Just in time to help create momentum for the theatrical release of "The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers," New Line Home Entertainment is now releasing the Extended Version of "The Fellowship Of The Ring." Featuring 30 minutes of additional footage integrated into the film itself, I was looking forward to this release that promised to expand even more on the subtleties of the novel.
"The Lord Of The Rings" is without a doubt one of the most important pieces of modern literature and as such deserves only the best treatment. Peter Jackson has really done the impossible with this film – and I presume the sequels – by creating a faithful adaptation of the novels that J. R. R. Tolkien never planned to write and took him 15 years to complete. It would be knuckleheaded to dissect the film like an annotation to the novel because I feel that movies are a different medium entirely that have different requirements and dynamics. Peter Jackson understood that and his approach did take some necessary liberties with the material while always staying faithful to the spirit and the core of the books. Of course, it would have been great to see Tom Bombadil or the Wights among other things, but ultimately Jackson has to think in terms of a dramatic arc over 200-minutes, than Tolkien who had the leisure to pace the story at his very own tempo. As a hardcore fan and scholar of "The Lord Of The Rings" I feel that Peter Jackson did indeed manage to capture the essence of the books without straying too far from the source. But I do say this. Despite Jackson’s admirable efforts and the amazing qualities of the movie, it is evident that not even three films do full justice to "The Lord Of The Rings." Maybe an epic 20-hour mini-series would do, but who’s going to pay for the production of that? If there is anything wrong with "The Fellowship Of The Ring" – and I’m not saying there is – it is that the film feels a bit rushed at times. Events that have significant weight in the book breeze by in the movie without much impact and for someone who has never really read the books, it is oftentimes impossible to fathom the importance of certain scenes despite the director’s best attempts. Sam’s desire to see the elves and his quintessential step out of the field to be the farthest away from home he’s ever been, only because he is so incredibly devoted to Frodo, are only two such scenes. Jackson certainly made the right decision with many of these elements, because they are not really essential to understanding the film itself, but at the same time they would enrich the story so incredibly if intact.
Having said all that, however, I do want to go on record that I feel that Peter Jackson completely delivers and brings Middle-earth to life the way I had always envisioned it in my own mind. The film is a masterful adaptation of the material that truly leaves little to be desired.
The film itself is split onto two separate discs. It is essentially a necessity in order to maintain the high quality standards that New Line is imposing upon themselves. Now, with a running length of 2-hours each, the discs have room to accommodate a DTS ES audio track along with a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital EX mix as well as 4 different commentary tracks with many of the cast and crew members. As a long-time admirer and scholar of Tolkien’s work, it was especially this version, with the inclusion of the commentaries that I was most looking forward to. And it doesn’t disappoint. The image is beautiful throughout. Free of edge-enhancement, the image always has a very silky, film-like appearance that is, however, entirely free of gain or blemishes. It is absolutely stable and doesn’t reveal a single mar, making it such a pleasure to view. When called for, the colors are vibrant and well-saturated, leaping off the screen from their lush scenery. At other times, the DVD perfectly restores the bland and cold color schemes the filmmakers have employed to underscore the desolation of the places and events. Blacks are very deep, creating solid shadows that never lose detail. All in all, the film’s breathtaking cinematography has been perfectly captured here and is restored in all its glory once again making "The Fellowship Of The Ring" quite an experience to watch.
The DVD is no less impressive in the audio department. Featuring a very aggressive and dynamic 6.1 channel DTS ES track, alongside a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital EX track, "The Fellowship Of The Ring" is a showpiece for modern cinema sound mixing. The soundstage is very wide and has a phenomenal range. The frequency response is extremely wide with crystal clear high ends that are always free of distortion and a bass extension that goes well below 25Hz. It is especially this bass extension that gives a lot of weight to the mix, markably during the menacing scenes where low tone clusters begin to build a cacophony. The dynamic range of the track is also staggering and especially in the DTS track the way the subtle nuances and textures are reproduced and the overall transparency of the mix are utterly impressive. From the slightest whisper of wind to the most raging and overwhelming explosion of sounds, this track immaculately reproduces it all and I wouldn’t be surprised to find excerpts of "The Lord Of The Rings" as part of DTS demo presentations henceforth.
To accommodate the new scenes inserted in the film, new sound elements have been added, including a number of new cues that Howard Shore wrote and recorded especially for this version of the film. The new score elements, as well as sound effects and dialogues are nicely integrated and are consistent throughout.
As I mentioned above, the release features no less than 4 commentary tracks. The first one is the eagerly awaited track by director Peter Jackson, his writing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. It is a track that is a treasure trove for all fans. Not only does the track cover many production aspects of the movie itself, it finally offers us an in-depth elaboration on how Peter Jackson approached the material that has been deemed unfilmable for the longest time. His approach to bring the material to the screen, his thoughts on how and why he had to remove certain elements of the books, why he had to restructure some events - it’s all there. Some fanatics may not agree with what Jackson did, but the bottom line is that he did a marvelous job in bringing "The Lord Of The Rings" to the screen, and hopefully this commentary track will also help ease those people into the subject matter and open their minds to the needs that arise with making a film adaptation of something as elaborate as Tolkien’s books.
