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

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 01/07/02 22:57:14

"A classic adventure that could end up changing Hollywood forever."
5 stars (Awesome)

So THIS is what happens when a filmmaker uses special effects and combines them with a quality script, quality actors and an absence of merchandising. Memo to Jerry Bruckheimer, Steven Spielberg, Brian Depalma, James Cameron and Chris Columbus - you've all got some work to do. In greenlighting the Lord of the Rings trilogy, former New Line boss, Mike Deluca's legacy to cinema runs far deeper than could have ever been hoped. Late last year, after the implosion of Adam Sandler's awful Little Nicky, the beancounters at AOL Time Warner decided Deluca, the man who taken New Line from a little niche distributor and turned it into a billion dollar business with hits like Austin Powers, just didn't know what he was doing. They looked at the $250m+ he was spending on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, freaked out like all accountants do when faced with creativity, and proceeded to push him out the back door. One year down the road, somewhere in Hollywood, you can bet Deluca is muttering to himself, "I told you so... I told you so...", because not only is this first installment of the Rings trilogy a confirmed blockbuster success, but it's also uncommonly awesome, incredible to watch, unforgettable from the outset and the perfect lead-in to next years part two. Director Peter Jackson has taken on a no-win project and won handsomely, elating those who grew up loving the book series it was derived from, surpassing the 1978 animated version, blowing the arms and legs of the hopeless Harry Potter, and showing Hollywood that you can make a better Hollywood movie in New Zealand - especially if you bother spending money on more than just effects and give more than a passing thought to your script.

I point blank refuse to tell you any of the story from Lord of the Rings in this review. That's not my job. I'm the test driver, not the navigator. Suffice to say, the surprises start from the start and continue, like a runaway train, right the way to the finish. In telling you one piece of this story, I'd be depriving you of one of many moments of joy that this film will bring you.

And besides, it's really long.

Elijah Wood is Frodo Baggins, a hobbit. Short of stature and heavy of foot, hobbits are simple little buggers, not generally suited for saving the universe. But Frodo finds himself unwittingly cast in the middle of a crisis that requires him not just to be brave, but smart, heroic, trusting and untrusting. That's all you're getting from me, so don't even ask for more.

Comparisons between LOTR and other adventure movies are easy to make. LOTR kills them all. Every one. Indiana Jones? Smashes him. Star Wars? Doesn't rate. Harry Potter? Not on your bleeding life, mate.

In fact, such is the technical mastery, directorial flair, incomparable camerawork and impeccable screen acting, that only a weak script could stop this film from being not only a triumph, but a monumental blockbuster success that leaves Star wars in the dust.

Thankfully, the script is perfection.

There's so many cliche phrases you could use when describing this film, and none of them would accurately portray the elation it brought me while watching. Edge of your seat stuff, the money's on the screen, action from start to finish, leaves you breathless - I feel like Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers when I gush like this, but I'm left no choice. Lord of the Rings episode one is just incredible. It's far too good to let slide with casual praise. The action really is end to end, there's nary three minutes without some monumental task that threatens our heroes with death, and when there is a longer pause it's only to let us take a breath, reconsider what we've just seen, and prepare ourselves for what is to come any second now.

The effects are seamless. I don't say that easily, I can usually spot a flaw here and there, but with the exception of one ordinary long-shot of the ring party running, everything is incredible. A scene involving a giant cave troll leaves a similar scene in the recent Harry Potter movie looking like a left-handed crayon drawing next to a Picasso painting. The mark of great special effects is when you forget you're seeing them, and in Lord of the Rings I forgot continually. The Troll scene was SO well executed that I honestly laughed out loud with joy.

To see something executed to perfection is rare in today's Hollywood, and the fact that Peter Jackson went outside Hollywood to find his strand of perfection isn't coincidence. Certainly New Zealand and Australia can offer breathtaking scenery and a pleasant exchange rate, but this (and The Matrix, and Mission Impossible 2, and Star Wars Episode One) proves that there's ample skills in filmmaking to be found in these parts too.

I've always wondered how people can look at movies like The Mummy, where ridiculous money is spent on effects and no attention is paid to script or performances or any kind of redeeming message, and say, "It was okay. A good popcorn kind of film. Something you don't have to think about." Why on earth would you pay to not think? By my reckoning, that's about two levels above paying for a handjob. "Just lie back and say ooh-aah.."

I want my movies to make me think. I want them to make me bust my head trying to think. I want them to think too, and take me to places I've never been and never will be. I want them to open my eyes wide and take me on a ride that means something, not a ride that goes in a neat circle and leaves me where I started.

I want a movie where someone has tried. Generally, I leave the cinema disappointed. When I left Lord of the Rings, I felt like buying another ticket, so as the makers would receive an amount of money I believed more closely reflected the great time I had. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how good this fucking film is.

Technically, it left me constantly nodding my head in appreciation. Perhaps the legion of teenagers who'll file throuh this film will miss it, but some of the camera moves are nothing short of stunning. Cameras will fly through trees, around people, back into the sky, off into the distance, and all without edits. If Orson Welles had been born in 1972, rather than early century, these are the kind of innovations he'd be hitting us with about now, as a modern day filmmaker with a vast and expensive array of dollys, cranes and cameras.

Cast-wise, not one complaint. I mean, I hate Liv Tyler but... No, you don't understand, I really hate her. I don't believe she can act, I don't believe she ever has acted, I honestly think she's as talentless as Gretchen Mol - but I'm fine with her in this film. She's everythign she needs to be. Ditto Sean Astin, who disappeared from view after Hollywood spent two years trying to make the pudgy little blighter a romantic lead, only to give up after Encino Man. Astin never rated more than a blip on my radar, generally drawing frustrated ire as he kept appearing in roles he wasn't suited to, but credit where it's due, the kid makes a fantastic fat buddy and I actually appreciated the fact that he's found his way in film.

Elijah Wood has been labeled the big star of this show, but anyone who would look past Viggo Mortenson as the best performer of the bunch would be way off base. Big Vig displays admirable poise and, for mine, offers the character most worth watching. Wood's performance generally from silent stares and panicked looks, but Mortenson attacks every scene - from fight sequences to heartfelt drama - with aplomb. Again, I've never rated Viggo much in anything I've seen him in, but given the chance to unleash all the emotions in one film, he doesn't miss a beat with any of them.

And then there's Sir Ian McKellen. Ah, bliss to watch a master at work. As Gandalf the wizard, McKellen manages to repeat what he did with his character in X-Men - make him believable, likeable, and perfectly played. McKellen is the closest thing we have to Sir Alec Guiness, or Larry Olivier, he is just the embodiment of whatever role he takes on. Bless him and may he live to be 130.

Regardless of those listed above as having demonstrated abilities far beyond expectations, there's no star more important to this show than its director, Peter Jackson. Jackson could have come out of this film scarred had he put a step wrong. He spent a lot of money, he filmed three films at once, he assembled a fine (yet big name-free) cast and he put together a technical team that simply created a new world from lush green New Zealand hills.
From the lowliest set dresser to the most amazing effects master, from the thousands of orc extras who ALL performed without glitch (unlike those giggling battlefield goofs in Braveheart who often looked like they were playing lasertag) to the screenwriters who have adapted a monster of a book and stayed as true as they could without falling to Harry Potter syndrome, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is an unmitigated triumph of the highest order. It's the return of the adventure serial, dripping in the kind of budget and quality and skill that one rarely sees more than a few times a decade.

Our children and grandchildren will watch this film and still be amazed. It will earn a fortune. It should earn two.

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