By SUSAN KING, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Gandalf (Ian McKellen) guides Frodo (Elijah Wood) Middle-earth in New Line Cinema‘s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”
Today, New Line Home Entertainment is releasing the DVD ($30) and VHS ($23) of the Hobbit blockbuster based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved fantasy. But in the wings is an extended version set for release Nov. 12 ($40 for DVD; $25 for VHS) and a collector’s DVD set ($80) that includes the extended version plus custom-designed bookends.
“The Lord of the Rings” is one of many high-profile films to be released on video and DVD in two editions. Last December, for example, in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Disney’s Touchstone released an edition of “Pearl Harbor” on DVD that featured a few extras but no commentary from director Michael Bay. Last month, another version was unveiled, this time with numerous commentary tracks, including one with Bay, along with the director’s cut of the war epic and several featurettes and documentaries.
Choosing between various versions of a film is “frustrating, because this is becoming the norm instead of the exception,” says Natalia Shilkevich, an administrative analyst for the state of New Jersey. She preordered the theatrical version of “The Lord of the Rings” on DVD but canceled a few weeks ago when she learned from her sister about the extended edition.
Matt Lasorsa, senior vice president of marketing for New Line Home Entertainment, says the company is “extremely sensitive” to consumers’ complaints about being confronted with different DVDs of a film. As Touchstone did with “Pearl Harbor,” New Line is offering rebates for those who want to purchase both editions of “The Lord of the Rings”: Buy the one coming out today and get $5 off the extended version or $10 off the special collector’s set.
“Whoopee,” Shilkevich responds with mock enthusiasm. She says New Line should have simply waited to release the film on VHS and DVD until all the elements were in place.
But given the commercial and critical success of “The Lord of the Rings,” the company wanted to get it on the home video market as soon as possible. “In an ideal world, we would have had everything available by August. But it just wasn’t going to happen,” Lasorsa says.
Director Jackson was too tied up in post-production in his native New Zealand on the next installment of the Tolkien trilogy, “The Two Towers,” set for theatrical release in December, to get the extended cut of “The Lord of the Rings” ready for August.
To alleviate negative feedback, he says, “we have already made the November release available for presale with retailers. There is plenty of information out there with the November release, so somebody isn’t going into August buying blind without knowing what is available in November.”
But “Lord of the Rings” aficionado Rob Noblin didn’t know of the second release until a friend told him last week.
“I would have run out and gotten the first one, and I would have been pretty upset that there were two,” says Noblin, an attorney in Los Angeles. “It kind of reminds me of when soundtracks started selling well in the ’80s: They would hold back enough songs for a second album, and you would pay twice. It is like they are undercutting their customers.”
The good news for fans is that the two-disc DVD being released today and the four-disc set arriving Nov. 12 will have no overlapping product. In fact, today’s release will be the only place they can see a 10-minute preview of “Two Towers.”
The two-disc set–which is available in pan-and-scan and wide-screen versions–has no commentary but does contain three hours of extra material, including 15 featurettes that originally appeared on the lordoftherings.net site.
The extended version of the film will feature an extra half hour of footage that was cut from the theatrical release. “There was a lot of pressure on Peter to bring ‘Lord of the Rings’ in under three hours theatrically,” Lasorsa explains.
“From a theatrical standpoint, there was an agreement made between Peter and the studio that an extended version of the movie would be created for the video market and released before ‘Two Towers,’ ” he says. “One of the other challenges we had is that Peter didn’t want this to appear as just the theatrical version with clips thrown in. So it required a new score and new special effects.”
The extended version will feature four audio commentaries, including one with Jackson and the writers and another with the cast.
Noblin says he will probably buy the theatrical version now and rent the extended one later. Shilkevich, on the other hand, plans to wait for the extended version. “It gets to be pricey,” she says. “In the meantime, I can rent the movie if I need a fix.”
Of course, Lasorsa admits that New Line is already thinking about an ultimate boxed set of all three “Lord of the Rings” films in 2004.
“But just like what we are doing with August and November, anything that comes out later will be something that will not feel like you already own it,” he says.