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HTF REVIEW: "J.R.R Tolkien Master Of The Rings" (with screenshots)

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#1 of 15 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted July 30 2002 - 11:43 AM

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J.R.R. Tolkien Master Of The Rings

Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 2002
Rated: NR
Film Length: 80 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Full Frame

New perspectives on a modern masterpiece

I didn't quite know what to expect upon opening
this fairly elaborate new Tolkien set from Warner
Home Video. At first I had mistaken it for the
National Geographic release that took you to the
different locales the movie was filmed. Though this
documentary couldn't be further from the National
Geographic release, I was pleasantly surprised and
entertained by what was here instead.

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Master Of The Rings is being labeled as
"the definitive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien."
It arrives in a deluxe DVD and CD set that opens
to a 3-pane gatefold with plastic hubs that house
both the documentary DVD and the music DVD that
accompanies it.

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In the corner pocket sits a 15-page booklet that
contains beautiful Tolkein color illustrations by
the Brothers Hildebrandt. Many of the most remembered
moments from the Tolkien trilogy are illustrated
here including the Fellowship of the Ring, The Orcs,
Gandalf and Balrog and Eowyn and the Nazgul. Turning
the pages of this booklet can't help but bring back
fond memories of the first time you read the Tolkien
books, painting your own visions of the action scenes
within your mind.

So, what exactly is Master Of The Rings
all about and is this appealing to fans of Lord
Of The Rings
? In answering the second question
first, without a doubt, if you are a fan of the books
and film, you owe it to yourself to check out this DVD.
This was an entirely educational and inspirational
journey for me.

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Master Of The Rings takes us deep into the
world of Tolkien. Written and presented by Robert
Di Napoli, this is not only the story of Tolkien
as told by the man himself (through film clips),
but an in-depth look at the characters and myths
that make up Lord Of The Rings and where
in Tolkien's imagination these characters and
stories derived from.

On hand to tell these stories are individuals
who know Tolkien and his works better than anyone
else. These include his son and daughter, John
and Priscilla Tolkien as well as artists and
Tolkien society philosophers. There are also those
not closely related to Tolkien, such as musicians
and other artists, who just tell stories of how
they were inspired by his works.

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The documentary begins with some rare filmed
footage of J.R.R. Tolkien in his last years
talking about his life work. With the aid of
a 3D computerized map, we take a tour of Middle
Earth from the quiet peaceful lands of the Shire
through Rivendale, Rohan and Gondor and ending
with Mordor and the fortress of Sauron. As we
stop in each sector of Middle Earth, we learn
about its surroundings and inhabitants thanks
to the many illustrations by the Brothers

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Not only do we get an overview of Tolkien's life,
but we come to understand where his fantasies
derived from by the events that occurred in his
life. Tolkien had a rather happy but unfortunate
childhood as both his parents had an untimely death.
Tolkien went on to study at the University of Oxford
where his pastimes led him to inventing new languages
and histories that supported those languages. He
always felt that the English were deprived of
their own myths and wanted to create a genuine
Anglo-Saxen myth for the English people.

While in the trenches during World War I, Tolkien
began writing stories that would make up many of
his later publications. It was also here, while
looking at the horrors and absurdities of war, that
Tolkien gained a humanitarian sense of war that was
later reflected in his writings.

Tolkien's first thoughts of a Hobbit actually came
to him while grading a stack of term papers at the
University. His curiosities over what a Hobbit
really was turned into stories he would tell his
children each Christmas. These stories would one
day form his first publication in 1937 aptly titled
The Hobbit. It was the book he had never
intended to write.

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This next part was my favorite. We are told
the entire story of the Lord Of The Rings
trilogy through narration, hazy live action
sequences, and beautiful illustrations from the
Brothers Hildebrandt. This was especially
entertaining as it had been decades since I last
read the trilogy, and I was able to pick up the
events that occurred after those depicted in
The Lord Of The Rings movie, including the
film's final moments on Mount Doom. The book's
final passages are read by J.R.R. Tolkien himself.

The rest of the documentary covers the aftermath
of his publications, including many criticisms from
the literary community that felt his works should
not be compared to that of authors such as Dickens
or works such as Moby Dick and War And Peace.

