Let me preface this review by saying I believe The Lord of the Rings ranks among the all-time great achievements in motion picture history. That a largely unknown — and mostly unproven, at least in terms of big-budget spectacle — director managed to make three astounding 3-hour motion pictures remains an astounding anomaly. That Peter Jackson actually struck gold from both a box office and critical perspective is extraordinary. That the man stuck the landing by crafting one of the all-time great films, The Return of the King, is just bonkers. Especially when one considers just how difficult a feat it is to make a quality trilogy of films — just ask Star Wars, The Matrix … hell, even The Godfather.
I vividly recall watching ROTK for the first time in cinemas. It blew my mind. No film has come close to achieving that level of spectacle, heart, action, adventure, or emotion. It’s an amazing film in and of itself. And yet, it’s preceded by two equally awe-inspiring entries, The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, that are worthy epics in their own right.
I can’t stress enough just how lucky we are to have had received these magnificent adventures.
Now, on to the actual review.
Fans of LOTR have been quite spoiled. Peter Jackson released extended versions of the films immediately following their release, then went on to direct the not-as-great-but-still-entertaining The Hobbit trilogy, which in turn enjoyed extended editions released on Blu-ray and DVD. Now, all six films have received the 4K upgrade and are expertly packaged in a massive 31-disc set that features the theatrical and extended versions of each film.
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First thing’s first. If you own the previously released 4K or Blu-ray editions of LOTR, this new set is fairly redundant. Dubbed the Middle-earth 31-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition, this set is indeed a lovely package, even if it doesn’t live up to its title. Oh sure, it’s massive, beautifully packaged, and contains every version of Jackson’s films on enhanced Blu-ray and 4K, but the special features are, surprisingly, scarce.
In fact, those amazing Appendices released with the extended cuts back in the early 2000s are missing, as are the behind-the-scenes documentaries produced by Costa Botes that arrived with the “limited edition” DVDs in 2006.
There is but one new special features disc included with this set featuring the Alamo Drafthouse cast reunion in which Stephen Colbert interviews (and geeks out with) the stars of the films via Zoom. The disc also includes the much-coveted Cannes Presentation Reel that debuted in France back in May of 2001 and unveiled our first look at the upcoming LOTR series, and includes a number of clips that didn’t make the final cut (theatrical or otherwise). It’s actually quite fascinating, but also frustrating in that it proves the existence of additional footage we have yet to see.
Still, this box set (which you can order here) offers the entire Middle-earth saga in a unique package you can contort and display in a variety of ways and includes travel posters, a 64-page collection of sketches, photography, and production notes and digital codes of each film.
Basically, if you don’t own any of the previous editions of the films and don’t care about the special features, then this new set offers the perfect encapsulation of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth saga. However, if you’re yearning for new footage, or additional behind-the-scenes material, you might be better off waiting for the “Ultimate Ultimate Special Edition” that will likely hit shelves at some point in the future.
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On a final and more obvious note, the film presentations are astounding. If you haven’t seen Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit in 4K, you’re missing out. The images on all six films are very clean with nice contrast and stunning detail. Even Fellowship of the Ring, which released nearly 20 years ago, looks better than most films produced today, aside from a few dated FX. And yes, the audio across the board is superb.
I’m sure some tech or visual junkie may find a flaw or two, but really this is as good as it gets. And, at $249.99, much more affordable than the 6-film Limited Collector’s Edition bookshelf that was released in 2016 (which runs $350 on Amazon).
Again, though, this new set isn’t really anything special, but if you’re a LOTR junkie like me, you’ll flock to the store and pick it up as another token to add to the collection.
Purchase the box set here!