[Fresh on 4K] ‘LORD OF THE RINGS’ trilogy’s new release is the closest we’ll get to entering Middle Earth

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

THE LORD OF THE RINGS

Very few film franchises can be said to have influenced an entire generation’s love for the movie-watching experience. There’s STAR WARS, TITANIC, and some may even include the Marvel films, but THE LORD OF THE RINGS is unquestionably among that list. And now, for the very first time, these unprecedented classics are available on 4K UHD.

Movie Grade: A+

THE LORD OF THE RINGS is split across three films: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, THE TWO TOWERS, and THE RETURN OF THE KING. Combined, they clock in at a staggering nine hours and 18 minutes (or 12 hours and six minutes if you watch the extended editions) and are easily digestible as standalone experiences.

They follow the journey of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), who is tasked with returning the One Ring to the fiery chasm of Mount Doom, where it was originally made by the dark lord Sauron long ago. Along the way, Frodo is joined by many companions, including Gandalf the Wizard (Ian McKellen), Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin), Legolas the Elf (Orlando Bloom), Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies), and Aragorn, the heir to the throne of Gondor (Viggo Mortensen). Together, they experience numerous adventures along the way and fight in an epic war against all that is evil to save Middle Earth from Sauron’s return.

Truthfully, there is no way to adequately describe this epic trilogy’s plot without outrageously surpassing the approved length of Fresh Fiction’s review structure. Each of these films is an honest to goodness masterpiece and simply must be experienced first hand to be appreciated. With a combined 17 Academy Award wins (11 of which belong to THE RETURN OF THE KING alone), these movies belong on any film lover’s shelf.

Courtesy of Blu-ray.com

Video/Audio Grade: A+

All three films are presented in native 4K resolution through a remastering process personally overseen by director Peter Jackson. It is easy to see that the same level of care and attention to detail Jackson poured into this trilogy was put to work in this process, and these films are undoubtedly the best looking 4K re-releases I have ever seen.

The set includes both the theatrical and extended-release of all three films, with the theatrical versions each on a single 4K disc and the extended versions all split across two 4K discs. The reasoning behind this is to reduce any chance of visual compression for the extended versions, as they are absolutely massive. In the interest of full disclosure, I only watched the extended editions of these films in their entirety for this review and scrubbed through a handful of key moments in the theatricals to see if there were any noticeable differences. All of that being said, the theatrical editions look exactly as good as their extended counterparts.

Details in costumes, countless prosthetics, and set design have never been clearer. Additionally, the numerous amount of shots featuring miniature models as opposed to digitally created locations are breathtaking. Even the digital effects in all three films rarely show the slightest signs of age. Fully computer-generated characters like Gollum/Smeagol (Andy Serkis), the cave troll, and the balrog all look fantastic, with Gollum still looking unbelievably good next to his live action costars. Some hints of grain are found here and there, which may deter some viewers, but purists will appreciate knowing the 35mm film look has been maintained.

The inclusion of HDR10+ and Dolby Vision takes what was already a breathtaking 4K transfer and improves it even further. The iconic golden Ring has a much more powerful presence whenever it appears on screen making sure it is noticeable in even the widest of shots. Additionally, characters like the aforementioned balrog look even more menacing than ever, thanks to the richer reds and oranges of its surrounding flames. The same goes for the dreaded Eye of Sauron, which burns deeper and more powerfully than ever before. The many darker moments like the Mines of Moria and Battle of Helm’s Deep also greatly benefit from the expanded color spectrum and only rarely feel the slightest hint of crushing.

The films also receive a wonderful improvement with the inclusion of a brand new Dolby Atmos audio track as well as a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix for non-Atmos setups. With the previous Blu-ray releases only having as much as a 6.1 mix, the audio has literally never sounded better. The outstanding use of the side and overhead channels are the closest we may ever be to feeling like we’ve stepped into Middle Earth. All in all, these are the best these movies have ever looked or sounded.

Courtesy of Blu-ray.com

Extras Grade: D

There are no special features included in this set. Normally this would be only mildly disappointing. However, fans who have previously owned these films’ extended editions will know just how devastating this exclusion truly is. The copious amounts of in-depth documentaries discussing both the films’ literary source material as well as the making of the films themselves are practically legendary at this point. They have long been the golden standard for how to deliver special features for a home release.

On the other hand, it is worth noting that owners of the extended trilogy on Blu-ray may have no real need for another copy of the previously released special features especially considering the fact that they were still only on DVD at the time and would likely still be on DVD now. With nine 4K discs in the set already, the idea of having nine additional DVDs in the package does sound practically insane. With that in mind, owners of previous releases likely won’t care that much. The real shame in this exclusion is that new viewers will have to hunt down these DVDs if they want to experience them at all.

It is essential to note that an additional 4K release of all six Middle Earth films is planned for 2021 and will feature “New Bonus Content.” Whether or not that release will also feature the previously released bonus material is yet to be confirmed. However, it is still advised that fans looking for a complete experience hold off a little longer if they don’t want to double-dip.

Additionally, the digital copy code included in the set provides a 4K digital license for both theatrical and extended versions of all three films, which is a very nice inclusion.

Final Grade: A-

This trilogy is arguably one of the last Hollywood epics we may ever see. It is rare to feel like they are being experienced for the first time nearly 20 years after their initial release. The lack of any special features whatsoever is an awful disappointment for fans who have never owned a previously released set of these films. But for people looking to re-experience Middle Earth in stunning 4K UHD, this is the set dreams are made of.

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