Lord of the Rings:
Fellowship of the Ring
Collector's DVD Gift Set
There seems to be a tradition of making endless editions of movies to be re-released on DVD. Many studios find that consumers will buy three or four versions of the same film just to get one or two extra features for it (much like toy manufacturers make many versions and variants of popular characters). The motivation for these editions is sometimes to improve the film, but more often to find another way to fill their coffers. That being said, it's very refreshing to see a special edition that is actually special, and give the consumer more of what they want and actually improves upon the prior edition.
The Fellowship of the Ring is the opening part of three films based on JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The tale is the story of good versus evil, wherein the forces of good must undertake a dangerous quest. They have the most powerful weapon in the land of Middle Earth and to defeat evil they must destroy it. Destroying it can't be easy (that would be a short and boring story) so they need to go deep into enemy territory to the only place the weapon (the One Ring) can be destroyed (which is coincidentally where it was forged). To find out how it turns out, watch the films!! (Or read the books!)
The latest entry in the New Line Platinum series is an extended version of the critical and financial hit Fellowship of the Ring, and the hits just keep on coming. The extended edition of the film comes as a four DVD set that is sold alone or in a collector's DVD gift set that includes the four disc version, an extra disc from National Geographic and a set of polystone Argonath bookends created for this set by Sideshow/WETA. The focus of this feature is on the boxed gift set, and we'll take a look at the film, the extras on the DVD's, the National Geographic disc and the bookends. The gift set also includes a miniature sampler of the official Lord of the Rings fan club magazine and three cards from the Decipher trading card game. There is a coupon for a free ticket to see The Two Towers in December, but that is the extent of Two Towers material in this set. As a side note, the logo used for this set emphasizes Fellowship of the Ring and not Lord of the Rings, which is an interesting change in marketing strategy, consist with the way the Two Towers is being promoted.
image courtesy of NewLineShop.com
The four-disc extended version come packed in a custom box designed to look like a book. The interior slides out and then unfolds to show off all four discs, has a small map of Middle Earth (with the fellowship's route in red on it) and a manual. The manual lists the contents of the two discs with the film (they take up discs one and two) with the scene listing and it denotes which scenes were altered or are new to this edition. There is also a chart for the two extra discs that has a chart showing what is on each disc in a genealogical style chart, so you can see where they are and what the 'play all' selection will play from the disc. All four discs in this set are in widescreen format, and all the interviews and video is in the same format. If you don't like the black lines at the top and bottom you're out of luck.
Fellowship of the Ring was released as a three-hour film covering the first volume of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and though long compared with most films it seemed to fly by in covering the opening of an extensive saga. With the success of the film it has allowed director Peter Jackson the opportunity to go back and restore some deleted scenes and extend others to get closer to the vision of JRR Tolkien's classic.
There are many changes between the theatrical version and the extended version of the film, some larger than others. The majority of the changes are to extend scenes from the film with smaller bits here and there, but there are several new scenes added in. The film's score was also extended to cover the added length of the film, and the extended version plays perfectly down to the seamless transitions and flow of the music.
It's beyond the scope of this to cover every change made in the film, and many are more fun to discover on your own. Many of the scenes add in character bits and humor, and none changes the overall theme of the film. It can largely be a matter of personal taste, but it seems most of the changes were for the better. However, the addition of a scene added between the prologue and the scene with Frodo and Gandalf on the cart seems to take some of the emotional impact away from taking in the beauty of Hobbiton with exposition that seems unnecessary. Possibly the best addition (and one that will be significant in the last two parts of the trilogy) is the restoration of much of the Lothlorien footage, especially a scene where Galadriel gives gifts to nearly all the fellowship. The battle with the cave troll and the orc attack at the end of the film are also slightly extended, both improvements. Overall the additions add to the experience and none hurt the film in any significant way. A great film has been made even better.
The film is split between two DVD's, partly due to running time and partly due to picture quality. With a running time of around three and a half hours, and extra DVD was needed to show the whole film. The break comes just after the Council of Elrond where the fellowship is formed, and it is an excellent break both from the perspective of story and the human bladder. Having the film span two discs allows for a better picture with less compression used in encoding the image, and it shows. The picture is outstanding, and all the colors are more vivid and the effects seem even better.
Both film discs have several audio tracks of commentary to go with them. The four commentaries for the entire film have comments from the cast, crew, production personnel and director Peter Jackson. Audio commentaries are always interesting though they can take away from the viewing experience, and with the long running time of the film it may be a while before anyone has heard them all!
There are two "easter eggs" for this set. The first is on disc one, go to "scene selection," select the "Council of Elrond" (one click, don't play it), navigate down and a ring will appear next to "new scene." Choose the ring, and it will play a spoof of the Council of Elrond from the MTV Movie Awards. The second easter egg is on disc two, go to "scene selection" and go to the last page. Select the 48 on the side, then navigate down and there will be a Two Towers symbol right underneath. Activate that to play the Two Towers "sneak peek" preview that was played with the Fellowship of the Ring near the end of the theatrical run.
