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Chris mentioned there are two types of people when it comes to the Lord Of The Rings movies; those who have read the book and those who haven't. In his review of the Region 1 disc, Chris looked at the discs from the perspective of someone who hadn't experienced J.R.R.Tolkien's written version and therefore was free of any pre-conceived ideas in regards to the characters, locations and events. As someone who has read the three books in the trilogy (originally intended to be just one long novel), I thought I would look at the DVD release of The Fellowship Of The Ring from the other perspective. Do the characters live up to those created by Tolkien? Are the locations so vividly described in the book anything like you had imagined? And will you enjoy this film so much as to buy the first of two separate editions on DVD? Read on...

Movie
By now there's no way on Middle Earth you could have escaped hearing about the plot of Lord Of The Rings. Frodo's quest to destroy the One ring of power is as well known as it is popular. Tolkien created a brilliant world that is Middle Earth, with a variety of creatures (English and Elvish speaking) inhabiting its land. There's the Hobbits, from which Bilbo and Frodo belong, the wizards, like Frodo's buddy Gandalf and the evil Saruman, the elves, such as honourable archer Legolas, dwarves, like the axe-wielding Gimli and even plain old men like Aragorn, the fearless leader of his folk. Together this crew becomes what is known as the Fellowship, joined together to ensure little Frodo and his ring reach the cracks of Mount Doom where peace and harmony can be restored once the ring is destroyed. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

When Peter Jackson decided to embark on this incredible journey to make a trilogy that many thought was far too difficult to recreate faithfully on film, fans of the novels were ecstatic. This was not only because such a well crafted book that had been crying out for a film adaptation was finally being created, but also because when Peter Jackson spoke about his plans for the three movies you could just tell he was heading towards something special. Such a detailed story required a man with meticulous planning and Jackson didn't disappoint. Every element of the sets and costumes was created from scratch, blending so well into the beautiful New Zealand landscape. This is filmmaking at its best.
 
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
So as someone who became engrossed in the novels at age thirteen, does everything stack up against the images already in my head? Hell yeah, and more.

Casting was always going to be an interesting task for Jackson and his buddies, with the right faces essential to ensuring the audience believes that these creatures exist. Elijah Wood is an inspired choice as front man Frodo, with his innocent look fitting in perfectly with the initially untainted Hobbit from Tolkien's novels. Gandalf is played by the brilliant Sir Ian McKellen, who quite rightly deserved an Oscar nod for his performance. The rest of the Hobbit cast are very well chosen, particularly the surprise choice Sean Astin as Frodo's best buddy Sam. Who would have thought this guy could look and sound so good as a four-foot Hobbit?

There are so many supporting characters in the story that it’s hard to figure out where to start, but the likes of Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortenson lead the rest of the Fellowship with admirable performances. Thankfully the testosterone is balanced just slightly with the introdution of Arwen and Galadriel, played by Liv Tyler and Australia’s own Cate Blanchett respectively. Devout fans of the novel reportedly went ape when Tyler became a cast member but it’s hard to see why. If anyone looked like an elf with a heart of gold it’s her. Same goes for Blanchett too, who has a certain look that just belongs to Middle Earth. Not surprisingly there were no protests to her casting. There are many others who I have failed to mention but I’ll let you discover them for yourself as you delve into the story on this brilliant DVD.

There have been a few criticisms of the narrative style but largely this film was an out and out smash hit for all ages. It doesn’t pander to the lure of being a “family film” and certainly doesn’t pull any punches in the scare stakes, which is exactly how the book reads the whole way through. Some have mentioned that the film is a little too episodic in that Frodo and his buddies just seem to be going from battle to glorious New Zealand landscape and back to battle again. In some ways that is true but there is no doubt a heartfelt love affair around the campfire or a Fellowship soccer match mid-movie would have looked completely out of place. It is, after all, taken ever-so-faithfully from the novels.

While the books were, and still are, parts of the best fantasy tale ever written there is nothing like seeing the live action in front of you on a cinema screen. Thankfully with our favourite format you can recreate that action in your living room and, in some cases, even better it. No popcorn munchers, big heads or annoying whisperers in your own home. Unless it’s you, that is.

Knowing the story definitely had its benefits as we watch Frodo, Gandalf et al come to life. Seeing the characters trek through Bree, Rivendell and the Mines of Moria brought back fond memories of many a late night in bed with the novels. This is filmmaking at its finest, with the combination of meticulous planning, unparalleled focus and new advancements in CGI lifting this film undisputedly into the classic category. Give A Beautiful Mind the flick and watch a real piece of escapism right here.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
Video
If ever there was a disc to drool over, it’s this one. Presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and (of course) 16:9 enhanced, this transfer is nothing short of flawless. Jackson and his team spent so much time and effort creating the wonderful scenery, props and costumes it’s just as well this DVD doesn’t disappoint. Right from the opening scenes you can tell how incredibly detailed and error-free the visuals really are. Colours are as vibrant as can be, shadows are wonderfully deep without being too dark (at least I thought so, Chris) and the transfer is so sharp it’ll poke your eye out.

Was it really any surprise that this disc had a reference quality visual transfer? You’ve got a Director who embraces the DVD format like few others (Kevin Smith excluded), renowned and popular distributors in New Line (Roadshow here in Region 4 land) and a movie that was always destined to break box-office and home-DVD sales immediately upon its release. Imagine the outcry had there been some serious visual flaws floating around. Thankfully we don’t have to think about that scenario, just sit back, relax and look at one truly stunning disc.

