Let’s Dig Into the Extras on the MIDDLE-EARTH 4K “Ultimate Collector’s Edition”

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies are now available in a combined 4K edition, dubbed the “Middle-Earth 31-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition”.

We recently covered the physical aspect of the gloriously packaged edition with an unboxing pictorial.

The Lord of the Rings films are without equal. Writer-director Peter Jackson, co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and an impeccable cast and crew, powered by the design and effects work of WETA, created a modern fantasy masterpiece. I won’t waste time praising them here to readers who likely already love them, except to say they’re (collectively) in my all-time Top 5 films and leave it at that.

The followup films adapting The Hobbit aren’t as good; they go equally epic with a much smaller story, and while the various changes and expansions arguably fit into Tolkien’s lore, they aren’t The Hobbit that fans knew. Legal and production delays and a foray into high frame-rate experimentation didn’t help. Personally I’ve found that I like them more and more with each viewing, a feeling that was established by seeing them back to back theatrically upon The Battle of Five Armies’ release and has gotten warmer with each subsequent viewing.

I do ultimately love, or at least like, all six films, and the combined 4K edition has been a long time coming for fans.

Unfortunately they have made the frustrating and frankly unbelievable choice of leaving out the already existing, fan-celebrated extra content from previous editions of both trilogies, collectively known as “The Appendices”. Apparently including a redundant THIRD copy of each film on Blu-ray (in addition to the 4K disc and digital Movies Anywhere version, not to mention other editions we might own) was deemed more important than having actual additional content.

Not very “ultimate”.

However, a new bonus Blu-ray disc is included which has some pretty promising treats for fans, with both new and previously unreleased materials of great interest. So let’s get into the good stuff.

Alamo Drafthouse The Lord of the Rings Cast Reunions (1:41:55)

Stephen Colbert hosts this lively 20th Anniversary reunion in three parts of approximately a half hour each, one for each film in the Trilogy. It was originally part of a theatrical screening hosted by the Alamo Drafthouse theater, with live telecast conferences with many key cast members.

Colbert, for anyone not aware, is a major Tolkien aficionado and expert, and not only a fan of the films but the books and their wider lore. He’s the perfect host for these wonderful discussions, acting not only as the facilitator, but as an ardent fan.

The quality dips at times (it’s basically a fancy Zoom call), but taken together, the three parts add up to a feature-length exploration and remembrance, full of nostalgia and warmth.

The Fellowship of the Ring (39:39)

with Billy Boyd (Pippin), Dominic Monaghan (Merry), Sean Astin (Sam), and Elijah Wood (Frodo)

The four Hobbits are the featured stars in part one, regaling with stories of making the films — films of such unimaginably massive scale that it blew their minds.

There’s a lot of love and laughter; at one point Colbert surprises his guests by pulling out his sword from the film’s production, a trend which will repeat itself on the other calls.

The Two Towers (32:25)

With Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Liv Tyler (Arwen), and Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn)

The cast discuss how they got involved with the films (Cate Blanchett ignored advice not to take the role because she wanted to work with the director of Braindead). Orlando’s face is constantly painted with animated amusement, and again there’s a sense that they’re all enjoying this as much as we are.

The cast reveal what props they stole (or were given), prompting Stephen to once again show off not one but TWO swords, Andúril and Sting.

The Return of the King (29:50)

with Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Andy Serkis (Gollum), and director Peter Jackson

A bit less playful but more illuminating than the other segments, the final segment features Smeagol and Gandalf along with their director.

Peter Jackson’s input is probably the most anticipated here, having a much more from-the-top view than his cast members and talking about the creative and filmmaking aspects of the productions.

MeKellen’s memories of coming on board are rather amusing; he wasn’t yet familiar with the books and didn’t realize the epic scale of the production. He also shows off differently sized props from Bag End which helped sell the illusion of the Hobbits’ diminutive size.

Serkis discusses his ironic apprehensions about playing a digital character, a skill which have now become arguably the signature talent of his repertoire thanks to the motion capture approach which was used.

All in all, these reunion videos are really a quite wonderful way to celebrate and remember the Trilogy. “Fans only”, perhaps, but the fans will love it.

Festival de Cannes Presentation Reel (26:55)

The relevance of this inclusion is less readily apparent, but after watching it I can appreciate its value.

This reel was presented at Cannes in advance of The Fellowship of the Ring, sort of a mega-trailer to show off the film trilogy in production.

What’s immediately awesome about this is that it’s from a theatrical 35mm print, and I love the film aesthetic (hell, as far as I’m concerned, every Blu-ray of a movie which was ever presented on film should include a theatrical print version as a bonus).

I’ve seen these films numerous times on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K digital, and now on 4K Blu-ray, and as much as I adore them in pristine clarity, there’s something to be said for the way that film grain aptly masks CGI and effects while looking cool as hell.

The format of the reel is a unique experience. Peter Jackson and Gandalf introduce the reel, which proceeds to show an abbreviated version of the movie up to Moria, where it slows down to let the major action sequences play out closer to their final length.

The part that really blew my mind is that the reel’s not content to merely preview the first film, it actually shows brief shots from of all three.

I wasn’t initially sure what point there was to including this, but boy did it prove me wrong. I love this feature and am richer as a fan for having seen it.

You can find these new extras on the bonus disc for the Middle-Earth 31-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition.

A/V Out.

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