Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Special Extended DVD Edition (2002)

D: Peter Jackson
S: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen

Addendum review to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).

The 'special edition' craze reaches new heights with the special extended DVD edition of Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring. The package features a new cut of the film, extended over two discs. Almost every scene has been enhanced with additional footage, which has been scored, mixed, and edited seamlessly into what is now known as the 'theatrical version'. It is essentially the same film, but with some significant differences in detail and pacing. The package also features two additional discs with documentary footage detailing the minutiae of production worthy of any 'making of' book. For fans of the film and of the franchise on the whole, it is obviously an essential purchase. But what of those for whom the entire Lord of the Rings phenomenon is less than an obsession? Is there anything worth shelling out for in particular here, and what, if any are the differences between this and the 'theatrical' version of the film?

The extended edition is exactly what it purports to be: it is an extension of the original cut in which all but a few scenes have been slightly altered to incorporate scenes shot during the mammoth one-year shoot of the trilogy. This results in the enhancement of some of the characterisation, a more gradual lead-in to the story, and the addition of a number of small but significant details which fans of the book will know anyway but which will come in handy for the uninitiated later in the cycle. Whether casual viewers will have the patience to sit through roughly three hours and ten minutes of film (credits included) for the sake of these details is another matter entirely.

The most effective scenes in the film are still those which were most effective last time; usually those in which Jackson's florid visual style is allowed to depict plot and character through broad, sweeping action. The great strength of Jackson's vision of the novel was in his ability to match his directorial imagination with Tolkien's story. Even though the script reorganises elements of the book, the film spins a coherent, involving yarn incorporating a broad range of characters, environments, and situations spread over an ever-evolving and ever-more epic story. In any form, The Fellowship of the Ring is worthwhile viewing.

The extended edition takes a lot longer about it than its predecessor though. After a roughly similar prelude (which, like everything else in this version, adds one or two details), the most significantly new portion of the film is the introduction to the world of hobbits. This version begins with Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) writing his soon-to-be legendary biography (which is to become Tolkien's book The Hobbit), describing his people and their character while scenes of everyday life in the Shire literalise what he is saying. Far more effectively than in the first cut, these films establish a sense of a peaceful idyll which roots its central characters and which will come to represent the world which they are fighting to protect. These scenes also add more character detail, fleshing out Bilbo himself with a couple of extra moments (including his attempts to duck his grasping relatives, the Sackville-Bagginses), and allowing a more pleasing sense of his friendship with Gandalf to emerge before the torch is passed to Frodo (Elijah Wood). The extension of these scenes serves an important thematic purpose, and should therefore prove little hardship for casual viewers able to sit with patience regardless of their length. But it is obvious why this section was recut for theatrical release insofar as it does now take that much longer before the quest proper gets underway and the hot and heavy action begins. When it does, it is as engrossing as before, and nothing major has been done with the big set pieces of chasing and combat.

As devotees work their way through the extended edition, they will find themselves slipping into trainspotting mode perhaps a bit more than they should. Part of the reason for the success of the film in the first place was the urgency with which Jackson had told the story, careening from scene to scene with sometimes only a glimmer of the true depth of Tolkien's vision. In this version, a little bit more of the book creeps in, but this also slows the pace between set pieces and sometimes forces the viewer to begin thinking once again about what remains left out. It is in some senses an unwelcome distraction, and for casual viewers, it could be an intolerable bore. To be fair though, very few of those who go out of their way to see this version of the film are likely to be so casual as to not appreciate the scope and sweep of Jackson's vision, and the extended edition is never actually boring.

The additions are not all merely small details either. The characterisations of Bilbo and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) have been greatly enhanced simply by adding to the existing scenes by degrees so small as not to matter in themselves yet which culminate in a more rounded sense of the individual characters' personalities. Gimli is less of a throwaway comic relief than he was, and he has character enough by the time the fellowship reaches Moria not to be faintly laughable in his excess of emotion. Not that the character needed it, but Ian McKellen also gets a couple of extra scenes as Gandalf. Moments of intimate advice between he and Frodo make Gandalf even more endearing and again flesh him out a tad more, arguably unnecessarily but not without pleasures. In general terms the addition of short moments to several scenes also create an even greater sense of portent to the action, with build-up, foreshadowing, and simply the inclusion of eerie sound effects and shots of the ring which make it into a more menacing presence. Narrative wise, the double disc packaging gives an intermission just after the council of Elrond. This actually neatly splits the action at a good point to take a five minute breather before getting to the really meaty action scenes in Moria and beyond.

The entire project does raise interesting questions about the use of DVDs and the whole idea of 'director's cuts'. Jackson himself rejects the latter term, arguing that the theatrical cut was as much his vision of the film as any other. In his desire to see the story given the fullest and most definitive treatment he can though, he claims that this DVD edition is a sort of counterpart to its predecessor, an alternative version designed for home viewing. It is a question of semantics perhaps, but the extended edition is certainly a different cut, though it is one which offers pretty much the same pleasures as the theatrical version. The supplementary material is as comprehensive as you might expect, certainly more so than those featured on the original DVD (which weren't bad at all, mind you). Fans will certainly find plenty to enjoy in there as well, and with this level of detail provided, it is small wonder that DVDs are becoming the film schools of the twenty first century.

Note: Irish purchasers of the extended edition should shop around. Prices range wildly between sixty and forty euro, and this is just for the basic extended edition, not the one with the souvenir bookmarks. If you want to lay your hands on the theatrical version, it can now be picked up ex-rental for about eleven euro. The extended edition will probably eventually turn up second hand, but if you've waited this long, there's likely to be no stopping you. Enjoy.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2002.

Addendum review to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).