The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:
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Review by Dawn Taylor
New Line's four-disc Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Special Extended DVD Edition is worthy of its impressive (if unwieldy) title. This is a DVD set that will serve as the standard-bearer for special-edition DVDs for some time to come. You want extras? Oh, there's extras here a ton of documentaries, an interactive map of Middle-earth, still galleries, and four commentary tracks. Pull the blinds, turn off the phone and snuggle up with plenty of snacks get started journeying through the menus and sub-menus, and it'll take you awhile.
With all that razzle-dazzle, it would be easy to forget the real reason for all the hoopla the new version of the film. And yes, it is a new version. There's new stuff added throughout the entire movie; over a third of the film's scenes have either been extended or are altogether new. These aren't just drop-ins for the sake of an extended DVD, either this is, realistically, an entirely different movie, with all the additions re-edited seamlessly into the film, some new scenes that were left out restored, some previous material re-arranged, and every bit of it re-scored by Howard Shore for this special edition. It is, arguably, an even better movie now. Certainly, it's a more complete movie. (To get a look at our original DVD review, go here.)
Without going into obsessive detail over every single change, there's some new material that's exemplary. There are additions to the prologue, a new second scene called "Concerning Hobbits," which shows Bilbo working on his book, and new scene titled "At the Green Dragon," where we see more of the Hobbits at play. These scenes all bring us a little further into Middle-earth early in the film, serving to make the peril this world faces and the importance of the Fellowship's mission all the more real to us later. There's more of the Cave Troll, which looked so cheesy and Harryhausen-like the first time around, but seems to come off better with an extended re-edit of the scenes.
But most significantly, the scenes are restored with Galadriel bestowing gifts upon the Fellowship when they leave Lothlorien. Besides being alternately touching and laugh-out-loud funny (Merry and Pippin have one moment that's simply hilarious, and Sam's response to receiving his elven rope is, "Did you run out of those shiny daggers?") these scenes are essential to the rest of the story the rope, the daggers, and the light will be exceedingly important to the adventures to come. And we also, finally, get to see Gimli's feelings for Galadriel transform from distrust to adoration. The exclusion of this section from the first version of the film was a terrible mistake.
Most importantly, the story of Fellowship of the Ring is better served in this extended version, with small, important bits of information that were snipped for time returned to the movie and given their due. Characters that got short shrift in the first edit of the film are better represented here; we get more of Merry and Pippin, and more of Gimli, as well. Fellowship of the Ring was an excellent film the first time around here, it's a great one, a movie that will take a place in cinematic history as truly ground-breaking.
Discs One & Two: The Film
The "Special Extended DVD Edition" of The Fellowship of the Ring comes on four discs; the first two hold the movie, in exceptional anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with state-of-the-art Dolby Digital EX 5.1 audio. There are four count 'em, four commentary tracks, with the director and writers, the design team, the production/post-production team, and the cast. The one with the cast is, unsurprisingly, the most raucous many of the anecdotes are recounted in the featurettes as well, but the relish with which the actors rib each other is infectious. The commentary with Peter Jackson is just what you'd expect from this brilliant, warm, funny man, and the crew commentaries are suitably techie. The best thing about the commentaries, though, is the use of super-titles above the picture to identify who's speaking not just at the beginning, but all the way through. This is an invaluable feature that should be on every DVD group commentary.
Then there's the bonus features, roughly six hours of material in all. All features on both "appendices" discs may be navigated through either the main menu, a "play all" feature, or through a more detailed index which lists all of the items on the sub-menus. Even more helpful are branching maps included in the enclosed booklet, showing where all the extras are hidden within the sub-menus very handy if you just want to look at one specific feature but can't remember exactly where it's buried within the wealth of extras provided.
Disc Three: The Appendices Part One From Book to Vision
There are two-and-a-half hours of extras on this disc, documenting the journey of FOTR from page to screen. It starts with a welcome from Peter Jackson, who explains what's to come, and explaining the "play all" button.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Creator of Middle-earth begins with Jackson describing how "fiendishly difficult" it was to adapt the book, then goes on to chronicle Tolkien's life with sound bites from various biographers. The feature details Tolkien's sources and influences in creating "Lord of the Rings," which is essentially the author's fantasy history of Britain that he created for his own enjoyment. More than that, though, this featurette is an in-depth discussion of Tolkien's intentions behind his life's work, how the story reflects his own views of morality and human nature, and his intense distrust of technology.
