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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Stars: Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Brad Dourif, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Viddo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Peter Jackson, Frances Walsh, Phillippa Boyens and Stephen Sinclair
Music: Howard Shore with two songs by Enya
New Line Cinema
Running time:three hours
Rating: PG 13 for violence
This has been a great season for highly-anticipated blockbusters. Pixar led off with Monsters, Inc., which was followed by Harry Potter, and now we have Fellowship of the Ring. I enjoyed both of the first two but didn't have much emotional investment in either. Having grown up with Tolkien, though, I was both eagerly awaiting and secretly dreading what Hollywood would do to his epic tale.
I made a conscious decision
not to go back and re-read the books. It didn't seem fair to hold the film
to some standard of accuracy, and I wanted to judge the film on its own
terms. Or at least try to. Every review (indeed, every opinion) is shaped
by subjective factors (something reviewers should acknowledge more often),
but that's especially true with this one. Memory is a funny thing, and
who knows how it affects your impression of what you see, what you experience.
My friend Garth asked me last night if someone
The film begins, like the book, with a lengthy introduction to the Ring itself: how it was made by the dark lord Sauron as a way of subjugating the earth, how it spawned great battles, how it was lost deep inside a mountain, and how it found a hobbit named Bilbo. Yes, the ring is not quite inanimate. It has great power and desires to reunite with its maker. The enemies of Sauron, however, hope to destroy the ring, and that's where Frodo comes in.
Frodo is also a hobbit, a nephew of Bilbo. For reasons that are nicely explained in the movie's opening scenes, Frodo is charged with carrying the ring to Rivendell, where a council of all the free peoples (humans, dwarves, elves, hobbits, wizards) will decide how to destroy it. He is assisted by his three friends: Samwise, Pippin, and Merry. If those sound like the names of comic relief, you're not far wrong. Also joining in the quest are Aragon, a mysterious human, and the great wizard Gandalf.
Back in the '60s, college geeks used to wear t-shirts proclaiming "Gandalf Lives." After watching Ian McKellen's marvelous performance, I'm inclined to agree. In the early scenes in Hobbiton, his delight in setting off fireworks and telling old stories is palpable. Later, he has to confront Saruman, the White Wizard, and he's able to switch gears and convey both anger and fear. And his final confrontation with the Balrog in the mines of Moria, the film's signature moment, will hopefully be played when his name is announced at this year's Oscars.
Even more importantly, McKellen (Gods and Monsters) brings a tremendous gravity to the entire film. When you watch him, you believe that this is an epic quest that will determine the fate of the entire world. Unfortunately, McKellen is so good that he exposes the weaknesses of the other actors.
Elijah Wood (The Ice Storm), as Frodo, is afflicted with the same curse that bedeviled Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe--too many reaction shots. While Radcliffe was forced to gape in awe and wonder, Wood is either cowering in fright or looking confused. Neither of those emotions are easy to conjure in a reaction shot, and Wood isn't convincing. He also doesn't appear terribly capable. I realize that's part of the point; Tolkien wanted his hero to be an everyman. But when Gandalf comforts Frodo by telling him "the forces of good meant for you to find the ring," I wondered if maybe the forces of good had made a mistake this time.
Viggo Mortensen (Portrait of a Lady) as Aragon is suitably dashing, and Orlando Bloom (in his feature debut) and John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) are nice additions to the fellowship as Legolas the arrow-shooting elf and Gimli the axe-wielding dwarf. Ian Holm (The Sweet Hereafter) is short as Bilbo. Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) is adequate if underwhelming as the great elf Galadriel. Those purists who've been concerned that the character of Arwen (the angelic young elf played by Liv Tyler) seemed far too prominent in the previews will be comforted to know that her part is appropriately small. Those hoping for some romance in this version of the Ring will need to seek out Wagner.
The real romance here is in the movie's set design and special effects. Production designer Grant Major and art director Dan Hennah have created a masterpiece. The Shire, where Bilbo and Frodo live, is wonderfully idyllic, while the elven town of Rivendell soars. The Black Riders, Sauron's nine minions who chase Frodo throughout the film, steal the show whenever they're on screen; their entrance as they race out of Mordor sets the mood of doom and terror better than anything else could.
The most impressive part of the movie (it's also my favorite part of the book) is Moria, the dwarven caves deep inside a mountain that the company enter in the hopes of escaping the White Wizard. But something much worse lies deep in Moria's heart, and it leads to one of the most exciting sequences in action films this year. Don't worry, I won't ruin it for you.
On the other hand, I must prepare you for the ending, which can only be described as anti-climactic. The problem lies with the book, which is only the first part of a trilogy. But there, you could immediately begin reading The Two Towers once you finished. Us moviegoers have to wait a full year to continue the adventure. So I felt a slight emptiness as I left the theater, as if I had started a story only to have it taken away from me before I finished.
