Monday, May 19, 2008

The LOTR disc-set

The 12-disc extended edition of The Lord of the Rings trilogy is available in stores in India now. I picked up the set a couple of days ago and it looks sumptuous. As anyone who reads this blog often will know, I make a lot of noise about DVD extras and the need for directors to use the medium to provide value-addition for home-viewers (rather than simply have the film on the disc along with a “songs selection” feature, as many DVDs of Hindi films lazily do). Well, what Peter Jackson and his team have accomplished with this disc-set represents the most thoughtful use of the medium I’ve yet seen; it’s obvious that they've relished the opportunity to show off the behind-the-scenes material that piled up during the many years of shooting. “Specially created for home viewing” says the package, and the booklet accompanying the set adds that with no constraints on running time, each film was extended by between 30 and 50 minutes (sounds a bit like a 600-word film review being expanded on a blog!).
But rather than simply inserting deleted scenes, Jackson approached this Extended Edition as if he were creating a whole new version of the film. He and editor John Gilbert carefully evaluated material to be integrated into the film, and then worked to bring each scene up to the same polish as the rest of the feature – visual effects were completed, dialogue was recorded and sound effects created.
Based on what I’ve seen of the discs so far, these are no idle claims. Each of the three films in the trilogy – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King – has its own box with four discs. Two of the discs in each box are labeled Appendices and Jackson himself introduces these, explaining the bonus features and how the menus should be navigated. The features include dozens of good-sized documentaries about various aspects of the filming; galleries with thousands of categorised images (storyboards, artwork created for the production, behind-the-scenes photos); four separate feature-length commentary options (by the director and the writers, the cast, the production and design teams, each group providing a specialised perspective on participating in one of the grandest movie epics ever); and detailed interactive maps, based on the ones that Tolkien created for his books, which allow the viewer to trace the routes taken by various sets of characters (a mini-screen simultaneously plays part of the relevant scene from the film, so the various complicated place names can be easily related to the landscapes in the movies). Whoever put this material together must have had a lot of fun doing it.

Of course, to get through all these features you have to be an obsessive fan of the trilogy, or a Tolkien-nerd, and also have an obscene amount of free time on your hands. It’s staggering to think of how much time would be required to navigate everything on this set. The films by themselves add up to around 12 hours and if you were to listen to all four of the commentary tracks (I did say you have to be obsessive), that means a cool 48 hours spent in front of your TV screen. The documentaries run into several hours too, and it’s impossible to estimate the amount of time needed to see all of the images in the galleries or to study all the map routes.

I doubt I’ll be able to do all of this anytime soon, but for now I’ve watched the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring as well as bits of The Return of the King, and the extra material has been quite good, especially the quieter scenes that punctuate the grand moments (this is something I occasionally thought was missing in the films when I saw them on the big screen): such as the melancholy scene early in the first film where Frodo and Sam watch a group of ghostlike, fading elves marching slowly towards the ships that will take them to Valinor; or the confrontation between the heroes and Sauron's sarcastic messenger (known as the “Mouth of Sauron”) outside the Black Gates of Mordor just before the final battle begins.

More info here, here and here.


  1. Hey,
    I m a fan of the trilogy and am done with all the 3 movies and the extras of part 1 and 2.... This is one of the best collector's editions. Over the past one month, i ve seen the contents of abt 10 discs and it has not bored me till now.

  2. Jai,
    You are right when you say that Hindi film dvd's rarely include any interesting features. An exception could be Aamir Khan. In his blog he had said that he has a director commentary included in the dvd. A really welcome feature.

    But besides commentary, I would like good directors to show the various subtleties used in the shooting. I don't know whether you have reviewed 'Hey Ram'. There are so much subtleties in it. But I don't think Kamal puts his effort in that direction (DVD).

  3. Jai,
    The director commentray was for 'Tare Zameen Par'.

    By the way, the LOTR trio DVD-set will take you some time to see all features.:) Happy viewing!

  4. hey jai...

    Call me a tolkien head. I had brought the platinum extended edition of all the movies which were launched after their individual releases.

    All of them had four dvds each... so is this collectors edition just bringing them together in one package or do they have new stuff?

  5. Karthik: I'm looking forward to more interesting Hindi-film DVDs in the near future. A few directors, like Sriram Raghavan and Navdeep Singh have done some decent work already. And I believe the Chak De! India disc has around 40 minutes of scenes that didn't make it to the halls - the backgrounds on some of the lower-profile girls in the hockey team.

    I also saw a very fancily packaged 2-DVD set (I think) of Om Shanti Om, which apparently has a feature on the making of the film. Don't think I'll be buying that anytime soon - in a sense, OSO was all about the making of OSO anyway!

    scribina: yes, this is probably the three extended editions together in one hefty package.

  6. Enjoy! I have had these for a while now; since I travel frequently, I usually buy these in the USA. And you are spot on - LOTR is the gold standard in DVD extras. Even the documentaries are very good and informative.