From Book to Script gives us the principals sharing when and where they first discovered the trilogy Jackson's first copy was a paperback with a still from the Bakshi film on the cover and goes on to cover how the treatment was written and how the script was constantly reshaped as the project progressed. In one amusing snippet, John Rhys-Davies says, "When I say ‘a few re-writes' ... well, I have two file boxes filled with re-writes. I have to tell you, some are still in the envelopes unopened I'd be so tired I thought, ‘Oh hell, never mind.'" Jackson also discusses the decision to leave Tom Bombadil out of the story, and the expansion of Arwen's character, as well as the choices made to change the story in places.
Under the menu for Visualizing the Story you'll find a featurette called Storyboards and Pre-Viz: Making Words into Images, covering the obsessive planning of every aspect of the film. A look at storyboards and animatics is offered, but even more fascinating is the section covering Jackson's furthering of the process, building miniature sets in which to place small figures representing the actors, then working out camera angles using a miniature, handheld "lipstick" camera. There's also behind-the-scenes footage of Jackson working out the scale problems on the set of Bag End, even acting out all the parts with crew members. There's also a look at the pre-visualizations ("pre-viz") using 3-D computer animation, a technique created by George Lucas and Industrial Light & Magic. Also in this section are Early Storyboards, animatics of scenes that were never used, including an alternate opening with Frodo as narrator and a scene with the Fellowship shooting some rapids to escape the Uruk-Hai; Animatic-to-film Comparisons, two scenes, one offering the storyboard side-by-side with the finished scene, the other a pre-viz-to-film comparison; and the Bag End Set Test, a film test of actors moving through Bilbo's house, with Jackson doing a surprisingly effective job as Bilbo.
Designing and Building Middle-earth covers exactly what it says. In Designing Middle-earth, Peter Jackson shares his speech with his design crew: "Look, we've been given the job of making The Fellowship of the Ring; from this point on I want to think that Lord of the Rings is real that it was actually history, that these events happened. And more than that, I want us to imagine that we've been lucky enough to go on location and shoot our movie where the real events happened." This feature also covers the process of bringing on board esteemed Tolkien artists Alan Lee and John Howe who'd never met before as conceptual artists, and includes a wealth of conceptual drawings of sets, props, characters and models, with an extensive look at the creation of Rivendell and Hobbiton.
Also under this menu is a featurette on Weta Workshop, the shop where all the weapons, armor, creatures and miniatures were created. This portion of the production was led by Richard Taylor, who completely undertook Jackson's dictum that they were creating a "historical film, not a fantasy film." Taylor pops up a lot in the featurettes throughout, and has the unfortunate demeanor of a man who's reading all his remarks off of a prompter, even though he probably isn't. Other submenus in this section cover Costume Design, honoring the work of costumer Ngila Dickson, who was responsible for the mind-boggling 19,000 costumes required for the production; and Design Galleries, which features even more sub-menus offering stills of costumes, props and architecture.
The Middle-earth Atlas is an interactive map where you can use prompts via your DVD player's remote to "trace the journeys of the Fellowship." The menu says that two alternate paths can be chosen, either Frodo's journey or Gandalf's. Maybe I just couldn't figure it out, but I only got one "journey," and I played with the thing for about 15 minutes trying to see what I might be doing wrong.
And, finally, New Zealand as Middle-earth is a look at all the locations for FOTR, where they're located in New Zealand, and how they were adapted for the film.
Disc Four: The Appendices Part Two From Vision to Reality
This three-and-a-half hour disc begins with an introduction by Elijah Wood again, explaining that "play all" feature and covers the filming of Fellowship of the Ring through post-production.
Within the menu for Filming The Fellowship of the Ring there are three featurettes. The first, The Fellowship of the Cast, is a surprisingly heart-warming piece on the actors meeting, bonding and working together, primarily structured as the cast telling anecdotes about each other. Some of the stories are very funny indeed, recounting on-set hijinks and humorous personality quirks. One odd note comes when Christopher Lee and Ian McKellan recount their work together, however. Lee is effusive in his praise for McKellan, describing him as a genuinely nice man who was a joy to work with and who treated him very kindly. When it's McKellan's turn, though, he says that he'd always "underestimated" Lee because of the crappy quality of his movies then notes that he hasn't seen all of them, of course "He's done, what, about 200?" The bitchiness is subtle, but unmistakable. The feature continues on to look at the hobbits' smaller-stature acting doubles as well, with funny stories about them, too.
