You THOUGHT “The Lord of the Rings” Was Coming Out on Blu-ray Today…

…but it isn’t.  What is coming out are the theatrical versions of the films on blu-ray discs plus some DVDs of featurettes that have been released previously.

Unlike many other movies that have come out as “special editions” or “extended editions” (such as George Lucas’s fibroid tweaks of the original Star Wars films), the “Extended Edition” of each of the Lord of the Rings movies by Peter Jackson can be regarded as the true films, the best expression of his artistic intent.  I think the majority of those who enjoy these movies would agree.  The Extended Editions of the three LOTR movies are probably the best extended editions ever made.  They enhance the story visually, dramatically, and descriptively.

Lord of the Rings movie poster

Click for the Fellowship of the Ring movie poster

The blu-ray editions released today were not those films.  They are the theatrical versions.

The case can be made, then, that we’re still waiting for The Lord of the Rings on blu-ray.  Well, so be it.  Gandalf worked for hundreds of years to defeat the Enemy.  We can wait a couple more years for the LOTR Extended Editions to come out on blu-ray.  (Rumor has it that the studio will probably release the Extended Editions just before The Hobbit premiers, which could be slated for 2011.)

(However, see the Update below.)

Just wanted to let you know in case you were thinking of buying these.  And if you are thinking of buying them, you might want to rent them or stream them first (via Netflix) because critics of this blu-ray have said that the visual quality of the films is not superb.  That is, visually they get about a “B” (though the audio quality in DTS HD Master Audio 6.1  gets an “A”).  Good, but not great, and don’t you want “great” if you’re going to buy the blu-rays?  So check them out first.  You might find yourself just about as satisfied watching the upconverted DVDs on your blu-ray player.  Hopefully, when the the Extended Edition of LOTR comes out on blu-ray, the visual improvement over what has been released today will be noticeable.

(Update: Well, everyone was wrong — we didn’t have to wait for The Hobbit to premiere (thank goodness).  The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy Extended Edition on blu-ray came out on June 28, 2011.  And yes, it’s improved over the theatrical edition blu-ray.  In addition to the preceding link, you can also find the Extended Edtion blu-ray here and here.)

Given all that, you still might want to buy the theatrical version blu-rays.  So, where?  Following are the best sources and prices as this is written.

Today, the best price is from Best Buy at $59.99 (and you can usually order it online and Lord of the Rings Trilogy with sword letter openerpick it up at the store).  You can also get a special version from Best Buy that includes a letter opener in the shape of Anduril (Aragorn’s sword) for $74.99.  Well, letter openers are handy.

 

Buy.com has probably the most balanced and informative review I’ve found of this blu-ray set.  (On the product page, scroll down to “Expert Review.”)

My take on the movies…and books

Quick summary of where I stand on the movies…  I’m a fan of the books (The Lord of the Rings wasn’t selected in a poll as the 20th century’s best book for nothing, not to mention other top 10 and top 100 lists); I practically memorized them as a teen.  As with many readers of Tolkien, I think the books are far superior to the movies.  I suppose it’s because the intensity of the experience as a reader — the internal “cinematography” and the prolonged immersion in the epic story as you read it over a number of days — will always surpass a few hours watching someone else’s interpretation on screen.

Given that limitation, Peter Jackson’s films are good — head and shoulders and knees above any other dramatic adaptation. 

Still, I’ve never quite forgiven him for leaving out Tom Bombadil.  That segment of the story was an integral factor in establishing the proper magical, dramatic tone.  You need the part where the heroes go “into the woods” (in this case, the Old Forest) to get the ball rolling properly.  I understand why Jackson left it out, sort of, but still it was a disservice to Tolkien.  Bombadil is actually an archetype, the shaman-trickster-poet, a character vivid enough to have established a quasi-subversive cultural presence that has lasted to this day.

Aside from that glaring omission, the movies are high-quality entertainment.  New Zealand made an acceptable stand-in for Middle Earth, though the films could probably have benefited from a cinematic visual enhancement on the order of what was done with 300, which would have produced a more luminous, ethereal, “age-of-elves” feel to the world. 

The acting and writing were serviceable.  Legolas and Gimli are the most satisfying characters, ably played by Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies (who also did a good job as the voice of Treebeard), followed by Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Eowyn (Miranda Otto), and Pippin (Billy Boyd). 

Frodo-wise, there were just too many lingering close-ups of Elijah Wood giving soulful or tormented looks.  Viggo Mortensen did not project enough gravitas in the part of Aragorn, who is supposed to be the stern yet uplifting representative of a time when men were at the apex of their heroism.  Liv Tyler as Arwen was mostly a murmuring non-entity, though that could have been the fault of Jackson’s direction.  And I could never quite see Hugo Weaving as Elrond — he’s still “Smith” from The Matrix as far as I’m concerned. 

The CGI was great and the battle scenes were broodingly atmospheric, gritty, and epic.  The music was pretty good, though a little ponderous at times.  All in all, the films were worth $7 at the theater.  And I’ve watched the extended editions on DVD a number of times since.  You kind of need your Lord of the Rings fix every so often.  (But to mainline the experience, the books are best.  You can also find thousands for sale used at AbeBooks.)

Eventually, these movies are going to look great on blu-ray.  Just not the set released today.

Hey, if you haven’t read The Silmarillion yet, give it a try (that’s a map of Middle Earth at the time of The Silmarillion below).  That book will help tide you over until the “real” films come out.

Map of Middle Earth

Map of Middle Earth from “The Silmarillion” — the Epic History of the Elves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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