NOTE: This release is completely identical to the version included with last year's trilogy boxed set, except for the packaging.
Based on J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved novel, Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03) broke new ground in the fantasy genre by shooting all three films back-to-back; in all, the entire trilogy took over eight years to complete and cost nearly $300 million. Of course, we all know the gamble paid off, but this critical and commercial success still remains one of the most ambitious and fully-realized epics in film history. The Fellowship of the Ring is the first chapter in the film trilogy, and it does a fine job of setting the pace while introducing us to Middle-Earth and its curious, courageous and cunning citizens. Jackson enjoyed a measure of success prior to its release, but his name will be forever associated with The Lord of the Rings (which includes The Hobbit, a multi-part adaptation that begins later this year).
Doubling as a layered drama and introductory piece, The Fellowship of the Ring is basically flawless in the way we're introduced to its characters. Our heroes are varied in speed, size and skill, but their common goal is simply to destroy a ring that grants its user nearly unlimited power. It's a dangerous curse and an even more dangerous journey; tucked away deep in the realm of Mordor, the fiery Mount Doom serves as the ring's birthplace and potential grave. Together, our heroes must battle deadly elements, mystical creatures and, of course, the temptation to seize ultimate power for themselves. Though Fellowship only marks the beginning of this journey, it carries enough weight to stand alone on its own strengths. Filled with groundbreaking special (and practical) effects, strong performances, an epic score and detailed production design, it's almost criminal that Fellowship didn't earn a Best Picture win.
Originally released in a multitude of editions on DVD (as well as separate theatrical/extended Blu-Ray boxed sets), the Lord of the Rings trilogy has flooded fans with top-notch bonus features, amazing A/V presentations and deluxe packaging designs. This set of three individual releases marks the first time each Extended Edition has enjoyed its own Blu-Ray release...but as expected, the only thing different here is the price point and packaging. If you're on a budget, this might be the way to go; otherwise, I'd probably say the trilogy boxed set is the more desirable of the two. Either way, you're getting a wealth of content here that will take several days to dig through. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.41:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer looks excellent with one minor nitpick: there are still the same color issues as seen on the version included with last year's trilogy boxed set. A few scenes stand out as having slightly skewed tint levels or modest green / cyan saturation, while other scenes are completely unaffected. After fans complained to New Line directly last year, they were assured that such issues were part of the original vision...though they are not, in fact, present on the other two films, the older DVD versions, or even the theatrical Blu-Ray editions. Either way, it looks like these changes are here to stay for now. Otherwise, the visuals are tough to complain about: textures are fantastic, black levels are rock solid and image detail is much improved over the old DVD masters.
DISCLAIMER: The images in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent the picture presented on this Blu-Ray.
From start to finish, the audio is simply fantastic. Presented in DTS-HD 6.1 Master Audio (with an optional Portuguese DD 5.1 dub), viewers will be continually amazed at the level of detail and dynamic range on display here. Dialogue is incredibly crisp, surrounds are used perfectly and a generous amount of LFE will continually test the quality of your subwoofer (and walls). The film's excellent score is also well-represented and the music never seems to fight for attention with dialogue or other sound effects. Optional English (SDH), Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are also included during the main feature.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
As expected, the simple and straightforward designed menu interface is organized nicely, especially considering the wealth of options available. Seen below, this five-disc set is housed in a compact and practical multi-hubbed keepcase; also included is a Digital Copy code and a slipcover that recycles the 2006 Limited Edition DVD artwork. Although the design of the Extended Edition DVD "book" packaging ranks among my all-time favorites, this space-saving package is a perfectly acceptable alternative.
NOTE: These extensive extras have already been detailed in DVD Talk's review of the trilogy boxed set, not to mention the Extended and Limited Edition DVD releases that they were initially created for. A summary list is included below for posterity.
Discs One and Two include four recycled Audio Commentary tracks, which total more than 12 hours of details about the film's development, production, lasting impact and much more. Participants are grouped by "The Director & Writers", "Cast Members", "The Production Team" and "The Design Team"...and as a helpful bonus, on-screen subtitles are present to identify the speakers. All things considered, there's enough here to exhaust even the most rabid fan. But, of course, there's more where that came from...
Discs Three and Four delve into the exhaustive Appendices from the Extended Edition; essentially, they're just recycled DVDs. Disc Three ("From Book to Vision") includes several Multi-Part Featurettes and Galleries, including "J.R.R. Tolkien -- Creator of Middle-earth" (22:29), "From Book to Script" (20:04), "Visualizing the Story" (13:30 plus galleries), "Designing and Building Middle-Earth" (over 90 minutes total), plus a Middle-Earth Atlas and Map. Disc Four ("From Vision to Reality") continues on with "Filming The Fellowship of the Ring" (over 90 minutes total), "Visual Effects" (45 minutes total), "Post-Production: Putting it All Together" (15 minutes), "Digital Grading" (12:09), "Sound and Music" (25 minutes total) and "The Road Goes Ever On" (7:22). This is all fantastic stuff, especially the early production footage.
Disc Five includes a Documentary by Costa Botes (86 minutes) which provides an abstract, fly-on-the-wall experience rather than a purely informative one. It stands in good contrast to the Appendices from Discs Three and Four, serving up occasional doses of humor and off-the-cuff footage of key cast and crew members. Though the visual presentation is far from ideal, this fascinating documentary (originally created for the Limited Edition DVD release of Fellowship of the Ring) is definitely worth your time.
All applicable bonus features are presented on standard definition DVDs and include optional subtitles. Though it's a shame they couldn't have been combined onto a single Blu-Ray, at least everything's here. Pair this with the theatrical Blu-Ray edition and you'll truly get the complete overkill experience.
The Fellowship of the Ring offers an amazing start to perhaps the greatest fantasy adaptation ever filmed. It's my personal favorite of the three (by a small margin) and filled with great performances, fantastic visual effects, a truly memorable atmosphere and wonderful little details that help to establish the world of Middle-Earth perfectly. This individual release is identical to the version contained in last year's trilogy boxed set, save for the packaging. Featuring an excellent technical presentation and an exhaustive assortment of bonus features, this is truly a Collector's Series title on paper...but since it's really just a repackage of what's already available, this part of the whole is simply Recommended.
View my other reviews in this series:
The Two Towers | The Return of the King
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.