Middle Earth: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - 4K Blu-ray Review

Michael Scott

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Middle Earth: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Movie: :5stars:
4K Video: :4.5stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :5stars:
Extras: :N/A
Final Score: :4.5stars:



Well, back in December of 2020 fans FINALLY got The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies out on 4K UHD in a rather bare bones set. However, Warner actually announced ahead of time that they were going going to be releasing this 31 disc special edition Middle Earth boxset with both the 4K UHDs of the Theatrical and Extended Editions for BOTH trilogies + a host of extras. But since I wasn’t able to review those two 4K UHD sets a year ago, I got more than a little excited by the release of the massive Middle Earth set and got to dig into the 4K goodies for the first time.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy : :5stars:
After binge watching The Lord of the Rings the last 2 days straight (I think my eyeballs nearly melted into my skull with over 12 hours of watching in a 48 hour period) I think I want to review the original trilogy as it’s own unit instead of 3 different films. I still can’t believe it’s been 20 years since The Fellowship of the Ring came out. I had just come home for Christmas break on my sophomore year of college and was a lifelong Lord of the Rings fan as I grew up reading the books religiously. Over the course of the years I think I may have owned 9 different special edition printings of the trilogy, read them countless times, and could pretty much quote “The Silmarillion” by heart. So my best friend and I parked our butts in the theaters that winter and were COMPLETELY blown away.

AT that point in time Fantasy wasn’t a big money maker for studios, and was never done that great either. Pre 2000 era we had plenty of attempts at fantasy, but most of them ended up being low budget affairs like Beastmaster and Hercules or Xena on TV. All great stuff, but it wasn’t the super mega blockbuster era. Then came The Fellowship of the Rings and Peter Jackson pulling off one of the biggest shockers in cinema history. They got a massive trilogy of books (over 400 pages each), put out 2.5-3 hour films AND got the studios to go along with it (back then 3 hour epics had fallen out of style, and 90-120 minute films were the norm), but also got them to film back to back to back so that they could be released every Christmas for 3 years straight. A bold move when nobody knew if the first movie would even be successful. Luckily for them it paid off as Peter Jackson and crew lovingly brought the first book of the series to light in a near perfect telling.

I say NEAR perfect because naturally there was only so much you could fit in a 2.5 hour film, and you ALWAYS have hardcore fans missing stuff (such as the Tom Bombadil stuff). Still, Jackson did an incredible job bringing out the core characters and fleshing them out to really REALLY well done proportions. Watching The Hobbit films just before watching The Lord of the Rings films really shows you just how magical that initial casting was. I really do like The Hobbit films, even if the 3rd film is massively over bloated, and there really was ZERO reason to flesh out a single adventure book from Tolkien with half the pages into 3 films. It was simple vanity and hope that he could make another hit like The Lord of the Rings turned out to be. Everyone does such an incredible job, and Howard Leslie Shore’s score just chills me to the bone some 20 years later. It’s just….perfect.

The dense but simple at the same time. 60 years after the events of The Hobbit where Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm now…..or technically before if you think about it) has lived a very long life, and on his 111th birthday decides to retire and head off into the sunset by going to live with his Elvin friends in Rivendale. Well, by doing so he passes on his infamous “ring” to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Woods), and in doing so passes down the curse of said Ring. Gandalf has already been suspicious about the ring for years, but Bilbo using it vanish and going NUTS when asked to give it up finally causes Gandalf to put two and two together. This is the one ring to rule them all. The ring of Sauron, the foe that has been on the verge of returning for the last 6 decades since the trip to the mountain in The Hobbit. Now it’s up to our young hobbit to return said ring to the fires of Mt. Doom where it can be destroyed forever.

