By Chaz Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Extended Edition [5-Disc Set] on Blogcritics.
I saw The Fellowship of the Ring only once, during its initial theatrical run back in 2001. Not being especially partial to the fantasy genre to begin with, I found myself squirming with boredom throughout its three-hour running time. I avoided it like the plague thereafter—until now, with the standalone Blu-ray release of the extended cut. Peter Jackson’s entire adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy – Extended Edition, was first issued on Blu-ray in 2011. This is the first time the extended versions have been available separately on Blu-ray. I decided to give the first film another shot and see if my generally negative opinion had softened at all.
It hasn’t. Fellowship, though undeniably impressive on a technical level, is among the most overrated films I’ve seen. For me, the worst part about Fellowship is that it misses the mark as a complete story. The ending point of the film is merely the stopping point before the The Two Towers picks up the narrative for another three hours (before reaching its own non-conclusion). The most exciting sequence, a confrontation in the Mines of Moria between the Fellowship, the Orcs, and a Balrog, isn’t even the climax of the film. After that sequence, it limps toward a stopping point that isn’t so much appropriate as it is simply necessary—they had reached the three hour point so it was time to roll credits. Adding an additional 50 minutes to the running time, as this extended version does, is almost an act of sadism on Jackson’s part.
Ah, but there’s a catch. Of that 50 extra minutes, a confounding 20 of them are nothing more than an endless list of Lord of the Rings fan club members’ names added to the end credits. Personally, I was relieved that so much of the extension was given over to a marathon list that will mean absolutely nothing to anyone outside of the people whose names are included. When accounting for the already lengthy filmmakers’ credits, the actual movie ends 28 minutes before the listed running time of 228 minutes.
Yes, I strongly believe this is a morbidly obese movie, padded with an overly indulgent array of minutia that actually has little to do with effective storytelling. We’ve all heard the old adage “less is more,” but for Jackson, that kind of thinking apparently doesn’t apply. Most everyone knows the basic story by now. Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) has been in possession of the lost magical ring of the Dark Lord Sauron (Sala Baker), which is tempting fate, as the ring’s power could potentially drive him mad (as it did to the previous owner, Gollum, who we see only briefly in this film).
Bilbo passes the ring to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Woods). Frodo must resist the temptation to use the ring’s power while making his way, on foot, to Mordor to dispose of the ring by throwing it into a volcano named Mount Doom. The “Fellowship” of the title consists of his travelling party. The motley crew consists of three more hobbits (Sam, Merry, and Pippin—the last two are deadweight as far as the narrative is concerned), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom), Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies), and Boromir (Sean Bean).
The wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), formerly an ally of Gandalf’s in the Istari Order, has turned to evil and now seeks to capture Sauron’s ring from the Fellowship. Numerous obstacles, Orcs and such, are dispatched to try and secure the magic ring, but just when it seems the Fellowship is in real danger, the use of magic cancels out the antagonists’ efforts. That’s my other problem with The Lord of the Rings. How can there be any logic to the proceedings when such a wild card element like “magic” can be employed to get the good guys out of just about any tight situation? Frodo and the other hobbits often seem to have difficulty using good judgment, putting themselves and other members of the Fellowship in harm’s way. But magic is frequently used as a way out. It feels like a shortcut to clever problem solving.
At its best, The Fellowship of the Ring is a visually stunning epic with impeccable technical attributes. There are some great performances, too, with memorable work by most of the cast. But at its worst, the movie feels like a series of brilliantly staged set pieces split up by dull stretches of filler. For my money, Fellowship is actually the weakest of the trilogy, which gets more exciting and involving with each installment. I realize Jackson and company had a lot to establish in the first film in order for the second and third to work. But that doesn’t really excuse the level of bloat that accompanies each film, especially Fellowship.
Apparently this standalone Blu-ray release of The Fellowship of the Ring – Extended Edition contains the same exact transfer previously available in the Extended Edition trilogy set. As such, the alternate color correction that raised the ire of so many enthusiasts is still present. Without the theatrical cut to use for comparison purposes, I can’t comment about which is better or worse. From what I understand, Warner Bros. has said the changes, which resulted in an increase in green and cyan hues throughout much of the film, were intentional but Peter Jackson hasn’t officially commented.
Objectively, the 1080p presentation of Fellowship is strikingly beautiful, with an intricately detailed image for its three hour-plus duration. The New Zealand landscapes look fantastic, with foliage, rocky bluffs, and flowing rivers all displayed in vivid detail. Black levels are deep. Some of the decade-plus old CG effects definitely show their age in the unforgiving clarity of high definition. As many have railed about, the overall color scheme has been shifted towards green and cyan, and this will understandably upset some viewers. But as someone with no point of reference (except a theatrical screening 11 years ago), I thought the colors looked appropriate and consistent throughout.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA sound is perfectly balanced, creating a very pleasing, immersive experience. The surrounds are not used gratuitously simply for the sake of pummeling the viewer—whether it’s Howard Shore’s score, any variety of effects, or a combination, the surrounds are used purposefully. LFE activity is very frequent and provides a great bottom end, with plenty of floor-vibrating bass. Dialogue, both shouted and whispered, is extremely clear at all times.
Supplemental features are extensive (and also the same as the Blu-ray Extended Editions trilogy set). Disc one and two are the only Blu-rays, containing part one and two of the movie, respectively. They are graced with four commentary tracks featuring a total of more than 30 participants. If commentaries are your thing, these are a real treat. One is with the director and writers, the second with cast members, the third with the production team, and finally the fourth features the design team. Discs three through five are standards DVDs. Labeled “Appendices Part 1: From Book to Vision” and “Appendices Part 2: From Vision to Reality,” these DVDs are jam-packed with over five and a half hours of featurettes covering just about every imaginable angle of the production. The fifth disc contains a “Behind the Scenes” documentary directed by Costas Botes that runs an hour and 25 minutes.
While I disagree with the popular consensus that this is a great film, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Extended Edition Blu-ray is certainly an exhaustive set. If you already own the previously available box set of the extended editions, you have no reason to buy this as it includes nothing new. If you don’t, now Warner has offered an alternative to plunking down for the entire trilogy at once.