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There are also in-depth looks at the characters
that Tolkien created and where these many creatures
derived from. Take for example the Orcs, whom
Tolkien saw as everything bad about modern war.
And what about the Hobbits? Why do these little
people prevail above all others? Perhaps that
inspiration came when Tolkien sat in the trenches
and saw the little person that charged to the front
of the battle lines.

The documentary wraps up by taking a look at how
Lord Of The Rings has inspired artists
everywhere, most notably, music groups like YES,
wanted to do a film version of LOTR with
Paul as Frodo, John as Gollum, George as Gandalph
and Ringo as Sam.

How is the transfer?

This is not a documentary that I wish to rate
on audio and video presentation as I don't feel
it necessary. This isn't meant to be a visual or
sonic experience.

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I will tell you that the documentary is presented
in full-frame and looks quite good. Although the
DVD states a 5.1 Dolby Digital Mix, my receiver
indicated a 2-channel mix and there was nothing on
the Main Menu or my DVD player to change this.

I will also tell you I was quite disappointed by
the lack of subtitles on this presentation.

Special Features

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An interesting assortment of added visual and audio
material is included in this package.

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An Image Gallery featuring illustrations
by 50 of the world's leading Tolkien illustrators
is presented. Using your remote you can surf
through these beautiful drawings.

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Interactive Interviews presents a list
of 9 questions such as Is the world created
by Tolkien a convincing one?
or Will his
work endure the future?
. Click on each
question and receive a filmed answer by a Tolkien

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Finally, Inspirations: Musicians features
short interviews with Roger Ocean, Mostly Autumn,
Rick Wakeman and Ken Hensley -- all artists who
were inspired by Tolkien's works.

And what about this included music CD?
It's the perfect compliment to this set as it
features a musical journey through the landscapes
of Middle Earth, featuring the music of Rick
Wakeman. It's sounds pretty good, though reminds
me mostly of new age music with a few nice piano

Final Thoughts

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While it's hard to describe Master Of The Rings
as highly entertaining, it does do an excellent
job of bringing its viewer deep into the world of
Tolkien and his work. Anyone who is a fan of his
books and the recent film owes it to themselves to
buy this DVD. It will certainly give you insight
into Tolkien and his trilogy like nothing else has

Release Date: Now


Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner


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#2 of 15 OFFLINE   Ricardo C

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Posted July 30 2002 - 12:10 PM

Ron, thanks for the review Posted Image One correction, though: The Hobbit was published in 1937. 1954 saw the release of The Lord of the Rings.
Man, an hour wasted on this sig! Thanks, Toshiba! :P

#3 of 15 OFFLINE   Sean Bryan

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Posted July 30 2002 - 12:45 PM

Yes, Ron. Nice review. I didn't even know about this DVD. It sounds nice. I'm definitely interested, being a fan of the books and the film(s).

One more correction, however.

[quote] While in the trenches during World War II... [quote]

J.R.R Tolkien fought in World War One. His son was in the second world war.

I'm going to have to check out this DVD.
I don't believe in transcending the genre, I believe IN the genre - Joss Whedon

#4 of 15 OFFLINE   Kami



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Posted July 30 2002 - 12:50 PM

I picked this up many months ago (Just Master of the Rings, not this special set) and while it was informative, I couldn't get over the silly reenactments. They used midgets/dwarfs/whatever the poltically correct term is these days wearing top hats to portray hobbits. It was simply cringe inducing, but if you look past the horrible reenactments it's a good little package for any Tolkien aficionado.

#5 of 15 OFFLINE   Rob Gillespie

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Posted July 30 2002 - 08:09 PM

Ron - to what extent does the disc talk about Tolkien's childhood? He spent formative years in Birmingham, England (my town) and there are a few places in the area said to have influenced his stories. We have a old water mill at Sarehole which is very close to another haunt of his - Moseley Bog. These are only a mile or two from where I live. And then there are the two towers closer to the city centre (and Birmingham used to be a heavy-industry city, so you can see where the transformation of Isengard comes from) and there is even a pub called The Ivy Bush. Some of these places are now recognised Tolkien 'spots'.

