The Extended Fellowship Reviewed

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To prepare our way to watching The Two Towers, we popped in the extended DVD release of The Fellowship of the Ring the night before.

Previously I had said that, although the movie lacked a few things I would have liked to see, I could not see how director Peter Jackson could do the three hour movie any better. Now I know better: he could add an additional 28 minutes to the running time.

I had glanced over the extended DVD release briefly soon after I bought it. I showed the additional scenes to my parents, and we were quite pleased. However, it is the extended scenes — the established scenes with bits and pieces added to it, that make the movie. In the “Making Of” documentaries, the production crew notes that they had to make some hard choices in order to get the movie in under three hours, and what they decided to do was to make the Fellowship of the Ring very Frodo-centric. Scenes, parts of scenes, lines of dialogue, that didn’t contribute to Frodo’s growth as a character were dropped. The extended DVD release restores them.

Frankly, I think it is a shame that Peter Jackson didn’t convince his distributors to allow the additional running time — put in an intermission if you have to, like Kenneth Branaugh’s full-length Hamlet. The movie no longer runs from crisis to crisis. All of the characters are fleshed out substantially. Among the victories:

  • Gimli: he now holds his own in battles (these too have been extended), throwing vicious axe shots and showing his strength and courage. More importantly, the relationship between him and Legolas (one of the strengths of the second book) is firmly established, here. Their initial antipathy and their growing respect are allowed to develop. This helps in the viewing of the second film.
  • Aragorn: no longer just an action hero, we see more of his self-doubt and his fear of the mantle he’ll soon be forced to take up.
  • Galadriel: not just a “radioactive psycho” as some have described her. Her regal nature is shown, and the full scene of her giving gifts to every member of the fellowship is also shown. It was a tragedy to cut this from the movie, as this scene sets up many little details for the next two movies, and even enhances the characters (especially Gimli).
  • Bilbo: last but not least. The opening of the movie has been substantially reworked giving more time for this character, and showing more of his relationship with Frodo. He has become an even more tragic figure, and his scenes have considerably more punch.

Even Gollum gets additional material, which helps set up the second movie.

For me, the proof of the success of the additional material rests in my mother-in-law Rosemarie. When we saw the first film in the theatres, she liked it the least. She felt that it had none of the characterization that made the books work, and there was too much swordplay. On the other hand, she loves the DVD, proving that much of the soul of the movie had been left on the cutting room floor.

Peter Jackson deserves incredible credit for this magnificent feat he’s pulled off. Not only did he have to produce these three films on a limited budget of $90 million each, he had to fight his financial partners and distributors in order to allow his vision to come to the fore. At one point, one of the partners suggested that the whole of the Lord of the Rings trilogy be compressed into a single three hour movie. Imagine the disaster this would have been.

Peter Jackson had to fight to make Fellowship of the Ring three hours long, and because his gamble paid off, the remaining two movies are now also three hours long (they were originally to be two hours and forty minutes). One wonders now what The Two Towers extended DVD release is going to pick up off the cutting room floor, and one salivates at the prospect of Tolkien’s masterwork materializing as ten hours of cinematic history.

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