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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » J.R.R. Tolkien - Master of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien - Master of the Rings
Warner Bros. // Unrated // July 16, 2002
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Phillip Duncan | posted August 15, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The success of the first film in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy almost guaranteed a multitude of additional products tied into its release. Billed as complete guide to Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien - Master of the Rings is as complete as any fan of the literary series could ask.

Hosted by Tolkien scholar Robert DiNapoli, this 80-minute documentary covers many aspects of Tolkien's life, as well as, the creation of Lord of the Rings and Middle Earth. Based in the beginnings of his Oxford education. "The Hobbit" was published and became huge hit. After that, the publisher wanted a sequel and it would be twenty years before he delivered.

After writing and revising for twenty years, Tolkien turned in the first of the Lord of the Rings manuscript. Published in 1954, Lord of the Rings met with medium success and only became considered a classic in time. Scholars and fans continuously debate whether or not fantasy can be consider classic literature and Tolkien believed that myth was able to convey truth far better than truth or history.

The documentary, using paintings and video, recaps the plot of the three books and then continues on with this debate and relates the historical significance of the book and it's meanings. Combined with a 3-D map of Middle Earth, these discussions give a great overview of Middle Earth to fans and the initiated alike. The 3-D map is used throughout the documentary as locations are shown. It's a nice tool that puts all the locations into a proper perspective. From the history of the creation of the characters to the references to World War II, it's all in the documentary. Tolkien's writing style is analyzed and his worlds are properly deconstructed. Many artists, musicians and schools are interviewed and talk about how Tolkien has influenced them. One musician reveals the plan to originally film LOTR using the Beatles as the main characters.

It's an exhaustive look at the mythology and creation that went into this highly influential series of books that are on their way to being successful films. No detail is left unmentioned and the information is perfect for anyone, despite his or her level of knowledge on the subject. Be warned, those that haven't read the books will have them or the following movies spoiled.

The Video: Comprised of various sources, it's an acceptable transfer. The filmed interview footage and still images are vibrant with little noise or grain. Older footage suffers in quality, but that's expected. If you've seen one documentary, you'll know what to expect.

The Audio: A standard Dolby mix is all that's needed on this disc and it works perfectly well. There's little to no music, except when referencing bands that use it as inspiration.

Extras: The DVD has to significant extras and a few on the DVD. There is a beautiful image gallery of the artwork done by the Hildebrant brothers. There work long defined Tolkien's world in a successful adaptation and many images are included here. Bright and colorful, the images are used on every bit of the packaging and other material. A small booklet is included that reproduces several of these images in a print form.

Interviews and music videos are included in a section entitled Inspirations. Featuring four performers / artists who have derived a certain amount of work from Tolkien. Rick Wakeman, from the band YES, has composed and compiled a CD full of music inspired by Tolkien's work and it's included with this set. When compared to the film score and other music, by today's standards it sounds like high quality video game music. Full of British style synthesizer and string work, it's not for everyone. The Interactive Interview section is a series of 9 questions that when clicked the appropriate video clip plays. It's an awkward interface that use some footage included in the documentary. It would have been nice to see an option to play them straight through.

Overall: As above, it's an exhaustive look at the mythology of LOTR that touches upon the life of Tolkien as well. Don't expect a biography of Tolkien's life, but look for plenty of information on the LOTR trilogy.
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