Review: The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition - A Salve for 11 Month Old Wounds

If you've ever talked to me before, you know my opinion of Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring... I was thoroughly disappointed with it.

In time my disappointment lessened.  It took me 2 more trips back to the theater to gain a bit of an appreciation for the film as a film, not as a translation from page to screen.  And unlike Ted (read his review here), I've only seen the film 3 times.  Perhaps my negative reaction arose from the fact that I finished reading FOTR the night before I saw the film; Tolkien's every scene and every character was so stark and fresh in my mind that the film's every slight departure from the book gave me a new itch--and soon I felt like I was scratching dozens of new itches.  I was rubbed raw by Peter Jackson's FOTR.

There are 3 major problems I have with the last years theatrical release:

1. The Wizard's Duel: I'm still scratching my head over this one.  I don't see any reason to have Saruman and Gandalf battle it out like a couple of wizard miscreants from a pop-fantasy book.   It's not their style, let alone the way they're portrayed in the rest of the movie.  They're movers and shakers that rouse others to action to accomplish their (good or evil) purposes. Their characters--both as established in the film and in the books--would not brawl in a WWF-style cage match.

2. Aragorn's Uncertainty: Mentally, I can write this off as a liberal interpretation of Tolkien's work, so it doesn't sit so heavily on my mind.  I find Tolkien's decidedly confident Aragorn a more effective character and a more believable leader of the Fellowship.

3. Lothlorien: Besides establishing the characters in The Council of Elrond, the literary Lothlorien scene contains the most character development of any part of FOTR.  Here we see the Hobbits utterly awed by elven beauty.  Here we begin to understand the depth of the Elven relationship to Middle-earth.  Here we clearly see the distrust between the races of Middle-earth.  And yet, the film flashed by Lothlorien, as though the Fellowship had stayed there one brief night!  No travel through Lothlorien (how about some flets and a little more confrontation!)?!  No gift giving scene?!  Where was Gimli's change of heart, his love of Galadriel?!  And of course, I was left struck dumb and in dismay at the breast-plated, solarized Galadriel, pronouncing her words as an oracle of doom, almost like an evil sorceress clad in the skin of a beautiful elf.  Most folks who saw LOTR for the first time in the theatre thought Galadriel indeed was an evil sorceress!  Lothlorien is a turning point in The Lord of the Rings, and the film passed over it with a much too brief treatment, and the treatment it gave it painted the completely wrong picture of who Galadriel is, and the importance of this place to what is to come in the rest of the story.  This scene killed me.

In December 2001, I left the theatre in dismay.  Scratched raw.  And frustrated.  I couldn't help but feel battered around a bit, and left with a bruised shell of what I'd hoped to see in the theatre.  I know, I know...  I came in with high expections (and remember, I just finished reading the book the night before), but those pictures released all across the internet really inflated my expectations--everything I saw was so Tolkien!  So Middle-earth!  The movie left me deflated.  And when asked by a friend, I gave it a (in my mind generous) 6 points out of 10.

So, I entered the Extended Edition screening last Saturday with more than a little trepidation, but also an equal measure of anticipation.  Would the extended scenes benefit the film?  Or would they simply increase the disappointment I felt in the first release? The lights dimmed in the screening room, and the movie began...

....

As soon as the film ended, I immediately realized that the Extended Edition is not the same movie as last December's release.  Why?  Because it's focus is different.  The first release is the tale of Frodo and Ring: the others are all supporting cast members in Frodo's journey.  Yet here, the tale is that of Middle-earth, it is the story of the struggle of good vs. evil by all.  It's not simply Frodo vs. The One Ring.

This is now the story of Sam's loyalty to Frodo, of Gandalf's care and concern for Middle-earth and its people, of Boromir and his loyalty to Gondor, of Gimli and his change of heart, of the building of Gimli and Legolas' friendship.  It is indeed now the story of the Fellowship of the Ring.

What I also appreciated about this extended edition was that it was truly edited and made as a new film.  The new scenes weren't added in a patchwork stitching, but in a thicker weave that deftly expanded and deepened last year's release.  I can't remember one new scene I disliked.  EVERY new scene and every added line made the film better, more complete, more Middle-earth.

Most importantly to me, however, was that the entire Lothlorien scene was redeemed.  Of all the new scenes, (except for perhaps the extended prologue with Bilbo writing his book, "A Hobbit's Tale") Lothlorien had the most new footage.  Not only do we see the Fellowship travel through the Golden Wood with Aragorn and Haldir heatedly discussing (in elvish) why they must pass through, but Galadriel is made into a friendly character, one who is there to help the Fellowship on it's journey, not only to pronounce the doom of the future would she take the One Ring.  She smiles.  She even laughs a bit...  THIS is Lothlorien.  THIS is Galadriel.  THIS is what LOTR fans were hoping for in December 2001.

Yeah, the Wizard's Duel was left in; Galadriel still transforms into Nuclear Woman when Frodo offers her the Ring; Aragorn is still unsure of his future decisions... but the wonderful new additions lend so much positive weight to this film that they firmly outweigh those negatives I yet perceive.  Every new character interaction creates a deeper story with a deeper meaning.  The relationships are more fleshed out and we start really caring about the characters as we cared about them in the book. 

If you didn't like the original release of FOTR, I strongly suggest you give the Extended Edition a chance.  There's NO doubt it's a dramatically better film!

You can preorder the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring by clicking here.

You can preorder the Collector's Gift Set extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring by clicking here.

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