The Real Middle Earth (2004)

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Released 8-Jul-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Menu Animation
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 42:55
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Dave Mason
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Jim Hickey
Susan Wood
Peter Jackson
Ian Alexander
Dean Alexander
Russell Alexander
Miranda Rivers
Cheryl Aldridge
Barry Aldridge
Dave Houma
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.53:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Lord of the Rings trilogy is of course amongst the most successful film productions ever made, and while most laud the efforts of director Peter Jackson for bringing the much-loved Tolkien characters to life on the big screen and introducing the lore of Middle-earth to a whole new raft of fans, one must not forget this massive production was the result of the huge efforts put in by many thousands of people. Most of these people came from Jackson's home country of New Zealand, which was of course also the filming location for the entire trilogy.

    This is a documentary (though it is more of a travelogue than a true documentary) that looks at some of the Kiwi people and characters, and the truly stunning New Zealand scenery that was used with such amazing effect in the three films.

    Hosted by Kiwi television presenter Jim Hickey, it kicks off in the small North Island town of Matamata which is close to the farm that was used as the location for the Shire and Hobbiton. Hickey interviews the farmer whose land was remodelled to resemble the famous Hobbit village and also talks to a handful of local people who had the joy of being cast as Hobbit extras in the Hobbiton scenes. From here Hickey heads south, checking out the slopes of Mount Ruapehu, which doubled as Mount Doom, and here he talks to some New Zealand army troopers about the roles they played in the film. One of the most fascinating interviews here is with a young former bank clerk, who was commissioned to produce the many calligraphy drawings and maps used in the film. Apparently his work is so good that this has now become a full time career.

    Crossing the Cook Straight to the South Island, Hickey meets the local Nelson jeweller who was given the onerous task of casting the One True Ring of Power (in fact there were many rings made - movies need lots of backups apparently), and the nearby brewer who was responsible for producing the ale used in the pub scenes featuring the Hobbits. Apparently this brew has just a one per cent alcohol content since with many takes needed for filming the director didn't want the cast to get completely smashed!

    From here Hickey meets some of the local horsemen around the central Otago region who were used as extras in the Roan and The Pelennor Fields scenes, while also taking in some of the magical South Island scenery. It is from here that the programme does become more like a real travelogue when Hickey is joined by author Ian Brodie. Brodie is responsible for writing one of the biggest selling books in New Zealand history - The Lord Of The Rings Location Guidebook, and he's a man who knows a great deal about the whole The Lord Of The Rings mythology. Brodie takes Hickey to some of the more dramatic locations used in the films such as the Shotover River in Skipper's Canyon which was used for part of the Ford of Bruinen sequence and the area around Glenorchy at the head of Lake Wakatipu that was used for the scenes featuring Isengard. Hickey also meets up with helicopter pilot Alfie Speight (any relative to the South Island beer of the same name?) who lent a hand in getting some of those amazing aerial shots of the mountains used in the film.

    Thankfully Hickey does manage to talk to Peter Jackson about the filming challenges and the use of local people. He has a few funny stories to tell (the one about John Rhys Davies' armchair is very amusing), but mostly his comments are all stuff you will have probably heard before if you have watched the extended edition DVDs in their entirety. There is also an interview with one of the casting directors which is also reasonably illuminating.

    The documentary does come with snippets from the films and does include a little behind-the-scenes material that I had not seen before, but overall I couldn't help but feel that it was a little rushed in an effort to simply get it into the market. It starts out as a sort of documentary but quickly becomes more of a travel show - which isn't a bad thing since some of the locations used are truly amazing, but I just wish it had stayed focused on one what its real purpose was.

    Also, the running time is incredibly brief. At just under 43 minutes and with no extras, it is probably only going to appeal to fans who must simply own every piece of Rings memorabilia they can get their hands on.

As an indication of just how rushed this disc looks, there is a laughable packaging error on the back cover blurb. It mentions the army soldiers who became fierce Hawks and Urak-Hai. I think they mean Orcs and Urak-Hai. I guess they sort of sound the same.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    With this being a new production (2004), the video quality is, as expected, rather good.

    Presented in the slightly unusual aspect ratio of 1.53:1, this transfer is unfortunately not 16x9 enhanced. Information from the production house responsible for the programme indicates it was intended as a widescreen image and was shot on digital video tape. I can't determine what the intended aspect ratio was, but the lack of 16x9 enhancement here is a disappointment.

    Nonetheless it is still a finely detailed and generally sharp transfer. There are no issues with shadow detail in any of the darker scenes (which are primarily excerpts from the LOTR films - the actual documentary footage is bright and clear) and grain is virtually non-existent. There is also no low level noise.

    The colour palette on offer is rich and vibrant, with solid blacks and some nice saturated greens and blues. There are no problems with the colour rendition.

    There are no compression style artefacts present. Other artefacts are also absent. All up this is a blemish free transfer.

    There is only one subtitle stream present, this being the conventional English for the Hard of Hearing. They are moderately accurate though I found the font used to be a little large.

    This is a single layered disc only, so there is no layer change to navigate.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is only one audio track on this disc, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track encoded at 224 Kb/s. Since the programme content is comprised almost entirely of narration and interviews there is little need for a more dynamic soundtrack.

    Dialogue is clear at all times with no problems evident. There are no apparent audio sync problems.

    There is a little music played throughout. It all suits what's happening on screen at the time.

    There is no surround or subwoofer channel use.



Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu Animation

    Aside from some very basic menu animation there are no real extras on this disc.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    I can't find any reference to this disc being available in Region 1, but from information available the Region 2 version (also slated for release next month) is exactly the same as the Region 4 version.

Summary

    The Real Middle-Earth is a brief documentary that looks at some of the people and places in New Zealand involved in the production of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy of films. There is a slight feeling that it is merely cashing in on the success of the films and some of the interviews are a little bland and uninteresting, but the scenery more than makes up for the lack of sophistication in this area. Visually it is quite stunning.

    The video quality is excellent.

    The two channel audio is functional.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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