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Friday, April 9, 2010
  Blu-ray Review: The Lord of the Rings - The Motion Picture Trilogy

Last week I got to review John Woo’s The Killer, and now I’m reviewing The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy on Blu-ray. Talk about a great run for the Captivate movie blog (and me in particular).

First things first: the versions of The Lord of the Rings movies included in this set are the shorter theatrical versions, not the Extended Edition versions (which I assume are coming to Blu-ray some time relatively soon) which I, and many other fans, prefer. But still – it’s The Lord of the Rings in high-definition! And it looks fantastic on Blu-ray. But aside from looking extra-sharp, there’s nothing on these discs that wasn’t included in the previous standard-definition releases.

Now, I’m a pretty serious fan of The Lord of the Rings movies, but in my travels I’ve found that I’m something of a curiosity; I grew up reading fantasy novels of questionable quality and playing Dungeons & Dragons, so I have a real nostalgic connection to all things fantasy-related, but I never got around to reading The Lord of the Rings, the novels that pretty much birthed the fantasy genre as we know it, until right before the movies came out. And I was pretty underwhelmed, to be honest, their indisputable historical importance aside. So my love of Middle Earth is essentially purely a cinematic one, as opposed to many diehard fans of the movies, who are also huge fans of the books. And like any self-respecting movie geek, I always try to seek out director’s cuts and extended versions of things, as I usually (but not always; I’m looking at you, Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut) prefer them. So as much as I’ve watched Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the classic J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy novels over the years (and I’ve watched them many, many times), it’s pretty much always the Extended Edition DVDs. In fact, it’s been so long since I’ve watched the shorter theatrical cuts of the Lord of the Rings movies that watching them again for this review was like seeing them again for the first time. Also a factor: because I am insane and tend to have a lot of free time, I often watch The Lord of the Rings Extended DVDs in a 12-hour marathon, which is actually a fairly serious undertaking I usually reserve fo
r long weekends. So it’s actually been quite some time since I just watched The Fellowship of the Ring as a stand-alone movie. (Hey, turns out t’s awesome.)

Given that these movies are almost a decade old now and they’re among the most popular in recent memory, I won’t spend time reviewing the movies themselves (it’s almost guaranteed you’ve seen them and have an opinion of them). But watching these films again, I was reminded of just how much of a sucker for them I am. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but even the hokiest, borderline-goofiest aspects of these movies, from the earnest emotion on display throughout the trilogy to the multiple endings of The Return of the King, I just buy what Peter Jackson and company are selling every time I watch them. There aren’t too many movies I can say that about.

I was initially a little skeptical about revisiting the theatrical versions on Blu-ray, as I’m so used to the Extended versions by now. I’m in love with a lot of the little details in th
e longer versions (the showdown between Gandalf and the Witch King in the extended version of The Return of the King is one of my favorite moments in the entire trilogy) and I’ve seen them so many times that expected to sort of miss them, but honestly, with a couple of minor exceptions (I found the extra stuff in The Return of the King the most conspicuously absent), I could barely tell. And as much as I prefer the Extended versions, the theatrical cuts of these movies are all brilliant as well, and I appreciated how lean they are in terms of storytelling.

I, like many other fans of these films, am still waiting for the Extended Edition versions of the films to hit Blu-ray, but for the meantime this set is pretty fantastic. The Extended Blu-rays will, for me and many others, automatically become one of the prizes in my personal movie library, and until that set is released, this collection will do wonderfully.



The extras are literally just the bonus-feature discs from the original theatrical-cut Lord of the Rings DVDs. They’re standard DVD discs (as opposed to Blu-rays) and the second disc case in the set just houses the digital copies of the movies.

It’s been a while since I’ve watched this stuff – since the release of the Extended Edition DVDs, I’ve basically just watched those every time I get a hankering to revisit Middle Earth – and the even more in-depth features on the Extended discs (still among the best and most comprehensive bonus features I’ve ever seen on any DVD or Blu-ray) made me realize how relatively spare the extras on these discs are. They’re not bad (actually by most DVD standards they’re pretty excellent), but the Fellowship bonus disc, for example, has a couple of TV specials created to hype the movie on its initial release, some features from the movie’s website, and trailers. The Extended extras are still among the most comprehensive (and the best) making-of documentaries I’ve ever seen, and these extras don’t hold a candle to those. But overall these are fantastic films to have on Blu-ray, and until the Extended Editions hit high-def, this is the way to experience The Lord of the Rings.

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