Do You Prefer the Theatrical or Extended Versions of the Lord of the Rings Movies?

Over the years, I’ve watched the Lord of the Rings movies a number of times (especially Fellowship, my favorite). However, they always seemed long enough for my taste, so I never watched the extended versions.

That changed last week. Megan and I watched the three movies over a span of 6 days. We weren’t able to rent the extended version of Return of the King, but the first two were extended, and I’m very glad I was finally able to experience them.

Quick note: I really enjoyed watching the movies back to back as we did, as it gave me a greater appreciation for how they each both stand alone and stitch together into one epic film. It’s an impressive feat of writing and filmmaking.

As for standard versus extended, I think my preference is now the extended versions, though my reasons may be different than yours. The additional content itself is fine. In my opinion, the content itself isn’t crucially important.

Rather, the movies simply feel less rushed with the additional content. That feels weird to say about movies that are already quite long, but this is an epic tale spanning quite a bit of time (months? Years?), and the extra content contributes to that epic scope and feel.

Secondarily, the extra content allows for us to see earlier glimpses of certain characters so they don’t just appear out of nowhere later.

I still think the theatrical versions of the movies are perfectly fine, and I would be happy to watch them again. But for any epic marathon of the films, I would definitely return to the extended versions.

Have you seen both versions? Which do you prefer?

3 thoughts on “Do You Prefer the Theatrical or Extended Versions of the Lord of the Rings Movies?”

  1. I saw the theatrical version of the movies in the theater when they came out. But I held off on purchasing the DVDs when I heard that extended versions were coming a while after the theatrical versions. I ended up buying the extended versions of the DVDs and I do enjoy them more than the theatrical versions of the movies.

    I appreciate the extended versions because they’re able to include extra content. I’m a fan of the books and the movies omitted or changed some stuff from the books. Some things (e.g. Tom Bombadil) were dropped because they weren’t needed to move the story forward; unfortunately but understandable. And the whole “Scouring of the Shire” was dropped in the film as it was anti-climatic after the defeat of Sauron and the ring. Some things where changed in the movies (some characters were dropped, others like Arwen given more exposure) to streamline the movies, not introduce too many new characters while give existing characters more connection with the audience. However, despite these omissions and changes, the movie (and especially the extended version) does a tremendous job of bringing the story and spirit of the books to the screen. I’m very thankful that they were as faithful as they could be to the story and characters.

    Before allowing my daughter to watch the movies, she and I read the book(s) together first, to allow her imagination to bring the story to life. Afterward, we watched the extended version of the movies, as it really is the best experience to have, more so than just the theatrical version.

    If you haven’t read the Lord of the Rings books, I do encourage you to do so. You can get a better appreciation for the subtext of many plot points and character motivations that the movies are never fully able to describe. If you can experience it with your child, reading it aloud with or to them, it can make for an even more rewarding experience.

  2. I could not agree more about how the films felt in the theater. I would venture to say that the extended version of the first and last films are so dramatically different from their theatrical releases that you almost need to alter the genre description.

    Fellowship (theatrical) is an extended chase scene, and was clearly edited to be so. You can see that they had to make a decision about focus, and leaned into it. They are literally almost always traveling significantly to right side of the screen. That is not an accident. It reinforces the ‘journey’ perception, as western audiences perceive motion to the right as ‘forward’ or into the future. it’s super subtle, but if you rewatch the film, they travel to the right SIGNIFICANTLY more than they are do to the left.

    But more than that, there are very few scenes in the theatrical version where anyone is sitting for any length of time once they leave the shire. It’s almost exhausting to watch.

    Now, I have spent 15 of the 26 years since I graduated high school in film and television production, so I have a serious addiction to commentaries on DVDs (and now Blu-Rays). I find them fascinating, even on crap films.

    But the commentaries on the Lord of the Rings are truly remarkable, and even further evidence of Peter Jackson’s love of the medium. There are literally FOUR DIFFERENT COMMENTARIES. None of them are without merit, though mileage may vary. There is one exclusively with actors, though every actor recorded an isolated commentary that was then edited into a larger track. Only the hobbits are in a room together, and it sort of makes the whole thing work a little better.
    The director/writer commentary has some incredible insights into their thought processes and methods, and just their discussion about how they dealt with creating and using The One Ring, particularly when Bilbo dumps it on the foyer floor, is a masterclass in filmmaking adherence to the source material.
    The Production commentary is very interesting if you ever have or want to work in film/television production. The concerns they had to deal with were remarkable. The design commentary is interesting, but I’ve never had a foot or much of an interest in that side of production, so it was the weakest of the four for me.

    Yes, I watched the movie five times over a weekend in order to hear all the commentaries and recognize potential context between them. It was a significant experience.

    I will say that the extended version of the final film is also dramatically altered from the theatrical, most noticeably in that it visits nearly all of Tolkien’s ‘wrap-ups’. It’s actually pretty janky as a film, since nearly a third of the movie is just tying up loose ends, which doesn’t work very well tonally, and even less well in the general language of film. But credit to Jackson for respecting the source.

    Both versions of the films have their place, but I will say that the DVD extended version is awful because it requires you to change discs mid-film, hearkening back to the awful days of laserdisc, when you had to flip the thing to keep watching. I owned a 5-disc changer, so the pain was alleviated, but there was always at least one film that got shortchanged. Blu-Ray is better.

    As a side note, if you’re interested in film commentaries, here are my top 5 and their justifications (Excluding LotR)

    Legend: Ridley Scott always gives a great commentary (Alien is a close second) but this is absolutely his best. The vast amount of information and the staggering amount of curtains he draws aside make this a mandatory commentary.

    Mallrats: Kevin Smith is almost abusively honest about himself and his creations, so any commentary from him on one of his films won’t disappoint. But this is the best of the bunch because it edits in several of the actors, and they are pretty brutal but appreciative. Also, in this commentary they actually address some of the pitfalls of his visual style, which is both interesting and educational.

    Armageddon: This movie is crap, but you really need to watch it with the commentary almost immediately after the Mallrats one, since Ben Affleck is on both tracks, and he gives absolutely no f***s about mocking Kevin Smith OR Michael Bay. He’s only occasionally on the Armageddon track, but nearly every single moment that you hear him, he makes you aware, in a humorous way, of some fatal flaws in both the film and Bay’s approach. It’s awesome.

    Goonies: If I need to justify this commentary, I’m talking to the wrong crowd. But let me be clear, they got the gang back together 20 years later along with Richard Donner to break down the film. It is just as awesome and flawed as the film itself.

    Spinal Tap: Because this is f***ing Spinal Tap. Just do it.

    Honorable mentions:
    Ghostbusters: Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis. Awesome.
    The Thing: Ridley Scott and Kurt Russel. So worth it.
    Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. Come ON.
    Evil Dead 2: Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell. These guys are so clearly best of friends.
    UHF: Jay Levy, Weird Al, Michael Richards, Emo Phillips, Victoria Jackson. Yeah, Richards is a jerk, but that doesn’t mean everyone else’s stuff is any less awesome.

    • Thanks for these recommendations! I love a good director’s commentary. If I may add an odd one to the list, check out Citizen Kane. I think a reviewer actually does the commentary, but it’s fascinating to hear about all of the special effects that went into that movie.


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