The Fellowship of the Ring, Extended Edition review by Greg Wright
In general, I am not a fan of “director’s cuts,” or extended versions of theatrical releases. With very few exceptions, such as Milos Forman’s Amadeus, the addition of “restored” footage makes little or no impact on the effectiveness of a movie. Peter Jackson’s extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring is one of these rare exceptions. In fact, the additions that Jackson has made—scattered widely across its three-plus hour running time—transform Fellowship from a very good movie into a truly great film.
Attention to Detail
Many Tolkien fans were probably disappointed to find that Tom Bombadil was not restored. In general, though, Jackson judged rightly in not introducing major new sequences to the film. Instead, bits and snippets have been added to the scenes that were already there, helping greatly to eliminate the rushed feeling of the original version. Many of these detail-oriented additions simply make the film feel lived in—like Bilbo’s frantic avoidance of the Sackville-Bagginses, the short pub conversation of the Gamgees and Sandymans, the passing of the Elves in the woods of the Shire, or the extra time taken in the passage of Moria.
Others, like the fleshed-out Orc ambush of Isildur at Anduin, improve the viewer’s orientation to Middle-earth and its back-story. It’s safe to say that someone who has never read The Lord of the Rings would be much better off seeing the extended version of Jackson’s movie.
Moving the Plot Forward
In the theatrical release of Fellowship, it often feels that the plot wouldn’t advance if it weren’t pushed along mercilessly. The effort to keep the running time down removed many of the filmmaker’s story-telling tools from Jackson’s kit, and the film consequently suffered. When we can spend a little more time in Lórien, however, we get not only the added bonus of seeing it during the daytime, but much more of Haldir’s conversations with the Fellowship, too. This tremendously aids the viewer’s understanding of the Fellowship’s imminent dissolution. We understand the tensions between Elves and Dwarves a little better; we see a little more of Aragorn’s leadership in Gandalf’s absence; we see more of a contrast between Aragorn and Boromir; and Haldir is allowed to reinforce Galadriel’s later assertion that the Fellowship brings great evil to Lórien.
The longer visit to Lórien also allows a more thorough reaction to Gandalf’s departure. “Needless were none of the deeds of Gandalf,” Galadriel says. “We don’t yet know his full powers.” Boromir is even allowed to philosophize a bit, and Sam can recite his own tribute.
Of course, the great bonus of this more leisurely pace is the purposefulness now felt in the scene at Galadriel’s mirror; it seems far less perfunctory, less like a potty stop and more like a way station. And the few moments spent on the gifts of Galadriel will pay off heavily, in terms of narrative effectiveness, in later installments.
The ability to spend a bit longer on Anduin also heightens the tension with respect to Gollum. It’s much clearer that he’s a clever, persistent tracker; Aragorn’s unease becomes more understandable; and Gollum’s ties to Mordor are reinforced.
The biggest payoff in the extended version, however, is probably in character development. We get to spend much more time with Bilbo, and gain a better feel for Sam’s loyalty. Merry and Pippin become much more than Jacksonian Ewoks, and Celeborn comes off as a leader instead of a foggy-headed dope-smoker. Frodo’s emotional response to the weight of the Ring and the travail of the Fellowship becomes almost palpable.
Four of the principal characters, though, are particularly helped by increased screen time. Boromir becomes much more three-dimensional. His exchange with Aragorn at the shrine of Narsil establishes much of his overconfidence and arrogance, and his extended speech early on at the Council of Elrond establishes his motivation. In Lórien, he is allowed to exhibit both marked despondency and human compassion, so that his extended torment with Frodo at Amon Hen becomes clearly schizophrenic—a personality split under the influence of the Ring, not just latent or hidden aggression.
Aragorn’s self-doubt becomes not only suggested, but terribly explicit. While visiting his mother’s grave in Rivendell, he is reminded by Elrond that his fate is less than determined. He may or may not come to wield great power. “I do not want that power,” says Aragorn. Illusions of grandeur do not motivate him. He is the anti-Boromir. Much later on the Great River, as the two speak, Boromir tells Aragorn, “You’re afraid—scared of who you are, and what you are.” Aragorn doesn’t argue, and we know well enough by that point why. He is afraid. He will not flinch when the rubber must hit the road, but he will still be afraid.
Galadriel, of course, is simply allowed to come alive. Her relationship with Celeborn becomes tangible and credible, and her interest in the Fellowship authentic. Even her time with Frodo is more lingering, and she is allowed to remark on the cost of power—the cost of which Aragorn is only too aware. She exhibits Nenya, one of the Three Rings of the Elves. “To bear a Ring of Power,” she tells Frodo, “is to be alone.” Frodo is finding that out; but we get to see a glimpse of that in Galadriel. Her character is less of a cipher.
It’s hard to believe that Gandalf’s portrayal could be improved, but it has been. It helps to see the workings of his mind. The very small moment now spent for him to take Frodo aside on the trail from Caradhras to Moria is judicious and effective. Here we see Gandalf profoundly disturbed by his premonition that Moria will bring his doom. His concern for Frodo’s care is never more palpable; his irritability with Merry and Pippin more understandable; and his tenderness with Frodo in Moria more heartfelt.
It’s also a tremendously nice touch to have him as the silent partner behind Frodo’s leadership of the Fellowship. As they leave Imladris, Frodo asks, “Which way is it, Gandalf? Left or right?” A knowing and compassionate smile very faintly touches Gandalf’s face. “Left,” he says. It feels like a biblical spirit of guidance.
The running time of the original Fellowship was so short as to leave even the movie’s action sequences feeling rushed. Two of these are improved tremendously by the increased running time. The first is the battle with the Cave Troll in Moria, and the second is the climactic clash with the Uruk-hai at Amon Hen. If the original release established Orlando Bloom as the definitive Bowmaster, you won’t want to miss what he does with seven consecutive shots in the extended version. Unbelievable!!
In its original configuration, The Fellowship of the Ring was very much deserving of the Oscar nominations it received, and the awards it did win. In its extended version, it’s clearly the movie of the millennium thus far; and the performances of McKellan, Bloom, Bean, Holm, Mortensen, and Wood all become Oscar-worthy.
How many thumbs up can we find for this movie? Any spares out there?
Greg Wright is the author of Peter Jackson in Perspective: The Power Behind Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings (2004).
The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition is available to stream at Amazon.
Check it out tonight, and don’t forget to dine local first!