The box set reviewed here is the standard set that features the movies only. There is a collectors issue available which includes all the special features found in the Blu-ray box set should you have the pocket for it.
After our recent review of The Hobbit 4K Edition, it was only inevitable that we would return like a great presence from the east to give you our thoughts on the one true power in this saga, The Lord of the Rings 4K Extended Editions. This version released alongside The Hobbit 4K set at the end of November 2020 and was arguably and understandably the more anticipated of the two releases. In a similar fashion, the box set features both the theatrical and extended editions of each movie with the extended editions being spread across two discs each.
Some may question the reason for this as both the DVD and Blu Ray editions had a similar treatment, surely with more advanced technology we should be able to get the full movie on one disc? well yes, we could, but to do so would require a heavy dose of compression that would provide a much weaker image and negate the whole purpose of purchasing the 4K versions. Fortunately, Peter Jackson has played his fiddle and released something that in this portly shirelings opinion is nothing short of spectacular even with a couple of unexpected tweaks, but don’t worry, PJ hasn’t gone full-on George Lucas and ruined perfectly good shots by plonking a giant aliens ass right in front of the camera (looking at you Mos Eisley!) but a couple of subtle changes have been made that may furrow the brows of some viewers. Once again this review will focus less on an in-depth plot analysis and more on the quality of the 4K upgrade and stand out scenes but most importantly, whether we believe it is worth your time and money so let’s get started!
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The first, and my personal favourite in the trilogy, introduces us to the lovable group of Hobbits whose lives are about to be turned upside down by the grim hand of fate. In the east, Sauron has returned and sends his forces out to locate The One Ring, the item he requires if he wished to regain his full strength and dominate middle earth. The new ring bearer, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) must now set out on a perilous journey an unlikely group of allies with one goal in mind, reach mount doom, the place where the ring was created and the only place it can be destroyed.
It is hard to believe that this movie is nearly twenty years old, not only was it shot amazingly well in the first place but the 35mm film has allowed for a crisp and clean 4K restoration that puts more modern movies to shame. It is probably to be expected but just to make things clear, HDR is much more subtle here than it was in The Hobbit and that is simply because it is not needed as much. The more balanced colours and practical shooting of the LOTR movies add so much more natural life to middle earth in my opinion, it feels like an almost real land straight out of the pages of some far off history compared to the more superimposed world we see in The Hobbit movies, I was worried Jackson might get carried away and oversaturate some of the lighting and landscapes which on one hand would have brought it visually in line with The Hobbit but it would have also ruined what is essentially a beautifully shot movie that many of us have enjoyed for two decades.
Where the HDR does get a bit of a workout though and pops really nicely is during the scenes in Moria and Isengard. One of the most memorable scenes in the first movie has to be The Bridge of Khazad Dum where the majority of the fellowship narrowly escape the fiery clutches of The Balrog. Not only do the enhanced black levels make every shadow in Moria seem more spooky but it also compliments the lighting and detail that extends from Gandalfs staff as the group venture further into the mines, just when you think the shot can’t get any better the Balrog begins to stir and flames begin to illuminate the scene. The flames look rich and deep and reflect beautifully in the dark chambers with the big sizzler himself, The Balrog, igniting in a splendour of menacing flames and smoke that are a true treat to the eyes.
Isengard gets a similar treatment as the sinister Saruman the White (Christopher Lee) begins burning Fangorn Forest in an effort to create his Uruk-Hai warriors. The darkness which is complemented by a pack of Orcs (who’s practical effects and costumes look extra awesome now) are illuminated by the fires of deep forges below the tower of Orthanc. This more measured and steady use of HDR effects really helps certain scenes stand out and appear more menacing and I thoroughly enjoyed this balance of visuals.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Fellowship has broken, Frodo and Sam (Sean Astin) find an unlikely guide into Mordor while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) leads the remaining companions to Rohan, home of the horse lords. Each group encounter new friends and enemies as both Frodo and Aragorn come to understand their respective fates while the shadow of Mordor grows ever darker.
The Two Towers is probably the heaviest viewing of the trilogy, not because it is a bad movie, quite the opposite, but a much larger group of characters and lands are introduced as well as the set up for two particularly visceral battles. The core battle taking place at Helms Deep as Aragorn and King Theoden (Bernard Hill) unite to face the forces of Isengard. The second takes place in Osgiliath as a captured Frodo and Sam try to appeal to the better nature of Faramir, Captain of Gondor (David Wenham) to let them continue on their quest instead of seizing and handing The One Ring to Gondor.
