The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [DVD]
Screenplay : Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson (based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Liv Tyler (Arwen Undómiel), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), John Rhys-Davies (Gimli), Billy Boyd (Pippin Took), Dominic Monaghan (Merry Brandybuck), Orlando Bloom (Legolas Greenleaf), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Sean Bean (Boromir), Ian Holm (Bilbo Baggins)
The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is a towering feat of visual virtuosity. It takes a much beloved literary classic--unfilmable in just about every sense of the word--and turns it into an astounding cinematic spectacle. Director Peter Jackson has done what many thought would be impossible: He adapted the complex world of J.R.R. Tolkien's imagination for the screen, maintaining fidelity to Tolkien while never losing sight of his own artistry.
Of course, only a decade ago, the vision of The Fellowship of the Ring would have been impossible. As much as it is stirring in the dramatic sense, this movie is most of all a grandiose technical achievement, a shining example of what happens when filmmakers with heart, soul, and--most of all--sheer chutzpah use every bit of special-effects wizardry at their disposal to turn the screen into a window onto a fantastical place, in this case, Middle-Earth, a realm populated by gentle, peaceful hobbits, great wizards both wise and evil, noble elves, greedy (and sometimes noble) humans, combative dwarves, and a plethora of monstrosities, including war-waging orcs and ancient demons. Shot entirely on location in New Zealand, an island country of incredibly diverse landscapes that has a sense of otherworldliness by dent of its having been largely ignored as a location by Hollywood filmmakers, The Fellowship of the Ring has a texture, a grittiness, a true sense of being there that too many other big-budget, high-concept action movies lack.
Many of those who see this movie (and the next two installments scheduled for release over the next two years) will be familiar with the story. One of the movie's great achievements is that this familiarity is not a prerequisite for enjoyment--if you don't know what an orc is or have no clue what the difference is between Rivendale and Mordor, fear not: The screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson lays out all the history and backstory needed to make sense of the narrative. At just over three hours in length, The Fellowship of the Ring is a time investment, but its narrative economy--the fact that so much history is included along with almost all of the major events in Tolkien's book--is impressive.
The Fellowship of the Ring, like so many fantasy stories, is primarily the story of a journey, in this case of a fellowship of nine who have sworn to take a magical ring with great and terrible powers back to the fiery region of Mordor, the place in which it was forged and the only place in which it can be destroyed. The fellowship itself is a cross-section of all the "races" of Middle-Earth: The task of being the ringbearer has fallen to the most unlikely of candidates, the young hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), who is watched over by the great wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan). Also in the fellowship are three other hobbits, Sam (Sean Astin), Pippin (Billy Boyd), and Merry (Dominic Monaghan), two humans, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean), a dwarf, Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and an elf, Legolas (Orlando Bloom).
Throughout the journey, this fellowship is beset one after the other by trials and battles. At first pursued by nine Ring-Wraiths--faceless beings shrouded in black cloaks on black steeds--Frodo and company must also do battle with an army of orcs, a multi-tentacled creature from the depths of a river, a fiery demon from the ancient world, not to mention the wicked plotting of Saruman (Christopher Lee), a wizard who has turned evil and is busy breeding a new race of warriors by crossing orcs and goblins.
If at times the movie can seem a bit repetitive, with the narrative appearing to be little more than one battle after another, Jackson keeps it rushing along with his impressive visual acuity. Jackson is a born filmmaker--something he proved years ago with inventive, independently produced gore comedies like Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (aka Dead-Alive) (1992). He has an innate sense of the possibilities of the medium, and he is perhaps one of the few filmmakers who could truly turn Tolkien's literary mythmaking into cinematic mythmaking without making it a simple, by-the-numbers affair.
While sticking close to the text, Jackson constantly reminds us--sometimes with subtlety, sometimes loudly--that this is, nonetheless, a Peter Jackson film. Given the gory tone of his earlier films, Jackson obviously relished the metallic clangs and dizzying rush of the battle scenes, and there are a few exhilarating moments of choreographed limb hacking and decapitation that remind us that Jackson is, after all, the director who turned a lawnmower into a giant zombie blender in Braindead.
