of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line Cinema)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Writing credits: (WGA) J.R.R. Tolkien (novel) Frances Walsh (screenplay) (more)
Score: Howard Shore
Cast overview: Elijah Wood .... Frodo Baggins / Ian McKellen .... Gandalf the Grey / Viggo Mortensen .... Strider/Aragorn / Sean Astin .... Samwise 'Sam' Gamgee / Liv Tyler .... Arwen Undómiel / Cate Blanchett .... Galadriel / John Rhys-Davies .... Gimli / Billy Boyd .... Peregrin 'Pippin' Took / Dominic Monaghan .... Meriadoc 'Merry' Brandybuck / Orlando Bloom .... Legolas Greenleaf / Hugo Weaving .... Elrond / Sean Bean .... Boromir / Ian Holm .... Bilbo Baggins / Andy Serkis .... Sméagol/Gollum
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images.
ANY of us who've read the Lord of the Rings trilogy crossed fingers before the opening of the Lord of the Rings on December 19th. As much as we wanted a great telling of a favorite story, we had more to lose than gain, as a bad production would not only pain us personally, but erode the essence of Tolkiendom for everyone, especially generations who've not yet read the book.
We can relax now, because this is an excellent rendering of The Fellowship of the Ring, remarkably true to the book...though for each of us inevitably different from the versions we've imagined while reading.
Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins wasn't someone I expected to like, but as the story's center, he does a terrific job. Ian McKellen's Gandalf the Grey is similarly wonderful. Oddly enough, I imagined the Frodo older and Gandalf younger, but I found them both to be delightful. My other big surprise was Sean Astin as Sam Gamgee...another actor who took the part and did a superb job making it his own.
Viggo Mortensen is as dark and attractive a Strider as anyone could wish, and Liv Tyler's Arwen, in a slightly beefed up role from the book, carries the story along nicely...while snagging other hearts besides Strider's in the process.
Size gives the performers some trouble, and though I certainly can't fault anyone for casting John Rhys-Davies as Gimli the Dwarf, doing most of his fight sequences on his knees to allow the camera to convince us that he isn't the big guy he really is robbed him of his grace and hobbled his axe wielding a bit. The proper scale for the Hobbits was provided by outsized props and more camera angles, and works well enough.
Boromir, played by Sean Bean, is a more interesting hero than Strider, though less charismatic, and the film did an excellent job of showing his range. Purists may balk at a scene where he takes hold of the ring early on, but it's the sort of device they needed to set the stage for general audiences.
Christopher Lee brings all his vast experience and finely honed craftsmanship to the role of Saruman, the cunning and ambitious head of the Council of the Wise. Clearly he relished the opportunity to bring this character to life, little surprise since he has read the story yearly for the last 40 years. In fact, everyone turned in a solid performance, including the Black Riders, though like a number of minor characters, they owe as much to the makeup, costume, and CGI staffs as to their own talent.
My chief fear was that the Hobbits would come off as children, and it was a fear that diminished as the movie progressed. Frodo, the lead character, seems as an adolescent moving into adulthood through the trials of his quest, and that works nicely.
There were parts that wound up getting snipped out, inevitably, like meeting Tom Bombadil on the Barrow-downs, but all in all the storyline was extremely well preserved and the few pieces of invented story, like a romantic tryst between Aragorn, King Isildur's heir, and Arwen, the elvish princess who chooses mortality to share his love, made sure the audience got the motivations of the characters without having to spend more time than they could spare. I mean, at just under 3 hours as it is, something had to give.
Though much touted, I found the New Zealand landscape to be a bit lacking in color and intensity, though of proper scale and range. With the exception of the Shire scenes, the greens all seemed a bit flat...and though New Zealand's recently appointed Lord of the Rings Minister would no doubt cry foul, I'd have suggested a bit of digital tuning for a more Maxfield Parish look. The mines of Moria, which no doubt exist only in virtual reality, are extremely well realized as hellish realms worthy of Hieronymus Bosch.
Also a bit bland was the soundtrack. Though Howard Shore has scored a large number of films, including The Fly, Silence of the Lambs, Mrs. Doubtfire and Philadelphia, I had expected a much stronger composer and was disappointed. Even Enya, who composed and performed pieces ("The Council of Elrond" and the song "May It Be") for the film seemed subdued. Actually, this is my biggest disappointment with the film, as I'd love to have a soundtrack worth buying, something that the Boston Pops would have played over the summer and kept us humming hobbit tunes till next year. A true loss was the song and poetry that Tolkien himself put in the book, none of which made it to the screen.
Tolkien realized a world of depth unequaled in Fantasy or Science fiction, and the film communicates all the sense of antiquity that one could hope for. I was delighted at how well the book lent itself to film, and how well this the first installment of three, wrapped things up so the audience could go home without grumbling, while leaving it open for the next installment, already filmed and waiting for next December's release.
As I left the theater, another fan turned to me and my gal and said, "Well, see you here next year." Well, it may not be the same theater, but we wouldn't miss the premier of "The Two Towers" for all the mushrooms in the Shire.
In the meantime, I think I'll keep my dog-eared copies of the trilogy out and read them again.
© 2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu