DVD Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Ratings: Movie: 4.5 stars out of 5 DVD: 4.5 stars out of 5
Accept it. If you buy this set, containing a film that is three hours long and a whole separate disc of extras, you will be compelled to get one of the four-disc extended editions. Not that there's anything wrong with the original cut of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - nor with its transfer or extras. It's just that you'll be left wanting more.

If, like me, you saw the theatrical release as one of the uninitiated, you may have found the history of Middle-earth and the complex of characters too much to swallow in one sitting. Take a second look, however, and you'll begin to understand everything better as you're drawn into this strange yet strangely familiar world. "Damn!" you'll say, "The Ring has me in its power!"

Seeing this epic in a home theater is a real pleasure. The film often avoids direct lighting, and as a result, the gently shaded faces have a softer, more luminous look and the locales seem appropriately otherworldly. The warm, subtly gradated, monochrome picture is often set off by areas of rich, bright colors that cause no smearing, and despite the intentionally veiled and often dark scenes, images are never muddy. Hobbit flesh tones look natural - slightly paler and more translucent than the humans'. Meanwhile, there's plenty of detail: highly decorative design elements reveal minute intricacies, and in closeups of hands holding the ring, fingerprints are clearly visible. I was also pleased to find that, unlike many films passing into the revealing DVD realm, the special effects still look very convincing.

The soundtrack is just as outstanding, with many rousing moments. In battle scenes at the beginning, you are completely surrounded. The sounds of fighting combine with Howard Shore's powerful score to create a rumbling, thrilling cacophony that never overwhelms Cate Blanchett's crystal-clear narration. Dynamic range is excellent. The forward stage is deep and wide, and the action behind you often seems to extend as far away as that in front. When Gandalf grows into a fearsome figure and attempts to cow Bilbo into giving up the ring, his thunderous voice moves out from the screen and floats above your head as it fills up the room. Placement of effects is also very accurate, so that when a frog croaks, it pulls Gandalf's eyes to just the right spot.

Highly anticipated extras in this set include a 10-minute behind-the-scenes preview of the second installment, The Two Towers, and a look at the extended edition of Fellowship, both of which will seriously whet your appetite for more. Lowly extras include the love-her-or-leave-it Enya music video and a preview of a highly dubious-looking spinoff videogame. Middle-earth extras include three made-for-TV behind-the-scenes featurettes - a 15-minute introduction, a 20-minute one that focuses on the actors, and a 40-minute one with cast and crew talking about the story and its setting. In addition, there are 15 two-minute "Net-documentaries" (previously available on the Web site) that provide plenty of location footage, interviews, and information on the production, the music, and the lead actors. Apart from tidbits about the filming (such as the fact that the New Zealand army was sent in to build access roads for director Peter Jackson), there are revelations about J. R. R. Tolkien and the story. That the author saw the ring as representing machines, for instance, took the film into a whole new realm for me: "I would use this ring from a desire to do good, but through me it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine." English, Dolby Digital EX and Dolby Surround; letterboxed (2.35:1) and anamorphic widescreen; two dual-layer discs.