NOW PLAYING Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2001

All the rabid Tolkien fans out there can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Hollywood didn't screw it up; Lord of the Rings is awesome. Where there was every possibility that the audience would be presented with a hollowed out, effects heavy, cheese-fest, we are given, instead, a richly told, fully realized epic masterpiece. Whew.

The movie begins with a little background. Thousands and thousands of years ago, in the mythical Middle Earth, there were a whole bunch of magical rings of power created and given to the various races that inhabited the land: dwarves, elves, and humans. This worked out just fine for a while. Unbeknownst to everyone, however, the Dark Lord Sauron was busy in his own little jewelry shop deep in the bowels of Mt. Doom. He created the One Ring, the ring that could rule all the other rings, and with it he wielded ultimate power. Unfortunately for him, he lost the ring to the rightful king of Middle Earth in an epic battle, and was thought to have died. The One Ring, however, bound up Sauron's spirit and kept him around, though weak and ineffectual. The Ring also succeeded in corrupting it's new owner, who was soon killed himself. He lost the Ring in the river, and there it stayed for 2,500 years. Eventually, Sauron started to get his strength back, and lo and behold it ends up in the hands of a Hobbit, a quiet simple people. As any one whose seen or read The Hobbit knows, Bilbo Baggins has a bunch of adventures with this self-same ring, before eventually ending back in his cozy Hobbit-hole in the Shire. Eventually, all of his worldly goods, including the Ring, get passed onto his nephew Frodo, and that's where the story begins. Frodo, with the aid of the mysterious and powerful Gandalf the Grey, as well as a band of Middle Earth dwellers, now has to decide what to do with the Ring. Complicated as all that sounds, it all comes together. Trust me.

Whether or not you grew up wandering the Shire, climbing the Misty Mountains with Bilbo, or braving the Mines of Moria with Frodo and his companions, you will be no less enchanted by this film. All the history you need to fully immerse yourself in the tale is provided in a thrilling and informative prologue, and from there it's easy enough to keep up. However, if you are a lifelong fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's brave Hobbits and Elves, you have a double treat in the myriad little details that are provided, but never flaunted. The hair on Frodo's feet, Gandalf's gnarled staff, the quaint Hobbit holes of the shire, and the seediness of the Prancing Pony. All the little bits and pieces that fleshed out the story you know by heart come to life with stunning correctness. As well, large details fall precisely into place. Gandalf, for example, is perfect. His look, his actions, everything is exactly right, due in no small part to the incredible skill of Ian McKellen. When he appears, there's no adjustment, no shock, no, "That's supposed to be Gandalf?!" It just fits. The other characters are equally well built, from timid Samwise Gamgee all the way up to the terrifying Balrog. To anyone who has immersed themselves in this genre to any extent (loser geeks, you might call us) it becomes immediately obvious that the filmmakers were highly influenced by the wealth of Tolkien art that exists. Rather than reinvision this world, the production staff wisely elected to utilize the prevailing vision of it's fans. By doing so, they succeed in working with, rather than against, those who have been endeavoring to keep Tolkien's vision alive.

J.R.R. Tolkien, a professor at Oxford, wrote his famous series of books between 1937 and 1955, although much of the groundwork was done while he served in the British Armed forces in World War I. Though he never received much critical success for his work, his novels are now considered classics of Literature and are taught in schools across the world. A master linguist, Tolkien created his incredible world partly to have a place to put a fictional language he was creating. A few attempts have been made at filming the series before, but have not been met with much success. The Hobbit is a classic cartoon, but doesn't really do justice to the book. Lord of the Rings by notorious animator Ralph Bakshi does a similar disservice, though it has some interesting aspects. The biggest fault, however is that it tries to wheedle the stories down in order to fit into a two hour package. This was a trap director Peter Jackson was determined not to fall into with this latest incarnation.

Lord of the Rings actually consists of three hefty novels of nearly 500 pages each. In order to tell the whole story and maintain creative control and consistency, Jackson filmed all three stories back-to-back over the course of a year and half in New Zealand. This first outing, The Fellowship of the Ring, weighs in at a good three hours and uses every minute of it. One can only imagine that the next two movies, which come out next Christmas, and then the following Christmas, will be of similar length. Don't let the film's run time scare you off, however. It's solid and well acted, entrancing, and exhilarating; moviemaking at it's best. With so many worthless movies out there, it pleases me to no end to know that I've got, at the very least, six more hours to look forward to. Grade: A+

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring rated PG-13 for scary scenes and violence.

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