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The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy(2001-2003)
'The Fellowship of the Ring' - With the help of a courageous fellowship of friends and allies, Frodo Baggins embarks on a perilous mission to destroy the legendary One Ring. Hunting Frodo are servants of the Dark Lord, Sauron, the Ring's evil creator. If Sauron reclaims the Ring, Middle-Earth is doomed.
'The Two Towers' - Frodo Baggins and the Fellowship continue their quest to destroy the One Ring and stand against the evil of the dark lord Sauron. The Fellowship in the meantime has divided; they now find themselves taking different paths to defeating Sauron and his allies. Their destinies now lie at two towers — Orthanc Tower in Isengard, where the corrupted wizard Saruman waits, and Sauron's fortress at Barad-dur, deep within the dark lands of Mordor.
'The Return of the King' - The final battle for Middle-earth begins. Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, continue their dangerous mission toward the fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring. Aragorn struggles to fulfill his legacy as he leads his outnumbered followers against the growing power of the Dark Lord Sauron, so that the Ring-bearer may complete his quest.
For more about The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy and the The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-ray release, see the The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 26, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving
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The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-ray Review
Peter Jackson's stunning Tolkien adaptation finally arrives on Blu-ray...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 26, 2010
Has it really been nine years? I could hardly believe it myself, but nearly a decade has passed since Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson accomplished the impossible. Not by meticulously, faithfully, and successfully bringing one of modern literature's most beloved masterpieces, author J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," to the big screen -- a daunting feat worthy of tremendous praise all its own -- but by inspiring so many filmfans from so many walks of life to care so deeply and invest so freely in the tale, its heroes, and their quest. Now, after breaking new ground in special effects and storytelling, earning endless critical acclaim, conjuring up three-billion dollars at the worldwide box office, selling millions upon millions of DVDs, bringing home seventeen coveted Academy Awards, and taking up permanent residency in our collective cinematic consciousness, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King are finally coming to Blu-ray. But do Jackson's efforts hold up? Are his sprawling adaptations still as powerful and resonant as they once were? How well have WETA's special effects weathered the winds of time? Do Warner's high definition AV presentations impress? For that matter, can they possibly live up to the lofty expectations set by the films' devoted fold? Read on, dear readers.
I'm sure most of you are already intimately familiar with Tolkien's unforgettable epic and Jackson's celebrated adaptation, but for those who've been lurking in the shadows for the last nine years, I offer this humble introduction to a tale no synopsis could adequately capture. When an ancient supernatural evil threatens to sweep over the war-torn lands of Middle-earth, an unlikely band of heroes -- reluctant human heir to the throne, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen); quick-firing, soft-spoken Elven bowman, Legolas (Orlando Bloom); gruff, rough-n-tumble Dwarven warrior, Gimli (John Rhys-Davies); noble but weak-willed Gondorian warrior, Boromir (Sean Bean); wizened wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen); and diminutive Hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan), and Pippin (Billy Boyd) -- sets out to destroy the One Ring, a sinister trinket that holds sway over anyone who comes near it, ensnares anyone who holds it, and can only be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom where it was first forged by the Dark Lord himself, Sauron. Over the course of their journey, Frodo is given charge of the Ring, a rival wizard named Saruman (Christopher Lee) orders his forces to kill the fellowship of heroes, a sickly creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis) tries to obtain the Ring for himself, and a great war begins to brew that will decide the fate of mankind. Before long, Frodo and Sam separate from their friends to infiltrate the volcanic kingdom of Mordor, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli unite the armies of Rohan, and Merry and Pippin manage to gather even stronger allies to the cause. By the time Frodo and Sam reach the fires of Mount Doom, Aragorn's armies prepare to face Sauron's legions in a bitter battle to the end.
