Our reviews of The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (published September 30th, 2002), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Blu-ray) Extended Edition (published September 17th, 2012), and The Lord Of The Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Blu-Ray) (published March 31st, 2010) are also available.
Its power corrupts all who desire it. Only one has the will to resist it. A Fellowship of nine must destroy it.
"One Ring to rule them all;
Even those who have never read John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy can recite the mystic inscription on the One Ring around which the epic fantasy revolves. Not since Shakespeare had a single author (assuming you believe the literary "William Shakespeare" was in fact a single person, but that's a conversation for another time) so firmly established a cast of characters and a sense of place in English literature, or indeed in English-speaking culture.
The Oxford professor's meticulously nuanced and obsessively detailed works, first published in 1954, would seem impossible to translate to film. Any fan who endured Ralph Bakshi's misbegotten 1978 attempt to animate the first half of the trilogy (The Lord of the Rings), or the execrable 1980 Rankin-Bass cartoon follow-up The Return of the King, would have believed that position correct. And to do The Trilogy in live action? What filmmaker would be so daft?
New Zealander Peter Jackson, that's who. His first installment of a three-picture series, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring exploded box-office records in 2001 and generated a new generation of Tolkien adherents, while mostly pleasing—with predictable quibbles—the existing legion of Middle-Earth aficionados.
Following its successful DVD release in August 2002, Jackson and New Line Home Entertainment have unleashed a four-disc blockbuster update of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, including all-new supplemental material and, more significantly, an extended version of the film with 30 minutes of never-before-seen footage added.
To upgrade or not to upgrade? That is the question.
Facts of the Case
For analysis of the theatrical version of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, I refer the reader to Judge Bill Gibron's comprehensive review here at DVD Verdict. The following Facts of the Case presume the reader is already acquainted with the earlier release of the film—or at least with the general outline of the first book in Tolkien's trilogy—and will therefore focus on the material unique to the Extended Edition.
Devotees will be ecstatic to learn that Peter Jackson's enlargement of TLOTR: TFOTR in no way alters the plotline or narrative direction of the theatrical release. No huge new revelations or monumental twists have been introduced. The additional footage contributes primarily to the development of the main characters, restoring scenes that flesh out their personalities and render them more three-dimensionally. Tolkien novices should appreciate the additions, as the new material helps the less-familiar viewer better understand the characters, particularly as they relate to and interact with one another. Tolkien experts should be happy that numerous character shadings glossed over or missing altogether in the original cut have been broadened in this version.
Following are some of the key additions included in the Extended Edition. (This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Identifying every frame of new footage would require more fortitude than this reviewer—or the average Verdict patron—possesses. So please be gentle with the "You missed this scene!" emails.)
• The prologue has been filled out with additional sequences that make it clearer how the One Ring passed from Isildur, who captured it following Sauron's destruction, to the creature Gollum, and eventually to Bilbo Baggins.
• A new introductory sequence shows Bilbo (Ian Holm, Alien) writing his book about his adventures, a work touched on in passing in the theatrical release. This sequence also offers an interesting snapshot of everyday life among the Shire Hobbits, including the only images in the film of Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin, Rudy) plying his trade—gardening.
• Scenes are added to Bilbo's birthday party, involving Bilbo's consternation at the arrival of some out-of-town relatives. This sequence helps establish the relationship between cousins Bilbo and Frodo (Elijah Wood, The Faculty), whose first onscreen interaction in the theatrical release comes much later, in the Rivendell sequence.
• A scene in the local pub at Hobbiton demonstrates the camaraderie between Frodo, Sam, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), as they sing, dance, and quaff suds.
• As they leave the Shire on their journey, Frodo and Sam catch a glimpse of a caravan of Elves departing Middle-Earth. Elrond (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix) alludes to this exodus in the Rivendell sequence.