Audio
To those morons who have flooded newsgroups with their crap about the Region 4 audio mix being substandard, you guys have some serious issues. Either your ears need a damn good clean, your audio equipment needs more than a little tweaking or you’ve just bought yourself a pirate copy, because this mix has none of the flaws you describe. And in trying to prove your point you’ve basically owned up to having a dodgy bootleg that has been flogged off as an original release. So read on and find out what the real deal is.

The disc comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that is quite impressive on the whole. Everything from ambient sounds to those big, bass-thumping battles with the Orcs is taken care of extremely well with this mix. The subwoofer gets a great workout and does a good job at giving the audio a bit more of a boost. The only gripe I had is that the surrounds aren’t used as aggressively as I thought they would be, but for most this will definitely be sufficient. And if this 5.1 mix is anything to go by, the DTS 6.1 track in the upcoming 4-disc release should be a corker.

The soundtrack probably made the biggest impression in the audio department. With renowned composer Howard Shore at the helm the tunes that accompany the stunning visuals are nothing short of top notch. The title piece is one of the most brilliant orchestral themes going around, up there with those of Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump and others. Everything fits in perfectly with the action on screen and the kind of mood the story puts across. Also, the work of Enya might be maligned by many but her pieces here are entirely appropriate given the “other-world” kind of feel her tunes seem to possess. This combination produces one of the best soundtracks in recent times, even if it is filled with just classical music. Let’s face it, though. A little bit of Smash Mouth just wouldn’t quite fit in. Heck, if you liked the film, buy the soundtrack as well and you definitely won’t be disappointed.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
Extras
Most of you will know by now there is a second release of the film coming out on DVD in November. But this time it’s not just double-dipping on behalf of the studios to grab some extra cash. In this instance Peter Jackson, one who is heavily into DVD himself, has realised there’s probably a market for two groups of buyers who can choose to purchase whatever version they wish. Firstly, there would be the casual DVD enthusiast who enjoyed The Fellowship Of The Ring and would like to buy it on DVD for the right price. But secondly Jackson knows full well there’s a market out there comprising of devout fans of the book and the movie who are heavily into collecting anything to do with Frodo and his pals. This has allowed him to release this DVD onto the market for the former category of DVD viewers, while the others can bide their time and wait until November for an extended cut of the film and a truckload of extras. And Jackson probably knows full well there’s a huge number of people who will probably buy both versions (the “extra-nuts”, I suppose), like me.

To clear things up about the two releases, you must be aware that there will be no doubling up of material between versions. That means the disc being reviewed at the moment will be entirely different to the extended DVD coming out in November. The extras will be totally different, the theatrical cut won’t be present on the later release and the DTS soundtrack will only be available in the 4-disc set. Phew! Now that we have all that sorted out it’s time to look at what is present on this 2-disc version.

First up is a featurette entitled Welcome To Middle Earth, a short piece that incorporates a plug for a couple of new books associated with the movie release and a mini-documentary about J.R.R.Tolkien’s work. Introduced by a woman named Wendy Strothman, there are a couple of interesting tidbits included such as an interview with publisher Rayner Unwin who recalls his amateur book report on the novels as a child. Short but quite interesting.

Next is a 25-minute PR piece entitled Quest For The Ring which, unsurprisingly, is full of clips from the movie and too much of a synopsis on the film (it aired on TV before the film’s release to drum up more support, not that it was needed). A once-only look will suffice for this one.

A Sci-fi Channel featurette also makes it’s way on to the disc, entitled A Passage To Middle Earth and is the best of the three major pieces by far. The interviews are great to listen to and the clips from the movie are balanced well by a fair bit of behind the scenes stuff. Good to see how the battle sequences are orchestrated, with Jackson running around (as best he can) barking orders. Interesting to note Orlando Bloom’s T-shirt being blurred in the interview, either due to unwanted advertising or our boy Orlando has one offensive article of clothing.

The chunk of the material that covers the real making of the film is imbedded in ten short featurettes that ran on the official website (lordoftherings.net, in case you’ve been hibernating for the past couple of years). While true fans probably looked at the clips soon after they became available they really are good to watch on the DVD, albeit quite short of course. They cover everything from location scouting to sets to the key characters. Peter Jackson provides the detail that make these well worth watching.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
The best feature by far has to be the preview of the Two Towers movie, coming out in December worldwide. In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have watched this ten-minute sneak peek because I’m now counting down the days until its release, the preview was that impressive. Take a look, whet your appetite for some more Hobbit action and bring on The Two Towers in December.

Peter Jackson also includes a look at the upcoming extended edition, 4-disc DVD set reaching our shores in November, going into detail about the decision to release two different versions and showing us a few clips from the 30-minute longer version of the film. Needless to say I’ll be buying those discs as well.

Rounding out the package is an EA video game preview that looks at the upcoming PS2 and Gameboy release of a third person fighter that runs basically the same course as the actual film. There are interviews with the designers, some action shots in all their glory and various details about its production. Will certainly have the serious gamers smiling, that’s for sure.

There are also three theatrical trailers and six TV spots that look very impressive on this disc. A nice addition that rounds out a very solid package that will please casual fans and have true Lord Of The Rings lovers very much looking forward to November and December. Of course there has to be a fair bit saved for the later release so this set doesn’t quite have that ultimate ring of quality (pardon the pun), but it should satisfy most. If it doesn’t they’ll just buy the later version anyway.

Overall
An epic tale that is bound to make the best DVD package ever once all three films are complete. As a film and 2-disc set this release can’t really be faulted save for some minor audio issues and a not-so-detailed extras package. But most will be satisfied or merely grab the November release to really enjoy this awesome film in all its glory. The novel I truly loved as a kid has very much come to life on film and is light years ahead of what I had expected. A flawless film on a very impressive disc that will undoubtedly smash all DVD records thus far.


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