|Lord of the Rings, The - The Fellowship of the Ring (Platinum Series Extended Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 12 November 2002|
Moderation is usually a good thing, but once in awhile, more really is more. The release of the special extended edition of “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” is one of those occasions. A brilliant, epic movie has had approximately half an hour of footage restored to it for this new four-disc, boxed set DVD release and the result is a film that is even more engrossing, impressive and generally awe-inspiring than the theatrical version, no small feat.
By now, it’s hard to imagine that anybody hasn’t heard about director/co-writer Peter Jackson’s astonishing accomplishment in tackling J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. However, should you be among the uninitiated, here’s the low-down: “The Lord of the Rings” takes place in Middle Earth, a world populated by humans, elves, dwarves, wizards, evil goblins called orcs and pleasant half-sized folk called hobbits, who (at the time the tale begins) mostly keep to themselves and are so innocuous that most of the other species have barely heard of them. However, one uncommonly adventurous hobbit, Bilbo (Ian Holm), has come across a ring in his travels. Unbeknownst to Bilbo, this is the One Ring with the power to enslave the whole of Middle Earth should it fall back into the hands of its maker, Sauron, a thoroughly evil entity who almost laid waste to the world in ages past and is now preparing to wage war anew on everyone and everything. If there is to be hope of defeating Sauron, the Ring must be destroyed by throwing it into the fires of the volcanic Mount Doom in Sauron’s stronghold of Mordor. The task falls to Bilbo’s innocent nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood), who winds up accompanied by his staunch – and likewise untried – hobbit friends Samwise (Sean Astin), Meriadoc (Dominic Monaghan) and Peregrine (Billy Boyd), the gruff dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), the elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), brave human Ranger Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), ambitious nobleman Boromir (Sean Bean) and wise wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen).
The tale was so massive it took Tolkien three volumes to tell (more if you count the prequel novel “The Hobbit” and the mythology collection “The Silmarillion”) and it’s taking Jackson three very full-length feature films to do it justice. The theatrical version of “Fellowship of the Ring” – released earlier this year on DVD and VHS – runs a hearty 178 minutes. The extended edition betters this by half an hour, clocking in at 208 minutes over two discs (the other two discs in this set are given over to supplemental material – more about this later).
Why is longer better in this case? For one thing, it can be argued that Jackson’s view of Middle Earth wasn’t so much designed to be watched as lived in. The new cut makes us more at home, unobtrusively adding depth and dimension to material that was already pretty all-encompassing. Director Jackson and his co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, composer Howard Shore (who won an Oscar for the theatrical version), editor John Gilbert and the special effects team have all pitched in, treating the extended DVD with the same care they displayed on the theatrical original. The result is that the added footage is so seamlessly integrated with what we’ve seen before that someone who can’t recite Version 1 frame by frame (this would include your reviewer) will not know in all instances which scenes are new, which are merely extended and which have been recut – unless, of course, one of the four commentary tracks are enabled. Actually, the menus are helpful in this regard, as the Scene Selection feature indicates which scenes are new, which ones have additional material and which have been substantially restructured.
Chapter 2 and 3 provide a better look at Bilbo, who seems a bit distracted as he searches his home for the Ring – the director/writer commentary mentions that this was deemed to dark an introduction to the overall kindly character for the theatrical release. We also get more of Bilbo writing his memoirs and a much more extensive view of the Shire, the land where hobbits dwell. Chapter 5 is still worth noting for the fabulous sound (and visuals) in the party sequence where magical fireworks light up the sky (and the surround system).
Chapter 6 has a very intriguing sound effect, as the reassuring crackle of a hearthfire recedes as awareness of the baleful Ring grows. Gandalf’s assertion of his own power seems even more impressive here. Chapter 8 doesn’t tamper with perfection – it is content to stop our hearts as before with a transition to Mount Doom and the thundering release of the Ringwraiths upon Middle Earth.
Chapter 9 is an all-new scene of our four hobbit heroes – Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin – enjoying themselves hobbit-style in a tavern. While we certainly got a sense of their camaraderie in the shorter version, this provides a much stronger sense of what their lives have been like prior to the intrusion of the Ring and the quest. However, the scene is valuable not only because it sets up a contrast between what has been and what will come, but because it is just plain enjoyable – you want to pull up a stool, plonk down and share a mug with these guys. Chapter 11 contains a wistful segment that establishes the plight of the elves a bit better, as Frodo and Sam watch at a distance the procession of Wood Elves traveling through the forest, leaving Middle Earth. The sequence looks almost lifted from a traditional fantasy painting (there is much about “Lord of the Rings” artwork in the supplemental materials). There’s also a brief scene of Sam having trouble sleeping, underscoring his concern for Frodo.
On my disc, there was a momentary stall between Chapters 11 and 12. Given how much material is packed onto this disc, this isn’t too surprising and it’s hardly a major problem. Chapter 15 does have what seems like a brief dampening of the ambient sound in a sequence in the rain at the Bree gate, although most of the audio on the DVD is terrific.
Chapter 17 has a new sequence in the travelers’ camp by night that illuminates Strider’s character better, and Chapter 27 has new footage that makes a council meeting even more dramatic.
