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April 14, 2010
The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
26/12/200115/4/2010Village RoadshowPeter Jackson
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
VC-1DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1MElijah Wood

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This is what it's all about... the ring!

Has it really been over eight years since The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring hit cinemas? Indeed it seems like only a couple of years ago, but it has been that long and I guess the two sequels, Theatrical DVD and then Extended DVD releases have kept the trilogy firmly entrenched in our minds. But we've moved on from a technological standpoint with HDTV's and Blu-Rays now dominating the lounge rooms. Time then for the re-issue of the movies (all three are being released) on Blu-Ray so we can watch them all over again in glorious High Definition.

In a time before history, in a place named Middle-earth, a dark and powerful lord has brought together the forces of evil to destroy its cultures and enslave all life caught in his path. Sauron's time has come and he needs only one small object, a Ring that has been lost for centuries, to snuff out the light of civilization and cover the world in darkness. Though he has put all of his power into the search for it, fate has put it in the hands of a young hobbit named Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), who inherits the Ring and steps into legend.

With the help of a loyal fellowship comprised of hobbits Sam (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd); Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies); and humans Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean); and with the guidance of the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and elves Arwen (Liv Tyler), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Frodo must journey to the Mount of Doom to destroy the Ring. If he doesn't find a way, no one will.

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Cate Blanchett in Lord of the Rings.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is as close to a perfect start to the trilogy as one could have hoped. Characters are perfectly established, there are some great action sequences (well, great for this movie and the time, but as we know things only ramped up in the second and third movies), and the visual effects were very solid too. Even this first installment is littered with so many memorable moments; the party in the shire, visiting the Council of Elrond and forming of the Fellowship, the fight with the Cave Troll; the fight with the Balrog, cruising down the river, and the final battle in the forest.

As we have mentioned this is the Theatrical version of the film which runs for 178 minutes as opposed to the Extended Edition released on DVD some time ago which runs for 208 minutes (NTSC version). This additional 30 minutes includes extra scenes showing hobbits in the shire, extra dialogue and singing through the Midgewater Marshes, a longer departure from Rivendell, a much longer gift giving scene, and extensive additions and re-edits in many other areas. Sure, I much prefer the extended version, but this Theatrical edit is certainly still watchable.

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Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins.
While we don't have the Extended Editions of these movies the Theatrical versions are what we all fell in love with at the cinemas and they are still masterful films in their own right. The characters are lovable and well defined, of course due to J.R.R. Tolkien's brilliant novels, and this first movie is the perfect start to an epic trilogy.

Fellowship of the Ring comes to Blu-Ray in the films original 2.35:1 aspect ratio at Blu-Ray's usual 1920 x 1080p resolution using the VC-1 codec. With a runtime of just on 3 hours it's not surprising to see that the bitrate fluctuates considerably from scene to scene. After starting this disc with much anticipation I was initially left with the thought "What The?!".

From the opening moments the image contained some telecine wobble and the opening battle looked quite murky with some obvious compression and CG issues. Now one must remember that this film was created on a very slim budget of $93 million, which is well under half the production costs of movies like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Spider-man 3 or Avatar so some of this may come down to limited resources to "refine" the CG elements on the original print - and if they aren't refined there they could never look better on Blu-Ray. It also appears that some DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) has been applied which, while giving the image a "cleaner" image it also takes away some of the finest of details leaving some characters with rather plastic looking faces - no pores on the skin or blemishes.

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The cave troll battle is superb.
Fortunately when you get past the opening battle and enter the Shire with Gandalf the Grey things start to look up a bit with a slightly better image although there DNR is ever present. The shire is filled with bright, vibrant colours, the detail levels appear to be higher and the image has a bit more zing to it. This does, however, seem to change though the movie from brilliant to, well above average.

Ultimately the video transfer on this disc is not the stellar presentation we expected, or hoped for. In fact, some parts were disappointing, but on the whole this remains a solid release, and a definite improvement over the DVD. One must also remember that this is a 3 hour movie, and there isn't unlimited space available - even on Blu-Ray.

One area of this release that really can't be faulted is the audio. This Blu-Ray includes a cracking DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 track and it's a superb effort which vastly improves on that already impressive DTS 6.1 ES track on the DVD which runs at 768kbps. This track is so alive with crystal clear dialogue, regular use of surround sound channels and plenty of sub woofer when required - just wait until you hear the Balrog thundering after the Fellowship of the Nine!

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Christopher Lee is haunting as Saruman.
Certainly a highlight of these movies is the absolutely delightful, memorable score by Howard Shore. As well as the main theme there's some wonderful music during the Mines of Moria sequence, and after the battle with the Balrog where we see a certain character fall to his death. It's such powerful music and sounds a treat on Blu-Ray.

This Blu-Ray includes a single subtitle track - English Captions (Descriptive Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired) which, from some brief samples throughout the film, seemed to have good pacing and were accurate to the on-screen dialogue.

Sadly these Blu-Ray releases are being released in Australia in bare-bones versions - there's no Digital Copy or second disc of (recycled from the 2-disc DVD set) extras as per the American release, but in doing so Village Roadshow have kept this disc solely about the movie, and the price below $AU30 which is a positive in our books. Still there's some tidbits here, which in all honesty are more about marketing other LOTR products.

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Visual effects are quite spectacular.
Trailers (6:50/HD): Three Trailers are presented here "Teaser One" (1:41) which is a teaser for the entire trilogy, "Teaser Two" (2:22) which is a Teaser for Fellowship of the Ring and "Final Trailer" (2:47) which is the full trailer for this first movie.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Supertrailer (6:39/HD): This is indeed a Supertrailer. Running for almost seven minutes this covers the entire trilogy of movies but we certainly don't recommend you watch this before watching the feature movies as it gives a lot of the storyline away. This is presented with HD video as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 audio encoded at 448kbps.

The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest Videogame Trailer (1:24/HD): A trailer for the upcoming videogame from Warner Brothers Interactive. As a side note this game will be one of the first to make use of the new Playstation Move controller when it releases later this year - no doubt to swing around like a sword.

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Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in LOTR.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the best movie trilogies of all time and this first movie is a very solid introduction to Middle Earth. The video is good, not great, but the audio superb and even without any extras those with large HDTV's or Projector setups will see, and hear, the differences and be impressed by this release (which we might add will be available for well under $30 if you shop around).

Would I prefer the extended versions? Absolutely, as I put them ahead of these movies in terms of structure and completeness, but for now I am more then happy to have the Theatrical version of The Fellowship of the Ring while Peter Jackson works on even more elaborate Extended Edition Blu-Rays for release down the line (think, around the theatrical release of The Hobbit in 2012).

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Village Roadshow. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.