I was somewhat surprised by my reaction to Fellowship of the Ring. I had expected to either love it or hate it and instead found myself squarely in the middle. It's an engaging tale told with panache, but it's not without its flaws. At three hours, it often feels too long, and yet I was disappointed when it was done. I was glad that I didn't re-read the book before I saw it, and yet my reaction throughout was that I need to go back and re-visit the written page. Will the book's diehard fans enjoy it? I'm not sure. The uninitiated? Maybe. As for me, I haven't decided that either.
J. Robert Parks 12/17/2001
It's here, Tolkien fans. Director Peter Jackson (The Frighteners) is doing almost the impossible by filming all three Tolkien novels in a row. They will be released a year apart, so 2002 has The Twin Towers and 2003 comes with The King Returns.
If you are Tolkien-challenged and haven't read the books, don't fret. You can pick up the story and characters easily enough. The film was shot in New Zealand (doubling for Middle Earth) and is nothing short of spectacular. Special effects are astounding and a year can't go by fast enough for Part Two. Howard Shore's soundtrack is effective in building the mood, especially in the underground mine sequence. He might just get an Oscar nomination here.
There are so many characters, one has trouble singling out performances, but Elijah Wood as Frodo has expressive eyes that act for him. Sean Astin as his friend, Samwise Gamgee, puts aside personal fear to join Wood in a friendship that one can literally feel. In the world of Samwise, a promise really means a promise. Viggo Mortensen (who had one day to decide whether to join this film or not) is the valiant Aragorn, though he comes out the believable one when Sean Bean (Boromir) enters, as Bean must have thought he was in Macbeth. Liv Tyler, not known for acting ability, does well in her part as Frodo's rescuer, while all Cate Blanchett has to do is look ethereal in glowing white as Lady Galadriel. One has to look hard to find John Rhys-Davies as the dwarf Gimli (special effects) under pounds of facial hair. Christopher Lee? What would a film be without a consummate villain, so don't let the white robe deceive you.
Lord of the Rings:Fellowship of the Ring is one fine motion picture. Not the absolute greatest, you understand, but at this point, very good. When the entire series is shown, we shall see where its place is in cinema history. Right now, it is a violent fantasy of one person's vision of a world where all types of creatures could live together if only that something---constituting power and hence, evil---were eliminated. Star Wars took on the idea “in a galaxy far, far away”. Sound familiar? Replace Tolkien's gold ring with Fort Knox or plutonium or oil fields or missiles and you have today's world. Middle Earth is a parable for all time.
Copyright 2001Marie Asner 12/17/201
The Lord of the Rings, a novel in three parts, sold more than 100 million copies in 40 languages, making it the most popular book of the 20th century. Many, including myself, have called it the greatest work of fiction. It has now been brilliantly captured on the screen by director Peter Jackson (The Frighteners). Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and the fantasy genre he popularized have awaited The Fellowship of the Ring movie for 50 years. The 12 months between it and part two, The Two Towers, will seem just as long.
Jackson takes the least film-amenable book of the trilogy and leaves viewers drooling for more. Like Tolkien, he succeeds in creating a world with breadth. The film goes beyond the book but stays fairly true to it. The tale is accented with numerous references to Middle Earth history particularly Isildur and the first taking of the ring of power. Other aspects of the War of the Ring like the role of the wizard Saruman and the orcs and the romance of Aragorn and Arwen add to the creation of a world with breadth and vastness far beyond just the locations and times at hand.
Jackson brilliantly captures the simplicity of the Shire hobbits and the mysteriousness of the elves in Lothlorien, and weaves Tolkien's tale in a manner worthy of the big screen. The main fight sequence in the mines of Moria is worth the price of admission by itself. Jackson uses the beautiful landscapes of New Zealand to produce the best cinematography is the best since The Thin Red Line. The casting, with the possible exception of Elrond (Hugo Weaving, only because I kept thinking of his memorable Agent Smith character from "The Matrix" and hoping he would say "Mr. Baggins" as he said "Mr. Anderson") was perfect. Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan, "X-Men"), Bilbo (Sir Ian Holm, Henry V) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth) show an extraordinary amount of depth as their benevolence is contrasted with their power and ability to be corrupted by the ring.
Christian themes are also prevalent, no surprise since J.R.R. Tolkien actually helped lead C.S. Lewis to Christ. Frodo (Elijah Wood, Deep Impact), taking on the burden of evil at the risk of his own life, Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin, Goonies), a loyal companion who gives him strength, and either a Peter or a Judas (you'll find out which) is embodied in one of the other characters.
Some purists may complain that a number of notable characters (e.g. the Barrow Wights, Tom Bombadil and Glorfindel who is replaced by Arwen) are absent and that some subplots are over emphasized, but that is a staple of Tolkien's world. Many of Tolkien's books (e.g. The Lost Tales, Unfinished Tales) are fragmentary of his works and different, even contradictory, descriptions of the same fictional event.
