The Lord of the Rings -- The Fellowship of The Ring
(Special Extended DVD Edition) (New Line Home Entertainment)

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Ok, let me note first that both Donna (my wife) and I hate commercial movie theaters. Really. Truly. Green Man has a lovely screening room, but the typical cineplex with its bad seating, lousy picture, and usually bad sound leaves me not desiring to see anything there. We've seen two films at a cineplex in the past three years: Wild, Wild West (a truly horrid film shown in a cineplex that went out of business) and Men in Black II (a wonderfully silly film in a cineplex where there were barely twenty viewers for the film). Usually I prefer seeing films at home. We have a reasonably large (27") television, a comfortable couch, external speakers for superb sound, and one can stop the film at any time for a snack or whatever. Why settle for less? (Live performances are quite another matter. We'll have seen A Christmas Carol at the Portland Stage Company by the time you read this review. It has rather good seats, superb sound, and a audience that knows when to be quiet. Did I mention I loathe the crowds at the usual cineplex movie? Loathe with passion.) Now we just bought a dual DVD/VCR deck from Samsung that allows us to finally appreciate the sheer technological magic of DVDs.

The first film we watched was Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone, which was simply wonderful, despite the fact that J.K. Rowling as a writer bores me stiff. (Anyone disagreeing with that statement can email me. I'll treat you to a mug of cocoa from the Green Man kitchen, and we'll discuss why I find her writing boring.) However J.K. Rowling as source material for a film is quite cool. Now how is Tolkien as source material for what is, in this version, a 208 minute long film? (Peter Jackson notes that both versions are his vision of the film.)

Ahhh, but a digression first. Longtime readers of my book reviews know that I will buy a specific edition just for the 'packaging'. I purchased all of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series in the original editions as they have truly great artwork, and did the same for Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. (I will note that the trade paper editions for these do have interesting artwork too. Just not as evocative as the hardcover American editions.) Indeed I spent years searching for the original hardcover edition of Robert Holdstock's Merlin's Wood novel, and spent a small fortune buying the copy I found! Now why should you care if a DVD has good packaging? It certainly isn't like a novel, in that you aren't going to be holding it as you watch it! (Well, I hope not. If you are...) What you get in the standard Special Extended DVD Edition -- did I mention that there's an even more deluxe edition that comes complete with Argonath bookends sculpted by the film's visual effects artists? -- is a green leather-like book with Alan Lee artwork. Cool, very cool. (The DVD holder inside the slipcase is just as nice.) Even the UPC is hidden on the bottom of the slipcase -- nice touch!

But does it work as film? Yes! Let's quote Grey Walker who did the review of the original theatrical release: 'As director and one of the writers of the screenplay, Peter Jackson worked very hard to remain faithful to Tolkien's massive epic, while working within the restrictions of a limited number of screen hours. He has, over all, succeeded admirably. The movie flows smoothly, and the plot progression seems as inevitable as it does in Tolkien's luminous prose. But, as closely watching fans will undoubtedly notice, Jackson did indeed make several changes to Tolkien's story. How important those changes are -- and how glaring the omissions -- will vary depending on which ardent Tolkien fan is asked. Tom Bombadil was indeed left out of the movie entirely. However, considering that he plays a short part in the over-all plot, I can understand Jackson's decision to compress the story line by omitting him. The character of Arwen represents a more controversial change. Under Tolkien's pen, Arwen is only a flat, symbolic character. Jackson has made her more central to the story, focusing on the love between her and Aragorn and giving her a key role to play in the rescue of Frodo from the Black Riders. This particular ardent fan was furious when it was Arwen (played well, admittedly, by Liv Tyler), not Elrond and Gandalf, who called down the white horses in the river at Rivendell to overwhelm the Black Riders; and when one of Frodo's best lines, his defiant "By Elbereth and Luthien the Fair, you shall have neither the Ring nor me!" was dropped. Doubtless other fans minded this not at all, and shook their heads over Lothlorien...'

Now most films when rereleased on DVD get lots of not terribly useful material stuffed in, i.e. John Carpenter and his band singing the theme song for Big Trouble in Little China. I believe that this release is fairly unusual among DVDs, in that there are 4 discs and all 9 hours of them are just plain brilliant. For the Tolkien fan, bliss would be the apt word to use. The original edition of the LOTR DVD, where the film was the same as the theatrical release, contained a great deal of material; if you just enjoyed the film and had only a minimal interest in how the film was crafted, that disc was quite enough. But if you're even half as obsessed as I am (OK, I'm obsessed... I bought -- yes, bought! -- the hardcover Centenary edition of The Lord of the Rings with the ever so cool illustrations by Alan Lee, the slipcased edition of The Hobbit, The Annotated Hobbit, the somewhat rare The Road Goes Ever On -- A Song Cycle that he did in collaboration with Donald Swann, and a first edition of his collection of essays called Tree and Leaf. Oh, and a copy of The Letters of Tolkien. You get the point!) with the writing of Tolkien and the absolute brilliance of Jackson, you must own this edition. Really. Truly. Jackson has said that he approached this edition as a whole new version of the film, which meant not just dumping material in, but thinking carefully if it made sense to add. My feeling is that he did a masterful job of creating this version.

