I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that everyone reading this already knows a good deal about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I won't discuss the quality of the movies in detail. Needless to say that there really is no competition between the theatrical and extended editions so far as the experience is concerned. The Extended Editions feel much more whole and complete and generally far more satisfying than the abridged theatrical version. Equal love and attention is put into the special features, which are immensely detailed and entertaining.
The main topic of debate over this release has been the quality of the video, the use of 2 discs per film, and the use of DVDs for special features as opposed to blu-ray discs.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
Fellowship - The discontent with the theatrical blu-ray for Fellowship is no secret, leading to the new transfer for this boxset. There have been videos showing the high green levels in the transfer, which has led many to write off buying this release. The bad news is that certain scenes do indeed look a little too green - weathertop and subsequent scene when Arwen arrives; Mines of Moria and a few others. There is also a higher level of orange than I remember in other scenes (i.e. Rivendell). The good news is that these are brief little bumps in the road for an otherwise brilliant video. The film finally looks high-definition with beautiful clarity and detail but without looking over digitised. It looks natural and impressive.
Two Towers & Return of the King - There is no major improvement in these films but one thing I did feel when watching the theatrical blu-rays was that the picture, though impressive, was flat somehow... although that may be my imagination. If it wasn't my imagination, then the issue has been addressed as the video seems to have more depth and warmth.
Audio - The unquestionable champion of this set is the audio quality. I had enormous expectations for Howard Shore's soundtrack, which has left me in tears on numerous occasions, and was not left disappointed (or dry eyed). The audio is incredibly detailed and dynamic. You can literally hear the brush of the leaves and trickle of water, along with the perfect soundtrack and crystal clear dialogue. Multi-layered sound effects are used appropriately and never overstated - they will highly reward any good surround system. Every aspect of the audio track is a great success, especially the dialogue, which I had always found difficult to understand in particular scenes but could understand perfectly here. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute spent with each of these terrific soundtracks.
2 DISCS PER FILM:
This issue never really bothered me, although I've always disliked the way in which the split was handled. It's not too bad for Fellowship, with disc 1 ending on the founding of the Fellowship of the Ring - a perfect mid-point. However, both Two Towers and Return of the King cut-offs are sudden and inappropriate, killing the mood and tension slightly. Unfortunately, this hasn't been fixed for this release, which is a shame but not lethal.
SPECIAL FEATURES DVDS:
Again, this is not something which really bothers me. Whilst it would be nice to have a complete set of blu-ray discs and enjoy the special features in high-definition, there is nothing which really suffers from being on a DVD. Considering the time and money that would have to be put into the transfers, I think it is best that they have been left on DVDs.
WHY FOUR STARS??:
Considering I have had nothing but praise for this set, you might wonder why I have only given it four stars. The reason is simple - the US release of this boxset was virtually identical, except that it also included digital copies of the films whereas ours does not. However, both sets are a similar price, or ours is a good £15-20 more expensive if you compare Amazon's prices. While this may have been acceptable before digital copies really came over to the UK, it is now commonplace for the more premium Blu-Ray releases to include digital copies of the film and, for the price tag, we should have been given the same treatment as our American counterparts.
General opinion is that this boxset is still holding back a little and the full deal will be released in the next couple of years to support the release of The Hobbit movies. I obviously cannot predict whether or not that will happen but feel that, for now at least, this boxset is the best we are going to get and it is certainly 100% better than the theatrical blu-ray set. If you loved the extended editions, or haven't had the chance to see them yet, then this set shows them in all their audio-visual glory and should not be dismissed as a half-effort (lack of digital copies aside).