‘The Lord of the Rings’ current and future Blu-ray releases
BY TODD GILCHRIST
Yesterday in conjunction with the release of Warner Brothers’ new Blu-rays, Hollywood News published an exclusive interview with Richard Taylor, one of the good folks at effects house Weta who was responsible for helping bring the Lord of the Rings film to the screen. While Taylor provided as much information as he could, he confessed outright that he actually had nothing to do with the high-definition upgrade, and further, hadn’t even seen the discs yet. Subsequently, however, we spoke with one of the DVD/BD project’s actual participants, longtime Peter Jackson collaborator Michael Pellerin, who provided some real insights into the process of bringing the films to Blu-ray for the first time.
In addition to his work with Jackson on documenting The Lord of the Rings films, the producer and director has worked on countless featurettes and bonus materials for other films as well, including Tron and Fantasia for Disney. But Pellerin offered some surprising revelations about the new Blu-rays, including some specific and unexpected improvements that most audiences wouldn’t even know needed to be made. Additionally, he hinted at the reservoir of content that has yet to be released, but seems destined to appear on some sort of massive Lord of the Rings boxed set hopefully in the not-too-distant future – although much like the fate of The Hobbit, those specifics have yet to be fully ironed out.
Hollywood News: Thanks so much for reaching out. Maybe just to get started you can talk about your collaboration with Jackson throughout previous versions of these films being produced and released.
Michael Pellerin: I collaborated with Peter for the better part of a decade, documenting King Kong – both the original and Peter’s remake – and his films of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Because of this, I was consulting with the folks from Warner Home Video about the LOTR BDs, who took over everything from New Line. The Blu-rays still have the New Line logo on them, but there’s no one from New Line Home Entertainment left, so for the past year I was sort of helping make sure the translation from DVD to BD went smoothly. I told Peter I would try to lend a hand because Warner Brothers inherited The Lord of the Rings DVDs from New Line, so they can’t be expected to know where all the elements are or the history of them. But it wasn’t just a direct portal, per se. There was actually quite a bit of work put into it.
Hollywood News: What work needed to be done to get these films ready for high-definition, since presumably they were originally copied from a digital intermediate?
Pellerin: There was a high-definition master done by New Line as the films were being made back in the early part of the decade; that was standard procedure started by a guy named Evan Edelist at New Line. Basically he had kicked off the procedure there of every time there is a movie, they were going to archive in HD. So all of the movies existed as HD masters, but HD technology has progressed since when they first started doing mastering in the late ‘90s. So before they closed up shop, Mike Mulvihill, who was in charge of DVD/BD production at New Line, created new examples – not the whole movie, but sections of each of the three films – as HD masters using newer technology. That got sent to Peter as a back-to-back comparison with the older HD masters, and Peter said yeah, we definitely want to redo it. In fact, there were some color-timing issues that he wanted to deal with in HD and so on and so forth, so he brought in Andrew Lesnie, the [director of photography] for the film, and they actually went in and created entirely new HD masters of these three films. So all three of them are new masters; even if you’ve seen them broadcast, the Blu-rays are actually newer masters that were approved by Peter and his director of photography.
With the audio, this is interesting – what people don’t know is that Mike Brunsmann at Warner called me and said, hey, we found a discrepancy in the audio of Fellowship, and Two Towers and Return of the King. Whereas Two Towers and Return of the King were EX encoded, Fellowship was just 5.1 with no EX encoding at all. That told me something was wrong, because all three films had been originally encoded in EX. It also made me remember that back in the DVD days the audio soundtrack to Fellowship was inconsistent with the audio soundtrack for Two Towers and Return of the King on the DVDs. The group that was doing the encoding for Fellowship actually remixed the film from original stems and created a new mix, but not a Peter Jackson-approved mix. The audio track was flattened out and it was kicked up a few [decibels] compared to the other two films, and there were some consumers who wrote in and said hey – what’s with this mix? What most people don’t know is that the audio track on the DVD of the theatrical edition of Fellowship was a very different than the mix Peter and his team originally created for the film in theaters. So when I got this call from Warner Brothers, I said I can guarantee you’ve still got that dodgy, inconsistent mix that was never corrected. So I put Amy White at Warner Brothers in touch with Wingnut Films, and Wingnut had copies of the original theatrical mixes, and what we were able to do was [get] Chris Boyes and Michael Semanick, two of the guys who mixed the original films to actually go back and supervise a new near-field mix of Fellowship to bring it in line with Two Towers and Return of the King.
This is something that has never been told to the public or anything and no one’s ever known about it, but they were able to go back and fix the mix and bring it in line so that it actually replicates the theatrical experience and matches the two other films. That was a pretty cool thing that has been waiting to be addressed for a pretty long time now.
Hollywood News: How much can there possibly be left in terms of extras for future editions?
Pellerin: With as much stuff as we put out on Lord of the Rings, we purposefully held back some of the best stuff. Not the odds and ends and whatever, because I hate it and Peter hates it when they do iterative releases of films on video where they add only one or two cobbled-together little extras. So, in the case of The Lord of the Rings, thinking ahead, from the very beginning, we always saved the best for last. Now, people wouldn’t believe that because the Lord of the Rings extras were so extensive, but literally if you talk to the cast, they know what’s still to be seen, and they know how good it is. It’s very real, but right now the future of when these treasures will see the light of day is unknown.
Hollywood News: Can you give even a small example of the kind of stuff that fans might see, since I’m sure they’re curious about what it is that they haven’t seen?
Pellerin: I really shouldn’t give away the particulars, because that’s something I would have to ask Peter about, but [imagine] the idea of the guy who made these movies making a documentary that tells the whole process from his point of view – “here’s the journey I went on.” My documentaries on the Extended Edition Appendices –were specifically about the process of making the film, told by the hundreds of people who worked on it. The story of Lord of the Rings told by this very large group of people, as many people as we can get on camera as possible, so it was this collective voice because it was this group of people and if you got enough voices and enough flavor, you get this real feeling of what it was really like making the films. So I specifically had this very broad canvas of a lot of voices, but here in this case, you would now have the director himself telling his own story, what he was thinking and why he made decisions, and walk with him on that journey, chronologically from beginning to end – I know of very few things like that in film history that have ever been done like that. It’s literally the filmmaker’s journey told by himself, not somebody else, and that’s an incredibly compelling thing.
In addition, there’s also another approximately 20 hours of materials and ideas that we specifically saved for future use. The tone of these materials is not so much about filmmaking process – as we already covered that already – but instead about the experience of living and making these films for 10 years, which goes way beyond the movies themselves, capturing what it was like to go through this experience – the human side of it. The very lighter side of The Lord of the Rings, to be sure. Very funny, very off the wall – like the personality of the people making these films; these films took ten years, and ten years is part of people’s lives, and it’s not just, yeah we went out and made the movie, we pretty much lived it. There were more gags and bloopers shot on those films, and strange practical jokes and all sorts of shenanigans off-stage and on. Much of it was captured on tape, and we got everyone to sit down and tell those stories during the films, while they still remembered them. And if you have ten years of material to work with and you have to boil that down to several hours on a DVD or Blu-ray, you’re going to have some pretty intense stuff to work with, and we ended up with this big box of ideas, material, footage, that we hoped would be synthesized together to create this whole other experience someday.
“THE LORD OF THE RINGS” TRILOGY BLU-RAY TRAILER