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The wait is over. And this time the actual viewing experience far outweighs the anticipation. Considering the 5-disc Fellowship Of The Ring DVD set is by far the most anticipated release to date you can probably tell where this review is heading. But read on and you’ll find out just how these 5 shiny discs surpassed the hype to sit firmly under the banner of excellence.

Surely you’re reading this now having seen the theatrical release so I won’t need to bore you with information about the plot. For those who haven’t seen the film, firstly crawl out from your social hibernation, then listen. There’s a little fella named Frodo who is given a very powerful ring. This ring must be destroyed by taking a long journey to a place called Mount Doom. Frodo agrees to go on this dangerous quest to do away with the evil jewelry which, in hindsight, probably wasn’t a good idea. There. It’s that simple. Well, it’s not really but you’re probably going to watch it anyway so there’s no point giving you the many finer points of the film.

This release has been blessed with around 30 minutes of extra footage, left out of the theatrical cut for fear that cinemas would need to provide an intermission or at least an in-movie meal to accommodate those taking over three hours out of their time to sit and watch it. The extended cut now provides an intermission just when the Fellowship is assembled, with the extra weight of more footage and a DTS soundtrack making the spanning necessary.

Lord Of The Rings, The: The Fellowship Of The Ring - Special Extended Edition
As far as the extra footage goes, obviously it’s going to have a lot to do with character development, back story and a lot more dialogue. It is mentioned in the extras section that during the editing stages it was decided that in order to cut the running time in the original version the scenes without Frodo or a direct link to him would have to be looked at. Consequently the extra footage features a lot more interaction between Aragorn and Arwen, Galadriel and her gift-giving to members of the fellowship (including a nice little piece where Gimli falls head over heels in love!) as well as a great scene involving the Hobbits and Aragorn trudging through the deep sludge of Ridgewater Marsh. Some original scenes have even been rearranged so that they gel better with the new footage.

The great thing about the new cut of the film is that the flow of the film remains the same so you’ll only notice the new scenes because you’ve also seen the theatrical version. Even the brilliant Howard Shore musical pieces have been extended to cover the new footage. And, for the record, I quite like the new opening with Bilbo writing his book, a scene that stuck firmly in my mind as it occupied the opening few pages of the novel.

Contrary to a lot of innuendo flying around the extra 30-minutes of footage does not include the 19-minute end credit sequence featuring the names of the fan club members. Thank goodness for that, too, because I doubt anyone’s really going to cheerfully sit through all those names unless they’re in there somewhere.

If you’ve read my review of the theatrical cut, 2-disc edition then you’ll know that I absolutely adore the film, from the faithfulness to Tolkien right down to the impeccable casting and production detail. And with this new footage that helps include even more detail and several nuances from the novel the movie has been vastly improved. Believe me, if I could give it a twelve I would.

It comes as definitely no surprise that the visuals on this disc are easily on par with the 2-disc version. And on the whole the 2.35:1, 16:9 enhanced transfer is probably an improvement, with the colours again being the standout factor in this reference-quality transfer. Again evidenced by a piece in the extras section each shot was digitally corrected to create a more “Middle Earth” look rather than a New Zealand one. Thankfully there are no hints at all in the visuals that the image has been run through a computer and tweaked extensively. Some have mentioned that the black levels aren’t as deep as the original discs but I saw no signs of them being faded in this version, even taking the time to do a basic comparison between the two releases.

Sadly, and another point of contention for those waiting for the theatrical release, the subtitle stream on the Region 4 version is still player generated, meaning you won’t see the same font or position the subtitles were in theatrically. For some this is a major issue, with the Region 1 featuring the burnt-in subtitles that look oh-so-pretty in the movie. For me it didn’t take too long before I built a Hobbit-sized bridge and got over it. After all, there aren’t all that many scenes requiring text so it won’t be a major distraction for most.

If this isn’t the most brilliant-looking disc going around then I’ll eat my keyboard, though I think the planning and cinematography had as much to do with the exceptional visuals as the transfer in this instance. A great-looking film made even better by the transfer.

Lord Of The Rings, The: The Fellowship Of The Ring - Special Extended Edition
Can you hear that sound? It’s the bangs and crashes of Howard Shore’s musical score, warning of danger and peril. Here is where all those Region 4 audio issues are sorted out.

The disc contains three soundtracks: Dolby Digital EX 5.1, DTS 6.1 discrete and Dolby Surround. In terms of the general sound issues and the comparison between the two major audio mixes there isn’t a lot to report. The DTS mix is basically superior when it comes to giving those intense moments that little bit more punch, which has basically been the case with comparisons on most discs. The Dolby Digital mix is exceptional and by no means hard on the ear so you’ll enjoy either one. It’s just you’ll get a bit more of a kick out of the DTS mix. But there’s also something else you’ll get...