Filmmaker Kevin Smith's rather blunt, oft-regurgitated assessment of Jackson's Trilogy - - "just a buncha dudes walking to a volcano" -- succinctly reduces the plot to its bare essentials, but ignores the countless subtleties of Tolkien's lore and the wonders of Uncle Pete's breathtaking adaptation. The Lord of the Rings isn't just an absorbing swords-n-sorcery epic, and certainly isn't a dull Middle-earth road trip. It's a dense, bountiful trove of spectacular sights, frightening creatures, and moving symbolism; a timeless tale of flawed but endearing heroes who pledge themselves to overcome insurmountable odds no matter the personal cost; a sobering cinematic tour de force of harrowing adventure, poetic heartache, and arresting conflicts. Aragorn isn't simply a benevolent warrior-king, he's the best of humanity, insecurities and all. Legolas and Gimli aren't loyal friends, they're contrasting voices of wisdom and reason that compel their fellowship toward action. Frodo isn't a victim of circumstance, he's a willing sacrificial lamb who, despite his people's modest roots, commits himself to a task few others could embrace. Sam isn't a dutiful friend, he's the heart of the fellowship, lending strength wherever there is none, cheer wherever sorrow resides, and discipline wherever the Ring might stir up chaos. Gandalf isn't a ubiquitous sage, he's a loving father, a galvanizing conqueror, and an insightful companion. Together, they aren't mankind's salvation, they're everything that propels humanity forward whenever hope wavers and fear takes hold.
To that end, Jackson has assembled an irreplaceable cast that embodies Tolkien's characters while infusing their every expression and reaction with palpable spirit and soul. Mortensen delivers a commanding performance by way of quiet reflection, thoughtful pauses, and impassioned outbursts; his Aragorn is a kind-hearted captain, not a smarmy veteran or a sword-slinging braggart. Wood allows Frodo to descend deeper and deeper into his own irrational paranoia, letting go of the sweet, well-intentioned do-gooder we first meet in Hobbiton and slowly replacing him with a jittery drug addict desperate for his next fix. Torn between duty and desire, his is perhaps the most thankless role, driving the plot along while other actors are given leave to actively explore the extremes of their characters. Astin is as much the beating heart of the cast as Samwise is of The Lord of the Rings. Watching his naiveté splinter and shatter is a difficult ordeal, but watching his eyes fill with tears and his mouth quiver as Frodo succumbs to madness is next to impossible (at least without tearing up yourself). Similarly, McKellen is the steady respite before every storm, offering an air of compassion and confidence on screen and off. His performance leaves such a mark that his presence is felt even when Gandalf disappears for significant stretches of the films (far from an easy task, mind you). Serkis, Lee, Bloom, Bean, Rhys-Davies, Monaghan, Boyd... each and every remaining actor, even those who appear briefly or later in the trilogy -- Cate Blanchett, Bernard Hill, Ian Holm, John Noble, Karl Urban, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, and yes, even Liv Tyler -- step up as well, creating a Middle- earth that laughs, breathes, sighs, cries, and cheers exactly as Tolkien envisioned, yet seems to come alive more than it ever could in prose.
Of course, the actors' finest efforts would have been completely wasted were it not for Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens' exceedingly judicious, dare I dip into my bag of over-ripened clichés and say brilliant, screenplays. Despite relentlessly dissecting every passage of every book, viciously exorcising entire subplots and characters, rearranging key sequences and events, and making several significant changes to Tolkien's mythos, the sharp-penned threesome manage to evoke the author's intentions at every turn, even when making departures from his text. As writers, Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens are so in tune with Tolkien's style and substance that they're able to adapt it as readily and effortlessly as they adapt his stories, all while remaining incredibly true to his text. They understand the needs of a good film and the limitations of a fascinating book. It's clear they identified what would work and what wouldn't translate to the screen and fashioned it into a digestible, three-pronged epic; one that simultaneously sings a familiar song to fans of the original books and produces an engrossing tale for newcomers. Their dialogue is as beautiful and lyrical as Tolkien's, but never sounds stuffy; their pacing is patient and deliberate, but builds legitimate momentum; and their climaxes are violent and thrilling, but never lessen the impact of later developments. Combined with WETA's jaw-dropping special effects and designs, a series of marvelous miniatures and prosthetics, and their production team's tireless, hand-crafted endeavors, The Lord of the Rings isn't just a trilogy of films, it's a three-stage work of art.
The Lord of the Rings represents the rarest of productions: an effects-laden fantasy that oozes indescribable quality from every pixel that graces the screen. Pause any of the films at any point and you have a frameable still; examine any costume on any extra and you'll see how thorough Jackson's artisans were; explore any realm, study any creature, comb over any set and you'll bear witness to a milestone in modern filmmaking. Even after nine years, the films hold up astonishingly well. Sure, a few select special effects are beginning to show their age, but it hardly matters when the whole of the trilogy is so cohesive and convincing. Do I prefer the extended cuts of the films? Absolutely. Even so, they only expand upon Jackson's theatrical vision, they never replace it. Suffice to say, I cannot recommend The Lord of the Rings enough. It will be a long, long time before another filmmaker gives us anything like it.