Simple, yet so incredibly complex. Over the course of the next 9 (ish) hours we get to see Frodo, his friend Sam (Sean Astin), along with Merry and Pippin head off on an adventure that will change the very essence of their lives. Along the way they pick up the ranger Aragorn, the human fighter Boromir (Sean Bean), Dwarf Gimli (John Rhys Davies) and the Elf Legolas to aid him on his quest. A quest that will separate them into different sections of Middle Earth, each fulfilling their task in their effort to get the ring home.

The movies are just impeccably detailed for what they are (sure, they can’t get EVERYTHING in the books, but they do way better than most other films would have done), and the cast is just seamless throughout the 3 films. Not to mention that Peter Jackson very obviously GOT the books and knew just what to pull from the pages, and what to leave behind (although I’m still slightly butt hurt about the Raising of the Shire being left out, but I do kind of understand why Jackson chose to leave it out. Frodo and Sam create one of the most quintessential brotherly love stories of all time, rivaling David and Jonathon for being that powerfully close. It really wouldn’t have had the emotional impact it did have without Sean Astin backing up Elijah Wood’s steadily declining Frodo throughout the films.

HOWEVER, one character that was done so right that it makes me cry everytime is Boromir. I know there are more popular characters out there, and some that were better fleshed out over the 3 movies, but Boromir has always been my favorite since I was a 12 year old reading the books. He has one of the best character arcs in the span of just 2 hours, going from the cocky and arrogant warrior, to the flawed hero, to finally realizing how flawed he is and letting his inner hero shine. His death was a fantastic portion of the book, and I was REALLY worried how they would handle in the film. Needless to say that the final stand of Boromir is probably THE most emotional and powerful 15 minutes of the movie. Jackson very obviously caught the significance of his death, as well as the underdog fan favorite character that Boromir is and handles the scene impeccably. I both get excited and chocked up when Aragorn brings his sword up as a salute to the incoming Urak hai because you just KNOW what’s coming next. There’s the gleefully part of you that revels in the knowledge that THIS is where Boromir has his moment to shine and absolutely WRECKS there forces, but this sickening feeling wells up in your chest knowing what happens at the end.

Right after that has to be Denethor’s descent into madness in Return of the King. John Noble is absolutely magnificent as the decadent Denethor. A man who was once a great leader of Minas Tirith, but let his obsession and grief over losing his favorite son (Boromirr) turn him into a slimy wreck of a man who quite literally was letting the white city fall down around him due to his own selfishness and self destructive behavior. It’s a powerful set of scenes, especially when you see Merry being bound to his care and watching the great man descend deeper and deeper into embarrassment and shame.

I can’t say this enough. The Lord of the Rings was a MASSIVE win for Peter Jackson, and no matter how hard he tried with The Hobbit, he could never capture that lightning in a bottle twice. It was just sheer cinematic magic on screen. The perfect cast, the perfect director at the time, and it capture the hearts of movie goers everywhere. There are very few series that can stand up to the weight and gravitas of this particular one. Especially when you consider the fact that Peter Jackson was able to sell MASSIVELY expanded director’s extended cuts (some of them with over and hour of additional footage) and CONTINUE to sell those sets to this day.

This set comes with both the extended cuts AND the theatrical cuts, which is a really nice touch vs. buying them separately like we had to with the Blu-ray. Like most trilogies that have extended cuts, the benefits of the added footage is varied. I've always felt that the theatrical cut of Fellowship of the Rings was a bit smoother than the extended cut, but the extra material is still a great addition. The Two Towers is the only one that is truly BETTER than the theatrical cut, as it fleshes out a ton of material both pre and during Helm's Deep, and I refuse to watch the theatrical edition after the extended cut. The only one that is controversial of the batch is The Return of the King. Return is already a bit too bloated on the back end as it is, but the additional scenes are OVER an hour in length added up, and while some scenes are better, many drag the pacing down. The whole battle scene with the dead just gets botched to blazes and back in the extended cut, and it's the only cut I have to actually knock DOWN a star from the theatrical cut. It's a solid 4/5 while the theatrical is 4.5/5,but I'm keeping my score on here 4.5/5 for the film simply due to the theatrical cut. 5/5 for both of the other films, whether you choose theatrical or extended.

Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of Intense Fantasy violence and frightening images (all 3)

4K Video: :4.5stars: Video: :4stars:
Before I go on let me say that the discs may be met with some scrutiny and disapproval. If you’ve watched the previous Blu-rays you know that Peter Jackson has a tendency of being a tinkerer with his films. The Blu-ray of the films had some color timing tweaks to make them all more homogenous and that set off some of the fan base. Well be prepared for more of the same as Jackson does some fairly obvious color timing changes to fall in line with The Hobbit films. That includes getting rid of some of the heavy green and blue tinting and opting more more natural shades when at all possible. That’s not to say that the heavy blue/gray tinge that is present throughout the films is all gone. It’s just altered enough that it doesn’t seem as heavy. Especially that lime green that made it’s way throughout the film. Also, there is some heavy DNR present. Before you go and throw the baby out with the bath water, let me remind the readers that The Lord of the Rings has ALWAYS had DNR present, going back to the DVD and VHS days (by the way, those old New Line DVDs look AWFUL on a 4K TV. At this point they’re nearly unwatchable). But in an effort to make the 35mm shot Lord of the Rings trilogy match up with the glossy look of The Hobbit there’s been some obvious smoothing going on. It’s not Face/Off level of smoothing, but it’s pretty obvious that the film has been softened and smoothened quite a bit to get rid of the grainy look found in the old Blu-rays. Also the films appear brighter and have more honey and what color tones than previously seen. It's a bit of a weird thing to get used to the tinkering, but it is what it is considering Peter Jackson has done this with every format since VHS and DVD.

That being said, the upgrades over the older Blu-rays look quite a bit better clarity wise. Everything is much more detailed and sharper, with backgrounds looking WAY better. There are moments where the CGI from 20 years ago sort of stands out, but this is a large upgrade over the Blu-rays.

Talking about the Blu-rays. The Blu-rays included in this set are advertised as “remastered”, and are also sold in their own Blu-ray boxset as the “Remastered set” and are just what I guessed they would be. Downscales from the 4K UHD masters, including all of the color timings and DNR applications that are present on the 4K UHD discs. That means that if you want to keep the original (or second gen really) color timing that we’ve had for about a decade, then you’ll want to keep your older Blu-ray copies of the trilogy.

Audio: :5stars:
Just like The Hobbit Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings gets brand new Atmos tracks that are found on BOTH the Blu-ray and the 4K UHD discs. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA mixes of old were fantastic, but these take it up a notch and really open up the sound stage. The score just flows effortlessly among the channels and gives it a really deft and nimble sound. The overheads make great use of the surrounds, as well as the battle sequences which have some discrete sounds thrown in (such as during the Battle of Minas Tirith where Legolas meets the elephant troop carrier). These are all killer tracks and sound as good, or better than the old mixes. Even the folded down 7.1 Dolby TrueHD core track is a rather substantial upgrade over the 5.1 mixes in my opinion.

Extras: N/A
Discussed in the Full Boxset review

Final Score: :4.5stars:

The Lord of the Rings is one of the most well known and highly regarded fantasy series of all time, and this 4K UHD upgrade is very much worth it in many ways. I did get a little annoyed with the color timing change to match The Hobbit series, but Peter Jackson has been doing that every since the VHS and DVD days (the Blu-rays were tweaked a bit compared to the DVDs, and DNR has been included in basically every release he’s ever put out). A great series, and a solid 4K upgrade with the new video and Atmos tracks found on both 4K and Blu-ray discs.

Technical Specifications:

Starring: Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, John Noble, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 HEVC
Audio: English: Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Core), French, Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1 (Theatrical only)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Dutch (English SDH, French, Italian SDH, Spanish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Polish, Swedish, Thai for An Unexpected Journey)
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 1284 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: November 16th, 2021

Recommendation: Good Buy (Whole Set)

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