Better than any screenplay adaptation of a printed work I have ever seen Lord of the Rings expands upon the original while avoiding any contradictions. This is the best movie of the year, but its paramount service will be creating new fans of Tolkien's books. They won't be able to wait 12 months to see how the quest fares!
Dan Singleton 1/5/2002
Thank you, Peter Jackson. Your abridged, streamlined version of Tolkien's classic saga has blown me away.
It would be good, in these days of frenzied merchandising, to remember the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, which he included in a letter to his son Michael in 1962: "Well here comes Christmas! That astonishing thing that no ‘commercialism’ can in fact defile—unless you let it."
Likewise, The Lord of the Rings as great literature cannot be defiled by merchandising or movies, unless you let it. It will remain one of the most influential, and probably the most popular fantasy stories ever written for a long time to come, and no matter what moviemakers leave out, no matter what shows up on a collectible Burger King glass, nobody can rob the books of their language, which is their greatest strength.
Having said that, and having praised Tolkien’s literature many times before, I now want to focus on the new film trilogy.
You probably already know the details: With an allowance of more than $250 million from New Line Studio, Peter Jackson set out to turn his New Zealand home into a Middle Earth playground. For two years he and a crew of committed filmmakers and actors ran around the mountains, forests, and the valleys. With two sequels scheduled for Christmas 2002 and 2003, the first in their film trilogy has arrived at last in theatres. And it has most critics groping for superlatives.
You probably also know what the story is about: In the early days of the world, when different races filled the forests, mountains, and valleys, a simple, peace-loving people called Hobbits (or "Halflings," for their short stature) lived in an idyllic farming country called The Shire. When one hobbit, Bilbo Baggins returned from an adventure with a souvenier ring, he did not know it was in fact the lost talisman of the land's great villain, Sauron. Sauron is sending his minions to find the ring, so he can regain the power to "cover all the lands in darkness." So Gandalf the wizard arrives to set in motion a desperate quest to destroy the ring, and Bilbo's younger, stronger nephew Frodo must carry the ring all the way to Sauron's land of Mordor to destroy the ring in the fires of the great volcano Mount Doom.
Now, keep in mind, a movie requires different things than a book. The changes made by screenwriters Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens are bold, so bold as even to introduce new scenes and to eliminate quite a few characters. Undoubtedly this will ruffle the feathers of those who love the books. But for those who are new to Tolkien’s world, Jackson has had pity on them, and has trimmed things down so each book can fit within a three hour time span. Which would you prefer—a frantic, hurried, overcrowded version that stays faithful to every detail but doesn’t let you enjoy the ride? Or an abridged version, a picture book, that streamlines the story so that the movie has rhythm, music, places where you can catch your breath and think about things?
As it is, the finished product is rather hurried and frantic. And there are things that don’t work. If anything, Jackson might have needed to trim even more. I’ll be specific about some minor complaints later in this review, but they are minor indeed... sort of like complaining about Mark Hamill’s acting in Star Wars. My intention, above all, is to praise Peter Jackson and Company for doing a better job than I ever thought possible.
Why My Own Review Will Be Grossly Biased
I first read Tolkien when I was seven years old. I re-read the trilogy several times by the time I was fourteen. These books were, to me, the greatest stories ever written. And they still are. They stimulate my imagination more than anything on the page or on the screen. They demonstrate the way good and evil work in the world, and they do so more profoundly and memorably than any other story I have encountered. (Okay, maybe not The Bible.)
These characters—Bilbo, Gandalf, Frodo, Sam—are so well developed in the books that I love them like friends. I remember more specific details from Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’s journeys than I do about my childhood. Tolkien gave me strong metaphors for the battlegrounds of my life and my heart, for the forces in conflict that are described in Ephesians 6:12. I have revisited the trilogy every few years.
My First Impression of the Movie
Before I get into the specifics of what I think about the film, let me tell you how this film broke through my self-conscious "critic"... how it made me feel.
Seeing The Fellowship of the Ring unfold on the big screen was the most riveting, overwhelming, and exhaustingly good time I’ve at the movies since Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s the most impressive big screen fantasy since Star Wars, in my opinion. In fact, while Star Wars stands as the most influential popcorn movie in history, The Fellowship goes further as a work of art. It surpassed my sky-high expectations, demonstrating a deep appreciation, understanding of, and devotion to Tolkien’s world. Once again, the standard has been raised, and by this standard all other adventure movies will be judged.
