Lord of the Rings, The: The Fellowship of the Ring

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Aug 06, 2002
  • Format: DVD
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Director

Peter Jackson

Release Date(s)

2001 (August 6, 2002)

Studio(s)

WingNut Films/Saul Zaentz/New Line Cinema (New Line)

Technical Specifications

Disc One: The Film – Theatrical Edition

178 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, dual keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:33:25, at the start of chapter 24), booklet, DVD credits, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (40 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX & 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material

3 documentaries: Welcome to Middle Earth (17 mins), Quest for the Ring (21 mins) and A Passage to Middle Earth (42 mins), 15 featurettes created for the official website (2-5 mins each), 2 teaser trailers and the theatrical trailer (16x9 – DD 5.1), 6 TV spots, Enya’s May it Be music video, 4-disc Extended Version DVD preview (3 mins – 16x9, DD 5.1), The Two Towers film preview (11 mins – 16x9, DD 5.1), The Two Towers video game preview, DVD-ROM features (weblinks to exclusive online content), animated film-themed menus with sound and music

Review

“In the lands of Middle Earth, legend tells of a Ring...”

For years, people said The Lord of the Rings couldn’t be brought to the screen.  It was too big, too vast, too expensive.  Well... director Peter Jackson and his team have proven the doubters wrong, at least so far.  This is, after all, just the first part of his three film epic adaptation of the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien literary saga.  But what an amazing, magical and riveting opening act it is!

It’s many years after the events told in the book The Hobbit.  Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) has grown old in the Shire, and now longs to retire in peace.  But Bilbo has a secret – he’s been keeping a ring that he found on his adventures.  And it’s no ordinary ring.  It was created by the dark lord Sauron many thousands of years ago to enslave the world.  Sauron was defeated then, and the ring was thought lost.  But Bilbo passes it on to his nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood), without realizing that the dark lord has risen again and is now scouring all of Middle Earth for it.  When he learns what’s at stake, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) instructs Frodo to leave the Shire for his own safety and take the ring with him.  But Sauron’s forces are hot on his trail and pursue him mercilessly.  Thankfully, a band of loyal companions joins Frodo on his journey, a fellowship tasked with the seemingly impossible goal of destroying the ring once and for all.  But to do so, they’ll have to take it back to Mount Doom where it was originally forged... straight into the very heart of Evil itself.

Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the first book in this trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, manages to stay almost perfectly true to the spirit of the original novel.  Jackson’s cut out all of the unfilmable literary texture – the limericks, the irrelevant characters, the slow build-up of detail – so this film gets right to the story and keeps the action moving all the way through.  But lest fans get too upset, he’s managed to replace much of that literary texture with its equivalent in visual, production design texture.  So this film feels like the world we pictured in our heads as we read the novels.  Better still, the casting here is magnificent.  Ian McKellen simply IS the wizard Gandalf.  While Elijah Wood might have seemed an unlikely choice to play Frodo Baggins at first, he proves in this film that he’s more than up to the task, infusing the Hobbit with the perfect measure of pathos and humanity.  And the supporting cast delivers in spades as well, including the likes of Viggo Mortensen, Sean Austin, Cate Blanchette, John Rhyes-Davies, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee... the list is long and without a single weak link.  Hell... even Liv Tyler manages to hold her own here, and that’s saying something.  Simply put, this is absolutely one of the best (if not the best) films of 2001.

As seen on this 2-disc DVD edition, the theatrical cut looks pretty good.  There’s fantastic range of contrast, from the blackest blacks in the mines of Moria to the bright white blast of Sauron’s undoing in the film’s opening.  Always, you’ll see plenty of detail, much of it wonderfully subtle.  And the color!  I don’t recall seeing color this rich and vibrant even in the theater.  From the lush, soft hues of the Shire and Rivendell to the cold, harsh tones of Moria and Lothlórien, this anamorphic widescreen DVD image is a visual feast.  So you might wonder why I’m giving it a B.  Honestly, the film image does suffer somewhat from the fact that all 178 minutes have been packed onto a single dual-layered disc.  The image looks a little unintentionally soft here and there, there’s occasional MPEG-2 compression artifacting and I noticed light edge enhancement.  These are things that most people will never spot, particularly on a smaller TV set.  But with large front or rear projection, they become more obvious.  Still, while I can’t say this is reference quality, I’d hesitate to say anything bad about it either.  Think of it this way... the film looks really good on this version of the DVD.  It’s impressive enough that they managed to fit 178 minutes on one disc and keep it looking this good.  But just imagine how good it will look split over 2 DVDs on the 4-disc Extended Version in November, with maxed-out video bit rates and all that extra room.  Seriously, I’m starting to drool already...

