Note: The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy was released as a boxed set by New Line awhile ago, and it contained the theatrical versions only. New Line has now released each title on its own, outside of the boxed set. There are no discernable differences between the discs in that boxed set and the discs in the individual releases - and yes, these are still the theatrical versions, not Jackson's extended cuts.
Directed by Peter Jackson, The Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring is the first film in the three part adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's classic work of epic fantasy. The movie introduces us to the core characters which will be developed throughout the three films in the series as we jump into the story that centers around a rather meek Hobbit named Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) who lives in Mordor. Frodo's life changes forever when he inherits a ring. This isn't just any ring, however - you see, there were nine rings created by a wizard named Sauron and given to the rulers of all the lands, and then one more ring that is more powerful and which controls everything else (one ring to rule them all, got it?). This ring was thought to be lost after its creator was defeated in battle, but here it is, in Frodo's little hand.
At any rate, Frodo hangs out with his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm) and more or less spends his days doing cutsey Hobbit stuff - hanging out with his friends, eating and sleeping. Bilbo, based on the advice of his wizard pal Gandalf (Ian McKellen), is the one who bequeaths upon Bilbo the aforementioned ring, unaware that evil is afoot in Mordor and that this ring will play a big part in events to come. Bilbo and a few other Hobbits hook up with more interesting and less irritating characters from around the area like Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Arwen (Liv Tyler), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), and Boromir (Sean Bean) to keep the ring save from the evil Saruman (Christopher Lee) and a bunch of orcs who thrive on chaos.
It's remarkable that Jackson, who got his start making low budget gore films like Dead Alive and Bad Taste, would be the one to finally bring Tolkien's beloved works to the big screen and that he'd do it with such scope as vision as he has here. Granted, these films won't necessarily appeal to those not already predisposed to either the source material or fantasy films in general and some who hold the books near and dear to their hearts may take issue with Jackson's interpretation of certain aspects, but that doesn't diminish the technical accomplishment. This is epic filmmaking through and through, and while it is at times overly long and while certain characters may become marginally irritating at times, it's never the less an impressive start to a trilogy that would become even bigger in scale as the story begins to unfold in further chapters. The special effects are quite remarkable, the locations perfect and beautiful and the set design and wardrobe work admirable in every regard. This isn't a perfect film, but you wouldn't know that if you judged it solely on its visual qualities.
Equally impressive, as far as the production is concerned, are the bulk of the performances. While this reviewer isn't personally as enamored with Hobbit culture as some, that in no way takes away from Elijah Wood's performance as Bilbo. Thanks to some clever make up and wardrobe he very much looks the part but just as importantly he embodies that sort of naivety and wild eyed sense of wonder that you associate with the character. His performance contrasts will with the more intense characters. Viggo Mortensen is excellent as Aragorn, playing his part with enough macho toughness that you can buy him in the role, while Orlando Bloom is fine as Legolas. Ian McKellen steals the show as Gandalf, the noble wizard who plays such a big part in the film.
Not everyone was one hundred percent pleased with Jackson's take on the story, some frequently (and rightfully, as far as the source material is concerned at least) complaining that the Hobbits got less screen time than other characters or that certain scenes weren't handled with the utmost accuracy but the same can be said of any book to film adaptation. How we imagined it might look can often times be very different than the way the director imagined it might look, and so complaints are unavoidable to a certain extent. Jackson's film, however, is a pretty impressive accomplishment in its own right and this first part of the trilogy does a fine job of setting the stage for the next, and far superior, chapter in the saga.
You'd expect, given the success of these films, that the VC-1 encoded 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer for The Fellowship Of The Ring would be flawless, right? Sadly, it's not. It's good, sometimes even great but this first film looks really inconsistent. Much of this has to do with the way that it was shot and with all of the effects work but it looks noticeably softer and less detailed than the two follow up pictures do on Blu-ray. There's also some noticeable DNR throughout all the film that is definitely going to irritate some people and it pops up frequently enough that those irks are going to be completely warranted. Color reproduction generally looks good and there aren't any compression artifacts to note. Print damage isn't an issue and on that level the image is nice and clean, but yeah, those flaws are definitely there. On the other hand, there are moments here that are amazing in their clarity and their depth. Certain close-up shots show every nook and cranny on the performers' faces and all the texture and detail in the costumes. Had the image been like this consistently it would have made a lot of people very happy but even if that were possible, it hasn't happened here. What we're left with is inconsistent, ranging from murky and muddy looking to absolutely stunning and hitting most stops along the way in between, but don't be surprised to walk away from this set feeling that it could and should have looked better than it does.
The Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring gets the DTS-HD 6.1 Master Audio treatment on Blu-ray in English with optional standard definition Spanish language dubs also supplied. Subtitles are offered up in English SDH and in Spanish as well. While there are very valid reasons to complain about the video quality of this release, you're going to have a much harder time complaining about the audio. The 6.1 track included for this film sounds spectacular, with all the surround activity you'd expect from the picture and maybe even a bit more. Bass response is very strong and powerful without burying the performers in the mix while dialogue is always perfectly balanced, clean and clear. Of course, it stands to reason that the battle scenes are going to impress, and they do, but even quieter and more dramatic moments sound great with some welcome and entirely appropriate ambient noise noticeable in the rear channels. The score is as majestic and powerful as you'd want it to be and nicely spread across the sound stage and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to note. The Fellowship Of The Ring sounds great on Blu-ray.
The extras on this release are going to look very familiar, as they've all been ported over from the standard definition release of the theatrical edition of the movie - there's nothing new here. Welcome To Middle Earth is a sixteen minute segment that talks about the origins of Tolkien's books, their influence and impact, and how that translated many years later in to Jackson's take on the material. Quest For The Ring is a bit more in-depth at twenty-two minutes long and it contains a fair bit more behind the scenes and on set footage, though at times it borders on a glorified advertisement for the film rather than a documentary.
A Passage To Middle Earth is a forty minute TV special that was originally shown on the Sci-Fi Channel and it's considerably more epic in scope and it covers a fair bit more ground than the other two. It's still fairly promotional in spots, but there's more focus on adapting the source material here as well as casting, effects and the like. There's also a ten minute preview of The Two Towers.
Rounding out the extras for this film are six television spots, a music video, a collection of Lord Of The Rings web promos, and a preview for the extended edition of the film.
Most fans of the series will have already picked up the boxed set, making this single disc release a bit tough to recommend, as it doesn't offer up anything that wasn't included there. That said, if for whatever reason you want the theatrical version of the first film on its own, this release is good. The transfer could have looked nicer but the audio is top notch and while the extras pale in comparison to what was offered up on New Line's deluxe extended edition DVD releases, there's still some good stuff here. Judged on its own merits, consider this one recommended, but know that there's a boxed set version already available and that sooner or later, those extended cuts will rear their heads in high definition.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.