The tradition with DVD editions has been to add extra features, usually behind-the-scenes and making of features, and this set does not disappoint. There are two discs full of extras, and both are loaded with features and each has approximately three and a half hours of video. They each also offer galleries of images, and DVD-ROM content for computer users (which everyone reading this has to be!). The theatrical edition released on DVD also included extras like this, but these are more in-depth and none of them are the same as those previously included.
The first disc is themed around taking the literary version of The Lord of the Rings and creating concepts and visions from that work. There are six features that cover topics from JRR Tolkien to creating some of the armor and weapons. The features include interviews with many cast and crew members, and most especially noted Tolkien artists John Howe and Alan Lee. With the 'play all' selection it goes through all the features in order, and will play all six features. The features are played in logical order showing the early concepts through development on the film, and the quality of the material is very high. Anyone who wants to produce a special DVD edition should take notes.
There are also several video sequences showing the early design for the prologue and showing how some scenes were developed and conceptualized along with their final film versions. One of the best parts is a sequence where director Peter Jackson is doing some test filming in the Bag End set (in early stages of construction), and he plays Bilbo to a faux Gandalf. There are many interesting and entertaining tales mixed throughout the disc. There is also an interactive map of Middle Earth that can follow the route of the fellowship and Gandalf through the film (with clips).
The second disc deals with taking the concepts and visions that were developed and making them reality, and it has a solid three and half hours of features that cover everything from casting the epic to creating the miniatures and a detailed look at the special effects. The casting process is covered in detail, with interviews with all the primary cast. There's a look at the daily routine for the hobbits, and full coverage of the variety of special effects used in the film, from camera tricks to the digital effects. Beyond that there is coverage of editing, sound effects and the music, and a short piece on the premieres around the world. Overall it covers virtually every stage of filmmaking specific to this film, and is both interesting and accessible.
The boxed gift set comes with an extra disc, one from National Geographic. The disc is an hour special created to explore Tolkien the man, and the influences on his work. There is special attention on the mythological backdrop for the books and the basis in reality. The feature is nice, but probably won't be a deal maker or breaker for most fans, and it can be purchased alone. The regular version of this disc just has the hour feature, but this addition adds two featurettes and a small photo gallery. It is presented in full frame, so it has the same ratio as the standard television screen. It isn't bad, but neither is it spectacular.
The part of the boxed gift set that is the deal maker (or breaker) is the set of polystone Argonath bookends. (Pictures of the one on the left and on the right.)The bookends were created by Sideshow/WETA, which is a unique merger in that you have the people who worked on the material in the film creating the merchandise for it. To wit, Mary Maclachlan, who sculpted the miniatures used in actual filming, sculpted the bookends. You simply cannot get more authentic than that without bringing in some Gondorians. Each bookend is six inches tall, and they mimic the images from the film, though the left image (when facing the front of the Argonath) differs from the film version in the placement of the right arm holding the axe. This may have been to ensure they could fit the packaging, though it is slightly different from the Argonath in the film.
The Argonath is a monument created by the people of Gondor to honor their kings of old. The two men represented by the Argonath are the sons of Elendil, first king of Gondor (and part of the Last Alliance shown in the prologue). One is Isildur, who cut the ring from Sauron's hand, and the other is Anarion, who was slain with his father in the same battle where Sauron was defeated. Together the two formed the kingdom of Gondor, which was ruled by Isildur after his father's death.
The question of which is the left or right (when facing the statues) is unanswered. The helmet on the left figure resembles Isildur's helmet, but the right figure is shown with Narsil intact (as determined by the design of the hilt), which would suggest that is Isildur. Isildur had no beard like that one, so it has to be Anarion. Or is it? Top that off with the description from the book that both had axes instead of one having a sword, and it all spells some drunk workers. Or possibly high on pipeweed, you make the call!
If you enjoyed the theatrical version of the film and you have an interest in the process of filmmaking, you absolutely must get this set. The vast amount of extras and the quality of the picture alone are enough to recommend this to anyone, and it takes advantage of the format in DVD's to maximize the viewing experience. Whether you want the bookends and extra National Geographic disc is a purely personal decision, and while they are nice extras, they aren't for everyone. But everyone who loved the film owes it to himself or herself to buy this set, just for the extras to see how they created this amazing work. With any luck they will lavish the same attention to the remaining chapters in the saga.
Pictures of the Argonath on the Left
Pictures of the Argonath on the Right
|Where to buy the DVD Gift Set: This DVD set retails in the $50 to $80 USD price range, and is available through most places which sell DVDs, including Amazon.com and NewLineShop.com.|