I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theater, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. Keep checking back to see more recommendations for your holiday shopping. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them. With conditions as they are, shopping won’t be easy this season. The nice thing about discs is that they’re so easy to get from places like Amazon that you can give a great gift and stay perfectly safe while you do it. First up it’s Warner Brothers with what I consider the best home theater gift of the season. The Middle Earth Ultimate Collector’s Edition.
“The tale grew in the telling until it became a history…”
The Greeks are well known for their complex and compelling mythology. Writers like Homer have for millennia defined the literary world of mythology. I challenge anyone to debate that J.R.R. Tolkien has filled that role for the 20th century and beyond. Peter Jackson & company took those classic tales and brought them to life for the big screen. Now Warner Brothers is taking those films and offering them in the best possible presentation for our own screens of all sizes. With this set you get 31 discs. That includes both the theatrical and extended versions of all six Middle Earth films. The extended versions equal 21 hours, and I had a great time here sharing them over just three days with my friends Cristian and J.P. with an assist from Dan. I’m told a good time was had by all. You get both versions of each film in both UHD 4K and HD Blu-ray. There is one additional disc that contains almost three hours of new extras. The box itself is also a bit of a joy. It’s called a puzzle box, because with the use of magnets and hinges it can be displayed in a variety of shapes and sizes. There is a wonderful full-color book that delivers some of the production designs from the films and some rather neat and sturdy cards for each of the films. Still not decided? Let me tell you a story about these films…
“My dear Frodo, you asked me once if I had told you everything there was to know about my adventures. Well, I can honestly say I’ve told you the truth, but I may not have told you all of it…”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a two decades since Peter Jackson first brought us to the fantastic lands of Middle Earth. It was one of Hollywood’s most ambitious projects ever. Jackson took on the perilous journey of adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous Lord Of The Rings trilogy, perilous because of the beloved place the works hold in the hearts of those who have read them over the years. There is such a wonderfully detailed world delivered by Tolkien that we already had very vivid ideas of these places and characters. To his credit, Jackson proved to be up to the task and delivered a trilogy that one can only describe as brilliant. The lands and people were just as I had envisioned them since I first encountered them in my own youth. Expanded versions hit the home video market, and about 12 hours of story made it to our screens. And there it had sat for the better part of that decade.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty wet hole filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell…”
When it was decided to go back to the well and relate the events of the earlier and more child-friendly book The Hobbit, there were many obstacles to overcome. For one thing, Peter Jackson was engaged in a lawsuit fight with New Line over his cut of the trilogy’s profits. Thanks to wonderful studio accounting, it appears this multi-billion dollar franchise didn’t make any money after all, at least not when it came to paying Jackson his fair share. There was also the issue that the rights belonged to a different part of Tolkien’s estate and had to be negotiated all over again. Plans went forward without Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro was signed to write and direct two films based on The Hobbit. Events would lead to del Toro’s exit and a settlement between Jackson and New Line. Suddenly the band was back together, and the film project would eventually expand to another trilogy. The material would come not only from the book itself but other notes and unfinished manuscripts by Tolkien himself. The wait was over, and the new wait had begun.
The set pieces are just as grand in both design and execution. You quickly believe that these places do indeed exist, and Jackson doesn’t waste your time forcing you to resettle into this world. While the film revisits many places from Rings, there is an entire world of new places and creatures to delight you here. The Hall of the Goblins is an exceptional environment marred only by a George Lucas-styled character that will remind you of the laughing puppet at Jabba’s side in Return Of The Jedi. The troll scene was a favorite of mine from the book, and it works here both in a serious and quite whimsical way.
Remember that The Hobbit was written for children. That doesn’t mean this is a Disney-like kid film. It’s most certainly not. It is, however, much lighter and full of more sight gags. There’s a dishwashing scene in the early going that looks like something out of Snow White and her very different set of dwarfs. I’ve heard some complaint about the lighter nature, but not from anyone who understands the original material. These were very differently-styled books. Yes, they are joined together by the ring, and that is absolutely the magical moment of the film. Credit Jackson for truly understanding his material and not bowing to the pressures to merely remake his previous films.
“It never ceases to amaze me, the courage of hobbits.”
Once again Jackson has managed to find even more New Zealand locations that we hadn’t seen yet in almost 12 hours of film to date. The views continue to be breathtaking. Of course there’s plenty of computer magic to tweak these vistas, but much of it is real, and that brings the important element of reality to a film that is at times overburdened by the massive computer-generated effects. There are times that Jackson gives us too much visual, and it can be quite overwhelming. Most of the bad guys we face are computer characters, from the incredibly creepy spiders to the grandeur of Smaug.
Fortunately, Jackson never lets this massive production get in the way of the fact that this is a story of characters, one hero in particular. Martin Freeman and his co-stars deliver the humanity that could have so easily been lost in all of this spectacle. Jackson delivers so many wonderful character moments that we can, for just a moment, forget the big picture and live in Bilbo’s emotions. He’s emerging as a hero, and we see him struggle with the pull of the ring. We have the benefit of knowing just how consuming that pull will eventually be, but it’s so rewarding to see those blossoming early moments as the ring begins to demand its price. As Bilbo finally faces his moment of truth, he is not the same hobbit he was when he left the shire. We see Gandalf’s prediction that he will never be the same come into its own. Again, the interplay between Bilbo and Smaug alone is worth the price of admission to this film.
“Home is now behind you. The world is ahead.”
The films are delivered with all of this glory on display. The Lord Of The Rings films are spread over two discs each so that the bitrate remains in the 70’s or higher throughout. The Hobbit films might have been better off that way, but you still get bitrates in the 50’s or higher. These are also at the 24fpm and not the controversial 60fpm. None of the 3D versions are here, and honestly if you wanted that you already have it. These films never looked grander, and they have never been more immersive. The idea is that heroes can come from the most least expected of places. You slide this set under someone’s tree this year and you will get hero status guaranteed. It should also get you on the invite list for that beautiful marathon they’re going to run. Watch it with friends. I did, and it was a blast. Timeless. I have a set thanks to Warner Brothers, but if I didn’t, I know how my letter to Santa would start this year. And I’ve been a very good boy.
In the end it’s not the epic titular battles that truly defines these movies, even as they dominate the screen time. Jackson has been building toward those certain brief shining moments for a long time. Thankfully they arrive at just the right moments to carry us back home. We could talk about the wonderful WETA effects and the sweeping locations and seamless blend of the real and unreal. But we’ve been doing that for 20 years now. If you don’t understand that part of it by now, this collection will do nothing to change your mind. I find that it’s the quiet moments that have lasted with me the longest. The entire Tolkien film collection will be debated and dissected for decades to come. For now I’m just trying to savor these newly remastered moments in Middle Earth before I must say: “Farewell, Master Burglar. Go back to your books, your fireplace. Plant your trees, watch them grow. If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world.”