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(Special Extended Edition)

The arrival of the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING on DVD almost makes me question the necessity for New Line Home Entertainment's first issuance of the film. The addition of approximately thirty minutes of footage back into the body THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING makes this incredible motion picture so much better, that I'll never watch the theatrical cut again. Still, the theatrical cut is what was released in the theaters and that version of the film really should be represented on DVD.

Let me point out that this Special Extended Edition doesn't change to the plot of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING in any way, but instead, gives director Peter Jackson a chance to provide fans with a richer tapestry that will intensify their enjoyment of the story. I have to admit I was totally mesmerized by the original theatrical cut of the movie, yet at the end of the film's three hour running time, I wanted moreÖ The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING delivers what I wanted by giving fans a version of the movie that further fleshes out the characters and adds more detail to J.R.R. Tolkien's classic story.

Based upon the first book of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy trilogy, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING tells to story of an all-powerful ring that was forged by the Dark Lord Sauron, which would enable him to rule all of Middle Earth. Just at the moment Sauron should triumph over all those that oppose him in an epic battle, the Dark Lord is defeated when the ring of power is severed from his finger. After the passage of more than two millennia, the ring of power is found by the least likely of creatures- a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). After endowing the hobbit with an unusually long life, the ring is passed to Bilboís nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood), when the elder Baggins decides to leave his home in the Shire for the last time.

Frodo quickly learns the deadly nature of his inheritance from the great Wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who informs him that the Dark Lord Sauron has returned and that his minions will be seeking the bearer of the ring. Because Frodo is one of the few creatures immune to the evil influence of the ring of power, he is forced to undertake a quest to return it the fires of Mount Doom- the place the ring was forged and the only place it can be destroyed. Frodoís quest brings together a fellowship from the races of the races of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and Men, all of whom swear to protect the ring bearer, as he makes the perilous journey to destroy the ring and prevent it from returning to the Dark Lordís control. The superb cast of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING also features Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan. Additional comments on the movie itself can be found in the theatrical cut DVD review of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.

New Line Home Entertainment has made the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING available on DVD in 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. At approximately three and a half hours in length, the Special Extended Edition has been spread across two discs, which maintains the highest possible quality for both picture and sound, while leaving additional room for multiple audio commentaries. Like the preceding transfer of the theatrical cut, this DVD sports a fantastic looking picture. All of the newly added scenes, including their special effect work are seamlessly integrated into the body of the film, without so much as a hint that they were not originally part of the theatrical version of the movie.

The image on the DVD is truly stunning and pretty much pushes the limits of what NTSC is capable of reproducing. I can only imagine how good THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING will look when it appears in some future HD-DVD format. As of right now, everything appears incredibly sharp and exceedingly well defined. Colors tend to be wonderfully vibrant, while providing highly appealing looking flesh tones. Some of the colors are pushed towards an otherworldly realm, but it is all quite beautiful. Even the most intense hues in the film are rendered without any signs of noise or smearing. Blacks appear rich and velvety, whites are clean and contrast is excellent. Additionally, shadow detail is as good as it gets. Both halves of the movie are authored on dual layered discs, which perfectly conceals all traces of digital compression artifacts.

The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING comes with Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES soundtracks. It should come as no surprise that the gorgeous visual quality of this DVD is perfectly matched by the stunning nature of its digital soundtracks. To say the mix is aggressive is an understatement. All of the discrete channels are fully utilized. Active sound effects effortlessly pan between channels, while creating fully integrated sonic environments, as well as intense sonic whirlwinds that place viewers in the middle of filmís action maelstroms. I probably donít have to point this out, but surround junkies are going to love this soundtrack.

Of course, even quieter scenes are impressively mixed with subtlety and nuance that many viewers may not even notice while wrapped up in the brilliant storytelling. Dialogue fully intelligible and the actorsí voices are reproduced with a fine, natural timbre. The bass channel is absolutely thunderous and ground shaking- so those with their subwoofers set on the high side may want to scale them back, as to not do any damage to breakables. As for the new scenes in this version of the movie, there are no sonic variances from the rest of the film to indicate their addition. The differences between the Dolby Digital and DTS formats are discernable, but not overly pronounced. DTS has a richer, warmer sound and a better special quality than the standard bearer. However, those whose systems are incapable of DTS playback will find themselves completely blown away by the Dolby Digital soundtrack. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as an astounding array of brand new supplemental features, which have been spread across all four discs of this impressive DVD set. Discs one and two serve up four running separate audio commentary tracks. Each and every one of the four audio commentaries has tremendous amount of information to impart, and while it is all great stuff, it is too much to take in during a short period of time. I expect that the average viewer will need listen to the commentaries over a series of weeks, or months, and not in days as reviewers have. Most viewers will either want to start the cast or director's comments and then move on from there.

