New Line // 2001 // 228 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // September 17th, 2012
One cinematic epic to rule them all.
I was driving my seven year old nephew home after seeing Ice Age: Continental Drift, and he began asking questions about the trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey we had seen earlier. My brother had recently read the kids Tolkien's original book and Middle-Earth left an obvious impression. When the discussion shifted to The Lord of the Rings -- which he had not yet read nor seen the films -- I quickly realized that, despite my knowledge of and experience with Tolkien's vast mythology, I had been far too long away from this world.
Having purchased Peter Jackson's extended editions as they were released in the early 2000s, and using them to baptize our new surround sound system, I absorbed every last minute of this audio/visual perfection. I then put the DVDs away and never looked at them again. So here I sit, ten years later, re-entering Middle-Earth remastered in glorious 1080p high definition-ray. And much like George Lucas' Star Wars Trilogy in HD, there have been some "adjustments" made. The problem here isn't a matter of character motivations, production design modifications, or visual effects enhancements. This is an issue of color correction, and whether the changes were intentional or accidental. Warner Home Video, owner and distributor of the New Line catalog, emphatically states what appears in this new release is "the intended look of all three features." Fair enough. But nowhere does Peter Jackson himself confirm this position...and Peter comments on everything.
So we're left with a quandary. Die hard fans swear on their lives that these extended cuts are the only way to view the saga. But with them come changes many suspect are a means to tie the films more closely to the look and feel of Peter's forthcoming adaptation of The Hobbit. The Extended Edition Blu-ray Trilogy released 28 June 2011 offers the same exact content we find on these individual releases. The theatrical cuts, which do not exhibit said color correction, also exist on Blu-ray in trilogy and individual form, minus the mind-blowing amount of bonus material the extended editions provide. So do you go with the purity of the films as originally presented, or submit to the desires of an unparalleled filmmaker and view these masterpieces in a form he feels enhances the overall Tolkien cinematic experience? There is no right or wrong answer to that question.
Sitting through nearly 12 hours of story is a challenging endeavor for even the most ardent cinephile, and not a journey one decides to undertake lightly. Then again, the nine hour theatrical adventure is no walk in the park either. So, in the end, the choice will hinge on your level of commitment to Middle-Earth. In my particular case, I have no choice.
Though our tale begins with Bilbo Baggins (Sir Ian Holm, Ratatouille), this is the end of his journey and not the beginning. For Bilbo still holds the ring of the Dark Lord Sauron, the ultimate evil separated from its master some two centuries prior, recovered by the unsuspecting Smeagol who very essence was corrupted in the creature Gollum by its power. But Gollum was no threat to Middle Earth. He lived an unremarkable existence deep within The Misty Mountains, until Bilbo entered his world and "stole" the ring, using its magic to defeat the dragon Smaug. But on the 100th anniversary of his birth, Bilbo decides it is time to leave The Shire and all of his worldly belongings to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood, Wilfred) under the watchful eye of Bilbo's dear friend Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellan, X2: X-Men United).
But dark forces are awakening in the land of Mordor. And with one touch of the ring Bilbo left behind on the floor, Gandalf sees the eye of Sauron and panics. Could this be the one true ring of power, whose very core is bound to the ultimate evil of all Middle-Earth? Yes. And those who long to see the Dark Lord's return now know where it is...and will stop at nothing to get it. Thus our adventure kicks into high gear. Frodo must leave The Shire, stay out of sight, and keep moving until Gandalf can formulate a plan to destroy the ring, before the forces of Sauron can reclaim it. Since no one is immune to the ring's dark siren song, save for someone as pure of heart as Frodo, a fellowship is formed -- an elf (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest), a dwarf (John Rhys-Davies, Raiders of the Lost Ark), two men (Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method; Sean Bean Goldeneye), and three Hobbits (Sean Astin, The Goonies; Dominic Monaghan, Lost; Billy Boyd, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) -- to safely guide him to Mount Doom, where the molten lava that forged it will destroy the ring and Sauron once and for all. Gandalf will lead the way, but there are no guarantees any of them will complete this journey.
Judges Bill Gibron and Michael Rankins have crafted wonderful in-depth essays analyzing every facet of this film and I strongly encourage you take time to read them, if you have not already done so. The Fellowship of the Ring is the one film in the trilogy which leaves the strongest impressions on viewers, introducing them to Middle-Earth and kicking off a quest the takes them from elvish kingdom of Rivendell, to the goblin-infested Mines of Moria, and the forest of Lothlorien. Great battles are waged, new villains revealed, and lives of loved ones are lost. Though The Two Towers is arguably the best film in the series, few people ever forget the visual splendor first discovered here.
