This is a DVD masterpiece. Not only is the content of this four-disc set consistent in quality, but its presentation sets new standards. This review can only give you a taster of what to see and expect, but it should form a useful road map to help navigate you through this staggering release.
The Film Despite over 30 minutes of new footage added, none of it feels like a chore. Indeed, it allows you to become further immersed into the world of Middle-earth, with an extended opening, a new scene in the mines of Moria, more battle footage, and plenty of new refinements.
Picture Rivendell basks in a honey glow while the mines languish in a grey gloom that's crawling with detail in a highly impressive transfer. Whether viewed on a widescreen TV or a projection set-up, the clarity is stunning, yet the cinematic hues of the image have been transferred intact to produce a lush image that you almost fancy you could dive into.
Sound There's a choice of Dolby EX and DTS ES tracks to watch the film with, and both carry a signal for a rear centre speaker. Both offer a better audio experience than the 5.1 track on the two-disc release. There's more subtlety and spatial presence, while the effects are now highly precise in placement. And the bass underpinning sounds bloody great! The DTS track is the more refined of the two, but both are superb.
DISCS ONE AND TWO SPECIAL FEATURES
Audio Commentary One Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh share a track with writer Philippa Boyens. It's the most useful in establishing good solid information about the production and the differences between the original theatrical release and this new extended version. Fans of the books will also glean an excellent insight into the decisions made over what stayed and what went in adapting "Fellowship" as a film.
Audio Commentary Two Suddenly we get a lot busier for track two, which includes contributions from production designer Grant Major, costume designer Ngila Dickson, creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe, supervising art director Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Hennah, and workshop manager Tania Rodger. It's great for discovering all those little tricks used to make the film work, including scale issues with the hobbits. Again, there's much for fans of the books to enjoy, as the art direction was consistent in trying to remain faithful to the imagery created in the writing.
Audio Commentary Three Another chock-full track awaits you here, and yes, you do get subtitles so you know who is actually talking. Contributors are producers Barrie Osborne, Mark Ordesky and Rick Porras, cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, editor John Gilbert, composer Howard Shore, visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel, visual effects cinematographer Brian Vant Hul, visual effects assistant director Christian Rivers, miniatures cinematographer Alex Funke, animation designer Randy Cook, and sound editors Ethan van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins. This is an uneven commentary that contains some fairly useless love-in sessions between the producers peppered with complex production detail. Some of the discussion on the special effects can be tough to follow unless you know a little about it, but there's no disguising the passion of the people who worked on the movie. Composer Howard Shore also features and chats about his work for the extended version, which required a new score to be composed and recorded that would fit in with the existing music.
Audio Commentary Four Finally, we have the thoughts of actors Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Lee, and Sean Bean. Not only is this track fun to listen too, but such heavyweights as Lee and McKellen feature quite prominently, and they're both experienced enough by now not to just spout any old rubbish. All involved chip in with comments for the new footage which, of course, they're all pleased to see, as it's more screen time for them!
DISC THREE SPECIAL FEATURES
Peter Jackson Intro The man himself welcomes you to the hours of features on Disc Three.
Creator of Middle-earth In this 22-minute featurette, you can learn all about how JRR Tolkien came to write the books, and the rules they follow which have been religiously adhered to by the filmmakers wherever possible. A lot has been read into his texts, and this programme is good at debunking the myths, as well as revealing the incredible amount of background work Tolkien did on creating Middle-earth.
From Book to Script If this 20-minute featurette serves one purpose, it's just to thank your lucky stars that Peter Jackson was the creative force behind the films. As you'll find out, this project sat with Miramax for a while as a single film adaptation of all three books. How that could ever have been achieved is a mystery, especially as breaking each book into an individual script is discussed here, and that's complex enough!
Pre-visualisation This is the process of creating animatics (animated storyboards) so that an effects-laden film can be more accurately planned. The real fun then starts with a comprehensive section of scene breakdowns and test scenes:
- Early Storyboards The original prolouge, orc pursuit, and Sarn Gebir rapids chase.
- Animatics Gandalf rides to Orthanc, and the stairs of Khazad-Dum.
- Multi-angle Scenes Storyboards, animatics, final film, and composite angles available for: Nazgul attack at Bree, Bridge of Khazad-Dum, Bag End Test.
