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At the time of the theatrical release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, I read an article that proposed there were two kinds of people in this world: those who have read Tolkien’s books, and those who haven’t. As someone who falls into the latter of these two categories, I walked into the cinema without any preconceptions or expectations. While I enjoyed the movie and came away feeling suitably entertained, I didn’t come away thinking it was the best film I’d ever seen. Almost a year later, I now have the chance to reflect on the film as the first of New Line Cinema’s DVD presentations is released.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
Film
The Fellowship of the Ring is the first part of director Peter Jackson’s ambitious project to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to the big screen, with the second and third instalments, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, set to follow this year and next.

As The Fellowship of the Ring begins, the Dark Lord Sauron has gathered to him all the Rings of Power, which he intends to use to rule Middle-earth. In order that his plans may succeed, Sauron needs the One Ring, the ring that rules all others. The One Ring has fallen into the hands of a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, who in turn passes the Ring to his young cousin, Frodo Baggins. In order that the Ring may be destroyed, thus ending Sauron’s plans for domination, Frodo must undertake a perilous journey from his home in the Shire to the Cracks of Doom, located deep in the heart of Sauron’s domain, Mordor.

Young Frodo is accompanied on his quest by the hobbits Sam, Merry and Pippin, the wizard Gandalf, and later the dwarf Gimli, the elf Legolas and the humans Boromir and Aragorn. Collectively the nine are known as The Fellowship of the Ring, and together they travel to the land of Mordor to put an end to Sauron’s evil once and for all. The journey is fraught with danger, whether from Ringwraiths, armies of Orcs, or even from the once benevolent Saruman the White, a wizard corrupted by the promise of power.

There can be little doubt that director Peter Jackson has delivered a magnificent adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring, one that has pleased both fans and newcomers alike. But with that said it still lacks that certain ‘something’ for me. While there can be no doubt that bringing the books to the silver screen is a great achievement, the story never really involved me in such a way as say, the Godfather films or the Star Wars trilogy. Never having read the books, I can’t comment on whether the source material is to blame for some of the film’s shortcomings, but I suspect this to be the case if some of the other reviews I’ve read are to be believed.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
On the whole performances are good, with Ian McKellan (Gandalf) and Christopher Lee (Saruman) emerging as clear contenders for the top honours. Ian Holm is also worthy of special mention for his portrayal of Bilbo Baggins, and the rest of the cast all play their parts well. Although there is much as there is to admire, I have to admit to feeling the same kind of ‘emptiness’ at the end of this DVD presentation as I felt in the cinema. Perhaps it has something to do with the terribly unsatisfying climax (or should that be anti-climax?), but again I would imagine this to be a result of the film’s unwavering regard for the book. Perhaps in years to come, after the release of the second and third instalments of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I will look upon this film in an entirely different light. There’s every possibility that this film will go on to provide the foundation for one of the most faithful, entertaining and successful adaptations ever. If previews of The Two Towers are anything to go by, this is entirely possible, and I shall reserve final judgement until I have seen the whole of Peter Jackson’s vision. For now, The Fellowship of the Ring is still a good film in its own right, but those of you who are not die-hard Tolkien fans may find the going a little tough.

Video
New Line present The Fellowship of the Ring in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, complete with the now customary anamorphic enhancement associated with any major new release. There’s really not much I can say about this transfer, aside from the fact that it is virtually flawless. Colour reproduction is spot on, particularly the lush greens of the Shire, while flesh tones are wonderfully accurate. Contrast is also first rate, while the blacks are as dark as the heart of Sauron himself. Each and every location is rendered in such exquisite detail that you really do start to think of Middle-earth as a real place, with real inhabitants. Hobbiton, for example, is an utterly believable community of Hobbits going about their daily business.

If I had to make one criticism of the visual aspects of The Fellowship of the Ring, it would be that a couple of the computer generated creatures in the film are not entirely convincing, but these minor gripes seem terribly petty when you consider just how fantastic the battle scenes look. Weta (the company responsible for software that controls said battles) have created a system that enables thousands of combatants to engage one another in huge skirmishes, and the result is extremely impressive. One failing (and this one may hold more credence than my grumbles about the shortfalls of CGI) is that the film sometimes appears a little too dark for my liking. Still, this is just about the only thing that I can find to complain about, so you’ll have to cut me some slack. I didn’t notice any artefacts, or any instances of edge enhancement, but I review my discs on a 32” widescreen television that only tends to reveal particularly abhorrent cases like The Phantom Menace. Overall then this is a reference quality transfer that is sure to find its way into many a demo set-up.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
Audio
To accompany the breathtaking visuals, the disc features an awesome Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack, as well as a Dolby Surround soundtrack for the less well equipped. The mix is expertly balanced, with outstanding use of subtle vocal and surround effects. The opening battle with the forces of Sauron on the slopes of Mount Doom is a perfect example of this. As Sauron hurls combatants aside, you’ll hear the screams as they pass you by, while the LFE track rumbles with enough ferocity to shake the windows out of your house. But even amidst this maelstrom of sound, dialogue still remains clear. It is not only during moments of action where this mix excels, but also during quieter moments. Some of the subtle atmospheric effects, such as the singing of birds in the Shire, or the eerie noises in the mines of Moria, are crucial to drawing you into the fantastical word of Middle-earth. Howard Shore’s score fits the film like a glove, perfectly capturing the mood of each scene. From the sleepy village of Hobbiton to the race to the bridge of Khazad-Dum, this is an impeccably balanced mix and one that - like the video before it - will become the audio demo disc of choice in stores everywhere.

