The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though no serious issues emerged, I thought the presentation seemed a little less impressive than expected.
Sharpness became my only area of mild complaint. While the majority of the flick looked crisp and distinctive, wide elements sometimes lacked great fine detail. This issue wasn’t a constant, as some broad shots looked tight, but more than a few seemed just a bit soft.
Overall definition remained very good, however. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. Source flaws remained absent and never cropped up in this clean transfer.
Fellowship enjoyed a stylized palette that varied dependent on the location. For example, when we entered elf territory, the film adopted a heavily golden tone, and other climates might strongly desaturate the image. The colors always remained nicely vivid and vibrant, and they showed no problems related to bleeding, noise, or other concerns, even when we entered some red-dominated areas. Black levels came across as deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not overly thick. The occasional instances of softness knocked this down to a “B”; I almost gave the image a “B+”, but I found too many slightly ill-defined scenes for my liking.
The DTS-HD MA 6.1 soundtrack of Fellowship was more consistent, though it came with one minor concern: heavy bass. The original DVD came with overwhelming low-end throughout the film, and some vestiges of that still appeared here. This was especially true in the early moments, as I thought the prologue suffered from bass that threatened to overwhelm the story.
Unlike the old DVD, however, the track became more balanced pretty quickly. Most of the film displayed low-end that was still loud but not as oppressive. Bass still occasionally veered toward the excessive side of the ledger, but I thought it was appropriate most of the time.
The soundfield offered a wide and engaging piece. All five channels received active usage throughout the film, and they created a nicely vivid and life-like environment. Music showed fine stereo presence, while effects appeared from all around the spectrum. Those elements blended together neatly, and they moved cleanly from speaker to speaker. Surround usage was effective and accurate without becoming overwhelming or gimmicky. None of the film’s scenes stood out to me as anything particularly noteworthy, but the package mixed together to become a fine and seamless whole.
Audio quality seemed strong. Dialogue sounded natural and crisp, and I noticed no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music was bright and vibrant and displayed positive range. Effects appeared clean and distinct, and they lacked any signs of distortion. Except for the early examples of too heavy bass, I thought this was a stellar track.
How did the picture and sound of this version compare to the original DVD from 2002? Both demonstrated improvements. As I mentioned, the old DVD suffered from overwhelming bass, so the Blu-ray provided a better balanced track most of the time. It also showed a bit more clarity and smoothness.
Though I found a few issues with the visuals, they still significantly improved on DVD. Even with the smattering of soft shots, the Blu-ray’s increased resolution meant it was virtually always tighter and better defined. Colors and blacks were also more impressive. The Blu-ray’s image wasn’t the slam-dunk I expected, but it demonstrated a good step up over the DVD.
The Blu-ray replicates the supplements from the 2002 DVD. Most of these appear on a second disc, but the movie platter includes a few bits as well. It contributes three trailers for Fellowship - two teaser, one final – as well as a Lord of the Rings trilogy “supertrailer” and videogame trailers for Aragon’s Quest and War in the North. Even though some of these bits repeat on the other platter, that’s a standard DVD, so fans will be happy to see the ads in high-def on this Blu-ray.
Over on the second disc, we start with a series of promotional documentaries. An in-store special created by book publishers Houghton Mifflin, Welcome to Middle-earth In-Store Special runs 16 minutes and 44 seconds. It mixes many film clips with some behind the scenes shots and a series of interviews. In the latter category, we hear from publisher Rayner Unwin, director Peter Jackson, author of "The Lord of the Rings Official Movie Guide" Brian Sibley, conceptual artist Alan Lee, Houghton Mifflin Director of Tolkien Projects Clay Harper, WETA Workshop President Richard Taylor, and actors Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Elijah Wood, and Viggo Mortensen.
Probably the best of the disc's documentaries, "Welcome" is also the shortest and the most promotional; it touts Fellowship as "the most anticipated film of all time", which is a crock. However, it includes some good shots from the set, and the chat with Unwin provides some wonderful information. He was involved with the original publication of the Rings series and he adds great notes about its early days. Heck, he even possesses a name that sounds like a Rings character!
Next we find Quest for the Ring, a special that ran on Fox TV. It lasts 21 minutes and 26 seconds and includes the same combination of movie scenes, behind the scenes material, and interviews. In this one, we hear from director Jackson, WETA President Taylor, producer Barrie Osborne, and actors Blanchett, Wood, Liv Tyler, McKellen, Mortensen, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Lee, and Sean Bean.
Another heavily promotional piece, “Quest” fails to include as much substance as “Welcome”. Again, we find some good shots from the set, but the overall tone seems superficial. Much of the piece simply explains the story and the characters, and it includes little insight into the production. Too many movie scenes show up as well. It still provides some decent shots, but most of these appear elsewhere, so “Quest” feels fairly superfluous.
