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Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The

Reviewed By Dancing Potato
Posted 01/26/02 11:46:10

"Swords, Sorcery and Samwise Gamgee"
5 stars (Awesome)

The most anticipated movie of the year is here; the least-anticipated review of last year is also here.

After the very first 10 minutes of The Fellowship Of The Ring, you know that you’re seeing something big. There’s something that all great movies possess that becomes apparent when the film begins, a kind of unexplainable magic that slugs you in the forehead. Ten minutes into the film, you’re transfixed; you get THAT feeling, where you phase out completely and time comes to a standstill. You’ve entered the dimension of great filmmaking; you don’t get out until the movie ends.

First off, I have to get a load off my back that will probably be a big issue: I am not a Lord of the Rings uber-nerd. I have read the Hobbit and the first book a few years ago. Apparently, it did not make a big impression because, going in, I only knew that I was going to see a movie about midgets with swords (well, no, I’m not that dumb, but nonetheless). I went with my uncle, who, as it happens, is a gigantic fan himself. I thought he was going to keel over from increased blood pressure until the movie started, after which he was very, very quiet (and not dead from said blood pressure).

Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is on the verge of turning eleventy-one; the inhabitants of his hobbit village are throwing a big party for him. This brings Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to town to visit his old friend. At the party, Bilbo reveals that he is leaving his peaceful little village and will be spending the latter part of his life writing a book in the mountains. He then disappears and reappears in his little house, courtesy of the ring, where he packs his stuff and leaves the ring to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood). Trouble is a-brewin’, however, and Gandalf reveals to Frodo that Lord Sauron, who crafted the ring, is back in Middle-Earth and seeking the ring. Frodo is to leave the hobbit village at once and to get rid of the ring by throwing it back in the depths of the volcano from which it was forged. The confused but eager Frodo is thrust away from the village, accompanied by his guardian-slash-sidekick, Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin). As they travel the lands of Middle-Earth, their quest grows even more desperate as the elements oppose them and the inhabitants step in the way.

To say that The Fellowship of the Ring was eagerly anticipated is an understatement; it is quite possibly the most looked-forward film in history. For months, rabid fans awaited any morsel of news that was put out, wet themselves in anticipation, discussed everything there possibly was to discuss about the film without seeing it and increased their blood pressure a good 50 points every time a new trailer was released. The film ended up as one of the best of the year; it made a strong showing at the box-office and pleased fans and non-fans alike. After making a strong showing in critics’ top 10 lists, it is quite possible that The Fellowship of the Ring will sweep a few Oscars (probably technical, but Oscars nonetheless).

Is the movie faithful to the book? Having not read the book completely (by no fault of my own, mind you), I could not say for sure, but visually the film is splendid. Many of the characters are exactly as I pictured them (never mind the fact that Tolkien practically invented the whole wizard look) and the locations are dazzlingly beautiful. Jackson has a visual flair that his previous films could not exploit; here he lets his mind speak through his camera. All the locations are minutely recreated in a wide array of landscapes (filmed in Jackson’s native New Zealand) and breathtakingly shot by Jackson. His roots, however, are somewhat apparent in his direction. Whilst he can film plains, mountains and caves extremely well, his close-ups suffer from a case of petty theatrics; there are many of those behind-the-character moments where the character screams something, a shot best suited for trailers.

At a little under three hours, The Fellowship of the Ring is a long film, but it is long in the same way David Lean’s films were long; they remain richly textured and entertaining for the entire running time. It is a given that Jackson could not pack every event in the book into the film, but the screenplay is almost airtight. There is not one instance where the movie seems rushed or hacked to pieces; a few minor events and characters were left out, but all for the better.

I am not a fan of Elijah Wood; I think that The Good Son and North shot all his credibility for me. I could not watch most of his previous films because of him; I found him annoying and, on the most part, minimally talented. That was before. Wood is so good here that it makes me forgive him for all his other performances. He looks the part and his gigantic eyes (which he used to feign acting in North) are actually an asset here. Wood showcases a great deal of pluckiness and innocence and I look forward to his performance in the next film.

I had my doubts about Sean Astin. He enjoyed brief fame (akin to that of Corey Feldman, maybe slightly higher) after The Goonies, but he quickly fell into oblivion, reappearing periodically to do stuff like a cable adaptation of Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron. Astin is actually quite good as Sam Gamgee; at first I thought he was annoying, but I realised that he was supposed to be that way. Ian McKellan, one of the best (and least-appreciated) actors working today fits the role of Gandalf perfectly. Through excellent make-up effects, McKellen is made into a nearly flawless incarnation of illustrator John Howe’s vision of Gandalf. McKellen towers over the rest of the cast, both in his appearance and his performance. The two actors used to portray Merry and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd) are relative newcomers but do good jobs in characters that are intended mainly as comic relief.

Sean Bean (best known as a snarling bad guy in various forgettable action films) gives what I would have to call his best performance, since all the others are so mediocre. He plays Boromir, a man on a quest to Elrond who joins the fellowship. His performance is tortured and nicely subdued. Viggo Mortensen (gotta love that name) is the other human, the mysterious Aragorn. Mortensen is talented and pulls off the role very well. The rest of the cast (apart from Orlando Bloom, who has a relatively small role in this one) is filled with recognizable actors in rather small roles. Ian Holm is Bilbo; Cate Blanchett is the queen of the elves, Galadriel; Liv Tyler is quite surprisingly stunning as Arwen and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix’s Agent Smith).

Under a less talented director, The Fellowship of the Rings could have failed miserably. It could have, like Ralph Bakshi’s 70’s version, crammed everything into one gigantic mess. It could have been overly dark and drab or cutesy and air-headed, but it isn’t. It’s not, as has been hastily claimed, a perfect film. One can see that the structure is nearly faltering; the film is mostly a bunch of setpieces linked together with scenes of midgets walking in snow. But the film is never boring, never slow or cheesy. It combines a thick plot with awesome visuals and crafts a film you’re not about to forget, wether you like it or not.

There's only a year left before the next installment. Just... one... year...

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