Blu-Ray Review: ‘The Lord of the Rings Trilogy’ Exhilarates on Blu-Ray

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CHICAGO – The first words we hear are those of the beguiling elf Galadriel, whose ethereal voice haunts an empty screen while declaring, “The world is changed.” And so it had in December 2001, when Americans were reeling from 9/11, and more eager than ever to escape into a fantasy where moral certainty was never in doubt, and pure-hearted heroes clung to the belief that there was still good in the world, and it was worth fighting for.

It’s often difficult to view Peter Jackson’s nearly decade-old adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel without becoming utterly overwhelmed by the sheer scope and magnitude of his achievement. It is not a trilogy in the traditional sense, but a towering epic that truly works as one complete film, and represents one of the greatest feats of sustained filmmaking in modern movie history. Though Tolkien hated the idea of publishers splitting his novel into three books, Jackson knew that no cinematic approach to the story could possibly do it justice without taking the necessary time to tell it. Though each film clocks in at around three hours, their extended versions subsequently released on DVD offer even more depth and dramatic texture. In a sense, the films cannot be long enough.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0

Every fantasy series, from “Star Wars to “Harry Potter,” has in some way been influenced by Tolkien’s utilization of Jungian archetypes, which allow the characters to be instantly recognizable to moviegoers unfamiliar with the source material. There’s Frodo the hobbit (Elijah Wood) who’s chosen by wise wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to embark on an odyssey where he must destroy a ring, forged by the Dark Lord Sauron to control the magical land of Middle Earth. Frodo is joined on his quest by devoted friend Sam (Sean Astin) and two mischievous comic reliefs, Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan). Yet these pint-sized protagonists are routinely overshadowed by the mismatched trio of noble human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Elven prince Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and axe-wielding Dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), who end up doing most of the fighting (while the hobbits do most of the fretting).

Elijah Wood and Sean Astin play Frodo Baggins and Samwise ‘Sam’ Gamgee in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy.
Elijah Wood and Sean Astin play Frodo Baggins and Samwise ‘Sam’ Gamgee in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy.
Photo credit: New Line Home Entertainment

The major alteration Jackson made to the original text was shifting focus from the hobbits, and centering it on the warfare engulfing Middle Earth. Though Tolkien’s whimsical spirit is somewhat sacrificed in the name of action, the battle scenes do take on a grandeur of their own. What’s not lacking here is a consistent sense of awe and wonder, as Jackson’s team of effects wizards perform unprecedented visual miracles while preventing the spectacle from upstaging the story. No one is immune to the ring’s powers of temptation and malice, which makes for a far more interesting tale than one populated by incorruptible heroes facing a Voldemort-like villain. The juiciest performances come from actors such as Ian Holm and Sean Bean, whose characters are constantly fighting internal forces of obsession. Perhaps the best character in the trilogy is Gollum (played brilliantly by Andy Serkis), who embodies the other characters’ inner demons through his ghoulishly deformed appearance and schizophrenic battle with evil. He is still the most authentic and expressive character ever created by special effects, and his intricately nuanced performance is more powerful than anything witnessed in “Avatar.”

Viggo Mortensen plays Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy.
Viggo Mortensen plays Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy.
Photo credit: New Line Home Entertainment

Unlike most movie trilogies, this one actually improves with each picture. “The Fellowship of the Ring” is a tad too rushed and breathless, consisting mostly of spectacular set-pieces prefaced by exposition-laden dialogue.

Jackson’s pacing vastly improves in “The Two Towers,” but the story tends to drag as it builds to the battle of Helm’s Deep, which only took up a small portion of Tolkien’s text. It’s a mightily impressive sequence, but merely a teaser for the jaw-dropping battle of Pelennor Fields in “The Return of the King.”

With the exception of its 22-minute dénouement containing an excess of slow-motion reunions and forced smiles, “King” is pure cinematic euphoria. It gives equal time to the various plot threads and brings them to a hugely satisfying conclusion.

Throughout it all, Jackson’s exuberant energy and tireless invention bring an immediacy to visuals that may have seemed otherwise archaic.

He beautifully captures Tolkien’s symbolism, such as how the victory of trees over the grotesque orcs represents the triumph of nature over industrialization. An army of walking trees would probably get laughed off the screen in any other picture, but Jackson depicts them with a majesty and subtle wit that nearly makes you buy into their existence.

The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy was released on Blu-Ray on April 6th, 2010.
The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy was released on Blu-Ray on April 6th, 2010.
Photo credit: New Line Home Entertainment

Though the cast of “Rings” is uniformly superb, a different character emerges as the heart of each chapter. “Fellowship” is richly enhanced by McKellen’s twinkly eye and tangible warmth, while “Towers” is dominated by Mortensen’s quietly riveting heroism. But the human performance that remains most etched in my mind is that of Astin in “King,” whose commitment to the deteriorating Frodo is the engine behind the film’s dramatic momentum (it’s an Oscar-worthy performance). Toward the end of “The Two Towers,” Astin has a monologue that eloquently reflects not only the themes of Tolkien’s book, but the turbulent time in which the film was made. “How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?” he asks. “But in the end, it’s only a passing thing…this shadow.” Jackson’s magnificent entertainment is both a film of its time and a film for all time.

With all that said, there is only one reason to purchase “The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy” on Blu-Ray, and that is to experience the films in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.4:1 aspect ratio). It offers the best way yet to view the stunning detail of the special effects (the Pelennor Fields sequence is guaranteed to leave your mouth agape). Fans who prefer the extended versions are advised to wait for their eventual Blu-Ray release. The nine-disc set includes the theatrical versions of all three films on both BD-Live enabled discs and digital copies, and are accompanied by English and Spanish audio tracks.

But not only does the set lack any new extras, it includes the exact same special feature discs that came with the films’ original DVD release. And if the extras were old at the time, they are really old now. Most of the featurettes are recycled from either television, such as specials made for the Sci-Fi Channel and Starz, or lordoftherings.net. There’s a couple interesting extras, particularly a National Geographic special narrated by Rhys-Davies that investigates the novel’s ties to history, but the utter absence of new material is a crushing disappointment. Unless you’re hellbent on adding “Lord of the Rings” to your Blu-Ray collection, I’d recommend that moviegoers hold off on purchasing it until an edition worthy of this masterwork is released. Jackson’s film deserves better, and its fans do too.

‘The Lord of the Rings Trilogy’ is released by New Line Home Entertainment and stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Sean Bean, Hugo Weaving, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, David Wenham, Cate Blanchett and Andy Serkis. It was written by Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Stephen Sinclair & Fran Walsh and directed by Peter Jackson. It was released on April 6th, 2010. It is rated PG-13. It is available On Demand and For Download at http://bit.ly/WB_TheLordOfTheRings.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

By MATT FAGERHOLM
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
matt@hollywoodchicago.com

Anonymous's picture

“the films cannot be long

the films cannot be long enough”??? Or they are long enough alright!
“each installment improves next picture”? Two towers was far less intriguing than Fellwoship of the Ring. I believe Lord of the Rings is over over-estimated.

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