The disc break comes between Chapters 27 and 28. Through no fault of the DVD, what follows next in chapter terms is the usual confusion when a film is broken onto two discs – the chapter numbers in the scene selection continue sequentially, but the counter on the DVD player starts over again at Chapter 1. This is really only a problem if you’re trying to fast-forward up to a particular scene from memory rather than using the scene selection menu, which utilizes actual music-scored clips (rather than still frames) to remind us what each chapter contains.
Disc 2, Chapter 1/28 is a new scene that is one of the more striking new inclusions, as it greatly enhances our understanding of Aragorn/Strider’s past and future, underscoring the irony that this tall, brave fighter is actually more timid about confronting his own destiny than the self-effacing little Frodo. Chapter 3/30 is also new, providing a bit of extra dramatic (and romantic) flourish as the Fellowship formally departs the elf stronghold of Rivendell. These are the only two entirely new sequences on Disc 2, but so many others have such elaborate extensions that they seem new anyway. Chapter 6/33 has an affecting exchange between Frodo and Gandalf, and Chapter 8/35 shares with the earlier version a really fantastic sound effect as a skeleton drops down a well, banging from side to side and speaker to speaker as it falls. There is no new footage in Chapter 9/36 – there is no way to top the spine-tingling theatrical version of the confrontation between Gandalf and the mixture of fire and shadow called a Balrog. It is literally awesome – we are filled with awe.
Chapter 10/37 has an entertainingly augmented meeting between the Fellowship and the elven guards in the woods of Lorien, while Chapter 11/38 makes the introduction of the elf leader Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) sadder and more immediate. Sam’s ode to Gandalf’s fireworks is a right-feeling touch. The disc again experiences a momentary hitch between Chapters 11 and 12. Chapter 14/41 restores what was one of the most controversial cuts (for fans of the book) from the theatrical version – we now see the Fellowship receiving gifts (which nearly all come in handy later) from their Elven hosts.
The film comes with four – count ‘em – full-length audio commentary tracks. As “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” lasts three-and-a-half hours, this means that it’s possible to spend 17-and-a-half hours on just the first two discs without touching the two supplements. The commentaries are broken down as follows. The first has director/co-writer Jackson, co-writer Walsh and co-writer Boyens. The second commentary the design team, consisting of production designer Grant Major, costume designer Ngila Dickson, Weta Workshop creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe, supervising art director/set decorate Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Henna and Weta Workshop manager Tania Rodger. The third contains commentary from the production and post-production team, including producer Barrie Osborne, executive producer (and New Line executive) Mark Ordesky, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, editor John Gilbert, co-producer Rick Porras, composer Howard Shore, visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel and visual effects artist Christian Rivers. The fourth track includes commentary from actors Wood, McKellen, Astin, Boyd, Monaghan, Bean, Bloom, Rhys-Davies and Christopher Lee. The commentaries are in stereo; perhaps because with all those speakers there is virtually no dead mic time, the film’s audio track does not rise.
An extremely welcome innovation on the commentary tracks is continual titling in the upper-black band of the letterbox that tells us at all times who is speaking. With Jackson, Walsh and Boyens, it’s not too hard to tell who’s talking, but it avoids total chaos on the other commentaries. All are informative and enthusiastic. For insight into what happened when, why and how, the director/writers’ talk is probably the most useful, but for sheer entertainment value, the actors can’t be beat. The hobbit quartet – Wood, Astin, Boyd and Monaghan – is so totally stoked about the movie even now that it’s not hard to imagine them as just four more fans camped out in line. They call each other on this: “How many times have you seen this?” They’re so happy, irreverent and affectionate that we feel like we’re hanging out with them at the cast party.
Disc 3 contains a massive assortment of documentary material, including a long piece on author Tolkien and some really stunning artwork done as illustrations for various “Lord of the Rings” book editions, calendars, etc. It also contains Jackson making the telling and touching statement that he instructed the whole crew to treat the films not as fantasy, but as history – to imagine that the sets were not being built but rather unearthed like a vanished civilization. The film proves that the instruction was taken to heart.
Disk 4, while broken into chapters, can be viewed (as Wood informs us in a friendly on-camera introduction) as a single-three-and-a-half hour documentary, with additional material.
As if all this wasn’t enough, there are Easter Eggs, one of which is the theatrical trailer for the next film in the trilogy, “The Two Towers.” In the end credits of Disc 2, go to Chapter 48 – highlight but do not click on the Fan Club credits. A graphic of two towers of two towers will appear in the lower-right corner of the screen. Click on this and Jackson congratulates you on finding the trailer, which then launches with full surround sound – soldiers rush up behind and past you in the battle scenes. The boxed set also comes with one free ticket to “The Two Towers,” though it must be used by the end of 2002.
There is enough material here to keep a “Lord of the Rings” fan occupied for about a month without covering the same ground twice. The extended DVD set has been approached with the same care and passion that marks the film itself.
If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” turns out to be in the end a love story – not boy meets girl (or boy meets boy or girl meets girl), but filmmakers meet the material of a lifetime and prove worthy of the gift. Want to see a great movie? This is it. Want to see a kick-ass DVD presentation? Again, this is as good as it gets.