Release Date(s)2001 (November 12, 2002)
Studio(s)WingNut Films/Saul Zaentz/New Line Cinema (New Line)
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
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A+
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…]
Part Two – Supplemental Material
So we’ve looked at the film itself, and the presentation quality and extras on Discs One and Two. Now let’s look at the rest of the set. Disc Three and Four are together known as The Appendices. These are designed to serve very much the same function as The Appendices in the original book. They provide you with background information and a look at the effort behind the production. Disc Three specifically deals with the effort to adapt the story and to formulate a vision for the film that would remain true to Tolkien’s vision for the books. And Disc Four looks at the process of taking that vision and crafting a film from it.
A couple of notes on the discs in general before we start with Disc Three in more detail. Virtually all of the materials on all of the discs, with the exception of a few of the photo gallery images, are presented in full anamorphic widescreen – a very nice touch. In addition, the animated menu pages on all of the discs feature full Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. There is also DVD-ROM material on each disc, including special weblinks. Both Discs Three and Four feature a brief video introduction (by Peter Jackson and Elijah Wood respectively) explaining what you’ll find on the disc and how to access it. Furthermore, each of the discs has additional help text on how to access the material, along with a complete index of the disc’s contents. There is also a “play all” mode that will allow you to view all of the featurettes and documentaries. Note, however, that if you do this, there are several features that you’ll have to view separately (the galleries and virtually all of the animatics, storyboard videos and multi-angle material). In general, all of the featurettes are well produced, with good production quality, and well edited. This material is engaging and keeps you focused throughout. And you’re at all times struck by the fact that virtually everyone involved with the film seemed eager to share their thoughts and experiences. In one way or another, every major cast and crew member is represented on these two discs.
Now... let’s start with Disc Three – The Appendices, Part I – From Book to Vision. The first major piece on this disc is an in-depth look at the historical background of man behind the original books, called J.R.R. Tolkien: Creator of Middle Earth. It’s a good starting point for the supplements, because you’ll learn how these stories came to be, as well as what Tolkien himself intended them to mean (and, as importantly, what he didn’t intend). It also discusses the basic themes of the books that will become important to the film adaptation process. In From Book to Script, Jackson and others associated with the production recall their motivations behind bringing these books to the screen, and reveal how much love they have of the material. Jackson and the writers then talk about the process of “cracking the code” of the books, and their effort to craft a workable script based on them (first with Miramax, who wanted it done as a single film, and then with New Line, who thankfully pushed for a trilogy). The disc then takes you into the process of “visualizing” the story, in a featurette specifically on this subject – Storyboards and Pre-Viz: Making Words into Images. Here, you learn that George Lucas and Rick McCallum (of Star Wars) fame had a strong and helpful influence in this area. This section is then illustrated with a trio of terrific storyboard animatic videos (including the original idea for the prologue), a pair of digitally produced animatic videos for major action scenes (including the stairs of Khazad-Düm), as well as multi-angle comparisons between an animatic and a storyboard to the same scenes in the final film. These illustrate the development process and give you a peek at roads not taken, but also gave the filmmakers a dramatic feel for the scene, even before a single piece of film was exposed. For each multi-angle piece, you can switch back and forth on the fly between one angle, the other and a split-screen comparison of the two. The pre-viz section is rounded out with a test of the Bag End set design.
The next major section of Disc Three is on designing and building Middle-Earth, and it contains the real meat of this disc. There’s a fantastic, 41-minute documentary, Designing Middle-Earth, that addresses the effort to conceptualize the look and feel of each race and character, and to add a sense of history for every item as well. You see the team at Weta drawing and sculpting away. And then long-time Tolkien artists John Howe and Alan Lee are brought on-board to flesh the world out even further than they already had over the years for the books. Next, Richard Taylor takes you on a 43-minute tour of the Weta Workshop, where an army of hundreds of craftsmen and artisans designed and created nearly every visual element of the film, including the props, sets, armor, weapons, creatures, miniatures and special make-up effects. The Costume Design featurette hints at the massive task of creating the wardrobe elements for the films, which often included dozens of versions of each of the hero costumes (the Hobbits for example) in various scales of size. You also see how the actors helped to create their costumes, which in turn aided them in developing their characters. Finally, this section features some 19 separate design galleries packed with sketches, paintings and photographs that illustrate both the peoples and realms of Middle-Earth. You can view these as a slideshow, or you can page through a scrapbook and view them one at a time. There are literally hundreds of images to see.
