Jacksons abiding love for the source material comes across in the wealth of incidental detail (the stone trolls from The Hobbit, Bilbos hand-drawn maps); and even when he deviates from the book he does so for sound dramatic reasons (the interminable Tom Bombadil interlude is deleted; Arwen not Glorfindel rescues Frodo at the ford). New Zealand stands in wonderfully for Middle-Earth and his cast are almost ideal, headed by Elijah Wood as a suitably naïve Frodo, though one with plenty of iron resolve, and Ian McKellen as an avuncular-yet-grimly determined Gandalf. The set-piece battle sequences have both an epic grandeur and a visceral, bloody immediacy: the Orcs, and Sarumans Uruk-Hai in particular, are no mere cannon-fodder, but tough and terrifying adversaries. Tolkiens legacy could hardly have been better served.
On the DVD: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring two-disc set presents the original theatrical release (approx 171 minutes) on the first disc with a vivid Dolby 5.1 soundtrack and a simply splendid anamorphic print that allows even the darkest recesses of Moria to be glimpsed. The second disc contains 15 short behind-the-scenes pieces originally seen on the official Web site plus three substantial featurettes. The Houghton Mifflin "Welcome to Middle-Earth" is a 16-minute first look at the transition from page to screen, most interesting for its treasurable interview with Tolkiens original publisher Rayner Unwin. "Quest for the Ring" is a pretty standard 20-minute Fox TV special with lots of cast and crew interviews. Better is the Sci-Fi Channels "A Passage to Middle-Earth", a 40-minute special that goes into a lot more detail about many aspects of the production and how the creative team conceived the films look.
Most mouth-watering for fans who just cant wait is a 10-minute Two Towers preview, in which Peter Jackson personally tantalises us with behind-the-scenes glimpses of Gollum and Helms Deep, plus a tasty three-minute teaser for the four-disc Fellowship special edition. Rounding out a good package are trailers, Enyas "May It Be" video and a Two Towers video game preview.--Mark Walker
Is the extended version of the film an improvement? Yes! The extra footage varies from a split second shot to extra lines in a scene and even to complete scenes. The extra footage does add a lot to the film, which is a relief because I was a bit afraid that pointless scenes would be added in. This thankfully is not the case.
Of the added shots and scenes, it is apparent why they had been edited out of the theatrical version of the film. They are maybe slow the story down too much or simply don’t fit in too well. But there are some scenes that should definitely have been included in the original version. Two scenes immediately spring to mind.
The first is the extended council of Elrond scene. Boromir voices his opinion more, which cause more tension within the council. Then there’s the best moment to be added in, Gandalf speaking in the Black Tongue. It simply comes out of nowhere basically; suddenly he’s speaking in this language, which sounds so dark and almost scary.
The second scene is the gift giving at Lothlorien. It’s a well-known fact that Peter Jackson really wanted this scene included in the theatrical version of the film and now we get to see it. It follows very closely to the book, but changes are included. The scene is beautifully shot and perfectly shows the atmosphere of Lothlorien.
Other new scenes include Aragorn visiting his mother’s grave, the departure of the fellowship from Rivendell, Frodo and Sam seeing Wood Elves heading for the Grey Havens, the Midgewater Marshes and a scene from the Green Dragon Inn. Extended scenes include extended Hobbiton scenes (including Concerning Hobbits from the book), extended scenes in Rivendell and Moria, and an extended prologue.
I don’t think that this version is let down by any of the added footage. However there are quite a few quirky little comments added into this version. For example, at the door to the Mines of Moria. When Gandalf tries to open the doors and they don’t open Pippin comes out with the obvious statement of “nothing’s happening”. To some this may seem a bit childish and distract from the seriousness of the quest, but on the whole I feel that it doesn’t matter and actually adds a new dimension to the film.
As for the extras, this is the DVD set to end all others. With 2 discs full of extras this set is the benchmark for all other DVDs from now on. What you’ve got is a good six hours of documentaries about every aspect of Lord of the Rings, from JRR Tolkien to shooting the Trilogy. Also, there are literally hundreds of still frames to go with the documentaries. Not forgetting such things as such things as videos of storyboards and special effects.
It will honestly take to hours to digest everything on the DVDs, there’s almost too much information. For Tolkien fans, the information about Middle Earth and Tolkien will be nothing new, but is still worth watching. However, the documentaries about the filming give a great insight into film production (watch out for the Bag End set test with Peter Jackson as Bilbo).
