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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 86.17)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX
  Subtitles
    Greek, English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Additional footage - Preview of extended edition
  • Teaser trailer - The Two Towers preview
  • 3 Theatrical trailer
  • 15 Featurette
  • Animated menus
  • Music video - May It Be - Enya
  • Behind the scenes footage
  • 6 TV spot
  • 3 Documentaries
  • Dolby Digital trailer - Canyon

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

New Line/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 171 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

For almost the entire history of cinema, the temptation to try and bring visual life to the written word has proven irresistible to filmmakers who want to capture, in some tangible way, the worlds and emotions of a really good novel. Now, that’s all well and good if the novel in question is set in the present day or in some kind of historical context - nobody’s ever had much trouble getting John Grisham or Tom Clancy onto the screen, given a decent budget and a screenwriter who can distil the essentials of the story into a condensed screen version. But get into the realm of science fiction or fantasy, and the task becomes a little more difficult. Just ask the makers of the film version of George Orwell’s 1984, for example. The novel, known so well and loved so much by so many people, had taken on a life of its own in the heads of every individual person that read it, and the movie’s illustration of that world matched the internal visions of very few people. In literal terms they got it right, sure, but they completely missed the emotional resonance of it all. The book is still read today; the film is rarely seen at all.

But then, compared to Tolkien’s massive Lord Of The Rings, the task of getting an Orwell novel onto the screen was child’s’ play. Tolkien’s epic fantasy became one of modern literature’s most beloved works for good reason - it’s got it all. Good versus evil, cultural diversity and interaction, an epic odyssey, magic, mysticism, beauty and repulsive ugliness, pitch-black terror and against-the-odds optimism is combined almost effortlessly by an author who, drawing on the culturally devastating experience of the Second World War in England, crafted a tale that’s rich in imagination and mythology, but which is also richly detailed and uniquely believable. Everyone who read Lord of the Rings conjured up Middle-earth and its inhabitants as a large-scale movie in their own imaginations, and those images remain locked away in the bit of the mind that’s reserved for the truly special stuff. So how could a movie version of the story even come close to getting it right for all but a handful of people?

Remarkably, New Zealand director Peter Jackson’s visualisation of Tolkien’s world turned out to be as close to spot-on as could be expected for just about everybody. Now, that’s no easy achievement when it comes to filming any novel - what the filmmakers see in their heads and put on the screen is probably not going to match the way you saw it yourself when you read the book. Try making a movie out of a story that’s not based in some kind of verifiable reality, though, and the stakes are raised, and you’re almost guaranteed to annoy the hell out of a lot of people who all played a different personal movie in their heads when they read the book. So when the vast majority of Lord of the Rings readers seem to agree that Jackson got it all pretty much right, that says a lot both about the man’s visionary filmmaking skill and Tolkien’s notoriously detailed working methods.

The sheer cost of making three movies to cover the scope of the Lord of the Rings saga meant that if the first film flopped or was poorly received in any way, it would spell doom for the other two. New Line wasn’t taking any chances of that happening, and consequently if you haven’t heard about Fellowship Of The Ring already, if you don’t know of its epic scope and unique emotional and philosophical depth, if you aren’t aware that this is a movie event so big it makes George Lucas’ space opera look like Home And Away by comparison, if you hadn’t noticed that the film was coming out on DVD, then you’re a lot better at avoiding advertising than we are. Watching this disc fly off the shelves of retailers this past week at a pace never seen before (or to borrow a silly grammatical twist favoured by marketers at the moment, “never before seen”) it’s clear just how massively this film struck a chord not just in fans of the book and of fantasy in general, but in just about everyone. Kids, businessmen, nerds, metalheads and techno fans with big baggy clown trousers all lined up to buy the same film, all seeing something in it that’s special - mere marketing, however all-consuming, can’t convince so many people that a movie is good. It’s got to actually be good.

Fellowship of the Ring is a landmark moment in its genre, a revolution in the world of the audience-pleasing big-budget epic, and a groundbreaking visual feast. But above all that it’s a finely-honed, richly textured and genuinely involving adventure tale that’s more than just a good-versus-evil saga, even taken as a stand-alone movie rather than the one-third of a story it actually is. Notably, the performances are allowed to stand out along with the often-amazing visuals - you can care about these characters, because they’re more than just two-dimensional functionaries in a visual-effects world. When it’s done with such passion and enthusiasm, you can easily forgive Tolkien’s little transgressions (he may have invented entire languages, but he was also perfectly happy to give the home of evil the pantomime title of “Mount Doom”!)

Even at its nearly three-hour length, Fellowship of the Ring is forced to rush through some of the book’s events to get to where it’s going without the audience having to buy sleeper cabins (the upcoming special-edition DVD’s extended version will reportedly pace some events a little less hectically) but it’s well-rounded entertainment throughout whether you’ve read the book or not, as well as being a stunning cinematic achievement that looks like rivalling the original Star Wars series not only in innovation and scope but also in sheer social impact. That’s a big ask, we know. But this is a big movie. Every home should have one.

  Video
Contract

What, you expected anything less than perfection? There was absolutely no way that this video transfer was going to be sub-standard, but even with that taken as a given, this transfer is still an absolute knockout. Presented at its theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio and of course 16:9 enhanced, it’s a vibrant, crisp video rendering of the movie that allows the vibrant (and often exaggerated) colours to leap off the screen, but still offers all the shadow detail and richness of resolution required to make the sequence in the Mines of Moria work (watch it in the dark, by the way, for the full effect!) Jackson, along with cinematographer Andrew Lesnie and the visual effects team, freely alters contrast, brightness and colour in some sequences, and it’s all faithfully reproduced on DVD.

The word “artefact” has been eliminated from the vocabulary on this disc. No film glitches, absolutely no compression problems, and only a short pause for the layer change (which is well placed) to remind you that you’re watching a consumer medium and not a master tape.

Speaking of the Oscar-winning Andrew Lesnie, his widescreen frame composition throughout is absolutely stunning, and you wouldn’t want to be watching this movie in any other ratio.

Interestingly, despite the length of the movie and the flawless transfer to disc, there’s still a good amount of unused space on this dual-layered disc. It just goes to prove that achieving perfect picture quality isn’t just about chewing through as much data as possible...!

The only negative is the use of a subtitle stream for an opening location title and some later translations (note that they’re not “player-generated subtitles” - they’re stored as bitmaps, and the player merely overlays them on the video). It may be common on European discs (this master was used in Europe as well) but it still looks dreadfully shoddy compared to the carefully-chosen typeface seen on theatrical prints of the film.

  Audio
Contract

While the image quality is flawless, the sound isn’t quite up to the standard of sheer perfection we might have hoped for - though make no mistake, it’s very good. The multi-channel mix here is in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, though the EX flag has not been set and most will have to manually tell their decoders to extract the extra rear channel (we listened to a few sequences with EX turned on and turned off, by the way, and heard little if any difference). A Dolby Surround mix is also provided and is flagged appropriately for decoders that like that kind of thing.

According to the disc credits, the movie’s audio has been “remixed and mastered specifically for DVD” by one Brant Biles, under the “supervision” of original re-recording mixer Christopher Boyes. This is an interesting decision (though apparently not the first time this sort of for-home-video remixing has been done) but in practise it appears to be pretty much the same sound mix heard in cinemas; perhaps “remixed” in this case simply means that the relative channel levels were re-balanced.

At any rate, the main problem here - and it’s a minor one - is dialogue. Too often it’s mixed too quietly - when listening to the soundtrack so that the Very Loud Bits are at ear-bleed level, dialogue during more sedate moments has a tendency to be close to inaudible at times and very midrangey at others, making it seem like the characters are mumbling (they’re not). Much of the dialogue is “looped” (dubbed later in a recording studio) and it doesn’t always sound especially realistic - that “indoors” sound so commonly associated with looped dialogue can be heard from time to time.

Fidelity is generally good aside from this; the soundtrack makes extensive and excellent use of the LFE channel and the split surrounds throughout. After a fairly tame start, this turns into one of the most immersive surround soundtracks you’ll hear.

  Extras
Contract

You know the story by now; all the good extra features are going to be on November’s four-disc over-the-top version, with the bonus disc here containing a pile of the promotional stuff that was at hand from the movie’s launch. It initially looks like a lot’s here, but in reality there’s not much of real value, most of it fun to flick through but lacking in substance. Most annoying of all, the various featurettes all seem to draw on the same pool of interview and production footage; you’ll be consumed with deja vu before you get half way through this material. The animated menu transitions are nice enough but become a bit frustratingly slow after a few run-throughs, as usual.