By now you may have read about the various problems with the audio mix on the Region 4 disc. The pitch correction method used in the theatrical DVD set came under much scrutiny when it was first released, which makes the decision to use it again an enormous surprise. With the theatrical version the Region 4 mix had its level dropped by 9dB under the Region 1. But for this release it was only dropped by 3dB after the Dialnorm on both regions was set to –31dB. It may sound like a bunch of jibberish to some but the bottom line is the decibel cut on the Region 4 was not enough to eliminate popping and sound dropouts as a result of the pitch correction, which is a damn fine shame because had it not been for this problem the audio mix would have been basically flawless.

Now, will those with a sonically-average pair of ears really notice them? The short answer is probably yes, firstly because there are a few of them so you’ll most likely hear at least one during the film and secondly because I’ve just told you they’re there (along with many other reviewers). The pops basically sound like a harsh sound effect gone a little wrong and the first couple fall directly on top of a semi-loud effect such as Frodo bursting through a door. My ears are pretty sensitive mainly because my eyes are shot without glasses but I couldn’t really call these small defects distracting. Others may disagree but I think you’d definitely have to be focusing on the audio rather than the film to hear them most of the time. And then again, some ears may not even hear them at all, such as when I got five of my friends around to see if they could hear the pops. One by one they came in without me telling them what they were doing. I merely asked them if they noticed anything about the audio over a twenty-second piece. Only one commented about one of the pops, with the others either having no clue at all or merely guessing at things such as the sound effects or music.

So there you have it. I’m of the opinion that these small problems, even though they should have been ironed out in the authoring process, aren’t enough to distract from the action unless you’ve got sensitive ears or are just plain listening out for them. Nevertheless the mix itself is impeccable, with surround usage and the subwoofer providing the ultimate immersive experience.

Once again Howard Shore’s musical score comes up brilliantly and will no doubt have many reaching for their wallets to buy the soundtrack in no time. He uses different pieces for different parts of the story and, combined with tracks from Enya among others, really captures the essence of the film and Tolkien’s vision in his work.

Don’t be put off by raving audiophiles declaring the Region 4 mix totally unfit to listen to. The DTS track does exhibit some popping on occasion (as does the DD mix to a lesser extent) but it won’t prove to be a minor distraction for most. Just take in the film along with the brilliant music and surround use and you should be satisfied.

Lord Of The Rings, The: The Fellowship Of The Ring - Special Extended Edition
If ever a movie deserved some serious extras regarding the production it was this one. And believe me, they haven’t set out to disappoint. Let’s begin...

Discs One and Two
The four commentary tracks begin the extras section extremely well. Peter Jackson is a great thinker, which translates into him being very interesting to listen to in an interview or commentary track, both of which make this whole extras package extremely enjoyable. He is teamed up with co-writer/producer Fran Walsh and co-writer Philipa Boyens for the first track and the three of them have a great rapport, not surprisingly since they spent so much time together during the production. A great thing about these commentaries is that the name of the speaker appears in text at the top of the frame, helping you to distinguish between the participants. Let’s hope this carries over to other releases in the future.

In the first track it is quite interesting to hear the thought processes of Jackson and the writers when it came to their thoughts on the prologue, the other scenes that were left out and how they consequently placed them back in for this release. Very entertaining indeed.

The cast commentary brings the ten principal characters together for a different take on the film. Obviously these guys spent an enormous amount of time together and really do impart some great information along with various jokes and anecdotes. Some of them seem genuinely surprised at the extra footage placed back in, which adds to the spontaneity of the track and its overall value.

The next commentary track is from members of the design team but unfortunately effects supervisor Richard Taylor’s voice is downright annoying from the outset. He speaks like he’s the town crier and relaying ground-breaking information with every sentence. And there’s more of him on the other discs. If you can put up with him speaking, however, the information imparted by the whole team is quite interesting, even though many without an interest in effects and design would probably prefer the cast or director’s track over this one.

Rounding out the four commentaries is a track with members from the production and post-production teams such as producers, editors and composer Howard Shore. All of them are fantastic speakers and also give another alternative view on the production, meaning basically all angles have been covered. One is almost surprised there wasn’t a track with the Orcs or the boom operator because these soundtracks are very comprehensive. Now on to the guts of the supplements package...