Seeing how powerfully Jackson develops details like the character of Gandalf, and the lived-in look of the Shire, I realized how bland and mediocre most movies really are, even those that audiences and critics, myself included, habitually over-praise. I won’t be the first one to say this—but this really shows where Star Wars and the many big screen fantasies that mimic it are missing the point. Even with vast sums of money and cutting-edge special effects, Peter Jackson has made this a character-driven drama, and gives us intimate close-ups of each character, so we can see the difference between happiness and joy, between fear and dread.
People kept telling me that because I was voraciously reading everything I could about the movie, from early casting reports to detailed descriptions of the last day of shooting, I would inevitably be disappointed. They were wrong. There were tears on my face at four different places in the movie... I was moved by Peter Jackson’s passionate, caring, and human portrayals of these characters and dramas. This may not happen to you. But I’ve imagined these scenes my whole life, and to see them portrayed as vividly, or more vividly than I have imagined, really shook me. I felt like I was meeting in person someone with whom I had only corresponded long distance for decades.
I staggered out of the film exhausted, breathless, emotionally drained, inspired, and eager to recover my strength so I could see it again.
What I Loved Best About
Later, when he has the opportunity to see the ring and perhaps touch it again, he reacts like a recovering alcoholic who takes a sip of whiskey — the old compulsion rises up in a surge of evil that is so frightening that we realize just how deeply wounded Bilbo has been. In his naiveté, he was sucked into the power of the Ring, and he will never fully heal. He will carry those internal scars and weaknesses the rest of his days. When Bilbo turns away from Frodo in shame at his own greed, he shakes with grief. And so did I. How can I say this plainly...? I love Bilbo Baggins. He is the character in all of literature I care about the most. And it kills me to see his woundedness so beautifully portrayed.
[Unfortunately Necessary Note: I debated addressing this at all, but so many reviewers have brought it up that I feel obligated to answer... I’m referring to those who insist on interpreting homosexual undertones in the relationship of Frodo and Sam. (Yes, I have read many reviews that suggest such a thing.) I wonder if those who suggest this have ever experienced a deep, significant, heterosexual friendship. I have friends who often disagree with me but who would walk through fire for me, and I would do likewise for them. Tolkien, who adored and was devoted to the same woman from the age of 16 to his death, had many powerful friendships. Some of his closest friends fought alongside him in World War 1, and died there. I think the friendship of Frodo and Sam clearly reflects these experiences. People are free to interpret whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean their ideas have taken into account all of the available evidence.
(Besides, how can you ignore that Sam is quite infatuated with a lady hobbit named Rose?)]
Tolkien once said of movie adaptations, "The failure of poor films is often precisely in exaggeration, and in the intrusion of unwarranted matter owing to not perceiving where the core of the original lies." Jackson has admirably and efficiently streamlined the story, while honoring the book’s "core". This is his interpretation of Tolkien’s romance, just as Arthurian legend has been interpreted by T. H. White, Thomas Malory, Steven Lawhead, and Monty Python.
Of course it is painful for those who love the books to see some of their favorite chapters skipped. But if the film had included all of Fellowship’s beloved events—Tom Bombadil, the Barrow Wight, Bilbo’s songs and Frodo’s dance—fans would have nodded knowingly, but newcomers would have struggled to keep up with all of the names and information being thrown at them. As moviegoers are drawn to the book and its sequels, those gaps will be filled.
Having said that, I still take issue with several aspects of the film.
Minor quibbles aside, I’d venture to guess that Tolkien would have been content, even pleased with most of the film’s embellishments and abbreviations. Scenes of orcs tearing down trees to build war machines got right to the heart of Tolkien's earliest childhood memories... of men cutting down willow trees for no good reason, a foreshadowing of the advance of industrialism and the destruction of his idyllic childhood home in Sarehole. And he would have gasped at the beauty of the New Zealand landscapes designed by the greatest set designer in movie history... God Himself.
Tolkien confided to his publisher in 1957: "I should welcome the idea of a . . .motion picture, with all the risk of vulgarization; and that quite apart from the glint of money, though on the brink of retirement that is not an unpleasant possibility." He anticipated that a movie would oversimplify... vulgarize... the work. But it would draw many to read his works, in the end. I think this would have pleased him above all.
But the greatest thing about The Fellowship of the Ring is this: Almost every reviewer that confessed ignorance about the books quickly added that the movie has COMPELLED them to go and start reading. There they will appreciate just how much richer the story actually is. For that, I am very very grateful.
Even though Tolkien regretted the loss of his privacy in the rising tide of his fame, he once said, "It remains an unfailing delight to me to find my own belief justified: that the ‘fairy-story’ is really an adult genre, and one for which a starving audience exists." Longtime fans and newcomers alike should be grateful that this, the grandest of fairy tales, has fallen into Peter Jackson’s capable hands.
Thank you, Peter Jackson. You’ve pulled my sense of childlike wonder out of bed and shouted, "Wake up! Look at what is possible!"
Jeffrey Overstreet 1/5/2002
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