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I was so excited when I found out The Lord of the Rings trilogy was finally getting released on Blu-Ray. After all, this is one of my favorite film series, and I still consider the previously released DVDs to be amongst the best DVD releases ever. I could only imagine how spectacular these films would be on Blu-Ray, and eagerly awaited the magnificent wealth of bonus features sure to be included. This is why I find it so upsetting to report that the actual release is a colossal disappointment, lacking in everything that made the DVD releases so special.
I found myself questioning the set right from the beginning as I realized that it only contained the Theatrical Editions. As most Lord of the Rings fans already know, director Peter Jackson painstakingly integrated approximately 30 minutes of extra footage into each of the films for the previously released DVDs. These scenes were not superfluous like most Directors Cuts. They fleshed out the films, bringing greater depth and insight into the stories and the characters. I expect a lot from Blu-Ray, and I naturally assumed we would be getting the stronger versions of the films. I don’t know why we only get the shorter versions (possibly a more elaborate Blu-Ray release is planned for the future?), but for this reason alone I would recommend bypassing this set.
Even with the lesser versions of the films, it would be easier to get excited about this release if the extras were any good. Unfortunately, nothing new was created for this set, and the material that is included is monumentally inferior to the material from the previous sets. Almost all of the features are taken from televised specials designed to promote the films. The set has six Blu-Rays in total, each movie taking one disc, and then one disc associated with each film.
There is very little actual insight into the creation of the films. The features are almost entirely comprised of the cast and crew talking about how great the movies are (or rather, are going to be, as most of these segments were filmed prior to the film’s actual release). There is the occasional interesting interview or entertaining behind-the-scenes sequence, but there is nothing that isn’t covered in more detail and in a more cohesive way on the DVD release.
As I pored through all of the extras, I began to realize how repetitive the material was. As almost all of the features were put together for various networks, stories are recycled, and footage is occasionally reused. There are specials that were made for Fox, the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy), the WB (now the CW), and even National Geographic. This last one is the only one that actually proved compelling and didn’t seem to be a commercial for the films. Hosted by John Rhys-Davies (Gimly in the film), this segment explores the films from a more intellectual perspective. Rather than showing us the cast snowboarding like the WB special, this segment focused on the themes, the concept of myth, the story in relation to our history, etc.
But one interesting segment doesn’t make for a satisfying collection. I couldn’t believe how much of this set was just filler. The box boasts that there are over 7 hours of extras, but there is nowhere near this much material if you compress all of the content that covers the same ground. It’s not all the same footage necessarily, but in watching these features you hear the same things over and over again. I know I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the DVD releases, but those extras were brilliantly mapped out. Every aspect of pre-production, production and post-production was covered on those films. They were informative, obviously designed to enhance the appreciation of the films after they’d been seen.
This set feels very slapped together. It’s as if they took whatever specials they found laying around and just stuck them on the disc. They even include Sean Astin’s short film, “The Long and the Short of It.” This film was made in New Zealand during a break from filming and a significant number of Lord of the Rings crew members contributed to the production. Unfortunately, Astin is a better actor than he is a filmmaker. This felt like a student film, and not a good one at that.
Considering how unsatisfactory the extras are on this set, the least they could have done would be to include the theatrical trailers. I love movie previews, and this franchise (especially Two Towers) has some of my favorites. They didn’t include a single one. Rather, every single television ad is on the set. They also include the music videos from Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.
Overall, the films are still great. The versions included here aren’t as strong as the Director’s Cuts, but they are still amazing movies. The transfer is fantastic, and the movies themselves look and sound better than ever. However, the DVD releases looked great too. If you’re looking to add these films to your collection, definitely go with the DVDs. If you already have the DVDs and are thinking about upgrading, don’t bother. It’s really not worth it. In fact, this set contains commercials for each of the DVD special editions. Even those who put this set together must realize they have the inferior product. Despite my love of the films, this is one of the most disappointing Blu-Ray releases to date.
Also Available On Demand and For Download (iTunes: http://bit.ly/SCT_LordOfTheRings)