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The Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings on DVD

The Fellowship of the Ring

By Jim Bray

One of the most anticipated films in the history of cinefantastique was this Peter Jackson version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy, the first installment of which was received with critical and financial success in late 2001.

And why not? Jackson et al did a terrific job with this tale, remaining as true as possible to the book and, while that may affect some of the pacing at times, it’s a remarkable achievement that (along with Harry Potter) will hopefully encourage others to make classic movies out of classic books without throwing the book away in the process.

The movie is also far better than Ralph Bakshi's animated version from the 1970's.

By now everyone is at least reasonably familiar with the storyline of a Hobbit and his compatriots who embark on a perilous journey to destroy the Ring of Power before the evil Sauron can use it to enslave all of Middle Earth. So I won’t get into that here, concentrating instead on the DVD and its execution.

And the DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring is a classic example of why the home theater can be so much better than a movie theater in this age of widescreen, high resolution televisions.

That’s because I saw the movie upon its original release, one of those rare times (Lucas films are another example) when I actually pry my bum into a theater seat. At my snobby insistence, we deliberately chose a THX-approved theater to see what promised to be an excellent big screen visual and aural treat.

And I hated it! The picture was dark and fuzzy, so much so that during the darker sequences it was hard to make out what was happening on the screen. The audio was worse. It was loud, which is fine. I love it loud, but there’s a difference between volume and quality - and this supposedly state-of-the-art theater’s audio system was not only deafening, but shrill, so shrill I left the theater with a headache. And the bass was anything but tight; it was boomy and annoying.

It was so bad that I logged onto the THX Web site to register my displeasure with the theater. Strangely enough, the next day I was dragged to another theater in the same complex to see Harry Potter, in a theater what wasn’t THX approved - and while DVD is still the way to go (if you have a robust enough home theater), it was far better than LOTR.

Go figure.

Yet the TV commercials and the clips one saw during the Oscars and other times made LOTR look terrific. Likewise the commercials for the DVD release when they started running.

So I waited with baited breath – and the DVD release of The Fellowship of the Ring is an eye and ear opening experience to say the least!

And boy, was it worth the wait!

But be warned: another, four disc special edition is on the way, so you may want to wait before dropping your hard earned money on this initial version. The producers even preview that disc on this disc, which is kind of like rubbing it in the faces of those who shell out the money for the first disc - people who undoubtedly bought it without knowing there’s a newer and supposedly better one coming a couple of months down the road.

I find this a bit much.

So far as the quality of this DVD, however, it's first rate. The picture, which is presented in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) is simply wonderful. The colors are bright and rich, the picture itself is razor sharp for the most part, with few artifacts at all. In short, it’s everything that the theatrical experience wasn’t - and a wonderful example of the digital disc medium.

The audio, likewise, is excellent. As in the movie theater, it’s very loud - so loud that I found myself running my home theater’s volume lower than I usually do, something that happens so rarely I can only think of one other DVD that requires the same treatment (a concert by The Who). The sound is Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, and to call the dynamic range dynamic would be to understate the facts. There’s excellent use of the surround channels and the low frequency effects channel (the subwoofer) puts out spectacularly - without the banging boominess of that THX-approved theater I’ll never visit again.

I watched the disc via a progressive scan DVD player outputting to a 57 inch widescreen TV with THX approved amplifier, preamplifier and subwoofer and Definitive Technology speakers the rest of the way around - and other than the screen not being as large as in a cinema the experience was immeasurably better than at the cinema.

In short, this is a superb DVD.

There are plenty of extras, too, an entire second disc’s worth - and much of the extra material (though not all of it) has been presented in anamorphic widescreen as well. It makes one wonder what (besides the extra half hour of the movie itself) the Extra Special Edition is going to have when it comes out.

We’ll let you know…

Anyway, Disc Two includes loving looks at the production, including features and featurettes culled from a variety of sources. They’re very good, too, for the most part, and give excellent background to the creation of this epic.

There’s also a preview of Episode Two (with apologies to George Lucas!), The Two Towers, which looks to be even more spectacular than this first installment. And you get a preview of a LOTR video game - as well as that infernal promotion for the “Special Extended DVD Edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” that annoyed me so much.

The extras are fascinating and well worth a look.

Kudos to Peter Jackson for pulling it off, and to Alliance Atlantis and New World Pictures for letting him - and for putting together a DVD that truly does it justice.

But my advice is for readers to only rent it right now, and compare it to November’s upcoming Platinum Series release to see which one you like best - and then to buy whichever one that is.

The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, from Alliance Atlantis Home Video
178 min. anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround
Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan
Produced by Peter Jackson, Barrie Osborne, Tim Sanders
Written by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson, Directed by Peter Jackson


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Updated May 13, 2006