Why so, you ask? Well, first off is the fact that longer is much, much better here. A key section has been enhanced, and the prologue is slightly longer but makes more sense. Not to mention that an entirely new opening sequence has been added which is narrated by Bilbo himself and concerns Hobbits. (I'm avoiding spoiling anything by being too specific.) The main body of the film itself has bits and pieces that were edited out because (mainly) the film would have been too long. A major alteration in the movie comes when our group of adventurers makes their way in to the forest of Lothlorien. This section of the film has been extended and altered quite a bit -- almost a third of the total additional footage is to be found here. Tolkien lovers will be overjoyed to see that the gift-giving scene, which should not have been cut as it's a key plot point in the trilogy, has found it's way back into this edition. Finally, the final battle has new footage that adds to the impact of this turning point in the The Lord of the Rings. (Another digression... Not everyone is happy with this edition. John Shirley in his review for Locus Online complains that it's too short: 'I've heard there will be yet a third version of Fellowship with a full hour of missing material worked in, to be released when all three films are out on special edition DVDs. If this is so, perhaps we'll see the true film of The Fellowship of the Ring at last. We'll see the painting completed...') Now it's worth noting that the film is split across the two of the four discs, so more material would likely mean adding another disc!

The other two discs have the goodies on them. And what goodies they are -- enough to provoke the reaction that Mia Nutick noted, in her review of Bradbury, An Illustrated Life: A Journey to Far Metaphor, 'At Green Man we try to write our reviews with some respect for language, so it worried me when I first received this book and found myself spitting out profound commentary that began with the brilliant phrase "Duuuude. This is cool. This is so cool. Honey, look at this, this book is just waaaaay cool...'; this is indeed stuff to drool over. You get two discs with over five hours (!) of original content including multiple documentaries and design/photo galleries with thousands of images to give viewers an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. A videographer documented the entire shoot: every drawing, painting, prop, costume, and reel of test footage was saved. Many of the departments, be it wardrobe or makeup, videotaped their work. From those hundreds of hours of material, Jackson has selected the best for these DVDs. Here's what you'll find on these two discs...

DISC 3, which is called "From Book to Vision", has these features: adapting the book into a screenplay and planning the film; designing and building Middle-earth; story boards to pre-visualization; a visit to the Weta Workshop; an up-close look at the weapons, armor, creatures, and miniatures; an interactive map of Middle-earth tracing the journey of the Fellowship; another interactive map of New Zealand showing the location scouting process; galleries of art and slideshows with commentaries by the artists; a guided tour of the wardrobe department; and finally (!) footage from early meetings, moving story boards, and pre-visualization reels. [Students of film as creative process will be ecstatic over this material. It's that good.] DISC 4, which is called "From Vision to Reality", has these features: bringing the characters to life; a typical day in the life of a hobbit; a taste of the principal photography: rather interesting tales from the set; scale (creating the illusion of size); amazing galleries of behind-the-scenes photographs and personal cast photos; editorial and visual effects; multi-angle progressions; and sound design demonstration. [This disc is good, but not as impressive as the other one.]

Stop drooling! There, take a deep breath... Take another deep breath... I'd love to contrast this with the extras disc of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone, which I can easily do as I've got the latter loaded on the iBook right now. Hmmm... How to put it delicately? The extras in the Potter DVD release are, ahem, cute --such as meeting the ghosts of Hogwarts -- but largely fluff. Somewhat interesting fluff, but fluff none-the-less. The only exception is the very cool 360 degree self-guided tour of Hogwarts which is both insightful and fun. (I never saw Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone at the cineplex, so I can't say if the seven scenes added in for the DVD added to or subtracted from the film). In contrast, both discs of the The Fellowship of The Ring are loaded, as I noted above, with goodies enough to stuff to the gills any Tolkien fan. Now you can drool...

I'd guess that Jackson will have created over ten hours worth of viewing pleasure for Tolkien fans by the time all three films are released on DVD. And that doesn't count the likely fifteen hours of other material that will be on the discs. Cool, very cool. I wonder if he'll go back and do The Hobbit... Now I'm off to see what other DVDs should be added to our collection... Ahhh, they did release Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen on DVD! Excellent!


[Cat Eldridge]