty years ago. They just don’t stand up strongly as memorable cinema any more. I suspect if I watch them again in the future, the balance will shift even more towards tedium. If I ever feel like experiencing the Lord of the Rings saga again, I’ll watch Babylon 5.
Where this set deserves its place in any collection, is as a document on filmmaking. I’ll admit straight off that the prospect of me watching the films through again, four times over to take in the commentaries is remote indeed. That’s about forty hours worth all in. However, the last time I watched the films on DVD, I set aside 10 days to take in the documentaries on The Appendices discs, and they were, and still are fantastic. This set adds the excellent behind the scenes feature discs too, and you really get taken on a deep dive, from beginning to end, of the filmmaking process. Laserdiscs used to offer this kind of curated content, and DVD initially took on that mantle. But it’s a rare release now that gets that kind of love, and in this respect, The Lord of the Rings trilogy exemplifies the pinnacle of the home cinema boom.