The Greeks are well known for their complex and compelling mythology. Writers like Homer have for millennia defined the literary world of mythology. I challenge anyone to debate that J.R.R. Tolkien has filled that role for the 20th century and beyond. The foreword to The Fellowship of the Ring begins by saying: “The tale grew in the telling until it became a history…” I entered the theatre for a midnight showing of this ambitious film with very high expectations. Truth be told, it was not possible that those expectations could be met. But in the magical world of Middle Earth, almost anything is possible. This film might very well have exceeded my wildest desires. Maybe Peter Jackson had similar reference points as I did growing up, but it is uncanny how much the film looks like I have envisioned it since I was 10 years old. The Fellowship of the Ring is every bit the masterpiece as the source material. Bring on The Two Towers.
The Fellowship of the Ring contains one of the most impressive soundtracks I have heard on DVD to date. Whether you opt for the 5.1 EX or DTS ES tracks you are in for an audio experience. It’s good to see that the studio appreciates what it has here. There is little difference between the two options. The DTS track has a bit more expansive sub range. Both tracks are simply outstanding. Highs are crisp and quite natural sounding. The bass extension is powerful without once offering even a hint of distortion. You will also find your senses assaulted by the most aggressive surround mix I’ve heard. Even the quiet moments are never completely quiet. The score shines at every moment without stepping over any of the film’s crucial sound moments. If you have a well-designed theatre this disc will place you convincingly inside the action. Dialogue is always understandable. This disc is like getting an amp upgrade without the payout.
There are four commentary tracks included:
- Cast Commentary features most of the primary actors of the film including: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Sean Bean, Christopher Lee, Dominic Moynaghan and Orlando Bloom. This is a wonderful commentary for anecdotes and insight into the relationship of the cast. At times they are a little over-gushing with praise for each other. This is by far the easiest track to listen to.
- Writer/production Commentary features director/co-writer/producer Peter Jackson, co-writer/producer Fran Walsh and co-writer Philippa Boyens. If you want a very detailed dissection of the film’s production then this is the track for you. They provide a wealth of knowledge into the various processes used to bring this film to reality.
- Production Team commentary provides input from over a dozen members of the production and f/x teams. Here you will find out more about audio and visual f/x as well as information on some innovative ways around several production problems.
- Production Design Team commentary offers insight into bringing the world of Middle Earth to the screen. What is most interesting about this track is the various visions the team had on the source material. You get an idea of the great respect they had for Tolkien’s work and the pressure they put on themselves to “get it right”.
The Fellowship Of The Ring is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer is flawless. There is only the slightest hint of edge enhancement common with so many f/x shots. The color is virtually alive with brilliance. Flesh tones are reference quality. Blacks, vital during the many dark scenes of the film, are rock solid with incredible layers of depth and shades.
There are absolutely no film artifacts or shimmering present anywhere on the film. The film makes extensive use of digital shading, a computerized alternative to the use of lens filters, to create ominous hues and a mystic atmosphere. This print carefully reproduces those often subtle, sometimes massive shifts of color and light creating an impressive canvas of Tolkien’s wildest dreams.
Even under very close inspection there are no noticeable flaws outside the aforementioned enhancement distortion which is barely visible in the rare occurrences of the film. This transfer is good enough to adjust your entire system by it. A great reference disk.
This is an impressive four-disc collection. The first two discs hold the film and commentary tracks. There is a point at about an hour and forty-five minutes where you must change discs. (Unless you have a multi-disc changer) The reason for this is the four commentary tracks and the large amount of information required for the superior audio and visual presentations. These superior presentations more than compensate for any inconvenience in switching discs. We old laserdisc collectors have had to switch discs for a decade. This set rivals any Superbit I’ve seen.
Disc 3 contains a series of features collectively titled “From Book To Vision”. They mostly deal with the setup of the story and the early production of the trilogy. The featurettes found here include:
- “JRR Tolkien: Creator of Middle Earth” explores the life of Tolkien and his earliest moments of inspiration.
- “From Book To Script” explores the ties the various filmmakers had to the source material. The feature explains how some choices were made that deviated from Tolkien’s original ideas.
- “Visualizing Middle Earth” is one of the shorter but more interesting features. The storyboard process is explored and early CGI work can be seen here.
- “Building/Designing Middle Earth” and “Weta Workshop” are two of the longer features. Here you’ll get an inside look at how the sets and props were created to bring Middle Earth to life.
Disc 3 also includes a very short feature on the film’s costumes, an impressive still gallery, and a short feature on the New Zealand locations that were used for Middle Earth.
If you are a fan of Tolkien’s work you will love the interactive Atlas of Middle Earth. With your remote control you’ll be able to journey through this magical world for hours on end.
Disc 4 is set up much like the third disc. There is a series of features that can be accessed individually or all as one long feature. The focus on disc 4 is more on the actual filming.
I found the features on this disc the most compelling. I was quite moved by the actual fellowship between the actors effectively mirroring their characters. The featurettes included here are:
- “The Fellowship Of The Cast” is just what it implies. Interviews with most of the cast members and Peter Jackson provide a rare intimate look into how these actors cared for each other over nearly two years of working together. This feature is easily my favorite.
- “A Day In The Life Of A Hobbit” follows the four Hobbit leads through the routine of becoming Hobbits. Like the previous feature there is much made of the relationship they shared here.
- “Cameras In Middle Earth” is by far the longest feature found in this set. This feature is the closest to the standard “Making of…” extra found on many DVD’s.
- “Scale”, “WETA Digital”, and “Bigatures” all deal with the extensive f/x shots and illusions created to bring out the magical world of Middle Earth.
- “Editorial: Assembling an Epic”, “Editing Demonstrations”, and “Digital Grading” deal with the complicated editing process of the film. Here you will also gain better understanding of the added footage on this Extended Edition.
- “The Soundscapes of Middle Earth” demonstrates what real world sounds were used to create the imaginative beasts of the film.
- “The Music Of Middle Earth” is a talk with Howard Shore on his wonderful score.
- “The Road Goes Ever On” is a fitting conclusion to this 3 1/2 hour disc of extras.
The menus are set up like the pages of a book and are quite easy to navigate. A flowchart is provided in the booklet in case you get lost. My only complaint, if you could call it that, is the assembly of the attractive package. I’m not a big fan of massive fold out holders. In my theatre environment they are quite cumbersome and often end up with discs falling to the floor.
The best thing that I can say about this film is that it is as much an experience as it was to read the books. It will hold up to many viewings if for no other reason than there is so much found here. I found the extra footage for this Extended Version was well integrated and satisfied my few minor complaints of the original work. I was one of those who resisted buying the first release to have this collection. I loved this film dearly and the wait was painful but well worth it. I know there have been other interpretations of Middle Earth over the years but this film blows them away. There really is but “One ring to rule them all”.