Pierre Vinet
Christian Blauvelt
June 24, 2011 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Before Peter Jackson set foot in Middle-earth, fantasy filmmaking lay in a coma. Decades of greased musclemen in costume beards growling overripe dialogue had ? resulted in sword-and-sorcery epics that were gimmicky and emotionally barren. But when The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring debuted nearly a decade ago, Jackson injected the genre with a healthy dose of heart — and adrenaline. The New Zealand-shot trilogy about a quest to destroy a magic ring was rooted in the complex relationships between J.R.R. Tolkien’s characters (friends Frodo and Sam, lovers Aragorn and Arwen), giving Jackson’s saga emotional purpose. And with the scrappy production team’s use of Old Hollywood sleight of hand — detailed miniatures, forced-perspective tricks, and little-people body doubles for Shire-folk — he brought a realism to the Tolkien-verse that CGI alone could never have achieved. It’s that verisimilitude that makes The Lord of the Rings The Motion Picture Trilogy: Extended Edition (2011, PG-13, 12 hrs., 6 mins.) box set a retina-gorging pleasure. A repackaging of previously released versions, this 15-disc collection now presents the three extended cuts of the films on Blu-ray — and every dirty fingernail, hairy hobbit foot, and tumor-crusted orc appears with Sauron-eyed clarity. Of course, the F/X look spectacular too. Gollum, the schizoid all-CGI creation of Andy Serkis and a team of animators, remains the platinum standard of pixel-based characterization. And ¬set pieces like the rain-drenched Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers or Gandalf’s showdown with the Balrog in Fellowship are more breathtaking than ever. The EXTRAS, however, are a letdown. Though there are 26 hours of immersive making-of docs, multi-angle demos, and interactive maps, every special feature is recycled from previous editions and none of them got a Blu-ray upgrade. Even more disappointing, there’s no peek at, or even mention of, Jackson’s The Hobbit, currently in production. But faithfuls will still find themselves transfixed. There’s enough in this set to help pass the time until Jackson sweeps us off to Middle-earth again. And that palantir-sharp Blu-ray transfer is preeecious. B

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