The Lord of the Rings: Extended Cut Special Edition

January 28, 2012 20 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

I’m going to come right out and admit it, I’m not the biggest fan of this movie (even the genre); but I’ll also admit that this is very well-made. For all of the rabid fans that are out there, and there are plenty, this delivered the goods not only financially, but critically as well; becoming one of the year’s top grossing movies and also garnering 13 Academy Awards (including Best Picture). What sets The Lord of the Rings apart from other movies, aside from its broad scope, is that it actually lived up to the hype. Few films do that. Until the arrival, all the fans had was the cheesy animated cartoon movies from the late 70’s, but Peter Jackson changed all of that. Like so many other great movies, this comes in a trio. Parts II and III are due out later this year and next and like Star Wars, Back to the Future and Indiana Jones (all of which, a the time of this writing, are not yet on DVD) before it, stands very well on it’s own. A "trilogy", it seems, has a little more to do with it seeing as how the stories will somehow seamlessly integrate together into one big story. Having never read the books, I can’t say if this is the case; but judging from the first movie, it’s clear to say that the later installments will most likely be as good or possibly even better than the original. Again, that’s something that only a few movies can claim.

The plot is actually very simple, but like most things it gets very complex very quickly. We Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) as a hobbit, a furry-footed man, living with his famous uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm). Bilbo then decides to suddenly leave on the night of his birthday (the 111th birthday, I might add), Having inherited everything from his uncle, he is introduced into a magical ring, and wouldn’t you know it…it’s the title of the movie! Bilbo had possessed the ring for many years, but had never talked about it all that much. Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is a friend of Bilbo and Frodo, he uncovers that the ring was made by Sauron, a dark lord. And, as luck would have it, his agents are already on the way to the Shire in quest of the ring. Frodo, having no other choice but to leave the Shire, takes off on a journey with his friend Sam (Sean Astin) to the Elvish city of Rivendell. However, he soon learns his ultimate quest is to destroy the ring. Mt. Doom, the place where the ring was originally forged, is the place where this will occur and if it doesn’t happen, the world face an eternity of darkness. Can you say "pressure"? Along the way, naturally, they meet up with many different creatures, some human, most not and towards the end of the movie (which is actually the beginning of what’s to come), it resembles Robin Hood; but it’s played out better than you can imagine.

As one might imagine, this pretty much has it all. I can only surmise that a romance is missing, but we still have two more installments left to go and I’m sure that Love will rear its head sometime. If you’re looking for action, adventure, excitement and a lot of time to do it in, this is for you. I started out my review of this by saying "…I’m not the biggest fan of this movie…", but after writing this and reflecting back on the film, I’d have to say that it does grow on you. While I’ll agree that this is probably the Star Wars for this generation, I’m not someone who eats and breathes this stuff. A precise adaptation of the book it’s not, Jackson has omitted a lot of the events from the novel(s) and hasn’t remained "true" to them. I think that’s just fine, purists might disagree, but you can’t please everyone. The length of this film is now 30 minutes longer than it was in theaters, but this movie doesn’t "feel" three and a half hours long. It moves, flows if you will, and we get so involved with the characters that it’s enough to keep your interest long after the credits roll. The Lord of the Rings was eagerly awaited and it delivered, with two sequels coming in the next year, it’s a sure bet that these three movies might go down as some of the best ever made. Highly recommended.

Video: How does it look?

You might think that this, being the second incarnation of the film, the transfers would be nearly identical. Well, you’d be wrong. This new set has four, count ’em, four discs and the movie is spread across two discs. The image seems to be a bit clearer and sharper in places. The "original", if I may use that term, looked great as well; but this seems to be an improvement where most didn’t seem to think that there was room for any. The entire movie has a very washed out look to it, it’s that way on purpose. Flesh tones, for lack of a better word, all look the way they’re supposed to look and the sheer darkness of the film is represented perfectly. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is almost enough for us to take in all of what’s going on. I just can’t imagine this film being presented in a more narrow aspect ration. If there ever was a reason for widescreen, this is it. I simply can’t find a thing wrong with the way this looks and that adds up to a "perfect" score.

Audio: How does it sound?

