A marvellously sympathetic yet spectacularly cinematic treatment of the first part of Tolkiens trilogy, Peter Jacksons The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
is the film that finally showed how extraordinary digital effects could be used to support story and characters, not simply overwhelm them. Both long-time fantasy fans and newcomers alike were simultaneously amazed, astonished and left agog for parts two and three.
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
Actors: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo MortensenDirector: Peter JacksonManufacturer: Entertainment in Video