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Color Grading Lord of the Rings: It’s Not Easy Being (Dark) Green

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Back in the ’60s, what would become the Internet was invented to help researchers at major universities communicate during the Space Race. Today its secondary function, behind the efficient distribution of porn and pirated music, is for people who don’t have sex to endlessly debate the very things that prevent them from having sex: including the Lord of the Rings movies and home theater technology.



You may have missed it (in fact, you almost certainly missed it), but there has been a wee bit of a tempest in a teapot over the new Blu-ray editions of the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy. Apparently, before this set reached the stores, some screen shots from the first film surfaced that showed a sickly green cast over entire scenes. They did look horrible. Allegedly, director Peter Jackson had redone the color grading for the first film and, if the Internet screen shots were to be believed, the cumulative effect was horrific, like The Matrix had invaded Middle Earth.

Put simply for those of you not hip to film lingo, “color grading” is the process of changing the color balance of a scene after it was shot. It may simply be a matter of unifying the color of different shots in the same scene, but it can be used creatively to impose a particular “color scheme” over an entire movie. This is especially common these days in fantasy and science fiction. The greenish hue of the Matrix films is an easy example to spot, but it’s being done to almost every non-animated movie you see, whether you notice it or not.

And it isn’t as if color grading were new to the Lord of the Rings films. All three films had been extensively color graded before they ever hit theaters early in the previous decade (ye gods, was it really that long ago?). The second two films were able to benefit from Wingnut’s experience while creating the first, and Fellowship of the Ring was not originally graded with the same consistency as the others. Supposedly, Peter Jackson went back and reworked Fellowship to give it an end-to-end color grading similar to The Two Towers and Return of the King.

I have the new Blu-ray set in my hands. Well, not at this second or else it would be rather difficult to type. I have, however, had the chance to watch the first film and I’m happy to report the Chicken Littles should be looking a little red in the face, because while the color grading of Fellowship of the Ring has been reworked, the horrific Matrix-like green cast is nowhere to be seen. The picture quality is gorgeous, especially in comparison to the Blu-ray release of the theatrical version, the best this movie has looked since I saw it on the big screen in 2001. Fine detail is nicely reproduced and the overall picture has that lovely film-like quality that I demand from my Blu-ray experience.

Is the movie “greener” than it was before? Yes, but this shift is barely perceptible when it is detectable. What is more noticeable is how much darker the film seems to be, especially once the titular fellowship reaches the dwarves’ mine and the film actually gets darker, both physically and thematically. There are times when detail I thought I remembered seemed to disappear into deep shadows. It’s clear that contrast has been boosted and the overall brightness has been decreased.

But is this a problem? Depends. If you’re one of those folks who believes that the DVD/Blu-ray should 100% replicate the theatrical experience, then it is a big problem. I, however, am not so sure. There is a tendency in special effects films for scenes like these to be artificially bright, as if they were afraid to hide even a single pixel of the CGI shots they labored for man-years to produce. While the Moria scenes in Fellowship of the Ring look different than I remember them, they do not look wrong. If you were seeing this film for the first, you would not notice a problem, but would compliment director Peter Jackson for the stylish moodiness of the shots.

Maybe I’m being too forgiving, but after watching a lot of people make utter fools of themselves in an apoplectic panic over the “green cast” issue, I’m not inclined to be sympathetic toward any other complaints. If this is the way Jackson says he wants Fellowship to look, I think it’s a valid choice that works for the movie.

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About Paul McElligott

  • Sean

    A linear green/teal filter is there. It’s been measured and verified in evidence submitted by many different people.

    Good Day,

  • Paul

    I never said it wasn’t. I said it wasn’t discernible under normal viewing.

  • Jesse

    In the extended DVD release there was a shot of Merry and Pippin in the snow in the mountains, that looked totally out of place. Their faces almost looked orange. This has completely been reworked now and looks perfectly incorporated into the movie now, so I’m very happy that these changes have been made!

  • JW

    When you degrade the opinions of others by saying those who object to the tealization of Hollywood don’t have a sex life and are utter fools, your opinion is disrespectful and invalidated. This comment section says “personal attacks are NOT allowed,” yet this “article” itself violates the rule. You seem to have written it only to offer your clever insults, not provide a balanced view. The article itself is a whitewash (no pun here – that’s the term) of the real issue. While color grading has improved some scenes, others are obviously quite bad and validly call into question the integrity and judicious use of of the process.

    I don’t know how TheOneRing.Net can say they are proud to put a link on their site to this shameful article.

  • handyguy

    Is is really likely that Peter Jackson and his technicians would deliberately ruin the work by which they want to be remembered? Or that they suddenly lost all their considerable technical competency?

    There’s room for more than one opinion, of course, but ‘tempest in a teapot’ does seem to be a very accurate description.

  • micahjbr

    Regardless — I am still holding off on buying these Extended Edition blu-rays now, to see if they eventually change the tinting. Even if they don’t do it now, it will be curious to see if they change the tinting again for the ‘Ultimate Edition’ which is surely going to come out after the Hobbit films are done. Interesting that we haven’t heard any definitive comment on this from Peter Jackson, himself. I smell concerns over $ by the studio, not necessarily a vigorous defense of the end result. So I am going to wait and see and just enjoy watching the Extended Edition DVDs for now.

  • micahjbr

    This also kind of reminds me of the antenna issues that the iPhone 4 had — Apple was slow to come around but eventually acknowledged it was an issue they were going to fix. Remember Steve Jobs? “Just don’t hold it that way.”

  • Solun

    I do not own Blu-ray player so I will stick to my Extended DVD versions until buying new TV with home theater and blu-ray… But I really look forward to see it in HD :).

  • John Hopjins

    Nice try. If you think you’re going to bury this issue under the rug, you’re going to have to try harder than that.

  • John John

    How come this green cast is in the menus as well?

  • Michel

    Most of the people who waited for the blu-ray EE edition already have the dvd EE edition. The only reason to go blu-ray is to get an increase in quality. To sacrifice color for some increase in definition while at the same time loosing definition thanks to the green tinting scheme is a mistake and should not have been done.

    Now a sunny day looks like rainy day with a dark cloud overhead.

  • Idiot

    This is a terrible article.

  • Faramir

    These films are exactly as they were in theaters or better. Your tv is uncalibrated garbage and you are blaming the filmaker?

  • frank

    The Fellowship’s color is off. It just doesn’t look good. Sorry.

  • Ched Groundheggin

    wow, this article is a joke. Jackson destroyed Fellowship with his grading choice. It looks like he placed a green color layer over the film and reduced the opacity to %25. The film is so drab and lifeless now that it is hard to watch, there is a series lack of contrast and its clearly GREEN.