The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Special Extended Edition) (2001)
17th November 2002
In a time we cannot remember, the plains of middle earth were ruled by Sauron, a dark and evil lord. He created one ring, a ring of absolute evil, which would enslave the keepers of the eleven other rings. They each accepted the rings power unaware that it would enslave them to Sauron forever more.
Many bloody battles followed as the people of middle earth fought Sauron and his armies. Finally, and after many years of bloody battles Sauron was slain and the ring taken from the dark lords severed hand. It was to be destroyed in the same pit of fire from which is was created so that evil could never return.
However, the ring corrupts who ever possesses it and it survived, only for it to be rediscovered centuries later by an adventurous little hobbit called Bilbo Baggins. With the rings rediscovery it places its owner, and the people of middle earth, in great danger once again. With the ring still in existence Sauron was not truly defeated and his powers are beginning to regenerate as he once again tries to envelop the world in darkness.
With Sauron sending out his armies to track down the ring it is up to a plucky young hobbit called Frodo Baggins to make the hazardous journey to Mordor and Mount Doom to destroy the ring once and for all. Together with his three friends, Sam, Pippin and Merry, Frodo leaves the comfort of his small village and heads for the elfin village of Rivendell. It is there he is joined by Dandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf and together they form the fellowship of the ring and vow its destruction.
The picture quality is pretty much perfect and must surely go down as being one of the best presently available on DVD. With the film over three hours in length there could have been a lot of corners cut in order to accommodate the film onto one disc. However, with the four audio commentaries, a Dolby Digital and DTS soundtrack they've sensibly split the film onto a two discs so there's plenty of room for the picture reproduction to shine.
The picture is bright and beautifully detailed with some rich and detailed colours and textures throughout the film. From the brightly lit Hobbit village, the colourful Elfen settlement and the dark and gloomy dwarf mines the picture remains perfectly balanced. There's not a hit of colour bleeding, artifacting or outlining. There are no picture imperfections or dust scratches from what must be a direct digital transfer. Unlike the initial single disc release, there is plenty more scope for upping the bit rate and letting the compression ratio belt a little looser. By comparing this extended edition with the standard version there is a marked improvement on the overall image definition and clarity. So, even more of an excuse for owners of the standard edition to splash out on the extended version.
The sound is as equally impressive as the picture. There is little difference to either the Dolby Digital EX or DTS-ES soundtracks as both present a great soundstage with plenty of surround effects and some brilliant stereo steerage at the front. The surround channels are hardly ever idle during the whole three hours of the film and there's some brilliant ambient effects that will have you turning your head to see just what's behind you. The dialogue is clearly audible in the centre and front channels throughout the film and there's never a moment when the volume needs adjusting.
There's also frequent and excellent use of the LFE channel. So many films just add low frequency effects because they can and they end up being overused. Here they are carefully and thoughtfully used, and in moderation too, so that their low frequency rumblings won't upset the neighbours too much. However, yet again, I prefer the DTS soundtrack over the Dolby rival because of its much wider and more revealing soundstage, which I feel is very important for this film.
The menus are pleasantly animated and scored, albeit briefly, at every level. Whenever a menu option is selected the display will scroll across to reveal another section of a book where the subsequent menu selections are to be made. It really does look superb and remains in keeping with the overall theme and ambience of the film. Most people dismiss the menus as a minor feature of a DVD, but to me it is one of the most important as it shows just how much effort has been spent in preparing a film.
With the film extended by a further thirty minutes, the addition of four audio commentaries and Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, you would be unsurprised to learn that the film runs over two discs. When the break occurs it is at a very convenient point and you are politely requested to insert the second disc. Definitely a good time to avoid a DVT and have a quick walk and have a cup of tea before resuming your epic journey.
With the film already spread over two discs there isn't any room on the discs for the extras so they are presented on their own discs. If you thought that the film was long enough then there's well over two hours of extras to plough through on the second and third discs. It is certainly a set that will keep you occupied for a day or two. By the time I'd finished watching the film and exploring the extras it had gone dark outside!
There's not one, but four Audio Commentaries and unsurprisingly with the DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks there is little room for any additional language audio tracks. All of the commentaries are interesting and it would take nearly an entire day to sit through each and every one in a single sitting. As expected, the director's commentary is the most interesting of the set with plenty of detailed insight into the making of the film.
The cast and crew one is also fascinating, although it does sound like it was put together from a number of different commentaries. From the size of the cast it is hardly unsurprising that they couldn't get everyone together the record the commentary. Mind you, the audio quality of certain cast members is much clearer than others.
One extremely handy feature of the commentaries, especially since there's so many people to keep tabs on, is that whenever somebody talks their name appears at the top of the screen. However, there is one annoying feature with the commentaries. You can't swap directly between them, you have to go via the menu system. This all becomes a little tedious if you want to learn things about certain sections of the film and you have to keep selecting the relevant audio track by forever returning to the sound setup menu.
What can you say about the extras? Immense would be a word that springs to mind, so immense that they are spread over two additional discs. For a start there's a massive 2,000 Images and Slide Shows with Additional Audio Commentaries to explain some of the design philosophies. If that's not enough to keep you occupied for weeks, there's eleven documentaries covering the Cast, Visual Effects and Post Production. Fans of the film really have been spoilt as well as being shown just what DVD is capable of.
Although you can't really complain, one glaring omission for this special edition would be the trailer and behind-the-scenes peak at the next film of the series The Two Towers - although the trailer is actually included as an Easter egg. These do appear on the standard edition of the film and although the discs are already jammed full of extras it is disappointing not to have them. However, this is clever marketing ploy as if you want the lot you end up having to buy both the standard and special edition versions of the film.
The four disc set is packaged in a rather flimsy looking paper foldout Digipack. From the initial promotional pictures it looked like it would be made out of far sturdier stuff, such as the plastic casing used in the Pearl Harbor set. With a set like this I'm sure it is going to have repeat viewings and judging by the weight of the packaging it will soon become rather tatty.
With a book of such epic proportions they said a live action film could never be made without cutting out huge swathes of the story. So what better way than to make three films to be released over a period of three years and lasting nearly nine hours. With production of the trilogy completed they are still finding the time and energy to return to New Zealand to modify or add additional scenes to the film. Talk about commitment to the job.
With the hype and excitement over the film driving itself, the Fellowship of the rings managed to rack up takings of over $850 million dollars. With production costs of pushing a world record $300 million dollars for all three movies, and even adding the promotional costs, it more than pays for itself. In theory, the remaining two films could be a total flop and it will still turn a profit.
With an excellent picture, sound, menus and huge amounts of extras, it really does all add up to being a superb demonstration disc. It is a true credit to the director Peter Jacks and the rest of the team involved with The Lord of the Rings. A hearty pat on the back is well and truly deserved for all.
Whilst fantasy films like this may not be everyone's cup of tea, it is still a film that will be entertaining people for many years to come. Lord of the rings is the ultimate adventure story which is truly the epic which surpasses all others. It already must be one of the greatest films of the 21st century and this extended edition of the film makes it an essential purchase.