The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Picture (all)
Sound (all)
What a journey. Originally conceived as a simple sequel to his popular children's book, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings grew to become the epitome of epic fantasy. Set in the far-off, long-ago realm of Middle-earth, it introduces the good-hearted, vertically-challenged Frodo Baggins (wide-eyed Elijah Wood), tasked with destroying a cursed ring in order to stop a great evil from conquering the world. Yeah, there are dwarves and elves and wizards, yet somehow it all works, thanks largely to director Peter Jackson, who keenly identified and brought to life the cinematic heart of the story. We soon learn that Hobbits can be a rather sentimental bunch, an undercurrent that pops up from time to time, but it serves to remind us of what they stand to lose if their quest should fail. More memorably, the saga is a visual spectacle the likes of which audiences had never seen, featuring characters we hate to leave behind when the end credits roll.

Shot concurrently at a budget of nearly $300M and released one year apart at the start of the millennium, the three movies comprising this enormous tale are The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. As a result, there is a consistent look and sound among all, despite rapidly evolving technologies of the era, including the transition from analog to digital color timing mid-saga. This uniformity holds true even across the Extended Editions, assembled and finished by Jackson to better represent his grand vision as well as incorporating more of Tolkien's texts. For fans of the book, these longer versions with added story and character subtleties are highly recommended, and each is included in its own two-disc configuration with the Theatrical version. Jackson reportedly spent an entire year remastering his movies from the original Super 35mm negative and the "film outs" of the digital special effects, working alongside original colorist Peter Doyle. This 4K version is certainly the best I've ever seen the trilogy look, a major improvement in every way over the 2010 Blu-rays and any subsequent reissues.


There's real depth to the image on these discs, and not just in the manipulated layers of visual effects, but in the late Andrew Lesnie's postcard-worthy photography of the New Zealand landscapes. The verdant beauty of the Shire with its rolling hills and autumnal foliage contrasts with the fiery red Eye of Sauron and the drastic, deliberate desaturation of the 2.39:1 image when the going gets dicey for our diminutive heroes. Exquisite hand-carved sets and the embroidery in costumes come alive in close-ups, while wide shots teem with thousands of discernible virtual extras and who-knows-how-many real ones. With this level of clarity, there's nowhere to hide, and the compositing of live-action and effects sometimes calls attention to itself. But only a few shots simply don't look real, three consecutive VFX Oscar wins notwithstanding. The use of HDR is some of the boldest I've seen, with a dramatic white radiance around elves that almost hurt my eyes (in a good way), and the magical glow of Gandalf's staff that powerfully banishes the gloom in the shadowy mines of Moria.


Audio is essential to our acceptance of these make-believe worlds, of course, and an inspired Dolby Atmos remix tells us that these caves and castles and valleys and battlefields extend in every direction far beyond the confines of a single set or filming location, no matter how vast. Echoes, chirping birds, off-screen voices, and all-encompassing wind add touches of realism, while utterly fantastic screaming dragon-things swirl down from above. The trebly scraping of swords offsets the masterful bass, and Howard Shore's musical score sounds pristine. Back in the DVD days, I used the fight in Balin's Tomb (Chapter 29 of the Theatrical Fellowship) as a 5.1 system showoff scene, and it's obviously more demo-worthy now with immersive audio. For an even bigger "wow," check out the Battle for Helm's Deep in Act III of Towers.


There are no extras—none. Also no included Blu-ray, although the 4K Movies Anywhere Digital Copy includes both Theatrical and Extended Editions via a convenient single code.


The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Length: 178/227 mins.

The Two Towers (2002)
Length: 179/235 mins.

The Return of the King (2003)
Length: 201/263 mins.

Ultra HD Blu-ray
Studio: Warner
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
HDR Format: Dolby Vision/HDR10
Audio Format Dolby Atmos with TrueHD 7.1 core
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies

3ddavey13's picture

All I can say is my 75" Sony Z9D has never looked so good and my Atmos system never sounded better. Until this release I ranked 2001 A Space Odyssey No. 1 for picture quality. And I wound up being thankful that each film comes on 2 discs because I needed a short break after 2 hours. Although I'm not quite as big a fan of The Hobbit as I am with LotR, that trilogy is equally spectacular in 4K. It's really a shame most 4K blurays are scaled up 2K. This format truly shines when done right.