DVD Review: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Theatrical and Extended Limited Edition)

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them “

You’d have to be a troll turned to stone by the first light of day to have not heard of Peter Jackson’s adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of Rings trilogy.  Just when you thought that they couldn’t release another version, New Line brings them out in limited editions.  To buy or not to buy, that is the question – read on for a potential answer.

I’ll try and keep the plot description to a minimum since, as I said, I think that the majority of the world will be familiar with Tolkien’s works or Jackson’s films.  The dark lord Sauron had crafted in the fires of Mount Doom a powerful magic ring to rule over the rings of the other rulers of Middle Earth.  Sauron was defeated in battle and the ring was lost. 

It was found by Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) and has been in his care ever since.  Bilbo is celebrating his 111th birthday and the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) is returning to both celebrate the day and check on the ring.  Gandalf convinces Bilbo to leave the ring for his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) to find.  I’m trying to keep it short, so let’s just say that Frodo, and his constant companion Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin), is charged with taking the ring to Mount Doom to throw it into the fires from whence it sprang to destroy it. 

One ring to rule them all

One ring to rule them all

He’s joined in his quest by a cast of characters: the aforementioned Gandalf, Hobbits Pip (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan), humans Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom).  He’s pursued by the forces of Darkness represented by the wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Gollum (Andy Serkis), the former owner of the ring who was corrupted by it and will stop at nothing to get it back.  

Other characters and actors of note: Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Arwen (Liv Tyler), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), Theoden (Bernard Hill), Eowyn (Miranda Otto), Eomer (Karl Urban), and many, many more.  I apologize if I’ve left out a favorite character or actor – brevity you know. 

What Jackson has fashioned is an excellent film trilogy and will surely go down as one of the greatest films of all time (in my opinion, yours might differ).  I tend to think of the films as one long film and believe that the Academy truly awarded the 2003 Best Picture Oscar to Return of the King for the entire set of films. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. 

Can you believe that earlier attempts at bringing Tolkien’s works to the silver screen wanted to cram the all into one movie – preposterous.  What was exciting about Jackson’s films was that around the time that the next installment was opening at the theaters he was debuting an extended cut of the preceding film on DVD. 

The extended cuts are my favorites, though some additions are not without their problems.  The problems include that in Return of the King the attack of the ghostly army loses some of its surprise since Jackson shows a previous attack.  There are also treasures that are not in the theatrical versions. 

These include the gifting of the fellowship by Galadriel, the final resolution of Saruman in Two Towers (he’s given a throwaway line in the theatrical cut and just disappears – not the demise a major villain of Fellowship deserves.

The Fellowship of the ring

The Fellowship of the ring

The extended cut gives him a proper “sendoff.”), and the Mouth of Sauron appears in Return of the King.  Again, just some samples not a total accounting. 

These limited editions attempt to merge the best of both worlds, as far as the cuts of the film go.  The films are presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and are enhanced for 16×9 televisions.  The first disc of these two disc sets present the films on dual sided discs.  The films being split into 2 parts, one part per side.

The first discs in each set offer both the theatrical cut and extended cuts of the films:

Fellowship of the Ring: Theatrical cut – 178 minutes, Extended cut – 208 minutes.
The Two Towers: Theatrical cut – 179 minutes, Extended cut – 223 minutes.
Return of the King: Theatrical cut – 200 minutes, Extended cut – 250 minutes. 

Disc one’s menu comes up and you’re asked to select which version you want to view and then you’re taken to the menu system (play, scene selection, etc.) for that cut. 

What the Lord of the Rings giveth the Lord can taketh away.  The set offers some new special features, but does not bring anything from the Extended Edition releases.  The only thing is the extended cuts, none of the commentaries are to be found on this limited editions. 

However, these limited editions do offer a feature not found on the Extended Editions.  The second disc contains a new documentary for each film that is only found on this limited set.  Filmmaker Costa Botes was personally selected by Peter Jackson to fashion new documentaries from behind-the-scenes footage.

The eye of Sauron with Mount Doom in the background

The eye of Sauron with Mount Doom in the background

The Fellowship documentary runs 1 hour 24 minutes, The Two Towers doc runs 1 hour 46 minutes, Return of the King doc runs 1 hour 52 minutes, and each is also in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and enhanced for 16×9 televisions.  Botes was given free reign to wander around the set it appears and there is an extraordinary amount of behind-the-scenes footage. 

Frankly, this is a bit of an informal documentary whereas the Appendices on the Extended Cuts were more formal.  That’s not saying that they’re not good – they are interesting, but you also get stuff like watching the LOTR kitchen staff make breakfast for the cast and crew.  It does amaze me that these days that some sets consist of blue screens with white dots on them. There’s also a great amount of behind-the-scenes funning by Jackson, the cast, and the crew. 

So should you be buying these discs?  Maybe.  If you’re a LOTR fanatic, then you’ll already have purchased them.  If you don’t own one of the cuts then this is a good way to own both of them.  However, the majority of the extras are on the Extended Cut DVDs.  The documentaries are really quite good and worth having, but I find myself convinced that technically re-buying cuts of the film to get them is not a worthy financial endeavor.

What would’ve worked better for me would be if they had just released a set of the documentaries separately for those of us who own the other releases.  They still could’ve released the limited editions as they are, but could’ve made a set of just the new documentaries available.

However, I guess that would’ve put the kibosh on the whole “limited” nature of the limited editions.  The purchase is up to you.  I guess you could always check your local rental establishment to see if they have these up for rental to see the documentaries. 

A final note would be that these titles will eventually come out on the new high-definition format (whichever one wins?), so you will be re-buying them one day.  These releases are available separately or you can buy a set that contains all three 2 disc sets. 

Behind the scenes Christopher Lee says this situation feels vaguely familiar

Behind the scenes Christopher Lee says this situation feels vaguely familiar

I love Lord of the Rings and these limited editions do offer some fans a good purchase, but they offer limitations (couldn’t resist) to others.  You’ll have to make up your mind if the documentaries are enough of a hook to get yet another set of Lord of the Rings.  I’ll admit I enjoyed the documentaries, but did not like the fact that to get them I’d have to repurchase the film that I already have two copies of (theatrical release and Extended Editions with statuary). 

One ring to rule them?  Yes, but multiple DVD releases to drain some more money from them (though I have to admit that I don’t mind giving Peter Jackson some more money, he seems like such a nice hobbit-like fellow.  It’s the great flannelled one that gives me pause in my spending.)  The decision is up to you, young Hobbit.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Theatrical and Extended Limited Edition) is now available at Amazon. As of yet, this version of the DVD is not available in the UK. Visit the DVD database for more information.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.