With a great selection of landscapes from bleak marshlands, Saxon themed strongholds, sprawling forests and stone cities with a nice mix of night and day shots, the picture quality once again shines brighter than the Evenstar! Wide shots provide so much more detailed depth to landscapes, the marshes, in particular, look fantastic though granted you wouldn’t want to visit them.
The battles sing richly with renewed detail and balanced lighting, strong black levels compliment the reflections on armour and weapons as fire and starlight highlight the details, this especially prominent during the Helms Deep battle which pretty much takes up the final third of the film. It was honestly like watching the battle for the first time again, so many little details stood out from the way the rain glistened as it fell to the details on the Rohan soldiers beards, and there are plenty of beards to go around in this movie.
Once again HDR didn’t really need to work overtime here but the skylines of day scenes and a few moments of magic use by Gandalf the White (Ian McKellen) and some hefty explosions all popped that much more impressive and provided a new emphasis on their presence. As mentioned at the start, Jackson has made a couple of slight alterations in this restoration and they both occur in this movie. During both Arwen’s vision and Faramir’s memory (an extended edition scene), the colour is tinted to a slight stonewash effect. I assume this is done to highlight the fact that these moments are not to be seen as in the minute scenarios and personally I quite liked the change, it was very subtle but I could understand an argument for why was this change “needed”? Fact is, it wasn’t and it might annoy some viewers.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Isengard has been defeated at the cost of many lives, Frodo and Sam now face the hardest challenge of their journey, enter Mordor and destroy the ring. Meanwhile, Gondor stands unprepared and poorly governed, as the Shadow of War reaches its gates, Aragorn and Gandalf must find a way to unite the peoples of middle earth for one final stand against the forces of darkness and give Frodo the chance he needs to end the terror of Sauron.
The third and final entry in the trilogy is easily the most special effects-heavy but still with a solid amount of practical effects for food measure. With more CGI comes more HDR opportunities and they really shine and bring this grand finale into an even bigger treat for the eyes. From the Army of the Dead, The Oliphants all the way to Shelob, the CGI rendering is tighter than Denathors purse strings on Faramir’s birthday!
The stand out sequences that really show the HDR quality here is without a doubt Aragorn encountering the Army of the Dead and Shelob’s lair. Once again the darker tones of the caves are complemented by the HDR enhanced lighting in both scenes. As the Dead appear and surround Aragorn the green glow has a much more menacing tone that somehow makes the whole scene feel more cold and foreboding.
Frodo’s encounter with Shelob still remains creepy and unnerving to this day and this is made even more tense thanks to the black levels on show here making the lair itself seem alive as if something is lurking in every shadow (as if a ruddy great big pissed off spider wasn’t enough) the brightness of the Light of Earendil is emphasised greatly and highlights so much detail on Shelobs body that I just felt was never done justice on the Blu Ray version.
Naturally, the epic battles and encounters that take place in this final act all look better than ever with another special nod to the Rohan Charge for standing out impressively by balancing a wide shot comprised of fairly similar colour tones yet provides a great level of detail to each rider.
I could waffle on about my love for the Lord of the Rings movies all day and I imagine anyone reading this is likely a fan already. We all know this is a movie trilogy that will never be surpassed in terms of quality and I don’t care what anyone says, Boromir’s death will forever be the most heroic scene to ever grace a movie screen!
In terms of the 4K transfer, I have nothing to gripe about, I thoroughly enjoyed the upgrade and I think the more subtle use of HDR helped ensure the films remain closer to their original form instead of the hyper colourful Hobbit movies. The only thing that will be a negative for some as mentioned earlier is the slight tonal changes made in The Two Towers, again, I didn’t mind them but I can certainly see that they weren’t really necessary but it is by no means a movie spoiler or a game-changer for me. If you are a movie collector and a fan of middle earth, there is no reason not to add this collection to your shelf though granted, if you are especially precious about special features, you might want to wait for the enhanced collector’s edition that is due out sometime in 2021.
Director – Peter Jackson
Cast – Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Sean Astin
Release Date – 30th November 2020
Number of Discs – 9
Price (RRP) – £74.99
Extended Edition Runtime – The Fellowship of the Ring: 3hr 48min. The Two Towers: 3hr 43min. The Return of the King: 4hr 11min
Aspect Ratio – 16×9 LB 2.39
Audio – Dolby Atmos TrueHD