The most fantastic aspect of owning these extended editions is the wealth of information gleaned from Peter Jacksons hours upon hours of production diaries and documentary featurettes, detailing everything from Tolkien himself to the most minute but compelling details that went into bringing these films to the screen. It is, without question, the greatest cinematic undertaking of all-time, and the years of dedication and service from everyone involved paid off in spades.
But the question remains: Which version of these films should be in your permanent collection? Ideally, the 15-disc Extended Edition Blu-ray Trilogy is the set of choice. However, if you did not care for The Two Towers or The Return of the King, this is your opportunity to own the most memorable film in the franchise. What's that? You already own the original Extended Edition DVD release? That's great, but you haven't truly been to Middle-Earth until you've experienced it through the eyes and ears of high definition Blu-ray -- magnificent 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen (minus the heavy-handed noise reduction employed on the theatrical release) and an earth-rattling DTS-HD 6.1 Master Audio track. When the story got to the Balrog, I had to disengage the LFE so as not to wake my family. Though the DVD presentation was reference quality for its era, there really is no comparison to this awe-inspiring upgrade.
Sadly, the one deficiency to this otherwise magnificent release is that the bonus materials -- all of which have been ported over from the 2002 Extended Edition DVD release -- did not receive the HD upgrade. But that's the only strike against it. Well, that and the two BD discs it takes to view the tale in its entirety. Remember how we used to hate those early format DVD flipper discs where half the content (and sometimes the film itself) would be stored on each side, forcing us out of the experience to access the remaining material? Well, we get to experience that frustration again here. I suppose you can consider it an intermission.
Discs One and Two
* The Fellowship of the Ring -- Parts One and Two
* Four Commentaries -- 1) Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, 2) The Cast, 3) The Production Team, 4) The Design Team
* Video Game Promo -- The Lord of the Rings: The War in the North
* Easter Egg -- Short film from MTV Movie Awards
Disc Three -- The Appendices: Part One
* Introduction from Peter Jackson
* J.R.R. Tolkien: Creator of Middle-Earth (22 min) -- A rich fascinating backstory on Tolkien from colleagues, biographers, historians, and the production team.
* From Book to Script (20 min) -- Peter and Philippa discuss the opportunities and challenges involved in adapting a tale most felt was unfilmable.
* Visualizing the Story (39 min) -- Peter's painstaking approach to storyboarding and pre-visualization gave the cast and crew an opportunity to see the film they were making before the cameras ever started rolling.
* Designing and Building Middle-Earth (96 min) -- Building of the concept art of Alan Lee and John Howe, Peter and Richard Taylor assemble a team to bring this incredible world to life.
* New Zealand as Middle-Earth (10 min) -- Nowhere on the planet is there an natural environment more appropriate to creating Tolkien's world.
* Middle-Earth Atlas (3 min) -- An interactive map that helps frame the geography of this quest.
Disc Four -- The Appendices: Part Two
* Filming The Fellowship of the Ring (88 min) -- Another tremendously insightful documentary detailing the filmmaking process in front of the camera, from casting, to daily routines, to shooting schedules, and production photos.
* Visual Effects (57 min) -- Peter's love for classic filmmaking informs this exploration of practical in-camera effects, miniatures and model building, and the baptism of fire for Weta Digital.
* Post Production: Putting it All Together (14 min) -- Framing the story in the editing room, with examples of crafting a final sequence.
* Digital Grading (12 min) -- The original look at Peter and Andrew Lesnie's process for coloring the world of Middle-Earth, informing how easy it to change the look of the film.
* Sound and Music (15 min) -- A look at composer Howard Shore and the music he created to dramatically enhance Peter's visuals.
* The Road Goes Ever On (7 min) -- The accolades roll in, as the film makes its worldwide release.
* The Fellowship of the Ring: A Costa Botes' Documentary -- Yet another behind-the-scenes perspective from this fly on the wall documentarian. A much more personal take on the process.
I suppose one could argue for the lack of new material tacked on to this release, but really with the wealth of behind-the-scenes insight already included, what more is there to say?
If you are one of the few who has yet to discover Tolkien's world and Peter Jackson's interpretation of it, stop what you are doing and purchase The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Blu-ray) Extended Edition. Already a fan? Set aside an evening an revisit it. You'll be glad you did.
Not Guilty. Nobody tosses a dwarf.
Review content copyright © 2012 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 6.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 6.1 Master Audio (Portuguese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 228 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Easter Egg