So how would I rate this DVD set? It has to be 10 out of 10. IT has everything you could ever want on a LOTR DVD. Next question is can the Two Towers DVD beat it?
I am extremely happy to report that the Special Edition DVD release has all but silenced my doubts. The additional 30 minutes or so make a world of difference to the movie, making the tale more 'human' (Dwarven, Elven, Hobbitish, if you hate to anthropomorphism). Almost all of the excised material was character development, and the result of replacing it makes this DVD release the definitive version of the movie. Peter Jackson may prefer it to be considered as an additional release of the movie, where the theatrical version and this extended cut can co-exist, but I disagree. After watching the extended version I find the theatrical release even more lacking - so much so that I can't bring myself to watch it anymore.
All of the characters receive more attention: Bilbo becomes the slightly eccentric but shrewd forever-changed-by-adventure hobbit I always imagined him to be; Frodo the young nephew who has a deep love and respect for his old Hobbit uncle, and who himself can be seen enduring the change that unsettled Bilbo for life; Sam is the plant-loving yet love-shy gardener (more Rosie Cotton!) who's friendship with Frodo promises to be heartbreaking; Gandalf's love for the world and it's people shines through (especially in a new sequence with Pippin) making his ultimate sacrifice a truly tearful moment; Aragorn benefits greatly and his insecurity made so apparent and yet without apparent reason in the theatrical version now has it's background and we see him as the exiled King torn by the guilt of his forefathers, and yet the very strength he seeks to find to do what he must is bound up in his love for Arwen - love that will literally kill her (his small exchange with Frodo in the newly added Midgewater Marsh sequence is painfully poignant, and Elrond's hinted at disdain for the Ranger makes more sense); Boromir is revealed a the man who secretly and perhaps unknowingly craves strong leadership, and scenes between he and Aragorn adds to the deep sadness of the films extended climactic battle against the Uruk-Hai; both Gimli and Legolas receive more attention and we feel we know them better and their initial exasperation with one another (that look on Legolas' face when Gimli pledges his axe to help them during the Council of Elrond is a gem) turns to grudging respect and (as we know later) to great friendship; last but not least, Pippin and Merry are also given more screen time and are no longer the "idiotic comic relief" they were made to appear in the theatrical cut.
Character development aside, there are other additions to popular sequences like the Cave Troll battle, that needed to be inserted (ever wondered why in the theatrical release Boromir disappears from the action early in the Balin's Tomb fight with the Cave Troll, never to appear again until the end? Well, this sequence now restored answers that question and, boy!, must that have hurt!). There are also significant additions to the latter half of the movie. The gift giving sequence as the Fellowship depart Lorien is a mystery to me. How could that possibly have been left out? So much depends on those gifts, and not least the lembas (I love Legolas' "bread advertisement" speech) and Sam's rope, which was set up when he was checking his pack in Rivedel and muttered something about forgetting something...
The DVD transfer itself is quite beautiful and I have never see better. The picture is sharp, well delineated, the colours rich and natural and I saw not one imperfection. The sound is also worthy of praise, with the newly scored Howard Shore pieces melding perfectly with the old (some of which have been subtly altered, and to their bettering in my opinion).
The 'extras' cover 2 DVDs and are similarly of exceptional quality. Essentially and without going into too much detail, you can follow the history of Tolkien's book from the authors birth right through to post production and marketing of the movies - and everything in between! It really does make some recent DVD releases embarrassing by comparison and certain companies (you know who you are!) should hang their collective heads in shame and go stand in the corner.
In summary, no adaptation of this move was ever going to be perfect, and all will stand as pale and incomplete shadows cast by Tolkien's bestriding masterpiece. But this DVD release remains a wonderful rendition of an essentially unfilmable-as-written work of pure genius. Everything is top-notch, from the movie transfer and sound to the extras that are not mere padding but enhance one's enjoyment of the movie to the point of being essential viewing in themselves. This is how DVD should be done. Pay attention.
Finally, I cannot recommend this extraordinary piece of film-making history highly enough. For anyone with a passing interest, it a truely great movie. For those who are Tolkien fanatics, as long as you are open-minded and can accept that the book is unfilmable as written, then you will be delighted to see that a truely great book has been adapted into a truely great film.
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