The sound on this disc is about on par with the video.  This is an extremely active Dolby Digital 5.1 EX sound field, let me tell you.  The whisk of flying arrows, the swish of a sword or an axe, the echo of the Horn of Gondor, the thunderous rumble of the Balrog – this is fun DVD surround sound.  The soundstage is big and wide.  You’ll go from the thunderous, head-spinning sounds of battle to much quieter, more subtle moments.  Still, the dynamic range could have been a little better.  The mix never really gets as quiet as I remember in the theater, which gave those loud dramatic moments all the more impact.  That said, dialogue is always clear and well placed, Howard Shore’s marvelous score ties everything together beautifully, and my subwoofer hasn’t been this active in a long time – there’s very deep LFE in this mix.  It makes my mouth water just thinking about how that DTS ES track is gonna sound on the 4-disc set.

Given that there’s a more elaborate DVD edition on the way, the extras here are the expected mixed bag.  It sort of feels like Disc Two was sort of the place everything that didn’t fit on the 4-disc set got stuck.  I say that because there are lots of strange little odds and ends here, and some of it is not-so-subtle promotional material.  There are three documentaries on the disc.  Welcome to Middle Earth was created as an in-store promotional piece by publisher Houghton Mifflin.  It’s mostly dismissible except for a very interesting portion about a fellow who was the publisher’s son way back in the day, who helped give the green-light for the publishing of Tolkien’s The Hobbit (and who later became the author’s friend).  There’s a short Fox TV special on the film too – Quest for the Ring – which has that “let’s get butts in theater seats” sort of feel.  By far the most substantial is A Passage to Middle Earth, which was created for the Sci-Fi Channel.  It too has that sort of “sneak peeky” feel, but it manages to be a pretty in-depth look behind the scenes.  And since it was shown on the Sci-Fi Channel, it assumes the audience is familiar with The Lord of the Rings in the first place.

Also on Disc Two, you’ll find 15 mini featurettes created for the film’s official website.  Each runs between 2 and 5 minutes in length, and covers a particular behind-the-scenes subject or cast or crew member.  Unfortunately, after watching the all documentaries and these featurettes, you’ve seen many of the same interview clips and quotes multiple times – there’s a lot of redundancy here.  Still, it’s nice to have them all here.  Fans would scream without having the Enya music video, the film’s 6 TV spots and the teaser and theatrical trailers, so they’re here too (note that the trailers are presented anamorphic and in 5.1 sound).  And, on a final salesy note, you get a look at the upcoming videogame based on the films.

By far the best extras on Disc Two are the special 10-minute preview of the next film, The Two Towers (due in theaters in December), and the 3-minute preview of what you’ll find on the 4-disc Extended Version DVD in November.  Both previews are presented in anamorphic widescreen, with full Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, so the actual film clips in them look and sound wonderful.  And the previews are hosted by director Peter Jackson, as he busily drives to the office in his car for a look behind-the-scenes.

I’d think of this 2-disc Theatrical Version as an appetizer.  The film looks and sounds really great, even if the extras are sort of just the preamble for what’s to come (my understanding is that there will be some 7 hours of completely original material, created JUST for the 4-disc version – not recycled like most of this material).  Still, if the video and audio quality here is any indication of what’s in store for us on the 4-disc DVD in November... well, is it possible to get too much of a good thing?  I guess we’re gonna find out, aren’t we?  Note that the 4-disc edition will NOT include the theatrical version of the film.  Instead, you’ll get a 30-minutes longer extended version.  So if you want both versions of the film, you’ll have to buy both this disc and the 4-disc later.  Thankfully though, New Line includes in the case of this set mail-in rebates for $5 off the 4-disc version and $10 off the collector’s gift set (which is basically the 4-disc set with a couple of collectibles included in the box) – a very nice touch.

In the meantime, as someone who loves The Lord of the Rings, I’m thrilled to think that this saga – both on film and on DVD – is just beginning.  And I’ve got my fingers crossed that Jackson will get around to adapting The Hobbit too before all is said and done.

- Bill Hunt

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