Horror fans have HALLOWEEN and PSYCHO; fans of the mobster movie have the legendary GODFATHER; and now fantasy fans have their touchstone of quality: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Gone are the half-assed days of mishandled mini-classics like DRAGONSLAYER and insipid adaptations like DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS. Every Johnny-come-lately brandishing a sword and looking for mithril will be now judged by Peter Jackson’s seminal film. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is jaw-droppingly beautiful to look at, it’s supremely entertaining in a way that only a massive adventure movie can be, it features a stellar cast at the top of its game, and it’s got something that most Quest flicks generally lack: sincere and touching emotion. To say that Peter Jackson’s film is a glowing tribute to Tolkien’s celebrated series would be a massive understatement.
Welcome to Middle-Earth (18 minutes), which was produced by Houghton-Mifflin Publishing for use in bookstore promotions, opens on a fascinating conversation with longtime publisher Raymer Unwin (who details his integral role in the Tolkien saga) before we’re offered a rather standard taste of various behind-the-scenes activities. Jackson, along with several cast and crewmembers, discusses the logistical nightmares inherent to a project this size. Everyone else seems thrilled to be doing their specific part, and everybody seems to adore their bespectacled boss. All in all, a solid featurette that offers a few cool bits, but nothing to get excited about.
Quest for the Ring (21 minutes) originally aired on the Fox network, and it’s precisely the sort of relatively disposable EPK chaff that you’re only interested in before the movie comes out. Still, it’s nice to have it included on the DVD – if only for the knowledge that ALL the television promo bits are at your fingertips for the rest of your life. There’s a brief back-history offered on the Lord of the Rings novels, then the actors and crew members offer a few choice snippets before heading off to do their next scenes, and (once again) we get a good sense of the project’s intense scope – yet this behind-the-scenes footage rarely scratches the surface.
A Passage to Middle Earth (42 minutes) was my favorite of the three featurettes. Unfortunately I watched this one last and therefore had to deal with hearing several of the exact same snippets and interviews from the two previous featurettes (If I have to hear Cate Blanchette opine on her adoration for Elven ear prosthetics one more time…) Since this one runs the longest, you can expect a little more attention to be paid to various aspects of the film’s production: swordplay, languages, cultures, architecture, geography, characterization. These factors (and a few others) are touched upon briefly enough to make you appreciate the sheer craftsmanship behind this project, yet you’ll wish the featurettes would delve just a bit deeper into the more technical side.
Like I said, these are all promo pieces; well-crafted and generally entertaining promo pieces, but nothing too impressive and most likely nothing you’ll watch more than once each. I’d say it’s a safe bet that the Expanded Edition features will satisfy my craving for in-depth analysis and specific attention to specific components (Let’s face it: you could do an amazing 60-minute piece on just the art direction alone!) These featurettes offer a handsome cursory view, but for a movie this massive you need something more and informative (and less repetitive) than a trio of pre-release buzz-injectors. Moving on…
15 Web Featurettes: These shorts (all under five minutes in length) were also an integral part of the Lord of the Rings pre-release ‘awareness’, yet they’re still worthy of note - if only to commemorate the phenomenal way in which this movie was advertised and anticipated. Though these are a nice inclusion, there is (again) that pesky way these shorts offer the exact same clips as the featurettes you just got done watching. I know, I know; you can’t leave out any of the featurettes OR these web vignettes, lest the hardcore fans get all frothy, but how many times can one hear the exact same description of Hobbiton? I liked watchin’ em online, I enjoyed re-visiting them a second time (they’re short), but I doubt I’ll ever be interested in seeing them again. Oh, here’s the titles: Finding Hobbiton, Hobbiton Comes Alive, Believing the World of Bree, Ringwraiths: The Fallen Kings, Rivendell: The Elven Refuge, Languages of Middle-Earth, Two Wizards, Music of Middle-Earth, Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Ian McKellen, Weathertop: The Windy Hill. Whew! I can only imagine the rabid Tolkien aficionado who would ingest all three featurettes and fifteen web shorts in one sitting! He’ll stand up mumbling “Gandalf…Hobbiton…Sarumon…Jackson…Bree…help me…”
So far we got about 2+ hours of previously seen ‘specials’ and Internet footage, most of which is redundant at best and ‘old news’ at worst. Surely there must be something new and exciting on this 2-disc set, right? Well, kinda. But it’s more promotional material, dontcha know…
There’s a ten-minute preview of The Two Towers, but before you start salivating – it’s not really a ten-minute trailer! C’mon! We’re offered a jolly-looking Peter Jackson driving around New Zealand introducing some behind-the-scenes work on the second chapter. Since I’d punch a nun to see THE TWO TOWERS next Monday, you can understand how excited I was to check this feature out. It’s fairly cool, in that it does offer some stunning-looking footage from the upcoming film, plus it offers a sweet taste of some backstage goings-on, which should please the Rings freaks. Yes, me included. I was kinda hoping that this feature would include that ‘extra preview footage’ (or whatever you call it) that was added during the late theatrical run of Fellowship, but alas, I suppose they’re saving that clip for the fancy November set.
So I’ve made a lot of noise of what I hope this highly anticipated ‘big set’ will contain, and wouldn’t you know it? This DVD offers a three-minute Extended Version Sneak Peek that was certainly interesting to check out…even if it IS just another…promo piece.
Heck, was there ANYTHING original created for this ‘theatrical edition’ DVD? Let’s take a look: two TV spots and the original theatrical trailer… Nope, that’s marketing… Enya’s Let it Be Music Video… Uh, no. Not only is that promotional material, but it’s fairly creepy. Oh wait, look! Ah, never mind, it’s a brief commercial for The Two Towers Video Game. Looks like a pretty cool game, but (sigh) it’s just more marketing.
So for a 2-disc set allegedly stocked with goodies, you’re looking at a whole lot of menu clicks for very little fresh material. But take my complaints with a grain of salt; New Line could have jettisoned every single ‘featurette’ on this DVD and released a bare-bones Widescreen Edition…and I’d be a happy guy. Considering the studio has let us know well in advance that a mega-edition is on the way, they’ve been more than fair. This version gives me precisely what I wanted: the theatrical cut of a movie I love, delivered in glorious Widescreen and with crystal-clear sound. Disc 2 just makes the case seem heavier, which I kinda like.