Disc Three
Let me first explain that not one of these featurettes is anywhere near a promo fluff piece. All of them have been carefully edited and constructed and are consistent with every other featurette on the two discs. Each of them uses clips from basically a single interview every one of the cast and crew members sat through, giving it a well-rounded and slick feel overall. There’s also an introduction on both discs, the first one from Peter Jackson himself telling us what to expect from the extras.

First up on disc three is a piece entitled J.R.R.Tolkien – Creator Of Middle Earth. Here parallels are drawn between Tolkien’s outlook on life and the themes in the books and film. They point out his recurring death theme and how his experiences probably shaped what we read in the books today. There are interviews with Jackson and a couple of others, including publisher Rayner Unwin who appeared in the theatrical DVD set as well, possibly in the only overlap between the extras on both releases.

From Book To Script asks all key cast and crew members about their experiences with the book, each of them sharing their passion for Tolkien’s work. It’s interesting to see the first appearance by John Rhys-Davies, who plays Gimli, minus his enormous beard. The issue of Tom Bombadil’s omission from the film is covered, as is the inclusion of more of Arwen’s story taken from details in the appendices of the novels.

Lord Of The Rings, The: The Fellowship Of The Ring - Special Extended Edition
Next up is a section called Visualising The Story. The first sub-section deals with Storyboards and Pre-Viz: Making Words Into Pictures and introduces us to Christian Rivers, who storyboarded the three films together with Peter Jackson. We also get to look at all the models and figurines where Jackson and co planned the camera angles and the like. From there you can view early storyboards of “The Prologue”, “Orc Pursuit Into Lothlorien” and the “Sarn Gebir Rapids Chase”. These are great little storyboards that show how detailed the planning stage was. Then the Animatics section shows two sequences in a rough animation, with both the “Gandalf Rides Into Orthanc” and “The Stairs Of Khazad Dum” given this treatment. There are also Animatic To Film comparisons of both the “Nazgul Attack At Bree” and “The Bridge Of Khazad Dum” sequences. Rounding off the section is a lengthy piece showing the set test with Peter Jackson and a few others blocking out one of the opening scenes inside the Bag End set. It was quite humorous when we learn co-producer Rick Porras was kicked off his role of Bilbo for being a terrible actor. Classic. But Porras ends up having the last laugh with the ring in the film modeled from his wedding ring they improvised with during the set test.

The Designing And Building Middle Earth section is so in depth you won’t miss any detail about the design of the production. The first piece, Designing Middle Earth, looks at how Jackson tracked down his conceptual artists, John Howe and Alan Lee. Howe actually looks like he belongs in Middle Earth himself, ironically. It was also interesting to see how much control Jackson had over the production, with a PJ approval process put in place. He also mentions how he thought of the DVD even before shooting had started. My kinda guy. We then delve into the WETA workshop, the special effects centre where they created all the armour, props and basically everything you see in the film. As mentioned before, you’ll have to put up with the grating voice of Richard Taylor but it’s the content that is the highlight here, especially the details on prosthetics and make-up.

The Costume Design section, still within the Designing menu, introduces us to costume designer Ngila Dickson and her massive wardrobe. The poor girl and her seamstresses had to make miniatures of most costumes as well as reproduce them up to ten times. Hard work, for sure. The Design Galleries round out this section, showing us detailed sketches of basically every character in the film. It could have benefited from a slide show or play all feature but the sketches are well worth a look nonetheless.

Getting closer to the end of the third disc we are treated to an ingenious Middle Earth Atlas, whereby the user can choose one of two journeys over the landscape. You can view Frodo’s Journey or Gandalf’s Journey, with a clip from the film being played at each stop. This is well worth a look.

Finally the last extra on disc three is entitled New Zealand As Middle Earth, detailing how they found each of the locations and intelligently included a clip from the film as a direct comparison. The landscape is so beautiful it makes me want to go and visit the country myself.

Lord Of The Rings, The: The Fellowship Of The Ring - Special Extended Edition
Disc Four
This disc also includes an introduction, this time from Elijah Wood who tells us about the play all feature included for our viewing pleasure.

First up is a menu called Filming The Fellowship Of The Ring and initially takes us to a piece entitled The Fellowship Of The Cast. Jackson points out that the cast hadn’t ever met each other and that there was a little nervousness before they all came together. We get to hear about the Hobbits bonding together and several anecdotes about the whole cast interaction. The entire piece is edited very cleverly for comic value and ends up being highly amusing. It also touches upon the miscasting of Aragorn and how Viggo Mortenson stepped in at the last minute. Following on from that is A Day In The Life Of A Hobbit, which shows how hard it was to be a hobbit in the movie. They had to get up early to put their feet and make-up on which took an awfully long time to complete. There are also a couple of very funny skits included which were dreamed up by the guys because they were incredibly bored. Sean Astin actually counted the number of days they put the feet on but weren’t filmed in them. He made it to 50, much to the embarrassment of the director.

Still in the Filming menu, another piece called Cameras In Middle Earth seems to have been lumped with a whole lot of stuff without a category yet is still incredibly entertaining. It shows how there were more than 5 units working on the film at the one time, which is basically unheard of for most films. The funniest part of this piece would have to be Sean Bean’s drastic measures taken so that he could avoid having to ride to location in a helicopter. Very amusing. Rounding off the section is a series of production photos which can be viewed in a slideshow as well.

The Post-Production: Putting It All Together menu firstly contains a piece entitled Editorial: Assembling An Epic and discussed the cuts and editing of the movie with editor John Gilbert. Amazingly there was around 5 million feet of film shot, around 4 million of which was printed. There is also a lot of information on the extended cut of the film. The other piece is an Editorial Demonstration from the “Council Of Elrond” sequence. It’s great to see how the film was cut with six different shots at their disposal. You can also view each shot in its raw state individually.

Lord Of The Rings, The: The Fellowship Of The Ring - Special Extended Edition
The section on Digital Grading is one of the most interesting pieces in the package, showing how Jackson decided to try and shift the look of the landscapes from being of New Zealand to that of Middle Earth. They decided to use what is known as a digital colour grade where you scan the film into a digital format, edit the colours, shadows and lights and then output the edited images back out onto film. It is very interesting to see comparisons between the original footage and the graded images.

Next is the Sound And Music section where Howard Shore gets to strut his stuff. But first is The Soundscapes Of Middle Earth, showing how the sound designers came to find the effects for each of the creatures of Middle Earth. Anything from dragging concrete around to using producer Fran Walsh’s scream as the basis for the Orc noises. The Music For Middle Earth section is very interesting, especially as the music on this film is so powerful and effective. It shows the combination of choirs, solo vocalists and orchestral pieces and how they came together. Brilliant stuff.

And finally for disc four we have The Road Goes Ever On, showing footage from the Wellington premiere and the last words from most of the cast and crew. They also look ahead to the next two films and show us how friendly everyone has become. There’s also a trite little “To Be Continued...” message at the end of this featurette as well as a DVD credits sequence, rounding out the bulk of the extras package. Just one disc to go...

Disc Five
The sole extra on this disc is the National Geographic: Beyond The Movie feature. Running for around 52 minutes this piece is probably the most disappointing out of the lot. It presupposes that the audience knows little about the film before watching, so a lot of the information has already been gleaned by watching the movie and looking at the third and fourth discs in this set. At the time of airing on televisions around the world obviously no one would have seen the other discs but the start of the piece does seem a little redundant considering it is surrounded by a lot more detail.

Real fans of the film may be very frustrated at the fact that the piece panders to the lowest level of Lord Of The Rings watchers, or even just those interested in Tolkien himself. But when they do look at his life some of the information is quite relevant and, at times, extremely interesting. But sadly this extra disc goes over a lot of issues already covered on the other discs and in a very brief fashion, showing it up to be a little more of a promotional piece than anything else.

That said, this might be enough to sway those still deciding on whether to pick up the extended 5-disc set or the 4-disc. Are the bookends and a pretty average fifth discs enough to shell out the extra money? I’ll let you decide.
Overall the whole extras package is basically unprecedented. If that’s not the most thorough and detailed set of extras ever committed to DVD then I don’t know what is. Everything is so slick, entertaining and informative that it’s hard not to think as much time went into the extended edition as the actual production of the film.

Look out for a few easter eggs along the way, with the highlight being the MTV Movie Awards skit with Jack Black and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Check out the easter egg section for details.

Lord Of The Rings, The: The Fellowship Of The Ring - Special Extended Edition
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy is pure cinematic magic. We have witnessed the first part of the largest film project ever undertaken, the most detailed set of films ever created and the most broad-reaching movies ever exhibited. We are fortunate to have seen the most dedicated and diverse production team ever assembled, the most realistic fantasy film ever put on celluloid and the most epic of tales ever created. It is a privilege to be able to own the most thorough and detailed DVD package ever assembled.

This is why we go to the movies. This is why it is the most satisfying and rewarding entertainment experience. This is pure magic. One of the greatest films ever made, which will arguably turn into the greatest film trilogy in history, is given the treatment that only this film deserved; the most comprehensive and entertaining DVD package in the format’s short life thus far.