Lord of the Rings, The: The Fellowship of the Ring – 4-Disc Special Extended DVD Edition

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Oct 14, 2002
  • Format: DVD
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Director

Peter Jackson

Release Date(s)

2001 (November 12, 2002)

Studio(s)

WingNut Films/Saul Zaentz/New Line Cinema (New Line)

Technical Specifications

Disc One: The Film – Extended Edition, Part I

Part I – 105 mins (approx 228 mins total – includes 20 min fan club credit roll on Disc Two), PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 47:15, in chapter 12), custom slipcase with fold-out “Digipack” packaging, production sketches, audio commentary (with the director Peter Jackson and writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens), audio commentary (with design team members Grant Major, Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah, Chris Hennah and Tania Rodger), audio commentary (with production and post-production team members Barrie Osborne, Mark Ordesky, Andrew Lesnie, John Gilbert, Rick Porras, Howard Shore, Jim Rygiel, Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, Randy Cook, Christian Rivers, Brian Van’t Hull and Alex Funke), audio commentary (with cast members Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee and Sean Bean), 12-page booklet, Easter egg, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES & DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: The Film – Extended Edition, Part II

Part II – 123 mins (approx 228 mins total – includes 20 min fan club credit roll on Disc Two), PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 54:35, at the start of chapter 12), audio commentary (with the director Peter Jackson and writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens), audio commentary (with design team members Grant Major, Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah, Chris Hennah and Tania Rodger), audio commentary (with production and post-production team members Barrie Osborne, Mark Ordesky, Andrew Lesnie, John Gilbert, Rick Porras, Howard Shore, Jim Rygiel, Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, Randy Cook, Christian Rivers, Brian Van’t Hull and Alex Funke), audio commentary (with cast members Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee and Sean Bean), Easter egg, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (22 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES & DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Three: The Appendices, Part I – From Book to Vision

Peter Jackson introduction (1 min, 16x9, DD 2.0), J.R.R. Tolkien: Creator of Middle Earth featurette (22 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), From Book to Script featurette (20 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), Storyboards and Pre-Viz: Making Words into Images featurette (20 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), 3 early storyboards (Prologue, Orc Pursuit into Lothlorian and Sarn Gebir Rapids Chase – 11 mins total, 16x9, DD 2.0), 2 pre-viz animatics (Gandalf Rides to Orthanc and The Stairs of Khazad-Düm – 3 mins total, 16x9, DD 2.0), multi-angle storyboard-to-film comparison (Nazgul Attack at Bree – 2 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), multi-angle pre-viz-to-film comparison (Bridge of Khazad-Düm – 2 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), Bag End Set Test (6 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), Designing Middle-Earth documentary (41 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), Weta Workshop documentary (43 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), Costume Design featurette (12 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), 19 production design galleries (on the peoples and realms of Middle-Earth), interactive Middle-Earth Atlas (16x9, DD 2.0), interactive New Zealand as Middle-Earth map with location video (8 mins total, 16x9, DD 2.0), DVD credits, help text, “play all” feature, disc index, DVD-ROM features (including weblinks), animated film-themed menus with sound and music

Disc Four: The Appendices, Part II – From Vision to Reality

 Elijah Wood introduction (1 min, 16x9, DD 2.0), The Fellowship of the Cast documentary (35 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), A Day in the Life of a Hobbit featurette (13 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), Cameras in Middle-Earth documentary (50 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), production photo gallery, Scale featurette (15 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), Big-atures featurette (16 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), 6 big-atures galleries, WETA Digital featurette (25 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), Editorial: Assembling an Epic featurette (13 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), multi-angle editorial demonstration (Council of Elrond – 1 min, 16x9, DD 2.0), Digital Grading featurette (12 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), The Soundscapes of Middle-Earth featurette (13 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), Music for Middle-Earth featurette (12 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), The Road Goes Ever On... featurette (7 mins, 16x9, DD 2.0), DVD credits, help text, “play all” feature, disc index, DVD-ROM features (including weblinks), animated film-themed menus with sound and music

Review

 

Part One – Film & Presentation Quality

“In the lands of Middle Earth, legend tells of a Ring...”

For years, people said The Lord of the Rings could never be brought to the screen.  It was too big, too vast, too expensive.  Well... director Peter Jackson and his team have proven the doubters wrong, at least so far.  This is, after all, just the first part of his three film epic adaptation of the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien literary saga.  But what an amazing, magical and riveting opening act it is.

It’s many years after the events told in the book The Hobbit.  Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) has grown old in the Shire, and now longs to retire in peace.  But Bilbo has a secret – he’s been keeping a ring that he found on his adventures.  And it’s no ordinary ring.  This is the one Ring, created by the dark lord Sauron many thousands of years ago to enslave the world.  Sauron was defeated then, and the Ring was thought lost.  But Bilbo passes it on to his nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood), without realizing that the dark lord has risen again and is now scouring all of Middle Earth for it.  When he learns what’s at stake, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) instructs Frodo to leave the Shire for his own safety and take the ring with him.  But Sauron’s forces are hot on his trail and pursue him mercilessly.  Thankfully, a band of loyal companions joins Frodo on his journey, a Fellowship tasked with the seemingly impossible goal of destroying the Ring once and for all.  But to do so, they’ll have to take it back to Mount Doom where it was originally forged... straight into the very heart of Evil itself.

Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the first book in this trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, manages to stay almost perfectly true to the spirit of the original novel.  Jackson’s cut out all of the unfilmable literary texture – the limericks, the irrelevant characters, the slow build-up of detail – so this film gets right to the story and keeps the action moving all the way through.  But lest fans get too upset, he’s managed to replace much of that literary texture with its equivalent in visual, production design texture.  So this film feels like the world we pictured in our heads as we read the novels.  Better still, the casting here is magnificent.  Ian McKellen simply is the wizard Gandalf.  While Elijah Wood might have seemed an unlikely choice to play Frodo Baggins at first, he proves in this film that he’s more than up to the task, infusing the Hobbit with the perfect measure of pathos and humanity.  And the supporting cast delivers in spades as well, including the likes of Viggo Mortensen, Sean Austin, Cate Blanchette, John Rhyes-Davies, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee... the list is long and without a single weak link.  Even Liv Tyler manages to hold her own here, and that’s saying something.  Simply put, this is absolutely one of the best (if not the best) films of 2001.

And now it’s been made even better in this extended DVD version, with the addition of some 30 minutes of footage that was cut to save time during the film’s theatrical run.  The new footage includes (but is not limited to) a much extended opening with Bilbo writing his memoirs, a new introduction to Samwise Gamgee, a scene at the Green Dragon Inn, the Hobbits witnessing the departure of the Elves from Middle Earth on the way to Bree, Aragorn singing the ballad of Beren and Luthien, Aragorn at his mother’s grave, new moments during the departure from Rivendale in which we see Arwen’s emotional reaction to Aragorn’s leaving as well as Elrond seeing the Fellowship off, a scene in the mines of Moria in which we learn how the Dwarves unleashed the fire-demon, Galadriel’s complete gift-giving scene at Lothlorien and more footage of the battle at Amon Hen.

All that would be impressive enough.  But there are also many smaller scenes, scene extensions and additional brief moments that have been added in throughout the length of the film.  The cumulative effect is to make this film seem vastly more epic in scope – something I would never have guessed possible.  There’s a greater sense of distance to the Fellowship’s journey, with many more points of interest along the way.  We get to learn much more about Hobbits in the new opening, and there’s more interaction between Frodo and Bilbo, which illuminates their fond relationship.  You see that Gollum has continued to follow the Fellowship after leaving Moria.  Lothlorien is depicted in much greater detail.  The battle scenes are all much more intense now, and several characters are given added moments that make them feel more rounded, particularly Boromir (his last stand is now much more heroic and emotional).  There’s more humor in this cut.  And the new footage adds significant texture and depth to the film – particularly welcome as much of this directly references material in the original book.  The result, ultimately, is a much more satisfying viewing experience.  I have no doubt that those who disliked the film because it was too long will bemoan the new version.  But for fans, if you liked Fellowship in its theatrical form, you will absolutely love this.

One note – there’s a good 20 minutes of credits that have been added to the end of the film (and the end of the regular credits) that feature the names of the members of The Lord of the Rings fan club.  This 20 minutes isn’t counted as part of the 30 minutes of actual scenes restored to the film itself.

Now let’s address the quality of this disc in both video and audio.  I will tell you that I’ve been closely comparing the 4-disc extended version with the 2-disc theatrical version for about 2 hours now.  And the anamorphic widescreen video does exhibit subtle (but substantial for high-end users) quality improvements, owing to the fact that the film has been split over 2 discs (and thus has a significantly higher average video bit rate).  The video exhibits greater overall clarity.  There’s more depth to the image, colors are slightly more vibrant and more detail is discernible.  Whereas the 2-disc’s video looked very good, but slightly “crushed” (given it’s greater MPEG-2 compression), this 4-disc version feels fuller and richer looking.  I think most consumers will never notice these differences on the average 4x3 monitor.  But those of you viewing via larger, anamorphic front and rear projection will appreciate the quality improvements.

The audio characteristics of the 4-disc set also exhibit improvement from what the 2-disc version provided.  First of all, both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 6.1 ES tracks on the new set are improved over the single Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the previous release.  From the Dolby Digital side, this extended version features a surround mix with significant changes, owing to the work that was required to integrate the new footage.  Music cues are different now, with subtle tonal changes, as is the actual sound effects mix in many scenes.  It’s almost not fair to compare the two Dolby Digital tracks for this reason.  Still, the Dolby track on the 4-disc set represents an improvement, in that the surround mix seems slightly more active, with a measure of greater spaciousness in the imaging.