Extras
Unlike many two-disc editions, The Fellowship of the Ring doesn’t purport to be a ‘Special Edition’. I’m grateful for this, as it certainly doesn’t deserve this title. While the disc does contain some interesting supplements, many of these overlap one another in terms of content, and this detracts from the overall value. The omission of my favourite kind of extra, the commentary track, is lamentable, although given the length of the feature presentation this is perhaps understandable (although I believe it could have been included if the Dolby Surround track had been sacrificed).

Don’t get me wrong, what we get is still pretty good, it’s just not as amazing as some reviews may have led you to believe. The first of the three documentaries that make up the bulk of the extras is entitled ‘Welcome to Middle-earth’, and is introduced by a lady who looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck (that is to say she’s not a natural in front of the camera). The featurette contains a short interview with Rayner Unwin, the man chiefly responsible for The Lord of the Rings being split into three parts, who unfortunately passed away after taping the interview. The featurette then heads towards more familiar territory, featuring interviews with Peter Jackson and members of the cast and crew, who give a number of insights into the production.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
The second documentary entitled ‘Quest for the Ring’ features yet more interviews with cast and crew, lots of character information and some behind the scenes hijinks with the cast, as well as a preview of one of the film’s “most exciting scenes”, which will be old news to anyone who’s actually watched the movie. Much of the material in this featurette can be found in the other two, making it fairly redundant in my opinion. It’s still worth watching at least once though. The final documentary is called ‘A Passage to Middle-earth’, and it runs for over forty minutes. This documentary is probably all the disc needed, as it contains many of the best bits from the other two, along with more back slapping appreciation from the actors for being given the chance to work on such a monumental production. More footage of the cast larking about in their off time is also included, but ultimately this is still a fairly promotional piece of work.

Next up we have fifteen short web featurettes taken from lordoftherings.net. These are - Finding Hobbiton, Hobbiton Comes Alive, Believing the World of Bree, Ringwraiths: The Fallen Kings, Rivendell: The Elven Refuge, Languages of Middle-earth, Two Wizards, Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Ian McKellen and Weathertop: The Windy Hill. These featurettes are very short, but still interesting enough to watch. Just don’t expect any major revelations.

Moving on, Peter Jackson introduces an exclusive ten-minute behind the scenes look at The Two Towers. If anything the second instalment looks even more action packed than The Fellowship of the Ring, featuring as it does huge battles between the forces of good and evil. Also included is a three-minute preview of the Special Extended Edition DVD due this November. It has to be said that this edition looks to be something really special, with four discs packed with specially created content. In all fairness to New Line, they announced their intentions long before the release of either edition, so people have no excuse for complaining about being ripped-off. The Special Extended release looks to feature far more in the way of original content than the two-disc set, and it is the version I have been holding out for all along (until I was ‘convinced’ to buy this edition as a stopgap).

A short look at the forthcoming video game from Electronic Arts follows, while the music video for Enya’s ‘May It Be’ will either delight or disgust, depending on your particular tastes. The supplemental section of the package is completed by the inclusion of six TV Spots, three theatrical/teaser trailers and some DVD Rom features. Well, there you go, not too bad is it? Then again, I didn’t find any of the features particularly memorable, and I warrant that most of the interesting material will find its way onto the four-disc edition.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
Overall
Despite my reservations, The Fellowship of the Ring is still a landmark film featuring stunning audio and visual presentation, nicely complemented with a fair selection of supplemental material. While not among my very favourite films, I really admire the effort that has gone into bringing such a complex work of fiction to the screen, and for this alone I believe it deserves great recognition. As usual, New Line have delivered a stunning package that concentrates more on supplying the best audio/visual presentation of the film possible, rather than padding out a sub par release with unnecessary extras. I’m now looking forward to the forthcoming four-disc release of the film previewed on this disc with great anticipation, especially for the rumoured inclusion of DTS and commentary tracks. But for now, this release still comes very highly recommended to all.


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