Moderately better is A Passage to Middle-earth, which ran on the Sci-Fi Channel. At 41 minutes and 36 seconds, “Passage” provides the longest of the disc’s programs, and it also uses the same format as the others. For the interview segments, we get comments from director Jackson, WETA President Taylor, producer Osborne, production designer Grant Major, ring creator Thorkild Hansen, co-writer Philippa Boyens, propmaster Nick Weir, swordmaster Bob Anderson, conceptual designer Alan Lee, casting Liz Mullane, costume designer Ngila Dickson, dialect coaches Andrew Jack and Roisin Carty, supervising art director Dan Hennah, special effects creator Greg Butler, assistant swordmaster Kirk Maxwell, chainmailer Chris Smith, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, conceptual designer John Howe, and actors Blanchett, Wood, Lee, Bloom, McKellen, Astin, Boyd, Mortensen, Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Rhys-Davies, and Monaghan.
That’s the most extensive roster of the set, and “Passage” offers the most detailed experience. I prefer “Welcome” due to its unique materials, but “Passage” provides a decent piece. Actually, it feels a lot like a longer version of “Quest”, as it also includes many scenes from the movie and a fairly generic promotional tone. However, it tosses in more of a focus on the behind the scenes material, and we learn some good notes about the film. There’s less emphasis on cast and story and more of a concentration on production design, the different races, and other elements. Overall, “Passage” seems like a fairly good little show.
Next we encounter 15 different featurettes that originally appeared on lordoftherings.net. These segments run between 96 seconds and four minutes, 34 seconds for a total of 38 minutes and 54 seconds of material. The programs concentrate mainly on behind the scenes shots, with some interview clips also tossed in for good measure. We hear from director Jackson, conceptual designers Lee and Howe, local farmer Ian Anderson, costume designer Dickson, supervising art director Hennah, production designer Major, producer Osborne, director of photography Lesnie, special physical effects technician Darryl Richards, dialect coach Carty, Harper Collins Ltd.’s Jane Johnson, composer Howard Shore, WETA President Taylor, and actors McKellen, Astin, Wood, Tyler, Mortensen, Boyd, Bloom, Monaghan, Lee, and Blanchett.
Six of the featurettes focus on specific actors; we get segments on Wood, Mortensen, Bloom, Blanchett, Tyler and McKellen. The other nine look at different elements of the production; from locations to effects to music, we learn about a nice mix of subjects. The package lacks great depth but if provides a nice “you are there” tone that makes the clips interesting. They don’t substitute for a rich documentary, but they seem enjoyable.
The rest of the extras follow a very promotional line. We get three trailers, all of which appear anamorphic with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. In addition, six TV Spots appear, as does a music video for “May It Be” by Enya. This is a very standard song-from-a-movie video. It mixes lip-synch shots of Enya with many shots from the film. Both the song and the video seem exceedingly dull.
The 184-second Special Extended DVD Edition Preview looks at the 2002 four-disc release. It quickly discusses the additions to the film and the package’s supplements, so it’s a nice appetizer but nothing terribly compelling.
A Behind the Scenes Preview of The Two Towers lasts 10 minutes, 42 seconds and mixes scenes from that film with some interviews. We get notes from director Jackson, producer Osborne, executive producer Mark Ordesky, WETA President Taylor, and actors Wood, Boyd, Monaghan, Miranda Otto, Andy Serkis, Bloom, Mortensen, and Astin. We hear about the movie’s basic plot and learn of some distinctions, including new actors. We also see a little of the creation of some visual effects like Gollum.
Yet another promotional preview touts the Two Towers Video Game. In this 181-second clip, we hear from game producers/co-directors Scott Evans and Hudson Piehl as they tell us about it and relate what they wanted to do with it. We also see some images from the product.
Why does the 2010 Blu-ray package include “previews” for a movie, a DVD release and a video game that came out years earlier? Because this is literally the same disc that accompanied the 2002 theatrical cut DVD for Fellowship. The Blu-ray just takes the existing platter and plops it in this set; there’s nothing new or different here.
Finally, a third disc offers a Digital Copy of Fellowship. With this, you can easily transfer the film onto a computer or portable viewing device. Have a blast!
Fans had high expectations for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and the film seems to match them. As a neophyte to the realm, I feel the movie has some minor flaws, but overall it comes across quite well, and it offers an exciting and rich experience. The Blu-ray offers good – though slightly inconsistent picture – along with mostly terrific sound and a moderately superficial but still solid roster of extras. Fellowship comes with my recommendation, as despite some minor visual concerns, this was a fine upgrade over the old DVDs.
Note that the The Fellowship of the Ring Blu-ray appears only as part of “The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy”. The nine-disc set also includes the other two movies in the series as well as bonus materials and digital copies of the three flicks. I would assume that the Fellowship Blu-ray will eventually be available on its own, but as of March 2010, New Line has announced no plans to do so.
To rate this film visit the Extended Edition review of LOTR: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING