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Peter Jackson is a brave man; even braver were the executives at New Line who decided to give him the money to make this film. For as long as I can remember people have warned that Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was a book that could never be turned into a film. It was too vast in scope and too complicated to ever transfer effectively to the silver screen in a live action form. Advances in CGI have meant that maybe the task wasn’t so impossible after all. As one of the many people who have read the books I met the news that the film was to be made with trepidation. Could the on screen vision of Middle Earth possibly live up to the vision that was so masterfully embedded into my mind by Tolkien’s words?

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
As work started on the film and information was made available it became apparent that Jackson and his crew were hell bent on following the book as completely as was humanly possible, and that the people working on the film were indeed as passionate about the story as the legions of fans scattered around the world.

In the end I needn’t have worried, and after three hours in the cinema I was more than happy with the job that had been done. The locations were just as I had imagined, and the detail and care that must have gone into creating Rivendell and Hobbiton was time and money very well spent.

So what is it all about anyway?

Following indirectly on from Tolkien’s The Hobbit we start in the town of Hobbiton, home of a race called the Hobbits. Bilbo Baggins has long since returned from his adventures around Middle Earth and is preparing to celebrate his birthday. His nephew, Frodo, is blissfully unaware of the changes that are about to occur in his previously uneventful life. He assumes possession of a magic gold ring, that had been found many years prior by his uncle, and through conversation with the mighty wizard Gandalf the Grey, he discovers the ring’s terrible secret.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
Many, many years before, the land of Middle Earth was over-run by the forces of the Dark Lord Sauron, who forged the mythical rings of power and divided them among the races that scattered the land. But unbeknownst to all these races he also forged another ring, deep in the fires of Mount Doom, the One Ring, which happens to be the one in Frodo’s possession. This ring was able to assume control of all the other rings and in the line that is guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine of all fans of the books, "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them".

Sauron is gathering his forces in his realm of Mordor and sends his evil Ringwraiths to retrieve the ring. And so falls on Frodo and his companions, The Fellowship of the Ring, to destroy the ring before it falls into Sauron’s possession. The only way the ring can be destroyed is by returning it to Mount Doom and melting it down in the fires within.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
The Fellowship of the Ring follows the first part of this quest and some will be disappointed when the film does end so abruptly until they realise that there is indeed a long way left to go.

Differences between the books include a greatly accelerated time scale, especially at the beginning, where events happen very quickly compared to over a period of years in the book although realistically this is of little consequence to the story. Also, a key moment at the end of this film actually occurs at the start of the second book but I guess Jackson decided that this film needed some sort of climax and again I struggle to find an argument against this decision.

The casting of the film is as good as everything else and cannot be faulted. You were never going to find an A list star willing to sacrifice two years of their careers to what is essentially one long film, but those who have been cast obviously share the desire to make the film work. It would have been easy for Ian McKellen to over-play Gandalf in the same way I feel that Ewan McGregor doesn’t seem to appreciate the character of Obi Wan in the latest Star Wars films, but McKellen obviously knows the books inside out and hence is going to put everything into it. Also excellent is Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn who, according to the extras, has become an excellent swordsman and performed all his own stunts as well as portraying Aragorn’s inner turmoil so wonderfully well.

I’ve read a few reviews already of the Region 1 release of the film and all praise the picture for its stunning quality. I’m going to buck the trend slightly here. I thought the image, certainly in the first half hour was a little soft. Good certainly but not great.  Picture is the almost obligatory 2.35:1 anamorphic, but I must admit that on my 28" widescreen set I wasn’t taken aback with the same awe that I had in the cinema. A lot of the scenes, particularly the battle early on, really suffer in the home environment. Guess I need a bigger set. Oh yeah, the layer change was the longest I’ve experienced in a while too, on both of my players.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
I’ve always believed that audio is at least as important as video and in this department the Dolby Digital EX 5.1 track excels. Some of the scenes seem to wrap you up in the sound and there is plenty to keep the sub earning its keep too. The two channel sound track sounded fine too, but it’s films like this that make me glad I’ve got six speakers.

This is where the catch comes. In case you didn’t know in a couple of months a new release of The Fellowship of the Ring will hit the shops. This one will have four discs and includes the extended version of the film and many, many extras. Consequently this version suffers on the extras front and, while they are plentiful in number, there is every chance you’ve seen most of them already, certainly if you’ve been frequenting the official <a href="";>movie site</a>.

The first three extras are so-called documentaries from various TV programs and all rehash the same footage and pad it here and there. You might as well just skip to the longest of the three and ignore the others. If you watch them all you will definitely get a sense of déjà vu part way through.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
Then come a list of several short featurettes that originally featured on the web site, but if you haven’t seen these before then they are quite interesting for the short while they are on.

Also included are the usual Movie Trailers, TV Spots and an Enya music video, as well as a short preview of the video game based on the second film.

The final two extras and most interesting to me were the ten minutes of behind the scenes stuff from The Two Towers (film two in case you hadn’t guessed), and finally a preview of the previously mentioned Special Edition DVD.  I suppose this can help you make the decision on whether or not to upgrade.

So what did I think altogether, personally I’m waiting for the SE version. Thirty minutes of extra footage and way more behind the scenes stuff has already sold it to me, but if you can’t wait, want to save some cash, or want to own the theatrical released version, then this DVD is certainly worth getting. Myself, I’m just waiting for The Two Towers this Christmas. I’ll probably see you there.