There's some more info here:

No longer here.

#6 of 15 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx


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Posted July 30 2002 - 08:44 PM

Thanks for the review Ron as I had seen this in the shops here in Glasgow and was not sure to pick this one up. Next time I see this, I will buy this.

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#7 of 15 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted July 30 2002 - 09:27 PM

Gentlemen, I made the slight corrections. Forgive me, I literally had pages of scribbled notes that I took while watching this. Kami: Not sure why you are complaining about the live action sequences. These were only meant to be re-enactments. There was no intended production value in mind. That is why they were shot hazy. These were only done to help the narrative along. Rob: The documentary glosses over his childhood but it does briefly point out areas where he had lived and was influenced by its surroundings. It would have been nice if they did more of a "locations that influenced Tolkien writings" segment.


Ronald J Epstein
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#8 of 15 OFFLINE   Mikah Woodward

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Posted July 30 2002 - 09:55 PM

Are you sure you have the right box shot? Amazon.com lists the one you have a shot of as released on December 4, 2001 and Produced by Eagle Vision. It also has no mention of a soundtrack CD. (in case it was a mistake and you do change it, the pic is shown here so I don't look too crazy Posted Image )

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The one Amazon says was done by Warner, has the soundtrack CD, and was released on July 16, 2002 looks like this:

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of course, I could always be completely confused. That's normal for me, really...

#9 of 15 OFFLINE   Mike Broadman

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Posted July 31 2002 - 01:17 AM

One more correction, Ron: the band's name is Uriah Heep, not Deep. The disc looks cool. Will keep and eye out for it.

#10 of 15 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted July 31 2002 - 04:48 AM

Had a lot of problems finding artwork for this disc. Wow! The two disc covers look very similar. If someone could email a link to the artwork I will be happy to update it. I have also corrected the name of the band. Any other corrections please email me privately. Thanks again


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#11 of 15 OFFLINE   Brian E

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Posted July 31 2002 - 01:32 PM

Thanks for the review Ron. I've been trying to find info on this thing for a while. Didn't want to get burned, but it sounds decent enough for a Tolkien fanatic.

#12 of 15 OFFLINE   Daniel J

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Posted July 31 2002 - 07:18 PM

If anyone wants more info on Tolkien and the origins of LOTR, borrow Humphrey Carpenter's superb Tolkien biography from your library, and check out his "the Inklings" as well; it's a book about the 'writer's club' that C.S. Lewis and Tolkien were a part of at Oxford. It is also a definitive source for biographical info about Lewis. I've considered this disc, but the Hildebrandt artwork makes it a rental, rather than a purchase. If only they had used Alan Lee paintings instead...
Ba weep gra na weep nini bom!

#13 of 15 OFFLINE   Michael Dueppen

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Posted July 31 2002 - 11:47 PM

Wow. I didn't know this existed. Thanks for the review, Ron. I'll probably have to pick this up.
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#14 of 15 OFFLINE   Mark Zimmer

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Posted August 01 2002 - 02:43 AM

To confuse matters further, the Eagle Vision disc seems to be more or less identical to the Warner release. Even the menu screens and interactive interviews are identical. There was no "music CD" or booklet included in that release, however.

I reviewed the Eagle Vision version over at http://www.digitallyobsessed.com some time ago and thought it was quite well done as these things go, but felt the retelling of LOTR was padding. Apparently that sentiment isn't shared by those who've not read the books recently, so I feel a bit better about that as well. It's definitely worth picking up for a Tolkien fan.

#15 of 15 OFFLINE   George See

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Posted August 02 2002 - 07:34 AM

I picked up the eagle vision version a couple of months ago from best buy for about 9.95 I didn't feel it was the greatest documentary but It was an impulse purchase. If it had cost me more than 9.95 I most likely would have been disapointed. I think die hard fans who have read some of the biographies in print would be disapointed as I was. It just didn't seem very deep to me And I also think the retelling of the storys was mostly filler that A real fan could do without. For a casual fan just looking to learn A little more about Tolkien this would be A great disc.

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