• The journey of Strider (Viggo Mortensen, A Perfect Murder) and the Hobbits from Bree to Rivendell is greatly expanded, affording early insight into the developing relationship between Frodo and Strider/Aragorn.
• Additional dialogue has been included in the Council sequence that results in the formation of the Fellowship of the Ring.
• While in Rivendell, Aragorn visits his mother's gravesite.
• At the conclusion of the Rivendell sequence, Elrond and Arwen (Liv Tyler, One Night at McCool's) bid farewell to the Fellowship.
• New footage has been added to the battle with the Orcs and the Cave-troll in Moria.
• Significant material has been added to the Lothlorien sequence. The character of Galadriel (Cate Blanchett, The Gift), in particular, receives more face-time and dialogue. A scene in which Galadriel gives gifts to each of the Fellowship members has been restored.
• Aragorn and Boromir (Sean Bean, GoldenEye) spot Gollum shadowing the Fellowship from Lothlorien.
• The battle at Amon Hen has been expanded and re-edited.
Count this Judge among those filmgoers who begin contemplating their navels when a movie runs longer than two hours. To Peter Jackson's eternal credit, I experienced no such squirminess during any of several viewings of the nearly three-hour theatrical cut of TLOTR: TFOTR. I was, however, apprehensive at the prospect of sitting through an even lengthier version. Granted, the Tolkien-obsessed would gladly endure saddle sores to have every precious word of The Trilogy brought to the screen, even if each segment of the saga consumed a full 24-hour day…as well it could. But for those of us only nominally enthused about the saga of Middle-Earth, would an additional 30 minutes render an excellent film intolerable?
Thankfully—and surprisingly—no. The material restored in this Extended Edition fits so perfectly into the stream of the narrative that the new version hardly feels longer than the shorter original. If anything, the fresh cut moves more logically and efficiently, with the added character details enticing us further into the drama. Almost all of the restored scenes work brilliantly, the one exception being the odd and rather clunky introduction to Hobbiton and the Shire. (Actually, the slice-of-life shots in this sequence are fine—it's the exposition around Bilbo that feels out of place.)
Most notable is the expansion of the Lothlorien sequence, which had two problems in the theatrical release: the scene felt rushed and somehow incomplete, and the character Galadriel assumed a darker, more sinister cast than the books implied. The extra footage here gives this important section of the story a more confident and cohesive appearance. Galadriel is given opportunity to reflect the sunnier aspects of her persona, which are more dominant in Tolkien's description. The gift scene is a tender, emotional showcase for each of the Fellowship comrades.
As impressive as his Oscar-nominated work on the theatrical release was, editor John Gilbert pulls off a masterstroke with this recut. Confronted with nearly six million feet of film, Gilbert manages to select the cream he was required to skim to corral the original film into a box-office-friendly run time. He then seamlessly blends these choice additions into the picture in a way that not only enhances the story, but does it so subtly that the narrative flow suffers nary a ripple. Best of all, composer Howard Shore contributed brand-new score segments to accompany the additional footage. The end product isn't as much a different film as it is a glistening polish of the beloved modern classic.
Is the upgrade sufficient to warrant a second purchase, for viewers who already invested in the twin-disc DVD featuring the theatrical film? The answer to that question goes beyond the film, to the supplementary content crammed into the new four-platter package. But first, consider the film itself. The Extended Edition spreads the expanded cut across two discs, eliminating any potential compression conflicts and enabling as pristine an anamorphic transfer as current technology will allow. (Yes, you have to get up and change discs halfway through the film. What—you really want to sit stationary for three-and-a-half straight hours? Who are you, Stephen King in Creepshow?) The video is crystal clear, razor sharp, and dead solid perfect. Color, contrast, and clarity resonate and harmonize like the violin section of the Boston Pops. Blacks are deeper than the fattest string on a Fender bass. No defects in the source material or the digital reproduction appear anywhere. Edge enhancement is employed so judiciously as to be almost unnoticeable. The audio—offered in DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, or 2.0 Stereo—is equally spectacular: at turns immersive, enveloping, and thunderous.
