The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was one of the biggest hit films of last year. It was also one of the best (the two don't always go hand in hand - in occurrences they are probably in the minority). So, a brief review before moving on to the DVD. I will do my best not to gush; I think I'm far enough away from my first viewing now to be calm about it all.
OK, there's obviously not going to be any suspense in this review, so lets come out and say it: I loved this film. I am an avid defender of the removal of Tom Bombadil and Hugo Weaving as Elrond. That's not to say I can't see flaws in it (I hope). I wish there had been more focus on Legolas and Gimli; I wish we had seen the gift giving in Lothlorien. That'll all appear in November, I know, but still, all the shots of Isildur cutting the Ring from Sauron's hand, and Frodo holding out the Ring for all to see - there's at least five minutes just there, plenty of time for a few presents to be handed out.
I'm also very willing to bitch about Liv Tyler's presence. I can accept the fact that she is present in the action at the ford - I love Glorfindel in the books, but I can see why the filmmakers wanted to up the female presence, even if I don't find it necessary. I do object, however, to her acting. I happen not to think it particularly good, as a friend of mine said: 'she only wanted all her lines to be in elvish so we couldn't tell how badly she was saying them'. Given this actress, I'm no longer so affected as I should probably be by Arwen giving up her elvish immortality for love of Aragorn.
Carping aside, this is a great movie. In places it can appear a little slow, but then so does the book it's taken from, and all the exposition is necessary for the story. And the book comes to life in a way I had barely dreamed of (I was petrified before I walked into the cinema in case the film was bad, or worse, as disappointing as the Harry Potter movie). I didn't need to worry. As an example, lets take probably my favourite scene in the film: that when the Fellowship exits Moria, because (and how to say this without spoilers), I always knew the ending - I don't recall how, I just did - and I never really realised that the characters didn't until seeing the film, and so I was nearly as heartbroken as Frodo in the scene. The placing of Saruman as a major villain works fantastically as well. He poses a very credible threat to the Fellowship, and the rivalry he feels with Gandalf is believable and intense.
The visuals are stunning - take a bow New Zealand - particularly Hobbiton, and the panoramic vistas as the camera follows the journey of the Fellowship from Rivendell. As for the acting, Liv Tyler aside, it was worth enduring all the rumours of casting Sean Connery as Gandalf to get the group that's there. I panicked briefly at the mention of Elijah Wood, but he fits the role very well, wide-eyed innocence and fearful bravery to the fore. The teenage girls may adore Legolas (Orlando Bloom) - and I'm not one to disagree with an important demographic, but for me the stars are Ian McKellan as Gandalf, and Viggo Mortensen, whom I'd never heard of before, and may forever be unable to see as anything other than Aragorn. Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving bring added authority to the film in their roles as the powerful elves Galdriel and Elrond, and the film convinces utterly. This is no mere fantasy.
Ok, so most of us know that there are, eventually, going to be two DVD versions of this film. The Extended Edition, laden with extra footage and enough supplementary materials to keep a fan boy happy till next Christmas, will appear in November. This review is, obviously, since it's not November yet, concerned with the DVD release of the film that we saw in the cinema - the theatrical version. And although it doesn't come with bookends, commentaries or National Geographic specials it is still a pretty fine beast. Two DVDs, one with the film, and one with extra features.
The longest of these extras are the three 'about the film' programmes: A Passage to Middle Earth is the strongest of the three, the one from the American publishers Houghton Mifflin has interesting titbits (including the finding of conceptual artist Alan Lee in the 'village of Dartmoor England', and the presence of a guy titled 'head of Tolkein projects' - I want his job!), and the last, Quest for the Ring is only really worth it for the pictures once you've seen the other two. There is considerable overlap between the programmes, the actors only doing a certain number of interviews - but you do get the benefit of them making relatively intelligent comments. However the original point of these programmes was naturally to enlighten viewers before the film's release, and once you've seen Fellowship there's a noticeable drop in the Wow factor that they can create.
The other features include the film's trailers, the music video for Enya's 'May it Be' and the featurettes that were released on the Lord of the Rings website. These are around 3-5 minutes in length each, and illuminate a certain aspect of the film as it was being made - the sets, costumes, characters and use of music and elvish. All are interesting, and nice to see if you never bothered to download them last year, but again, they aren't things to watch and re-watch.
The real selling points of this DVD are the previews: one for the extended edition of the film, and one for The Two Towers which will be released in December. They were the first things I turned to, and by the looks of them, both items will be worth the wait. There are brief glimpses of the extra footage available in the extended version, just enough to whet the appetite, as well as an outline of the format the extras will take. The Two Towers preview does not, unfortunately in my opinion, include the preview that was attached to The Fellowship of the Ring after the Oscars. Particularly interesting in the preview is the section showing the filming of scenes involving Gollum - shots of actor Andy Serkis both performing on location with Wood and Sean Astin, and on set in his motion-capture suit with the computers picking up his every move so that they can create the digital character for the screen. There are also some shots of the film that we'll get to see in December, just to heighten the anticipation.
So, perhaps not the most essential DVD to own - but if you just want a copy of the film you saw at the cinema, or if you're fan enough to want to own the memories that go along with watching the theatrical version then it more than does its job.