The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-ray, Video Quality
Alright, bad news first. The Fellowship of the Ring doesn't look as good as The Two Towers or Return of the King. At first glance, its pudgy 1080p/VC-1 transfer appears to hobble out of the Black Gate of Mordor with a presentation primed to please casual viewers whilst leaving the most ardent videophiles shaking their heads. However, identifying which issues trace back to the original source and which should be attributed to the transfer is a tricky proposition. I recently had the unique opportunity to view a theatrical print of Fellowship and compare it to Warner's new Blu-ray release. The results were most telling.
The Blu-ray image is awash with overcooked colors, oversaturated skintones, and murky nighttime sequences. But since director Peter Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie adjusted the film's color timing before approving the new master used for this release, it's safe to assume the savory palette is faithful to their intentions. Detail is occasionally underwhelming though. Yes, Jackson employs a variety of shooting and post-production techniques throughout Fellowship that are meant to lend scenes a soft, somewhat hazy temperament. And yes, the filmmakers didn't have the same technological advantages that were afforded them on Two Towers and Return of the King. But any attempt to decipher where Jackson's intentions end and the studio's efforts begin can be as maddening as staring into a palantír. Mild to moderate smearing is present in the Blu-ray transfer that isn't present in the original print, and several closeups and long-distance shots have been scrubbed. (The 2011 extended edition release of The Fellowship of the Ring makes it clear that additional DNR has been applied here.) That's not to say all is lost. Many sequences -- primarily those in the Mines of Moria, the fellowship's visit to Lothlorien, and the landing (and subsequent battle) at Parth Galen -- still manage to make a reasonably strong impact, and the whole of the presentation still bests its DVD counterparts and HD broadcast. The scenes are softer than some might expect, but they're more satisfying than the film's more problematic moments. Unfortunately, other issues exist that can't be brushed aside by pointing to the original source. A slight instability affects the credits and other early elements, the film's faint veneer of grain is occasionally little more than a soupy mess (look to the skies when the fellowship journeys into the snowy mountains for a burst of errant artifacts), edge enhancement and DNR has been applied throughout, and crush, flickering, and wavering are regular (albeit minor) offenders. Still, after taking the condition of the source and Jackson's intentions into account, the presentation isn't quite as flawed as some might initially assume.
Fellowship's individual video presentation earns a 3.0 from me.
Thankfully, tossing in The Two Towers and The Return of the King will soothe most of the disappointment Fellowship induces. Within minutes, The Two Towers' 1080p/VC-1 presentation makes a better impression than its predecessor, offering more natural skintones, stronger, more reliable contrast, and deeper, more satisfying blacks. Even though Andrew Lesnie's palette is noticeably bleaker than its lush Fellowship cousin, fine textures haven't been blotted away, tattered rocks and weather-worn cloaks are quite sharp, and hair and pores are largely intact. Note Gandalf's beard and pocky nose during his battle with the Balrog, Gollum's craggly cheeks when he first attacks Frodo, the muddy cocoons of the Uruk-hai, the grassy knolls and stony cliffs of Rohan, the countless leaves in the Ents' shadowy realm, and the worn walls of Helm's Deep. Soft shots dot the proceedings and a number of special effects sequences show their age (Merry and Pippin's travels with Treebeard remain an eyesore), but many of these wince-inducing moments trace back to the original print, not the studio's technical encode. Lingering complaints? First and foremost, edge enhancement rears its ugly head. While it only amounts to a series of thin white slivers in an otherwise respectable presentation, it's still noticeable. Second, smearing appears at seemingly random intervals, but it's less troublesome than it is in Fellowship. Finally, a few nighttime closeups suffer from spiking source noise (a shot of Elrond around the 1:45:00 mark being the most obvious instance). To its credit though, I didn't detect any significant artifacting, aliasing, or crush, and the image is quite clean.
Ultimately, The Two Towers earns a 4.0.