Now the supplements, none of which are carryovers from the theatrical-version set. The viewer can choose from among four—count 'em, four—discrete, full-length audio commentaries, all of which are informative and engrossing. The pick of the litter comes from the triumvirate of director/writer/producer Peter Jackson, writer/producer Fran Walsh, and writer Philippa Boyens, but the contributions from the assembled cast, from the design team, and from the production staff all shine. The cast commentary is lighter in tone and edges toward degenerating into a saccharine mutual admiration society on occasion, but it's pleasant and fun. The two technical tracks repeat one another and Jackson et al. here and there. Some cross-pollination is to be expected within this volume of conversation, and each commentary is sufficiently varied to warrant at least sampling from both. (Suggestion: use your remote to alternate between the technical tracks during the more effects-heavy sequences.)
The bulk of the added content—and I do mean bulk—is located on Discs Three and Four of the set, together titled "The Appendices" (after the codas to Tolkien's books). "Appendices Part One: From Book to Vision" kicks off with an introduction by Peter Jackson explaining the lay of the digital land. To view the documentary features, the viewer can select individual segments or a "Play All" option. All of the featurettes are chapter-stopped for efficient scanning. The six docuflicks on this disc (with approximate running lengths):
• J.R.R. Tolkien: Creator of Middle-Earth (22:30): A rather dry biography of the Professor, featuring interviews with Jackson, Boyens, and a host of Tolkien scholars who've probably waited half their lives to get some of these observations off their chests in a non-academic setting.
• From Book to Script (20:00): The development of the Lord of the Rings film project. A veritable myriad of crew and cast members offer their insights.
• Storyboards and Pre-Viz: Making Words into Images (13:30): The conceptualization process. Jackson borrowed a page from George Lucas and made extensive use of computer-generated concept animation in addition to conventional pencil-drawn static storyboards (and even toured Skywalker Ranch to observe how the big boys did it).
• Designing Middle-Earth (40:00): An intriguing look at the creation of the film's amazing design work. Veteran Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe (who, despite working in the same milieu for many years, had never before met) were brought onto the project in the early stages to develop a visual style consistent with existing visual conventions accepted by Tolkien and his devotees. It's fascinating to hear how these two men, intimately familiar with—but with highly individual perspectives on—the world of The Lord of the Rings came together to craft a cohesive look, and how some of their preconceptions changed as they collaborated with each other and with the rest of the design team.
• Weta Workshop (33:00): A peek inside creative supervisor Richard Taylor's nerve center (which will remind many viewers of Jim Henson's Creature Shop).
• Costume Design (11:30): Capturing the fashion sensibilities of Middle-Earth.
Additional items to be found on Appendices One:
• Early Storyboard Sequence: The Prologue (7:30). A combination of traditional and CGI storyboarding showing an early concept of the introductory exposition.
• Two abandoned storyboard sequences, and two CGI animatics of scenes that remained in the film.
• A storyboard-to-film comparison of the Nazgûl attack at Bree. This sequence can be viewed in storyboard, as the finished sequence, or with the two elements in split-screen format. A pre-visualization of the Khazad-dûm staircase scene can be viewed using the same options.
• Test footage of the Bag End set (6:30). Jackson and a handful of crew members did an impromptu walk-through of Bilbo's house, with Jackson himself playing Bilbo and a stagehand holding a mask aloft on a pole subbing for Gandalf.
• An interactive atlas allows the viewer to click on locations on a map of Middle-Earth and view scenes from the film occurring in each location. It's helpful in grasping the geography of Tolkien's world.
• New Zealand as Middle-Earth is a collection of seven documentary clips totaling about 10 minutes, illustrating the real-life locations where the film was shot. Producer Rick Porras and art director Dan Hennah offer commentary. The clips can be accessed individually or via a "Play All" feature.