Extreme close-ups and extreme high and low angles are important parts of his visual vocabulary, and their use here gives the movie an edge it might have lacked with a more conventional approach. Jackson always keeps the camera moving, and there are some moments of breathtaking virtuosity, including one shot that begins with Gandalf imprisoned at the top of a tower, then shoots straight down for hundreds of feet and enters Saruman's hellish underground layer, where the camera swoops and glides through multiple levels of action in which hundreds of orcs labor away at digging passages and forging weapons.
Jackson was working with the enormous budget ($300 million for all three films), and it shows throughout in the visualization of Middle-Earth. More than anything, The Fellowship of the Ring is a triumph of atmosphere. At every turn, the movie takes us into a new realm with a new tone and mood, whether in the golden light of the elvish city of Rivendale, the enormous and dark ruins of an underground dwarf city, or the hellfire-and-brimstone netherworld of Mordor. Jackson juggles all these locations, making each believable and almost tangible, and in the process generating audience responses that veer from wonderment to sheer terror. There are moments in The Fellowship of the Ring that are as ghastly and violent as anything in a horror movie (the slimy birth of the orc-goblin warrior is a truly nasty sight) and others that are as beautiful as a Renaissance painting (the cinematography by Andrew Lesnie shines mythically in the same way his work did in the fables Babe and Babe: Pig in the City).
Granted, while Jackson has succeeded gloriously in bringing Tolkien's world to life, much like the books themselves, The Fellowship of the Ring will not be to everyone's taste. There is a certain geek factor inherent in fantasy narratives, especially ones as narratively and historically dense as Tolkien's work. Yet, it may be Jackson's greatest achievement that he has made the movie as accessible to non-fantasy fans as is humanly possible without losing sight of the details and passion that has made Tolkien's work the pinnacle of fantasy fiction.
|The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Distributor||New Line Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||August 6, 2002|
| 2.35:1 (Anamorphic)|
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this disc is reference-quality. The image is absolutely superb, as good as I can possibly imagine it looking, especially given the vastness of the film's visuals, from the warm, sun-dappled green of the Shire, to the dark, foreboding mountains of Mordor, to the painterly splendor of Rivendell. The image is sharp and clear without looking forced; rather, it maintains a smooth, film-like appearance. Shadow detail is excellent throughout, which is of great benefit to the film's many darker sequences, and colors are bold and natural-looking.
There is also a full-screen version available. As the film was shot in Super 35 (which allows, to a certain extent, for variable aspect ratios), the amount of cropping will vary from scene to scene, sometimes resulting in minimal loss of image on the sides with the addition of space at the top and bottom of the frame, other times (often in special-effects shots) losing close to 50% of the image. Regardless, it is still a shame to think of the film's gorgeous widescreen photography being altered in any way, and I mention the full-screen version's existence only as a warning so you don't accidentally pick up a of it, as the covers of the two versions look virtually identical.
| English Dolby Digital EX 5.1 Surround|
English Dolby 2.0 Stereo Surround
The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital EX surround soundtrack is also reference-quality, the kind that will give your system a full workout. The Fellowship of the Ring has an impressive soundtrack (it was nominated for a Best Sound Oscar), from the multiple layers of detailed sound effects, to Howard Shore's epic score. Imaging and directionality are used to great effect throughout, in moments that are both subtle and bombastic (the loud battle scenes are loud). The shrieking of the Ringwraiths echoing through one's surround speakers is enough to give anyone the chills, and every metallic clanking of a sword or thumping of an approaching horse's hooves sounds perfect.
| The supplements included on this disc are fairly light, consisting entirely of previously broadcast material and promotional featurettes. This is to be expected, though, as New Line announced several months ago that a four-disc extended edition DVD would be released in November with what promises to be a plethora of new supplements, including multiple audio commentaries. So, if you buy this initial two-disc release, bear in mind that your money is for the movie itself, not the extras. |
"Welcome to Middle-Earth" featurette
Quest for the Ring Fox-TV special
A Passage to Middle-Earth Sci-Fi Channel special
Exclusive behind-the-scenes preview of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Original theatrical trailers and TV spots
Enya "May It Be" music video
An inside look at the special extended DVD edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers video game preview
Copyright ©2001, 2002 James Kendrick