The Return of the King makes such a triumphant entrance that I almost forgot how confused I was after first watching The Fellowship of the Ring. Like The Two Towers, Jackson's third film and Warner's third 1080p/VC-1 transfer hits the ground running, offering a rich palette of wondrous colors, stalwart contrast, enticing blacks, and rewarding delineation. Detail tops the first two films as well. Be it Gandalf's beard, Aragorn's stubble, Frodo's grimy finger nails, Sam's rustled mop, Legolas and Gimli's fallen foes, Eowyn's flowing locks, a high hill glimpse at the cityscape of Gondor, the dank caverns of Dwimorberg, Dickson's impeccable costumes, WETA's marvelous CG battles, or the clashing armies of Pelennor Fields, everything from intimate closeups to sweeping shots of towering castles is blessed with more pleasing clarity. Several special effects show their seams -- the Hobbits may as well be standing against a green screen when the Gondorian crowd bows to them in the third act -- but any such shortcomings are hardly the fault of the technical presentation. Artifacting, aliasing, crush, and source noise never become factors, and ringing, though apparent on a handful of occasions, isn't as gaudy as it is in Towers. If anything, some slight smearing hinders the fun, and small white flecks will catch the eagle-eyes of screenshot-combers from time to time (look closely at Faramir's cheeks around the one-hour mark for one fleeting example). Ah well. As it stands, The Return of the King looks great and stands atop the trio with the best transfer of the bunch.
The Return of the King nabs a 4.25 from me. Trilogy average? A 3.5.
The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-ray, Audio Quality
No need to break down each individual release here. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King charge the fields of Blu-ray with a trio of powerful DTS-HD Master Audio surround tracks, all of which allow Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy to mercilessly storm your home theater. Dialogue, whether whispered or shouted, is crisp, clean, and intelligible; voices, whether human or ethereal, ring true across the soundfield; and creature cries, whether spittled roars or high-pitched screeches, are sharp and stable. LFE output deserves a score of its own, aggressively supporting every lumbering giant, topping tower, rickety weapon of war, and bellowing army Frodo's Fellowship encounters. Close your eyes as the Balrog shakes the floor with its very breath. Listen as the Uruk-hai forces break against the walls of Helm's Deep. Try to lift your jaw off the floor when Sauron's Fell Beasts and Mûmakil encircle our heroes at Pelennor Fields. Moreover, take note when the hearty thooms that announce their arrival are paired with the outstanding rear speaker activity that allows Tolkien's monstrosities to surround anyone who dares approach. Environmental ambience never relents, directionality is impeccable, and pans are as smooth as an Elven shot. Best of all, the soundfield is incredibly immersive. Howard Shore's surging scores are perfectly prioritized beneath the films' soundscapes, gut punch revelations are as audible as they are emotional, chanting armies will make viewers turn their heads, and the resonant voices of ghosts, demons, goblins and more will unsettle the most steely listener. And dynamics? Prepare yourself, dear readers, The Lord of the Rings trilogy has never sounded better.
The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Fans pining for the hours and hours of special features originally included on New Line's sprawling Platinum Series Special Edition DVDs will have to wait for the inevitable Blu-ray release of Peter Jackson's extended cuts to get their much deserved supplemental fill. The three theatrical cuts arrive with a more meager selection of features that barely scratch the surface of the trilogy's massive production and the filmmakers' tireless efforts. Moreover, the majority of the content on hand is spread across three DVD discs and presented in lowly standard definition (the lone exception being the various videogame and theatrical trailers found on each film's Blu-ray disc, all of which are encoded in HD). Ultimately, diehards and completists who share an optimistic view of Warner's Big Picture may be satisfied with the studio's initial volley of bonus materials, but most everyone else will be sorely disappointed, whether considering overall quality or quantity.