The DTS 6.1 track, however, goes even further.  As good as the new Dolby Digital track is, it still has a more artificial, directional sound quality.  The DTS is a smoother sounding track, creating a more immersive and naturally ambient sound environment.  The imaging is more precise and refined, with significantly greater subtlety and clarity.  The differences between the new Dolby Digital and DTS tracks aren’t huge, but again, high-end users with quality equipment will certainly appreciate them.  The DTS track is definitely my choice.

In terms of supplemental materials, Discs One and Two include no less than 4 full-length audio commentaries.  I’ve only sampled these (3 and 1/2 hours times 4 is a lot of viewing!) but I can tell you a few things to get you started.  First of all, all of the audio commentaries are menu selectable (however you can switch audio tracks on the fly).  When you select a particular commentary in the options menu, you’re shown a list of everyone who participated in that track (a very long list indeed in some cases!).  Then, as you’re watching the tracks, subtitle text appears at the top of the screen when different participants speak, identifying not only the speaker, but also their role in the production (or their character in the case of the actors).

The most immediately engaging of the commentaries is the actors’ track, which is quite funny.  You can tell that these actors really enjoy both their interactions with one another, and also being involved in the film itself.  They react to the new footage in this cut with almost as much enthusiasm as the viewer will.  There are also many thoughtful insights as well, particularly from Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee (who each make frequent appearances in addition to nearly all of the rest of the cast).  Peter Jackson’s track with the writers is even more fascinating, in that you’re given incredible insights into the story of the film – the decisions made in adapting the original book, roads not taken with the film, character development issues – as well as production related topics, like how simple tricks were used to fudge scale to create accurately-sized Hobbits.  There’s also a great deal of discussion about the new scenes – why they were cut from the theatrical version and the value of adding them back in here.  As one would expect, the production design commentary addresses the extensive detail that went into the design of every on-screen element, no matter how trivial it may seem.  You learn about the design philosophy, and how everything can be traced back to the original Tolkien books.  And the production/post-production track deals with the more practical filmmaking issues – the sheer massiveness of the effort required to shoot the three films back-to-back.  There are also wonderful moments here with composer Howard Shore, talking about how the music changes as the story develops.

Taken in total, there’s a truly incredible amount of information contained in these commentaries.  You’re often able to learn about specific aspects of the production from 4 different perspectives, which really gives you a feel for the reality of the filmmaking process.  Plus, on how many commentaries do you get such complete and enthusiastic participation from nearly everyone involved in the film?  Extraordinary.  Beyond this, I don’t really want to tell you anything more about these tracks.  There’s just so much information in them that they truly deserve to be experienced fresh, over enough time to allow you to absorb everything.  I’ll be living with these tracks for weeks, I have no doubt.

Other things worthy of mentioning here... the animated menus are very well (and tastefully) done, presented as if you are moving through the chapters of the original book.  On the scene selection menu, the chapter stop listings indicate which specific scenes are new and which are extended from the theatrical version – a nice touch for those searching specifically for the new material.  When Disc One ends (right after Pippin’s gag line “Right.  Where are we going?” at the end of the Council of Elrond), the screen cuts to black and text fades in: “The Story Continues on Disc Two”.  Then, when you start Disc Two, a black screen comes up with the following text selections: “Continue Film,” “Continue Commentaries,” “Set-up and Options”.  Opting to continue the film takes you directly back into the story where you left off (there is also a more traditional menu set that continues the style of those on Disc One).  Finally, a note about the layer switches.  On my Denon DVD-3800, the layer switches are absolutely invisible – completely seamless both in the video and audio.  There isn’t even the slightest of pauses.  However, I did detect the locations during the preview screening at New Line (the player used didn’t handle the switches as seamlessly).  And my Panasonic DVD-L50 portable also exhibited a very slight pause on the switches.  So the locations listed in the specs above are correct, although you may not see them on your particular player.

Finally, a word about the packaging.  The set comes in a really gorgeous slipcase that’s designed to look like an old hardback book.  It’s has a simulated leathery texture to the feel and the title of the film is stamped in gold foil on the front and spine.  The discs are held in a fold-out “Digipack” affair that slides out of the case and includes production artwork from the film, as well as a 12-page booklet.  Very nice.

So that’s the film, and a look at the contents and quality of the first two discs in this amazing set.  In Part Two of this review, we’ll look in-depth at the contents of Disc Three and Four, also known as The Appendices, which contain the lion’s share of the supplemental material.

Read on brave ring bearers...  [On to Part Two…]


Additional Notes

Easter egg Instructions

Disc One – To access the MTV Movie Awards spoof of The Council of Elrond scene with Jack Black and Sarah Michelle Gellar (3 min, 4x3, DD 2.0), go to the last page of the scene selections menu area and select ‘The Council of Elrond’.  Then navigate “down” to reveal a hidden Ring symbol. Press “Enter”.

Disc Two – To access The Two Towers sneak peek trailer that was shown briefly in theaters at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring (4 min, 16x9, DD 5.1), go to the last page of the scene selections menu area and select the number “48” on the far right-hand side of the screen.  Then navigate “down” to reveal a hidden Two Towers symbol.  Press “Enter”.

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