Disc Three is rounded out with a pair of interactive maps, that help you to understand the geography of the film. The Middle-Earth Atlas allows you to follow, step-by-step, the journey that the Fellowship takes in the film. It tells you what happens at each step and then gives you clips of the major events that take place at that location. New Zealand as Middle-Earth, on the other hand, allows you to see where in the “real world” each film location was shot, and includes viewable location scouting video for each place.
Moving on to Disc Four: The Appendices, Part II – From Vision to Reality, you’re immediately provided with a trio of interesting, day-to-day looks behind the scenes at the production. The Fellowship of the Cast documentary is very entertaining, as each cast member recalls funny moments and memories about their fellow actors. You learn, for example, that Sean Bean hated flying to the locations in helicopters so much that he would often get up early and hike (in costume) over miles of rugged mountain terrain to avoid it. There are many fun little insights into the cast, and you immediately get a sense of how much these guys liked each other. A good thing too, as they spent more than a year together away from home and out on location. A Day in the Life of the Hobbit is just what it sounds like – a look at a typical day of filming, from getting feet glued on early in the morning to getting them taken off late at night (and everything in between). Cameras in Middle-Earth is the longest documentary piece on this DVD set, clocking in at nearly an hour. It’s the major look behind-the-scenes, following the production from location to location (and back through the soundstages and sets). It provides a taste of the massive effort required to capture the story on film. This section also includes a gallery of behind-the-scenes production photos.
The next section on Disc Four relates to the visual effects of the film. There’s a featurette on Scale, in which you see how the filmmakers developed the various tricks that allowed them to make Hobbits look like Hobbits... and everyone else look much taller and bigger. Some are practical tricks, some are perspective tricks and more are digital. All of them are pretty amazing. There’s a sub-section here on the “miniatures” created for the film, which includes a featurette look at their creation, Big-atures (so called because there wasn’t anything “miniature” about them), as well as 6 galleries of close-up photos of each model. There’s also a 25-minute featurette on the amazing CGI effects work of Weta Digital.
The post-production section of the disc begins with a featurette on the editing process, Editorial: Assembling an Epic. There’s also a multi-angle demonstration of the Council of Elrond scene, showing how it was assembled from all of the footage shot on set (7 angles worth in all, combining some 36 takes). And the Digital Grading featurette shows how nearly all of the location and live-action footage was enhanced, using color-timing and adding a variety of lighting effects, to change the weather, make the footage match and create a more ethereal, other-worldly look to the final film.
The final major section of the disc focuses on the sound and music work done in post-production. The Soundscapes of Middle-Earth featurette takes you behind-the-scenes on the creation of various sound effects and the mixing process. And Music for Middle-Earth highlights the work of composer Howard Shore,
Finally, the entire set is capped with a 7-minute featurette, called The Road Goes Ever On..., in which director Peter Jackson looks back at the first film and briefly ahead at the next two. We also see the premiere of the film and get a taste of how the overwhelmingly positive reaction to it affected the cast and crew. It’s a nice way to close out the set.
Something that is very much worth noting here is that Peter Jackson, New Line and the DVD producers at Kurtti-Pellerin have already begun planning the DVD releases of the next two films, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. There will indeed be 2-disc theatrical and 4-disc extended versions of each film. More importantly, an overall DVD design philosophy has been worked out for the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy, so that each 2-disc set will complement the other 2-disc sets, and each 4-disc set will likewise build on the other 4-disc sets. What that means, is that a few years from now, when all of the films are on DVD, you’ll be able watch them all straight through without seeing lots of overlapping material. You’ll ultimately have a more complete and thorough viewing experience.
You know... it would be really easy for me to use lots of glowing, flowery adjectives to describe this 4-disc set (even more than I probably already have throughout the two parts of this review). So I’m just going to say this: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – 4-Disc Special Extended Version is the most impressive release I’ve seen yet on the DVD format. Its overall presentation quality, breadth and depth of content and thoughtful attention to virtually every detail is unsurpassed in any other DVD release to date. Don’t get me wrong – there are certainly titles that are better in individual areas (Star Wars: Episode II features better video and audio quality for example). But no other single title can match this set, blow for blow. It’s a DVD that is absolutely worthy of the incredible effort that was mounted to make this film, and it’s equally worthy of the 50-year legacy of Tolkien’s literary epic. It is, hands down, the DVD release of the year and an absolute, must-have cornerstone of any good DVD enthusiast’s library.
Think I’m exaggerating? Then just wait and see for yourself...
- Bill Hunt