The Fellowship of the Ring earns a relatively small, often redundant suite of promotional features. "Welcome to Middle-earth" (SD, 17 minutes) is a rather dull, clip-laden Houghton Mifflin In-Store Special that provides a talking-head overview of the first film, Peter Jackson's infectious passion and involvement, the contributions of several artists, WETA's design work and special effects, the script, and more. "Quest for the Ring" (SD, 21 minutes) is a flashier (albeit more annoying) Fox television special that focuses more attention on the actual production, but its stilted narrator spends most of his time recapping plot points, introducing characters, and rattling off basic details covered elsewhere. And what of "A Passage to Middle-earth" (SD, 42 minutes)? More of the same, this time via a Sci-Fi Channel special. Thankfully, things change momentarily with a collection of fifteen "LordoftheRings.net Featurettes" (SD, 39 minutes), many of which are far more extensive and informative (at least when taken as a whole) and tackle everything from the film's locations to its elaborate sets, its actors to their performances, and Tolkien's languages to Howard Shore's score. Rounding out the package is a behind-the-scenes, Jackson-hosted preview of the then-upcoming release of The Two Towers (SD, 11 minutes), an Enya music video (SD, 4 minutes), three rousing theatrical trailers (HD, 7 minutes), six TV spots (SD, 3 minutes), two videogame trailers (HD, 2 minutes), a "Trilogy Supertrailer" (HD, 7 minutes), and a terribly dated Extended DVD preview (SD, 3 minutes).
The Two Towers serves up a similar assortment of supplements. "On the Set" (SD, 14 minutes) is a Starz Encore special that skips stones across the production, touching on various reactions to the first film, the continuation of the story, its new characters, and an early look at the conflicts and themes that propel the sequel along. "Return to Middle- earth" (SD, 43 minutes), a WB-aired television special, follows suit but, even at three- quarters of an hour), brings little of note to the proceedings other than more film clips, more narration, and more promotional interviews. It's fairly decent, mind you, but I'm sure it was far more exciting to watch before the second film arrived in theaters. Another batch of eight "LordoftheRings.net Featurettes" (SD, 34 minutes) improves matters once again, candidly (albeit briefly) dissecting Towers' creatures, sound design, weapons, armor, and more. A short film from actor Sean Astin, "The Long and Short of It" (SD, 7 minutes), provides a nice, mildly endearing distraction from the main behind-the-scenes material, and even earns its own "Making Of" special (SD, 8 minutes). From there, an engaging sneak peek at The Return of the King (SD, 13 minutes), an Emiliana Torrini music video (SD, 4 minutes), two theatrical trailers (HD, 5 minutes), two videogame trailers (HD, 2 minutes), a "Trilogy Supertrailer" (HD, 7 minutes), sixteen TV spots (SD, 8 minutes), and an Extended DVD preview (SD, 5 minutes) wrap up the second film.
The Return of the King doesn't change course. "The Quest Fulfilled" (SD, 23 minutes) is a solid EPK that traces the arc of the trilogy, its characters, and Jackson's Oscar- winning adaptation and production. "A Filmmaker's Journey" (SD, 29 minutes) is an In a World-narrated special that covers the breadth of the films, their actors' performances, Jackson's obstacles and achievements, and a number of topics that, as abundant as the information might be, becomes incredibly repetitive. And where exactly does Hollywood find these narrators? Sheesh. Ah well, at least "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (SD, 46 minutes) strikes a different, more refreshing pose. Hosted by John Rhys-Davies, this National Geographic tie-in digs into the historical cultures, figures, and events that helped shaped Tolkien's lore, his heroes and their battles, and Jackson's breathtaking vision. Honestly, it's the most interesting television special included in the set. Six "LordoftheRings.net Featurettes" (SD, 22 minutes) offer some respite as well, delving into key aspects of the key cities, battlefields, combatants, and special effects employed in Return of the King. Finally, two theatrical trailers (HD, 6 minutes), two videogame trailers (HD, 2 minutes), a "Trilogy Supertrailer" (HD, 7 minutes), fourteen TV spots (SD, 7 minutes), and an Extended DVD preview (SD, 7 minutes) top things off.
The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
There will always be those who despise New Line and Jackson's decision to separate the theatrical and extended cuts of The Lord of the Rings films into two releases. As someone who adores the extended versions, I understand. That being said, owning both is ideal, if for no other reason than to revel in every nuance of Jackson's masterful adaptation. Alas, the Blu-ray debut of the theatrical cuts isn't perfect: The Fellowship of the Ring features a problematic video transfer, one that will unnerve more sensitive fans. However, The Two Towers and The Return of the King right any perceived wrongs with a pair of solid presentations that are more befitting titles of their caliber. It also helps that Warner's three DTS-HD Master Audio surround tracks are as outstanding as they are. In the end, the good far outweighs the bad (like the set's disappointing special features) and, in my humble opinion, makes this set worth purchasing.
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