The Bonus Materials:
20 years ago, Peter Jackson brought JRR Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings series to the big screen via 2001’s Fellowship of the Ring. The first chapter in the trilogy, 2002’s Two Towers and 2003’s Return of the King followed.
Not content to stop there, Jackson returned to the Tolkien well in 2012 with An Unexpected Journey, the first of three movies that adapted The Hobbit. 2013’s Desolation of Smaug and 2014’s Battle of the Five Armies created another trilogy.
Both Hobbit and Rings series got their 4K UHD debuts in 2020, as both came out in separate three-film sets. This 2021 “Middle-Earth Ultimate Collector’s Edition” packages all six movies in one big box.
The “Middle-Earth Ultimate Collector’s Edition” packages the same 4K discs found in the 2020 sets. This makes sense, as it would seem odd for New Line to redo the films after only one year.
The 2020 4K releases offered no bonus materials, which this 31-disc set rectifies. The 2020 4K package also lacked Blu-ray copies, which changes here as well.
The 2021 Blu-rays bring remastered versions of the six movies, and all six films also come with audio commentaries absent from the 2020 4Ks. All of these reproduce commentaries from prior versions of the movies.
Note that while the discs include both theatrical and extended versions of the movies, the commentaries only come with the longer cuts of the flicks.
I won’t detail all of these commentaries here, as that’d feel redundant. Please click on the links involved to read my specific thoughts about the commentaries themselves:
FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING: Four commentaries (Director/Writers, Design Team, Production/Post-Production Team, and Cast).
TWO TOWERS: Four commentaries (Director/Writers, Design Team, Production/Post-Production Team, and Cast).
RETURN OF THE KING: Four commentaries (Director/Writers, Design Team, Production/Post-Production Team, and Cast).
AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY: One commentary (Director/Writers).
DESOLATION OF SMAUG: One commentary (Director/Writers).
BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES: One commentary (Director/Writers).
Each of the three Hobbit movies offer New Zealand: The Home of Middle-Earth featurettes. I discuss these in full during the above-linked reviews.
Trailers appear for Battle as well as all three LOTR films.
The three LOTR movies also provide Easter Eggs on the Extended discs. Fellowship offers a three-minute, 30-second MTV Music Awards parody with Jack Black, while Two Towers gives us a two-minute, 54-second MTV Award acceptance speech from Andy Serkis and Gollum.
Finally, King boasts a nine-minute prank interview of Elijah Wood conducted by Dominic Monaghan. All three are fun additions.
On a separate “Special Features” disc, we get materials not part of prior releases. Created in 2021, we find three Cast Reunions. Hosted by Stephen Colbert, we find these virtual panels:
Actors Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan (39:39);
Actors Cate Blanchett, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom and Liv Tyler (32:25).
Writer/director Peter Jackson and actors Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis (29:50).
Across these, the actors discuss their initial reactions to their early LOTR experiences as well as aspects of the shoot and general thoughts about the movies and their work.
As a Tolkien super-fan, Colbert brings a contagious enthusiasm to these discussions, and he helps bring out a fun sensibility. I can’t claim we find real revelations in these reels, but it’s a delight to see so many of the LOTR principals back together after all these years, and we get enough insights to make them informative.
From 2001, a Cannes Presentation Reel goes for 26 minutes, 55 seconds. After a quick intro from Jackson and McKellen (in character as Gandalf), we see scenes from the still-a-work-in-progress Fellowship - and some quick slivers of the other two films as well.
As an archival piece, this may come with some value for fans. Outside of the brief intro, though, it feels pretty useless.
A few non-disc-based materials come with the package as well. A 64-page booklet mixes production notes, photos and costume sketches. The booklet adds value.
Seven Travel Poster Art Cards appear. These come for one location per movie as well as Middle-Earth as a whole. They act as “tourism pitches” for these places and seem like a clever addition.
Should one expect this “Middle-Earth Ultimate Collector’s Edition” to live up to its title? No – though it brings us decent “one-stop shopping” for the 6 Peter Jackson Tolkien films, it lacks a huge array of pre-existing bonus features. Picture and audio seem excellent and the supplements we find offer appeal. It simply remains a shame that the set fails to make this a true “ultimate edition”.