Another featurette within this section is A Day in the Life of a Hobbit, following the sometimes grueling process the actors went through to transform themselves. Behind-the-scenes video follows the hobbits from their 5 a.m. makeup call to have their feet attached a process that required them to stand up for over an hour while the glue and latex dried through makeup and prosthetics, memorizing their daily rewrites, doing their scenes, the different ways that scale problems were addressed in various scenes ... and the boys just screwing around for the "making-of" cameras between takes. Also here is Cameras in Middle-earth, a tech-heavy featurette examining the different camera units that were shooting simultaneously (up to eight at one time), making what Jackson and director of photography Andrew Lesnie call "the biggest low-budget film in the history of the world." This section offers an eye-opening look at the logistics of making a film of this staggering size, with lots of anecdotes by crew members and actors. There are also Production Photos, eight pages of stills that can be viewed individually or as a slideshow.
Under the Visual Effects menu you'll find a feature on Scale, looking at the different ways that size issues were dealt with in the film; this is a remarkably educational feature, and you'll come away really understanding how forced perspective and scale compositing work. Under the Miniature sub-menu, you'll find a feature on Big-atures, the massive scale models created in the Weta workshop for the film. There's lots of storyboard sketches and behind-the-scenes stuff here, including footage of the crew building, painting and using the elaborate mini-sets. In Galleries, you'll find stills of the primary miniatures, which can be viewed individually or as a slideshow. Return to the previous sub-menu, the feature on Weta Digital looks at the digital effects facility that Jackson started back when he made Heavenly Creatures, and the elaborate technical work they did on FOTR.
Post-Production: Putting It All Together contains two features. The first, Editorial: Assembling an Epic looks at the massive job of the editors, who were faced with the task of editing more footage than they'd ever faced before. According to co-producer Jamie Selkirk, "Five million feet of film were shot, of which we printed 70 percent." Also here is the Editorial Demonstration: The Council of Elrond which demonstrates the art of the editor; the 90-second sequence is comprised of 36 takes, and the raw footage plays above the finished scene in six windows, which can be selected individually, as well.
Digital Grading is another techie featurette, looking at how Jackson took the New Zealand footage and "nudged it ever so slightly toward Middle-earth" through digital color grading manipulating the colors, highlights and shadows digitally.
The Sound and Music section contains two featurettes. The Soundscapes of Middle-earth explores the daunting task of designing all the sound for the film the sound crew started setting up their facility a full two years before production began. Using sound engineers from Britain, New Zealand and the U.S., supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins says, "I chose people who I knew could handle stress, and who I knew weren't going to freak out on me." As with most features of its kind, the fun stuff here are the anecdotes about the disparate "instruments" (toilet plungers, walrus groans) that were used to create specific sound effects. And Music for Middle-earth looks at the creation of Howard Shore's amazing score, with behind-the scenes footage of the recording of the music, including the all-male, Polynesian choir used for the music in the Moria scenes.
Finally, The Road Goes Ever On... wraps everything up by taking us to the London, Los Angeles and New Zealand premieres of the film and devolves into a lot of the expected "this was the most amazing experience of my life" and "these are all friends I'll have forever" stuff.
There's also DVD-ROM content and the 12-page booklet, which includes the map of all the menus and sub-menus on the extras discs.
- Anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1)
- Four single-sided, single-layered discs (SS-SL)
- Dolby Digital EX Surround 5.1 (English), DTS ES 6.1 Surround (English)
- English subtitles
- Commentary by director Peter Jackson
- Commentary with design team
- Commentary with production/post-production team
- Cast commentary
- Featurette: J.R. Tolkien: Creator of Middle-earth
- Featurette: From Book to Script
- Featurette: Storyboards & Pre-Viz: Making Words into Images
- Featurette: Bag End Set Test
- Featurette: Designing Middle-earth
- Featurette: Weta Workshop
- Featurette: Costume Design
- Featurette: New Zealand as Middle-earth
- Featurette: Fellowship of the Cast
- Featurette: A Day in the Life of a Hobbit
- Featurette: Cameras in Middle-earth
- Featurette: Visual Effects: Scale
- Featurette: Visual Effects: Big-atures
- Featurette: Visual Effects: Weta Digital
- Featurette: Editorial: Assembling an Epic
- Featurette: Digital Grading
- Featurette: The Soundscapes of Middle-earth
- Featurette: Music for Middle-earth
- Featurette: The Road Goes Ever On
- Animatics and storyboards
- Production stills
- Interactive Middle-earth Atlas
- Four-DVD digipak in paperboard slipcase
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