When news gets out that a beloved property is getting a new 4K restoration, it is often met with excitement and worry. It most certainly does for those familiar with the process and can notice the difference between a good remastering and a bad or lazy one.

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In this file photo originally released by New Line Productions shows actors, from left, Dominic Monaghan as Merry, Elijah Wood as Frodo, Billy Boyd as Pippin and Sean Astin as Sam in a scene from New Line Cinema's "The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring." 

Films such as Mad Max: Fury Road and Jaws were praised for the sights and sounds they displayed in their 4K jumps, while others like 1978’s Halloween and War of the Worlds were marked up in red by the film community. Whether it’s tarnished color grading or poor mixing, there’s no denying there’s an art to the whole affair.

The Lord of the Rings is easily one of the most celebrated trios of films out there. The Hobbit trilogy isn’t held in the same regard, but some appreciate it for its unique vision. And considering the previously-released DVD editions are often placed on the top shelf in terms of home entertainment, it was only a matter of time before Warner Bros. and director Peter Jackson teamed back up to give these six titles the 4K polish they deserve.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy on 4K and Blu-ray includes:

• 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring (theatrical/extended)

• 2002’s The Tower Towers (theatrical/extended)

• 2003’s The Return of the King (theatrical/extended)

About 558 minutes for the theatrical versions, and about 726 minutes for the extended cuts.

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The Hobbit: The Motion Picture Trilogy on 4K and Blu-ray includes:

• 2012’s An Unexpected Journey (theatrical/extended)

• 2013’s The Desolation of Smaug (theatrical/extended)

• 2014’s The Battle of the Five Armies (theatrical/extended)

About 474 minutes for the theatrical versions, and about 532 minutes for the extended cuts.

Just in time for the holidays, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies have recently received a “movie’s only” 9-disc collector’s set that includes three theatrical and extended movies. Each of the sets contains unique cover art, with The Lord of the Rings featuring the Eye of the villainous Sauron and Mount Doom and The Hobbit featuring Gandalf and Co. walking alongside a cliff. An inch-thick plastic keep-case with four hinges house the 4K and Blu-ray discs. A digital copy is tossed in for good measure, in case you want to revisit Middle Earth while you’re away from home.

As Peter Jackson details in a behind-the-scenes featurette (available online), the main reason for the UHD upgrade is to give audiences a consistent look that carries across the six films. The Oscar-winning filmmaker notes, “that’s really due to the way in which The Lord of the Rings trilogy was shot first, about 20 years ago,” adding that the three original movies were shot on 35mm film and the color timing was done in “an old fashion, mechanical way.” Watching Jackson briefly walk us through the process of going frame by frame makes your brain hurt.

Those who still own the extended Lord of the Rings DVD editions, which is practically an entire course on filmmaking, probably remember the level of love and craftsmanship that went into giving this franchise its staying power. Here’s to hoping that next year’s supposed deluxe packages come loaded with those same bonus goodies, along with some new retrospective features. These particular sets are for those who are impatient (like me) or just want the movies and don’t care for all the supplemental material.

The audio mix has been expanded to a booming Dolby Atmos. Weta Digital has granted each title a new 4K restoration. This lengthy process involves a full 4K scan of the original camera negatives and visual effects. The cherry on top is that the digital VFX were upscaled from 2K elements, with a new color timing. This all basically means that a lot of time and effort went into making sure it looks perfect. A director’s seal of approval is the crucial element to look out for when picking up a 4K product or collector’s release. Fortunately, that’s the case here.

When the Blu-rays were released about a decade ago, there was a green hue across the entire extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring. There are quite a few video essays out there that give side-by-side comparisons of each of the versions and formats. As luck would have it, the new color timing on the 4K releases resolves that issue. Look out for details you’ve never seen before, such as grass on the side of hills or things lurking in the shadows. The colors are accurate to life, with skies painted in a beautiful blue and costumes shining in a rich saturation.

Although some FX shots appear grainy in The Lord of the Rings, it is minimal, and it holds up spectacularly well for its age. The same cannot be said of The Hobbit films, however. Most of the FX were done in digital, and the new 4K resolution highlights how video game-like the movie appears. The orcs are noticeably different from The Lord of the Rings, and the creatures' movement makes it quite laughable at times. But that’s a whole movie issue and not a 4K restoration issue.

When the first entry in The Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, hit theaters in 2012, many (including myself) were disappointed — especially if you caught it in the dreadful high-frame-rate (which is absent in 4K, thankfully). The next two films are definitely an improvement. It just, admittedly, takes a lot of forgiving.

The characters are nowhere near as rich as the original trilogy, but it has its moments. You might find yourself pleasantly thrilled by sequences such as the gang of dwarves escaping confinement on a river and the big dragon fight. Warts and all, if you were harder on The Hobbit when you saw the different chapters in theaters, the 4K quality may put a spell on you and make it slightly better than you remember.

If you’re going to gift one set (and keep in mind, they’re about $90 apiece), The Lord of the Rings may be the way to go. But if you or the person you’re gifting is a fantasy-loving completionist, you might as well go all out over the holidays. Because if there’s one resolution to rule them all, it’s 4K.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

 

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