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New Line Home Cinema presents
"The Ring was made in the fires of Mount Doom. Only there can it be unmade."
DVD ReviewAnticipation for the first installment of Peter Jackson's epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fantasy novel is matched only by the anticipation for the DVD releases of the film. In its first incarnation, the DVD of the theatrical release quite nicely lives up to these expectations, with enough hobbit goodness to tide fans over to November and the extended release. Hobbits, for those living in a hole for 65 years, are a mythical race of men standing about 3'6" with large hairy feet. Although often stay-at-home types, a few of them get caught up into unaccountable adventures.
Hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) comes into possession of the One Ring, a magic ring created by the Dark Lord Sauron and containing much of his power. As Sauron begins to reconsolidate his power to exterminate humans, elves and everyone else, Frodo learns from the wizard Gandalf that the Ring must be taken to Mount Doom, deep in Sauron's territory, and cast into its fires to destroy it. But its power is so great a temptation that neither Gandalf nor anyone powerful can safely carry it. Meanwhile, Frodo is being pursued by the Ringwraiths, black-clad, undead servants of Sauron who will stop at nothing to retrieve the Ring. Frodo and his hobbit friends Sam (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), along with elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and men Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean) work with Gandalf to try help Frodo make his dangerous journey in this first third of the story.
I'll make no bones about it; I've loved this movie since I saw it in the theaters and I still love it on disc. Perhaps even more so. The epic scope of the novel is captured in a way that no one ever seems to have imagined possible, largely through being able to shoot in Jackson's relatively unspoiled New Zealand, a fantasy world of its own. The casting is also impeccable, with Elijah Wood heading up a cast in marvelous manner. His transition of Frodo from carefree hobbit lad to tormented Ringbearer is utterly perfect. On repeated viewings, I've adopted a real fondness for Sean Bean as Boromir, who gives a many-layered performances as Boromir, who means well but ill disguises his own lusts for the Ring. The interaction of Ian Holm, as Frodo's uncle Bilbo, with Gandalf and Frodo also is highly memorable.
The special effects generally come across quite well on the smaller screen. The one exception is a computer-generated sequence of Legolas on the back of a cave troll in the Mines of Moria, which looks terribly fake. But the mix of normal size people playing hobbits and dwarves, alongside human-sized characters, is almost entirely seamless. On occasion, a perceptive viewer might say, "oh, that's using forced perspective," but in general the union of these characters is absolutely seamless. The score, while somewhat derivative (echoes of John Williams' score for Jurassic Park can be heard throughout, and there are obvious imitations of the ubiquitous O Fortuna from Carmina Burana as well), support the picture quite well indeed. The camera tends to be a bit too active, swooping and flashing past in a manner that draws attention to itself.
But on the whole, the film is a visual feast full of absolutely wonderful imagery. There are any number of downright thrilling visuals, such as the sight of a backlit Ringwraith waiting impatiently for Frodo, or the Ringwraiths smashing the gates of the village of Bree, or shots of the old fortress at Weathertop in partial sunset, or the 'wraithvision' that provides a perspective as to how Frodo sees the world when he puts on the Ring. Jackson also masterfully uses transitions from scene to scene, compressing the narrative in a manner that keeps connections clear but also manages not to disappoint the Tolkien fanatics. He uses this to good effect as well in providing slightly deceptive connections that heighten the suspense and in many ways make the story stronger than what Tolkien wrote—and to actually improve upon one of the great books of the 20th century is by itself no mean feat.
Also read dOc's review of the Extended Edition.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is quite beautiful, with tons of detail and textures visible. Color is excellent as well, and the source print is quite flawless, with no damage visible whatsoever. The one significant quibble I have is that the transfer in the Moria segments seems a bit too dark. It's lacking much of the detail that I recall from the theater, and in fact more is visible in the same sequences contained in the trailers. Some minor edge enhancement ringing is readily visible on horizontal surfaces, most notably the horizon and the brim of Gandalf's hat, but it's not terrible. More distracting is compression artifacting on the subtitles during Elven speech; this renders them rather difficult to read.
A pan & scan version of the film is being released, but it was not reviewed. Since this film makes enormous use of the entire screen, both in the outdoors and in conversation sequences, I cannot recommend that version, which would lose nearly half the picture.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: This disc is LOUD. Even at 1/3 of reference, the Mines of Moria segment literally has my house shaking. As an experiment, I watched the opening battle sequence at full reference levels and found a pretty constant sound level of 105-108 dB, which is enough to cause significant hearing loss pretty quickly. Directionality on the DD EX track is excellent and seamless, and there is huge amount of very low bass, most notably when the Ring bounces on the ground. The snowstorm sequence on Caradhras is lifelike, as is the sound of the Fellowship boating down the River Anduin. Other than the extreme volume levels, there is nothing to complain about here at all. Dialogue is quite clear and the music score sounds full and uncompressed.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
6 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Layers Switch: 01h:33m:24s
Three trailers, including the two teasers are presented in anamorphic widescreen. Six TV spots, including promos after the award nominations came out, are included. A pleasant enough Enya music video for her Oscar®-nominated song May it Be is presented here, as is a preview of the forthcoming video game version of the second film.
But what fans are particularly excited about are two previews: the first, running about three minutes, gives tantalizing glimpses of the footage to be added to the extended edition in November. The second provides a peek at the second film, including behind-the-scenes looks at the computer animation that brings the creature Gollum to life. These are both intriguing and appetizing; the viewer definitely wants more. It will be a long wait until November for the extended edition and December for the next installment.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsThe first installment of Peter Jackson's epic hits DVD with a bang, in a gorgeous transfer with a soundtrack that will shake your foundations, and a disc full of extras. Not bad for a DVD that isn't even a Special Edition. Fans of the movie will want this, since it will be the only release of the theatrical version, as well as the November 2002 release of the extended four-disc edition.
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