Designing Middle-earth This 41-minute documentary demonstrates the incredible efforts that have gone into the art direction of the movies. Original Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe were tracked down and asked to produce sketches of everything the books didn't cover. The Weta Workshop then took on these drawings, and you can see for yourself the lengths their craftsmen went to realising Middle-earth and the characters that inhabit it.
Weta Workshop Further proof of the efforts of the Weta workshop are on show here as we get a 43-minute tour of the place, which is crammed with an incredible amount of props. The sheer number and quality demonstrates just why the first movie seems to work so well in conveying a sense of history in the world of Middle-earth.
Costume Design In 12 minutes you'll get a good idea of the enormity of the task that faced Ngila Dickson in creating costumes for all the actors. What's interesting about this featurette is the sheer amount of detail that has gone into the clothing.
Middle-earth Atlas This is a great interactive feature for giving you a geographical and plot overview of the film. Follow the steps of the Fellowship and watch clips of the major events along the way.
New Zealand as Middle-earth Discover the locations used in this interactive feature that comes with scouting footage.
Peoples and Realms of Middle-earth Nineteen galleries cover the incredible art design of the film with nearly 2000 images on offer!
DVD-ROM Weblinks Insert the disc into your DVD-ROM drive to access this feature.
DISC FOUR SPECIAL FEATURES
Elijah Wood Intro Here to introduce you to disc four is Elijah Wood.
The Fellowship of the Cast The excellent rapport of the cast is explored in this 35-minute featurette, where we find out that Sean Bean is quite hard after all! Apparently he'd prefer to get up early and hike to locations to avoid a helicopter trip (or does that mean he's not hard after all and just scared of flying?) Meanwhile Billy Boyd and Orlando Bloom seemed to have no trouble flying, but then it turns out that they were drunk!
A Day in the Life of a Hobbit A day in the life of the actor's playing the hobbits is compressed into 13 minutes. The main issue seems to have been getting the feet glued on, and then how to keep one another entertained during the day.
Cameras in Middle-earth In this near 50-minute documentary you can go behind the scenes of the shoot, with plenty of quality footage of the sets, the New Zealand locations, and the major scenes. Again, you're left feeling quite awe struck, not only at the size of the production, but the talent required to steer it effectively. You'll also find an image gallery of behind-the-scenes shots for you to flick through.
Scale So how did they shoot the film so that hobbits look small? Find out in this 15-minute featurette where simple tricks like forced perspective, large costumes, and rather more complex digital effects create the illusion.
Big-atures Another quality featurette awaits you here, in this 16-minute look at over-sized 'miniatures' created for the film. You can also explore these in six detailed image galleries, in both concept and design drawing stages and finished models.
Weta Digital Here you get to explore the CGI effects of the movie created by Weta Digital, in a 24-minute featurette that's consistently interesting due to just how well these process shots have turned out. Various characters and sets are explored, as well as a look at the tremendous massive pillars of Khazad-Dum.
Assembling an Epic Editor John Gilbert had one hell of a task editing together the millions of feet of footage shot, and proof of it is in this 13-minute featurette. As if editing together the first movie wasn't hard enough, Gilbert then had to put together the extended edition.
Council of Elron View this scene using up to seven anges.
Digitial Grading Most films that utilise studio and exterior filming will require some form of grading so that footage matches. As this 11-minute featurette demonstrates, a lot of digital grading had to take place for the multi-location footage not only to match, but to take on that other-worldly appearance that's so unique to the movie.
The Soundscapes of Middle-earth While this 12-minute look at the sound effects of the film is very good, it might have been cleverer to present it in 5.1, and demonstrate how to build such a soundstage. Despite our digital age, you'll be amazed to find out the inventive methods, using everyday items, that went into creating the sounds of the movie.
Music for Middle-earth Howard Shore's score for the movie is dealt with here, including the extra work needed for the extended edition, including the re-insertion of Aragorn's song (thankfully that's the only song they put back in!)
The Road Goes On Peter Jackson talks a little of the reaction to the first film and what's coming up in the next two.
DVD-ROM Weblinks Again, you'll need to put the disc in your DVD-ROM drive to access this feature.
Ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic)
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
Audio Tracks: English
Menus: Animated with music
Special Features Subtitles: All the special features come subtitles.
This DVD was reviewed on a JVC XV-S57 DVD player.