Saturday, 7 March 2009

DVD Review - Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (4 Disc Set)

This is a 4 DVD pack – the first 2 containing the film itself, the other 2 containing bonus material about the making of the film, from book to storyboard, from storyboard to film etc.

I have mixed feelings about the general idea of bonus material on DVDs. My general feeling is that it is bunged in an attempt to justify the higher price of DVDs in contrast to videos. In my view the majority of bonus material found on most DVDs is not really worth watching, the outtakes are boring, etc, and if I ever watch them at all I certainly wouldn’t again. But in this instance it is something worth watching – I was generally interested in how they converted such an epic story to the big screen, how the characters were developed, how camera tricks made John Rhys-Davies (the tallest actor on the set) appear to be the shortest (he plays Gimli, a dwarf), and such-like. There is also some trivia bumph, but really that is only for the die-hard Middle Earth fan. Or possibly nutters. So much better than your average “Amazing Bonus Features etc etc” that you normally get.

But really you wanted the film, so that’s what I’ll concentrate this review on. The Trilogy “Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkein is, IMHO, the most absorbing and complete work of fantasy fiction ever written. Drawing inspiration from his childhood memories of Birmingham (where I now live – I must sometime take on of the bur tours which shows you all the places Tolkein used to frequent), he managed to create a completely believable world full of myth, legend, and races of creatures / people, each of which had an authentic character and history unique to themselves. The rich texture of Middle Earth is what really sets it apart from other stories the genre (though I admit I haven’t read a huge amount of fantasy fiction, so there will no doubt be a host of people about to disagree with me!).
The storyline, when you strip it down to its essence, is the traditional story of good versus evil. A Dark Lord (Sauron) made Rings of Power long ago, and gave them to the three main races – Elves, Men, and Dwarves. He then secretly forged a ring to rule all the others – thus the title “Lord of the Rings”. When the Elves found out, they opposed Sauron. The ring was taken from him during the last great alliance between elves and men – but instead of destroying the ring in the fires of Mount Doom (where it was forged and the only place where it could be destroyed), one of the kings of men kept it. This was the beginning of the antagonism between elves and men. The ring betrayed him, however, and led to his death. Eventually, over the space of many years, it came to be in the possession of a Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. (The story of this is in “The Hobbit”, which was the first book written and is much simpler in style as Tolkein actually wrote it for his children). But the power of Sauron in his dark land of Mordor is rising, and unless the ring is destroyed will overpower the whole of Middle Earth…

And that’s where the story begins. Bilbo’s nephew Frodo is assigned the task of taking the ring to Rivendell, a fortress of the evles. Along with him goes Samqise Gangee (his gardener), and cousins Meriadoc (Merry) and Pereguin (Pippin). They are to travel first to Bree, where they are to meet Aragorn, a Ranger who is much more than he at first seems. Gandalf the wizard plans to go with them on this journey but is detained, so they go it alone. But Sauron’s agents are on the move, and the journey even as far as Bree is not an easy task…

I won’t go any further into the plot, as you either know it already or it would take forever to explain it to you. Well okay, I will tell you that a fellowship if formed to take the ring to Mount Doom (so guess where the title comes from?), formed from every race of the free people of Middle Earth. Not all of the free races get on awfully well with each other, however, which causes some tension in the ranks…

So what about the film itself? Well I have to say, Peter Jackson and his team have done an absolutely incredible job. The mountains in New Zealand where the film was shot look exactly as you’d expect them to (I’ve read the book a fair few times so had a definite idea of what I thought they should look like), the special effects range from good to downright mind-blowing, the acting is superb, the characters are developed extremely well (at times differently to the way they are developed in the book, but this is out of necessity), the action scenes very well done, and they plot sticks very faithfully to the book. To the absolute purist, there are one or two minor changes, but these are not such that they begin to annoy. One of the opening scenes, which depicts the battle between Sauron and the Last Alliance of elves and men, is just amazing. A later encounter in the Mines of Moriah is also terrific.

This is a fantastic film, though not my favourite of the three LotR films. However this is more due to the book than the film itself - I always found the first book to be by far the weakest of the three, and the only one I haven’t read many times. However, because the film is inevitably a shorter view than the book is a read, and because it’s so well done, it’s still something I’d watch again and again. (Though with a fairly long gap in-between). It was the first time I’d ever seen a 2 DVD film – it was actually quite good, with all the lights out it felt almost like being in a cinema and having an intermission for drinks. The division is done in a logical place and doesn’t disrupt your watching of the film too much.

There is also quite a bit of extra footage in here compared to the cinema release, but to be honest very little of it is noticeable and really neither adds to or detracts from the film.
Overall, this is an option for real fans, but I think most of us would rather buy the cheaper 2-disc DVD set and not have so many extra features.

See also:

The Lord of the Things Book I - The Mellow Hip of the Thing - my parody of Fellowship of the Ring, available in paperback.

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