Updated: Dec 1, 2020
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1) Peter Jackson’s masterful fantasy based on Tolkien’s beloved novel, as the first chapter begins with Frodo’s (Elijah Wood) mighty odyssey toward Mount Doom to destroy The Ring. The fellowship includes Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Sam (Sean Astin). (2) Following his 111th birthday, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) gives The Ring to his nephew, Frodo.
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“THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING”
4K Ultra HD & Digital copy; 2001; Streaming via Amazon Video Prime (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: None provided
WHEN the American Film Institute mailed the official ballots to the leaders in the film community – artists, scholars, critics, and historians – to select the 100 Greatest American Films of All Time, Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: Trilogy” was on the list of 400 preselected films for consideration.
Many assumed the third installment “The Return of the King,” which won 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Peter Jackson, would be the top candidate for AFI’s distinguished list. But, once the votes were all tallied “The Fellowship of the Ring” was the only one selected and it landed squarely in the middle at No. 50 – right between D.W. Griffith’s silent epic “Intolerance” (1916) and the modern romantic tragedy “West Side Story” (1961).
Plus “Fellowship” landed No. 2, right after “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) in AFI’s Ten Greatest Fantasy films.
“Fellowship” the first installment of this brave multi-billion dollar franchise of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and orcs was based on the works of English writer and scholar J.R.R. Tolkien and the film has been a favorite of book fans, moviegoers, and critics.
Jackson filmed “Fellowship,” “Two Towers” and “Return of the King” for 274 days at 350 locations across his native New Zealand. The budget for “Fellowship” topped $90 million and its international box-office surpassed $888 million, why it received 13 Academy Award nominations. After its premiere in 2001, millions of devoted fans have binged watched the nine-plus hour trilogy at-home on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming, and now for the first time on 4K Ultra HD.
It began with the forging of the Great Rings.
Three were given to the Elves: Immortal, wisest, and fairest of all beings.
Seven to the Dwarf-lords: Great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls.
And nine rings were gifted to the race of Men…who, above all else, desire power.
For another ring was made. In the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged in secret a Master Ring to control all others. And into this Ring, he poured his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life.
One Ring to Rule them all.
(1) Elves - Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Gil-galad, and Cirdan receive the Three Rings of Power. (2) Nine rings were gifted to Men. (3) Dark Lord Sauron wears The Ring during the battle against the Last Alliance of Men and Elves. (4) Elrond (Hugo Weaving) the half-elven and Lord of Rivendell, fights during the War of the Last Alliance in the Second Age. (5) The ring comes to Gollum, who takes it deep into the tunnels of the Misty Mountains. (6) A hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) of the Shire discovers The Ring after it was lost over three-thousand years.
First off, the 4K Ultra HD disc and digital (Theatrical and Extended Edition) were coded with HDR10 and Dolby Vision, which produced unbelievable color grading and superb contrast levels with controlled highlights and deep and dark shadows.
You may not remember, but the original 2010 Blu-ray looked awful. The villain: Digital Noise Reduction. Frodo and Sam, Aragorn and Legolas all had waxy faces with no detail or warmth. Warner Bros. bragged it spent over 100 hours cleaning up and color-correcting the HD masters and getting Jackson’s approval. The lack of vibrant color, depth, and DNR beg to differ.
This go around, a New Zealand post-production facility owned by WingNut Films, scanned the original Super 35 camera negative (Kodak film stock) in 4K (2.39:1 aspect ratio). In 2001, the film was scanned and rendered in 2K. Visual effects that were finished on 35mm were also scanned in 4K and all digital effect shots that were originally mastered in 2K were upconverted to 4K to produce a completely new 4K digital intermediate. Jackson supervised and approved the remastering project, which involved the 4K scanning, color grading, HDR coding, and any cleanup work.
Here’s where I differ from Jackson. It seems he and his 4K tech masters decided to tone down the 35mm natural film grain. In some scenes, you’ll be hard-pressed to see the grain. That shouldn’t be the case – especially since Jackson used the Super 35 film format. Normally the non-anamorphic film process produces a slightly larger film grain. I had to step within two feet of my nine-foot wide screen to see the grain.
Jackson’s grain looks completely different than what Sony Pictures has produced with their 4K mastering. Their post-production house is considered the best in Hollywood. Check the 4K/HDR frame shots from our reviews of “Air Force One” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Both were filmed in Super 35 just like “Fellowship” and the rest of “LOTR” Trilogy. Sony’s grain is detailed and clearly shows the individual grains within the frame. The “Fellowship” grain is flat and non-descriptive. The bad news is when you decrease grain you also reduce fine detail.
(1) The title opening for the Theatrical Edition. (2) The Extended Edition opens with Bilbo Baggins telling the story of the hobbits. (3-5) Wizard Gandalf arrives in the Shire. (6&7) Gandalf meets Bilbo before his birthday bash.
Overall sharpness is solid, but not great. The close-ups are the visual highlight, with plenty of detail and sharpness, which you can see with the HDR frame shots. But, the wide shots are lacking that extra level of clarity. I don’t think this was an accident by Jackson, but a way to smooth the resolution differences between the 4K mastering shots and the VFX shots that were original rendered in 2K. Jackson and the late cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, who won an Oscar for “Fellowship” also, used eyelights and special filters to soften the faces of many of the characters throughout the film.
On the other hand, the HDR grading is stunning with the expansive contrast levels giving “Fellowship” that on-screen pop with the black levels and controlled highlights. The color spectrum provides natural facial toning and saturated colors in all the right spots.
“Fellowship” still provides a marvelous cinematic experience, but how much better would it be if the film grain had been left intact.
Bilbo Baggins’ 111th Birthday Party
Jackson and Warner Bros. have created a new eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which provides a powerful punch with reference level sound to your surround sound speakers. The height speakers are quite active from start to finish with music cues from composer Howard Shore’s Oscar-winning score. Plus, sound effects bounce from top to bottom and front to back with environmental sounds with fireworks, birds, and nighttime critters. You won’t be disappointed. The bass response has plenty of sonic punch to cause your walls to shake, while the dialogue never gets lost with all of the action. The overall soundstage is dynamic and possibly the best of any disc so far.
Final thoughts: No doubt “The Lord of the Ring” Trilogy will be a 4K bestseller and this presentation is superior to its original 35mm theatrical print since it was sourced from a 2K master.
The Theatrical Version is on one 100 gigabit disc running mostly in the 50 Mbps range, while the Extended Version is split over two 100 gigabit discs. The two discs output from the upper 70s to 95 Mbps giving you the maximum appearance.
Fans, shouldn’t get rid of their Blu-ray versions that include extras, since many of those will not be resurrected for the expanded 4K Edition planned for next summer. That’s a mistake I regret.
– Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe
The Quest of Four Hobbits
A New Guide - Aragorn
Arwen to the Rescue
Rivendell - The Council of Elrond
The Pass of Caradhras & Moria
The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm
Breaking of the Fellowship
The 4K box set from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment includes a Movies Anywhere digital code for both the Theatrical and Extended Editions.
Next summer, the 4K Ultra HD “Middle-earth” Ultimate Collectors’ Edition will be released, featuring the theatrical and extended versions of all six films, along with new bonus content, previously released Blu-ray discs of “The Hobbit Trilogy,” and the remastered Blu-ray discs of “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.”