The second commentary track features the production design team, consisting of costume designer Ngila Dickson, creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe – who both are renowned longtime Tolkien-illustrators aside from working on the films - supervising art director Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Hennah, and workshop manager Tania Rodger. The third track features a large number production and post-production members, including producer Barrie Osborn, executive producer Mark Ordesky, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, editor John Gilbert, co-producer Rick Porras, composer Howard Shore, visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel, supervising sound editors Ethan van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins, animation designer Randy Cook, VFX art director Christian Rivers, VFX cinematographer Brian Vant Hul, and miniatures director of photography Alex Funke, while the fourth track is dedicated to members of the cast. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, John Rhys-Davies, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, and the great Christopher Lee all share their thoughts on this track in extensive detail.
It is really hard to comment on these commentary tracks. They easily qualify for information overkill, but at the same time, they are an invaluable archive of memories, anecdotes and insight into one of the most daring film projects ever brought to fruition. Don’t expect to listen to all these tracks in a single session – you won’t. The wealth of information is so vast that it easily exhausts the viewer – in a very good sense, however. In essence you have 480-something minutes of detailed analysis and commenting on the movie and Tolkien’s world in general. No stone remains unturned and everyone – no matter how familiar with the movie or the novels – will find new inspiration and information in these highly condensed commentaries. Hats off to New Line for going through with this in such detail.
This brings us to the two discs of supplements that are contained in this box set, aptly called "The Appendices." The third disc is, in essence, one huge three-and-a-half hour documentary covering everything you ever wanted to know about the film. It opens with an informative segment on J.R.R. Tolkien himself and from there goes through a variety of topics, each separated in individual chapters, so to say. You will be taken behind the scenes in segments, such as "From Book to Script," which explores how the adaptation of the material was generally approached an achieved. Another segments covers the previsualization stage where concepts were designed and the general question of "How can we do this?" was answered by the production team. The next step – and thus the next two segments – was to bring Middle-Earth to life. Location scouting and building real outdoor sets, like Hobbiton, are extensively covered in this segment as we also learn a lot about Peter Jackson’s methodology to bring this classic story to life. The follow-up segment then covers things like the creation of the thousands of weapons and costumes, all of which where created using procedures that are authentic to the technology available to Middle-Earth. We also get a good look at the creation of all the fantastic creatures, real and digital, in this segment.
Once again, this documentary borders on overkill. There is so much information and content that it is mind-boggling and hard to digest if you really try to take it in all at once.
The fourth disc practically continues the documentary, though with a slightly different angle. We now move on to the actual shooting of the film. The three-part segment "Filming The Fellowship Of The Ring" is one of the most fascinating pieces of the whole set. Not only does it allow us to meet the cast and some crew members on a more intimate level, it also reveals how a film as monumental as this one was shot in some of the most remote – and beautiful – locations in New Zealand. The stories you get to hear here are heartwarming and testimony to how it was possible to shoot three films at the same time over the course of 15 months. The camaraderie and friendships, the bonds that built during the shoot of these films are evidently very strong and to be allowed to witness many of these moments is truly a blessing that you don’t get to see very often.
Well, let me cut this short because I think you get the general idea of the contents of this incredible release. The documentary then allows you to see how the movie went through its post-production process, how special effects were applied and how the right look for the film was achieved.
Across the two discs of appendices you will also find a vast array of other, smaller extras, such as a phenomenal photo gallery with over 2000 photos from the production taken by a variety of people. A number of animatics are also included, as well as a storyboards sequences and comparisons of storyboards and animatics to the final film.
A "Middle-Earth Atlas" can be found on the release which covers the travels of the Fellowship as an interactive feature. A featurette on the various locations in New Zealand is included as well, and a very cool editorial study of the council scene at Rivendell where you get to see all the takes that make up the scene. Running in six windows you see all the different stream at the same time while a larger window at the bottom shows the scene in the final edit, highlighting, which stream the footage was taken from. Not only is this an extremely cool feature, but also shows how hard it is to actually edit a film with all the little tidbits of footage available.
I am sure I missed something in my discussion here and aside form all these features, the release boasts a few exciting hidden features. On a sidenote I also think it is important to point out that in the best of New Line’s traditions, everything on this release is 16x9 enhanced and entirely closed-captioned – without exception.
It is obvious that New Line tried to create a release here that covers everything anyone would ever want to know about the making of this film – and succeeded. I can’t really imagine a more complete package than this – though strangely trailers and TV spots are not included on this release. New Line has been on the bleeding edge wit this production form beginning to end. Whether it’s their audacity – and Peter Jackson’s madness – to shoot all three parts of the movie at the same time, or the quality of this DVD package, this studio shows what the term "dedication" can mean – even in Hollywood. This is a stellar DVD release that is flawless from the first to the last bit. It is a must-buy, becasue this is one of the best DVDs I have ever seen!