This disc also contains comprehensive production art galleries featuring all of the characters and locations.
Appendices Part Two is subtitled "From Vision to Reality." Star Elijah Wood introduces the cornucopia of documentary goodies here:
• The Fellowship of the Cast (34:30): The cast members discuss their experiences and relationships. It's clear than everyone who worked on the trilogy had an absolute ball, especially the actors who were present for the entire 16-month shooting cycle. Nearly every significant cast member contributes a few anecdotes. After viewing the film in detail, seeing the actors in their "natural" hairstyles and faces is striking.
• A Day in the Life of a Hobbit (13:00): The four Hobbits in the fellowship (Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, and Billy Boyd) take us through their common experience with shaggy wigs, highwater trousers, and prosthetic feet and ears.
• Cameras in Middle-Earth (50:00): Location filming in New Zealand. Some of this information echoes material in the supplements on Appendices Part One, but the footage and interview segments are fresh.
• Scale (15:30): Highlighting the various tricks used to deal with the realities of normal-sized actors portraying Hobbits and Dwarves. Jackson and crew juggled a variety of solutions (most practical, not computer-generated) to the height challenges, including some unique forced-perspective set designs and short-statured body doubles.
• Big-atures (16:00): So titled because many of the "miniatures" used in the film were actually quite large (as tall as fifteen feet).
• Weta Digital (25:00): The visual effects created by Jackson's personal CGI staff.
• Editorial: Assembling an Epic (12:30): Editor John Gilbert discusses the intricacies of turning millions of feet of celluloid into a motion picture.
• Digital Grading (12:00): The work of Peter Doyle, master digital colorist—the guy who tweaks the pictures to produce the film's incredible shading of color and light.
• The Soundscapes of Middle-Earth (12:30): What makes a Balrog sound different from a Ring-wraith? You'll find out here.
• Music for Middle-Earth (12:30): The rings are alive with the sounds of Enya.
• The Road Goes Ever On… (5:00): Publicity scenes from the premiere of TLOTR: TFOTR, and a glance into the future of the trilogy.
This disc also includes an editorial demonstration feature based on the Council of Elrond sequence. Six panels display footage from 36 different takes of the scene that were knitted together to render the scene as it appears in the final film. The completed sequence plays in a seventh panel beneath.
Enough for you? Well, don't give up yet. New Line holds out the promise of special Web-based content that should be able as the Extended Edition hits the marketplace.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's fascinating to consider how different this beast could have been. The first script treatment by Jackson and Walsh proposed two films, much in the manner of the ill-fated Ralph Bakshi project from the 1970s, the second half of which was never made. (Jackson, incidentally, cites Bakshi's film as his introduction to the Tolkien mythology.) The original studio, Miramax, wanted the entire Rings cycle boiled down to a single film. It was the executives at New Line who pushed the notion of a true trilogy, at which point Jackson and Walsh enlisted Philippa Boyens to help flesh out their two-script treatment into three.
It's also fascinating to observe, in the wake of the dustup over the all-English casting of the Harry Potter films, how successfully Jackson was able to integrate American actors (Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler) into lead roles in this very Anglocentric tale. Hmm…maybe it's the talent and not the passport that counts.
After seeing the Extended Edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, it's difficult to justify wanting to revisit the theatrical cut. Ever.
Think of it this way: plain prime rib makes an excellent meal, but after tasting your beef drenched in au jus and daubed with pungent horseradish, with Yorkshire pudding and creamed spinach on the side, would you ever want to eat it naked again?
This one Ring rules them all. A spectacular achievement in cinema, and the best DVD package of this or any year to date. The Court orders you to buy it, linger over it, savor it, fondle it, and call it "Precious." Any case against New Line for gratuitous double-dipping is summarily dismissed. We're in recess.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Special Extended DVD Edition with Over 30 Minutes of New Footage and Music
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