Here is a rundown of the participants on the four commentary tracks. The Director And Writers commentary track features Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. The Design Team commentary track features production designer Grant Major, costume designer Ngila Dickson, creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe, supervising art director Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Hennah, and workshop manager Tania Rodger. The Production/Post-Production Team commentary track features producer Barrie Osborn, executive producer Mark Ordesky, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, editor John Gilbert, co-producer Rick Porras, composer Howard Shore, visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel, supervising sound editors Ethan van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins, animation designer Randy Cook, visual effects art director Christian Rivers, visual effects cinematographer Brian Vant Hul, and miniatures director of photography Alex Funke. The Cast commentary track features Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee and Sean Bean. To alleviate confusion during the commentary tracks, subtitles pop up on screen to indicate the speaker.

Moving on to discs three and four, which are called The Appendices; we find about six hours of documentary and other supplementary material. Since any extensive description of the materials contained on discs three and four are bound to bore readers of this review, I will keep my comments as brief as possible. However, let me state right up front that this is just the most fantastic set of supplements ever produced for a DVD release. Therefore the folks at New Line Home Entertainment should be proud of this supreme achievement.

Disc Three is entitled The Appendices Part One: From Book To Vision. On this disc one will find six subsections, which can be viewed individually or all together. J.R.R. Tolkien - Creator Of Middle-Earth looks at the life and work of the author of this epic fantasy trilogy. From Book to Script looks at the difficulties of translating such a mammoth piece of literature into a screenplay and the elements that needed to be altered for cinematic purposes. Visualizing The Story looks at the pre-production conceptualization phase and how the filmmakers got a handle on how they would create this world on the screen. Designing And Building Middle-Earth is broken up into four sub-programs which delve into the actual production design of the movie and takes a detailed look at the artwork, models, sets and costumes, which would serve as the foundation for bringing Tolkien's world to life. Middle-Earth Atlas is an interactive map that allows one to follow the paths taken by Frodo and Gandalf as they make their way across the landscape of Middle-Earth. New Zealand As Middle Earth allows one to look at the actual locations in New Zealand where THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING was filmed.

Disc Four is entitled The Appendices Part Two: From Vision to Reality. Like disc three, one will find the material divided into six subsections, which can be viewed individually or all together. Filming The Fellowship Of The Ring is divided into four areas, which covers the bond formed by the cast of the movie, the process of becoming a hobbit, difficulties in filming the movie that also required extensive second unit work, and finally a nice section of production photos. Visual Effects looks at everything from getting the sizes of the characters right, to the miniature models created for the film, to the digital effects produced by Weta Digital. Post Production: Putting It All Together looks at the overwhelming amount of footed presented to the film's editor, who faced the Herculean task of cutting it down to its usable components then assembling the theatrical cut of the movie. This section also offers an interactive demonstration of how just one sequence was assembled from so much raw footage. Digital Grading shows how much of the movie was scanned into the computer, so that the image can be finessed to create the otherworldly look of Middle-Earth, as well as to enhancing the overall look of the principal photography. Sound And Music offers two sections on sound design from creation of sound effects to Howard Shore marvelous musical score. The Road Goes Ever On features a look at the film's theatrical premieres, as well as including Elijah Wood's home movie footage. As for the DVD-ROM section, web links are provided for on-line content.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is a monumental achievement in motion picture making and the Special Extended Edition DVD is an even greater achievement in the realm of home entertainment releases. Not only does New Line's Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING offer an even more impressive cut of the movie, the video and audio quality of the DVD represents the pinnacle of the format's capabilities. In addition to that, the four-disc set offers the most astounding array of supplemental features that I have the pleasure to view. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is a MUST OWN DVD!

The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is available in two versions- a standard release for $39.98 and a Collector's Gift Set for $79.98.


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2002 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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