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Review for The Fellowship of the Ring

7 / 10

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Years previously, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins came into possession of a magic ring that bestowed the power of invisibility, while on an unaccustomed adventure. Hobbits are naturally stay-at-home types, who enjoy the finer aspects of life; certainly not adventures. Bilbo’s nephew Frodo inherited his uncle’s wanderlust, and came into possession of the ring as well, although the wizard Gandalf warned him to keep it secret. The reason becomes clear when Gandalf returns, for the ring is the One Ring, belonging to the dark lord Sauron, giving him power over all. Frodo is first tasked with taking the ring to Rivendell and the elves, where a council will decide what to do with it, now that Sauron is once more gaining in power. But when the races of Man, Elf and Dwarf argue over the ring, it is Frodo who offers to do what must be done, take the ring to Mount Doom where it can be destroyed. He won’t be alone in this quest. He’s joined by fellow hobbits Samwise, Merry and Pippin, the elf Legolas, the dwarf Gimli, Boromir heir to the Steward of Gondor, the enigmatic ranger Aragorn, and of course Gandalf the Grey.

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The Discs

The film gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, with DTS-HD MA 6.1 Surround English audio, with optional English subtitles. And with the image, we get the biggest point of contention with this release. It’s been re-graded when it comes to the colour, and you could say that The Fellowship of the Ring takes place in The Matrix. There is a teal push to the colour timing, combined with a degree of desaturation, which ironically pulls down the gold and red side of the colour palette. Elijah Wood has a rather pale complexion to begin with, but on this release he looks positively deathly. Generally the film is quite watchable, and if you’re not comparing it to the theatrical version, or the DVD Extended Edition, you’ll get through it without too much complaint. But then something obvious will be thrown up, like blue snow, and you’ll be thrown out of the experience. Otherwise, the detail levels are excellent, and there are no issues with compression or the like. The audio too is excellent, nice and immersive, making the most of the action while keeping the dialogue clear and audible, and of course there is Howard Shore’s memorable score.


Click here for the extra features listing.

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The image in this Blu-ray Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring is skewed enough to make me consider watching the DVDs instead the next time I get around to watching it, or get hold of the new transfer if those films are ever released singly outside of the trilogy or six movie collections. That’s if I still feel the same way about the Lord of the Rings movies as I did 20 years ago. In that regard, I have very much cooled on the whole Lord of the Rings phenomenon. In 2001, when the first film hit cinemas, I was certain that this would be Star Wars for the 21st Century. But I have nowhere near the same excitement and nostalgia I had for Star Wars in 1997, for the Lord of the Rings movies, although the Hobbit trilogy didn’t help. I suspect these films will increasingly become footnotes as time passes, increasingly the niche province of dedicated fans alone. It will be interesting to see what effect the new television series will have in this regard, whether it rejuvenates the films or makes them irrelevant.

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The worrying thing is that of The Lord of the Rings movies, The Fellowship of the Ring is the most accessible, introducing the characters and setting the scenes, keeping things nice and small scale when it comes to developing the story. It keeps things focused on the characters, leaving the large scale politicking for the next two films. And don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy watching The Fellowship of the Ring over the last couple of nights (seriously, it is an issue when you wind up watching a film over two days for length). You do get a little character development, and more importantly a tonal development over the course of 3¼ hours or so. The film starts off light and frivolous, as Bilbo prepares to celebrate his birthday, and a jovial Gandalf turns up with a wagon load of fireworks.

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There is a sense of comedy and lightness to proceedings that can draw the viewer in, but things start turning dark as the import of the mission becomes clear. The ring is a lot more ominous than anyone first thought, and the need for Frodo to deal with it, in the face of pursuit from the Ring-Wraiths starts adding tension and suspense. It’s a gradual ramping up of pressure as the film unfolds, but the four hobbit characters keep things light, especially Merry and Pippin, and along with Legolas and Gimli, the non-humans tend to work as comic relief, while the human characters carry the dramatic tension. Until there comes that point in the Mines of Moria, where the switches are flicked, and the story really hits the dark and dramatic beats more so than the humour.

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It’s still that quest story however, no matter what the filmmakers try and do to add complexity and character. It unfolds like a saga, a recitation of events, one leading to the next, with little in the way of call-backs, or foreshadowing. You could conceivably miss out a bit, and be none the wiser. And for me, after twenty years, it’s hard to watch the film without seeing the memes, the parodies, and the whole Brokeback Mount Doom thing that Sam and Frodo have going on. I’m also ashamed to say this, as a person who has invested a whole lot of time in fictional universes, watched a whole lot of shonen anime, and tuned an ear for Klingon dialogue, but the jargon, back-story and history of this world tends to make me go slack-jawed at the best of times, and I roll my eyes at the subtitled elvish dialogue. I will burn in geek hell as the worst kind of hypocrite, I know.

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As a film, The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition is long, but is still bearable, yet lacks the conventional structure. It’s clear that these three films are really just one piece, and this film in particular just stops awkwardly. There’s a small battle against the Uruk-Hai, there are casualties, two are kidnapped, which should feel like a cliff-hanger, but then Frodo makes a decision which should feel like a natural end point, but put together it feels like putting a car into neutral and leaving it idling while waiting for the lights to turn green again. And no film should have 28 minutes of end-credits, even if most of them are what would now be considered Kickstarter backers.

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After 20 years, The Fellowship of the Ring does still hold up well enough, is entertaining enough, and has enough of a hook to hold my attention, and what really does impress is how well the effects have maintained the same level of impact over that time. That’s in no small way due to the fact that it was made on the cusp, that time where traditional filmmaking techniques were switching over to digital. The practical effects, the model work and the sets and locations all look astounding, and surprisingly the digital effects work hasn’t dated in this film in the same way it has in other films of this vintage. The Blu-ray sounds great, but I can’t deny the sense that the colour grade on this release, which has sapped most of the warmth out of the image, means that the film looks wrong.


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