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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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