Amazing, simply amazing sound here. The movie is presented in dual DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks and both sound amazing. I’ve lived in my current apartment for the better part of three years and have watched thousands of DVD’s. There are only a handful that compare to the way that Lord of the Rings sounds on DVD. Even the most innocent of scenes seem to have a depth to them that nothing else can rival. I listened to several key sequences in DTS and Dolby Digital and like most titles with dual audio tracks, they both have their good and "bad" sides to them. The surrounds are active during most every scene in the movie, I think I even heard them kick in during the supplements. This is one of those movies that you’ll most likely wake your neighbors, so it’s best to just invite them in and have them watch it with you! The frequencies of the soundtracks are amazing, ranging from the high-pitched swords clashing to the subwoofer kicking in during many of the film’s numerous battle scenes. The audio, like the film, seems to cover every range of the spectrum and I’d be hard-pressed to find a single fault with the way this is presented on DVD. No matter which track you choose, it’ll be very loud and you will not be disappointed.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Ok, sit back and get comfortable because this might take a while…as we all know, this is the version that everyone has been waiting for. New Line kind of gave us a hint of what was to come when they released an earlier version of the film with a few supplements (arguably, though, it had a lot more supplements that met the eye and more than a lot of movies have on DVD). Sporting four discs, two of these are geared for the movie (spread out over two discs) and containing four commentary tracks. I’m not sure what the "record" for commentary tracks is, but there are quite a few with four (Se7en and Fight Club come to mind). And I’ll come right out and say it, I didn’t sit down and watch the movie five times (once for viewing and four others for the commentaries), but I listened to key parts that I felt applied to what was happening on screen. The tracks are clearly labeled and here we go…the first track is with "The Director and Writers" (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens) which seems to be a pretty standard track. We see and hear Jackson almost all the way through the supplements, so it’s a bit understandable if we’re just a bit sick of the guy by the time everything is all said and done. Naturally, there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to writing as the book was adapted from the best-selling novel by Tolkien. It’s a good track, full of information, but the other three offer a bit more "entertainment value". Next up is "The Design Team" (production designer Grant Major, costume designer Ngila Dickson, creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe, supervising art director Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Hennah, and workshop manager Tania Rodger). This was a bit dull for me as I was personally interested in more of the technical aspect of what was going on (and how). Still, it’s no lie to say that design played a large role in the movie. From literally the opening scene to the closing credits, design played a part in the film and this talented team seems proud of their Academy Award nomination. This brings us to "The Production/Post-Production Team" (producer Barrie Osborn, executive producer Mark Ordesky, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, editor John Gilbert, co-producer Rick Porras, composer Howard Shore, visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel, supervising sound editors Ethan van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins, animation designer Randy Cook, VFX art director Christian Rivers, VFX cinematographer Brian Vant Hul, and miniatures director of photography Alex Funke). Yes, all of these folks participated on the track, but it was a bit jumbled at times. It’s clear to say that without the help of these individuals, the film would certainly not be the hit it was. I enjoyed this track the best, as it was more up my alley and helped me understand a bit more of what’s involved with the post-production process. Finally we have "The Cast" (Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee and Sean Bean), yes the actors who make it all work. Though none of these are complete "A" list stars, they’re all well-known and recognizable faces on screen. The cast evidently formed a pretty close bond while working on the film (there’s talk that the hobbits all have secret tattoos to commemorate their experience on the movie). Though there are some spots where even they seem to sit back and just watch the film, it’s an entertaining commentary track and will likely be the favorite of many viewers. Ok, this brings us to the end of the first two discs!

The latter two discs house the rest of the supplements, and Mr. Jackson even provides us with an introduction as to how to navigate through the discs. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, evidently there was no money spared in creating these discs. We can select a "Play All" function that will do just that, two and a half hours on the first disc and three and a half on the second disc. The menu is clearly laid out and some of the sections break out into sub menus. First up is "J.R.R. Tolkien – Creator of Middle Earth". This is essentially a bio of the author, J.R.R. Tolkien, and while interesting, it’s hard to concentrate on the material when there’s so much cooler stuff in store. Running about 23 minutes, this is very comprehensive (like we’d expect any less). Next up is "From Book to Script" which runs about 20 minutes. This is, again, pretty straight-forward and tells of how the writing was done to convert Tolkien’s work to a Hollywood screenplay. Because I’m feeling a bit bored, as an incentive for those still reading (and not just looking at the scores down below) click here to be entered into a chance to win this DVD. Clever, eh? Next up, we find "Designing and Building Middle Earth" which then breaks out into four other featurettes. They’re all pretty well contained and have some galleries, design a Weta Workshop and the self-titled Designing Middle Earth. "Middle Earth Atlas" shows us the voyage of Frodo throughout his adventures in the film. Click on some of the designated "hot spots" and scenes from the movie are played in a window that correspond to what you’re seeing on the map. Clever and interesting as it tends to put things in a bit more perspective. Lastly, we are greeted with "New Zealand as Middle Earth" and this is also broken out into some segments that can "Play All" as well. Interesting how native New Zealander Peter Jackson found such inspiration in his home country and used it in the movie. Having seen it, I can’t picture the movie without some of the sequences shown here. This is the end of the first bonus disc.

Disc Four is entitled "From Vision to Reality" and whereas the first bonus disc centered around bringing the movie to be, this focuses on more of what was involved in the actual making of the movie. Like the first disc, this is also very easy to get around in. We start off like the first supplemental disc with "Filming The Fellowship of the Ring". This breaks out into some sections, including "Fellowship of the Cast" focusing on the bond between the four men who played the Hobbits. "A Day in the Life of a Hobbit", "Cameras in Middle Earth" and "Production Photos" (it should be noted that there are a LOT of these, so be ready to do some looking). Next we have "Visual Effects" of which the film had many. This also breaks out into three sections as well with "Scale", "Minatures" and "Wega Digital" the production company that did most of the effects for the shoot. This is a very interesting section and the effects are outstanding (much better than other new releases like, say, Spider-Man). The next section, "Post Production: Putting it all together" is another section that breaks out into two Editorials. "Assembling an Epic" and "The Council of Elrond" are not that lengthy, but gives us a good example of what the Post Production team did with the movie. Simply amazing! "Digital Grading" is a featurette that shows how the landscape of New Zealand was used and how the land was "shifted" digitally for use in the movie. Very cool. "Sound and Music" is a section that houses two featurettes, "The Soundscapes of Middle Earth" and "Music for Middle Earth". The music in the film played a big part and even as I listen to the DVD-ROM while I’m typing this, the soundtrack graces the menus as well. Lastly, yes I think we’ve reached the end, "The Road Goes Ever On" shows the cast as they promote the movie all over the world. A bit self-congratulatory for my taste, but I’d say they’ve earned the right to brag a bit. And, try as I might, I couldn’t find a theatrical trailer, but I think the supplements more than make up for that! This may very well be the best DVD set made to date. Run, don’t walk, to pick this up and add it to your collection. Our highest praise!

Disc Scores

VIDEO
AUDIO
EXTRAS
OVERALL