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|Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The
by Scott Weinberg
I've always been a huge fan of the quest epic. After spending a good portion of my youth hypnotized by movies like Willow, Legend, Labyrinth and Krull, I began to wonder where THE quest movie was. One that wasn't 'schamltzed up' for the kiddies or 'toned down' for a PG rating. With the arrival of Peter Jackson's exhilarating The Fellowship of the Ring, fantasy fans have a resounding reason to rejoice; not only is this one of the year's most exciting and entertaining movies, but Chapter One of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is much more than that. It's an instant classic.Director Peter Jackson must be one hell of a Tolkein fan. That Jackson was able to take the reins for all three of the Lord of the Rings films and deliver (at least) the first one in such gloriously fantastic style is nothing short of amazing. If your typical studio hack had gotten hold of this material (say, Chris Columbus), the result would most likely be a 2-hour light show with a few tight action scenes.
"At long last, the 'quest' genre has its very own Godfather."
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is considerably more than that.
Not content with simply rolling out another 'quest epic', Jackson has devoted his talents to delivering a movie that hardcore Hobbit-heads will adore while still managing to keep the non-fanboys glued to their seats. When this movie isn't jolting you with its numerous flashy action sequences, it's offering moviegoers a dazzling sight-seeing tour of the most spectacular landscapes and locales ever created. Simply put, The Fellowship of the Ring runs three hours, and if it ran another 40 minutes I doubt you'd hear much complaining. Although some might balk at the massive running time, the movie simply couldn't be any shorter. The sheer size of the film perfectly illustrates what a "quest" should be: exciting, scary and LONG!
The way in which Jackson (along with screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens) transfers the beloved tale from novel to screen could be a lesson to filmmakers like Chris Columbus, whose Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a slavishly by-the-numbers adaptation. While keeping the hopes and dreams of the Tolkein faithful fully in mind, Jackson still manages to infuse his movie with dozens of unique and imaginative alterations; changes that the fans may not fully agree with, but will most likely come to appreciate.
Not only is The Fellowship of the Rings the instant grand-daddy classic of the fantasy genre, but it also ends up being one of the finest cinematic adaptations ever produced. The director not only seems to adore the source material, but also knows full well what's expected from an adventure movie. That he manages to fill this film with more memorable battles, compelling characters and amazing sights than any three movies combined is a cause for celebration.
After a lengthy yet satisfying prologue, we are introduced to young Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit about to enjoy his 111th birthday. Weary of home life and eager for some adventure, Bilbo plans to skip town following the festivities. The arrival of longtime friend (and powerful wizard) Gandalf the Gray leads to the discovery of Bilbo's one nasty secret: for the past 60 years, the affable hobbit has been holding on to quite a peculiar little souvenir - a ring of pure evil.
After much prodding from Gandalf, Bilbo wisely decides to entrust the ring to young Frodo before leaving on his trek. After discovering the ring's disturbing history, Gandalf quickly charges Frodo with a quest: get the ring out of town and into the hands of someone capable of protecting it. Needless to say, Frodo promptly builds a small yet potent team of colorful heroes. And once the mission seems over, it's really just begun.
If you've read the Tolkein novels, the 'plot summary' is entirely unnecessary. For those who haven't read the books (as I have not), then much of the fun lies in simply seeing what comes next, so I'll leave my plot synopses at the door.
If you thought movies like The Phantom Menace had the corner marketed on the whole "creating an entire world from scratch" idea, prepare to be blown away. In this day of CGI magic, it's not enough to simply put on a light show for your audience. Jackson seems fully aware of this, as he treats mood and character more importantly than the numerous "wow" shots. The combination of sincere emotion, flawless spectacle and a real sense of danger is what makes The Fellowship of the Ring so much more than a 'cool adventure flick'. (When was the last time you actually CARED if a character in an action scene would be injured?)
The pure imagination that went into this film is nearly unparalleled. A new creature or landscape is offered every five minutes, and each one is more impressive than the last. (My favorites were the horrifying Balrog creature and the world's most persistent cave troll.) Jackson realizes that CGI effects are also capable of delivering small, subtle touches as well and he utilizes his Hollywood toy box to a dizzying degree. That the actors playing the hobbits were 'shrunk' digitally is evident only if you've read it in reviews, so flawless is the effect.
If the epic battle scenes and breathtaking vistas are the backbone of the film, then the picture-perfect cast is the heart and soul. Elijah Wood delivers his best performance yet as Frodo, while Ian McKellan is quite literally flawless in the role of Gandalf. Viggo Mortensen is heroic and dashing as Strider, Sean Astin is surprisingly heartfelt as sidekick Sam and Sean Bean is very impressive as a conflicted (yet reliable)swordsman. For those keeping score...NO, Liv Tyler is nowhere near "awful", as many early pundits have claimed. Cate Blanchett is literally luminous as the magical Lady of the Wood, and the immortal Christopher Lee is a deliciously evil villain.
For a movie that runs just under three hours long, The Fellowship of the Ring contains not one extraneous or uninteresting scene. The copious action sequences are kinetic and thrilling while the exposition scenes and 'character moments' are delivered in an intimate style, wonderfully free of anything resembling 'camp'. In an era where 'action movies' are generally three big CGI explosions surrounded by 97 minutes of blather, it's great to see a filmmaker who knows how to combine adrenaline, humor and heart into one stunningly cohesive epic.
Peter Jackson simply pulls off several incredible feats with this film. He's made a movie that will appeal to hardcore fans and the uninitiated alike, he's delivered a 'Chapter 1' that easily stands on its own and he's also somehow managed to give some long-needed credibility back to the criminally dismissed "quest movie". To New Line Cinema for backing three massive movies at once, and to Peter Jackson for simply for following his imagination to this supremely satisfying conclusion, I have nothing but praise. It's been a long time since I fell in love with a movie so quickly.While I'm sure that various 'Tolkien purists' will find some legitimate things to gripe about, it's impossible to imagine that Ring-philes will not embrace this monumental film. If you've been waiting forver for the first true classic Quest Movie, your wait is over...and let's not forget the two episodes still on tap!
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originally posted: 12/19/01 05:00:31
|Trilogy Starters: For more in the Trilogy Starters series, click here.