National Geographic: Beyond the Movie: The Lord of the Rings

National Geographic: Beyond the Movie: The Lord of the Rings (2001)
Warner Home Video
Extras: National Geographic Promos

The National Geographic Society continues to amaze me with its ability to branch out beyond the confines of its familiar yellow magazine and take advantage of the latest technology to expand its mission of global education. They were quick to embrace both CD-ROMs and the Internet and their newest venture fuses the latest in blockbuster films with National Geographic’s vast experience in providing in-depth and entertaining analysis.

In what has to be the longest DVD title yet, ’National Geographic: Beyond the Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ examines the historical, cultural, and linguistic roots of J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece and how director Peter Jackson and crew have attempted to adhere to that singular vision while recreating Tolkien’s world on the silver screen.

The 52-minute feature provides some interesting background on Tolkien’s rural English childhood and the trauma of his World War One military service and traces the influence of these defining life experiences on ’The Lord of the Rings.’ Further, the documentary explores the many mythological and historical influences on Tolkien’s work ranging from the sagas of the ancient Anglo-Saxon hero-kings to the Finnish oral epic, ’The Kalevala.’

Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, and others associated with the recent cinematic endeavor also offer their views on Tolkien and discuss the lengths they’ve gone to to ensure that their interpretation of the beloved story is as close to the author’s original intent as possible.

This may sound dry but the assembled experts are all knowledgable and enthusiastic and the commentary is accompanied by wonderful visual aids and numerous snippets from the film. Fans of the film and J.R.R. Tolkien are sure to learn something new from this program.

Presented in its original full frame format the video is of very solid quality. The transfer is clean and clear and offers up accurate enough color rendition and black levels to present both the film elements and the documentary material in fine form. There really is nothing bad to say about it other than the fact that the movie clips are presented in 1.85:1 letterboxed widescreen rather than their original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

Audio comes in an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that becomes quite lively during the film snippets and shots of actual World War One footage. For the rest of the program the soundtrack is more subdued but dialogue is always easily understood.

The only extras on the DVD are a few promo spots for National Geographic that don’t amount to much. If I have one complaint about this disc it’s that the viewer is forced to sit through some very lengthy opening advertisements before they can access the feature presentation. All remote functions are disabled so there’s no way to skip through this dreck and the wait is really quite annoying.

’National Geographic: Beyond the Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ provides a fascinating look at J.R.R. Tolkien and the mythic world he created. I knew I would enjoy the show but I had no idea how informative and truly educational it would prove to be and I really can’t recommend it enough for Tolkien fans. And the movie clips just might be enough to tide you over until the feature film DVD hits the street this spring.