Welcome To Middle-earth - Houghton Mifflin In-Store Special: A 17-minute in-store video produced by Tolkien’s US publisher and destined, presumably, for the excited US bookstore customers, who got to see a snippet of the movie but, more interestingly, get to hear from original publisher Rayner Unwin, who has since passed away. An amusing fact revealed here is that Houghton Mifflin has an employee whose job title is “Director of Tolkien Projects"!

Quest For The Ring - FOX TV Special: Let the self-gratifying talking heads commence! “During the next half hour...” says the host, introducing this 21 minute featurette that’s a great big commercial with the other commercials that would have made it the full half hour mercifully removed.

A Passage To Middle-earth - Sci-Fi Channel Special: The best (and, at 42 minutes, the longest) of the promo featurettes here, though that’s not saying much; by the time you get through this one you’ll have digested nearly 80 minutes of pure hype and scant facts, and in some ways it spoils the pure enjoyment of the movie when you see all this unashamed marketing so blatantly thrust in your face. Incidentally, quite how this fits in with the agenda of the “sci-fi” channel at all is something of a mystery...!

lordoftherings.net Featurettes: All fifteen of the “teaser” mini-documentaries that were disseminated via the official web site in the long lead-up to the movie’s release, all handily stored in the one place for your perusal without having to resort to 12 frame per second Quicktime in a postage-stamp window. Of varying quality, these contain quite a bit of reused interview and other footage, but there’s the occasional interesting bit here; obviously due to their tiny size, none of these are remotely in-depth. Total run time is just under 40 minutes.

Theatrical Trailers: Two teasers and a full-sized trailer, all 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 with suitably over-the-top Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Curiously, the original teaser that was screened in cinemas doesn’t appear to be here; presumably it’ll turn up in the super-ultra-maxi edition.

TV Spots: For the masochists amongst you who can’t get enough advertising, these will end up being more of historical interest - in 20 years’ time it’ll be good to have access to copies of the actual TV ads used to market the film. Six of them are here.

Music Video - Enya - May It Be: It’s Enya. It’s in the end credits. And whatever you think of the idea of using contemporary singers in timeless movies, just thank Zarquon it’s not Celine Dion.

Special Extended Edition DVD Preview: “Dear fan. Thank you so much for buying this movie on DVD. Now that you’ve got it home, we’d like to show you all the stuff we’re NOT giving you this time, so that you may be tempted to fork out even more money for the next version.” Despite the obvious appeal of a longer cut of the film, this preview of that longer version and the extras that will be included with it comes across as a bit too market-savvy for its own good. Still, when there’s money to be made, never miss a chance to sell your product...!

Behind The Scenes Preview Of The Two Towers: The bit that’ll have fans salivating, this ten-minute teaser has Peter Jackson introducing us to the next instalment in the series - out at Christmastime - showing us tantalising glimpses of it and telling us how much bigger and more visual it’s going to be than the first film. It looks like it’ll be terrific, and as an added bonus the next one’s got the fabulous Miranda Otto and David Wenham in it.

The Two Towers Video Game preview by EA: “Please buy our video game, it rocks. Ta. This has been a paid commercial announcement.”

Dolby Digital Canyon Trailer: Right before the feature, as usual, and perfect for double-checking your subwoofer’s plugged in before the movie proper starts.

  Overall  
Contract

It seems a bit redundant for us to be writing anything about this movie, really; almost everyone reading has seen it already and made up their own minds, and you didn’t need us to tell you the disc was going to look and sound great. But if you’re one of the couple of dozen who’ve successfully avoided Fellowship Of The Ring until now - perhaps on the grounds that you don’t go for that fantasy kind of thing - go get yourself a copy immediately and feel secure in the knowledge that for once a super-hyped, everyone’s-seen-it movie is actually able to withstand the hyperbole and come out the other side unscathed. Like the Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Back to the Future series, this has all the hallmarks of being the first instalment of a history-making trilogy.

At the heavily-discounted price it’s being sold for around town, the relative lack of depth and substance on the extras disc is unimportant - the movie alone is worth the $30 you’ll pay. Go get one.


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      And I quote...
    "The relative lack of depth and substance on the extras disc is unimportant - the movie alone is worth the $30 you’ll pay. Go get one."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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