Thursday, February 19, 2004

"Hope for the World"


A Video Review of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

Although I am a veteran of fantasy role-playing games I have to admit to having never getting through J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. In high school I read the first book (on which this film is based but is very fuzzy in my memory so you won’t find any book-to-film comparisons in this review) and struggled to start "The Two Towers" and failed during my college days. Tolkien is unfortunately very dense (at least to me). I file him along with H.P. Lovecraft. They are both amazing concept men but as writers they are dreary and nearly incomprehensible (to me at least - if only to avoid the slings and arrows of smarter people).

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is completely accessible which I think surprised everyone especially the casual moviegoer and those evil Hollywood critics who both shun fantasies at every turn. Perhaps there is hope for this sad sad world yet if concepts like good against evil, responsibility and friendship still resound in people’s hearts.

The story revolves around a powerful ring of great evil in a long ago fantasy land. A conglomeration of different races elects a band to take the ring to be destroyed in the place it was forged. Hilarity ensues, as they say.

It all begins with hobbit Bilbo Baggins skillfully played by Ian Holm (Alien, The Fifth Element) and his birthday party in Hobbiton. It’s a happy bright occasion that slowly devolves into darkness. The conversion is handled well and the viewer is easily led to understand the peril encompassing all of Middle-Earth. It is this subtlety that makes TLOTR so accessible to the mainstream. The show rather than tell is the key.

The cursed ring is put into the hands of Bilbo’s nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood of The Good Son and The Faculty) and along with friend Samwise (Sean Astin of Rudy) and wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) they set off the have the ring destroyed. This is probably one of McKellen’s best roles and performances and that’s saying a lot. He is one of the world’s finest actors. In Gandalf he reflects many facets and emotions from leadership and bravery to fear and mystery. He’s not your average everyday wizard.

The rest of the cast is remarkable as well. Christopher Lee is back doing what he did so well in years past - playing believably evil villains. His Saruman is both motivated and emotionally impenetrable. The battle between him and Gandalf is stunning and powerful. Speaking of evil, Cate Blanchett brief evil turn as Galadriel tempted by the ring is spellbinding.

Young cocky boys that they are, Viggo Mortensen as Strider and Orlando Bloom as Legolas insisted on performing their own stunts that resulted in broken ribs and teeth. They’re also pretty good as actors too. The all too brief moment shared by Strider and Arwen (played with remarkable and unexpected skill by Liv Tyler) shows a chemistry and electricity I would have liked to have seen more of, if not in the TLOTR trilogy than in any other film.

Of course the real star of the film is the special effects. From the minor forced perspective shots to make full-sized actors into three and four feet tall hobbits and dwarves (John Rhys-Davies is a particularly difficult trick into the dwarf Gimli) to the fiery Balrog to the stunning matte paintings and CGI armies the special effects in Fellowship are truly among the best ever done.

The New Zealand locales, especially Hobbiton which was built a full year before shooting began so that it would look old and lived in, are amazing. This is due in part to the unparalleled skill of cinematographer Andrew Lesnie but mostly to the breathtaking landscapes of the region itself. The original music score of Howard Shore only enhances the sheer majesty of the film itself.

Unlike myself writer director Peter Jackson has read the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. He knows what it’s about, and he has nothing but love and respect for the work and its creator. The project for Jackson began as a pitch to make "The Hobbit." After seeing his superior accomplishments with this film I can’t wait for the next two and hope he gets to do the original one. See The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. It’s truly one of the best films ever made.

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