I’m trying to think of a flick that’s been as eagerly anticipated this year. I’m sure there must be one, but in this underwhelming moviewatching year, no one can be
blamed for wishing and hoping and hoping and wishing for the LORD OF THE RINGS to come and save us all.
First off, let me qualify this review by admitting that, every semester break, for at least a decade, I re-read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. That makes
me a tough house to play to, for any filmic presentation of Middle Earth. Alls I’m saying is, a grain of salt...
Frodo Baggins (Wood), is a young hobbit—diminutive, hairy-footed humanoids—who lives in The Shire and who’s just come to maturity. His elderly cousin,
Bilbo (Holm) has decided to leave The Shire, turning over Bag End, his charming home, and most of his belongings to Frodo. Among these is a beautiful golden
ring that the normally upright Bilbo came into possession of by less than scrupulous means. Gandalf (McKellen), a wizard and friend of the family, discovers that
this ring is a magical ring. And not just any magical ring, but the One Ring, crafted in the fires of Mount Doom by Sauron, dark lord of all that is evil. Frodo brings
the ring to the elf city of Rivendell, where a council is convened to decide what to do with it. What’s decided is that the ring must be unmade in the fires that forged
it, and a stout company of nine forms to carry out this quest. The nine include representatives of the races of Middle Earth: man, hobbit, wizard, dwarf, elf. Story
description beyond this would be wrong and could very well spoil the plot turns for those who are unfamiliar with the source material.
Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a marvelous invention, and the folklore he created for each of these populations is pleasingly rich in detail. He was a fabulous
mythologizer, but make no mistake: This is a ripping yarn! This movie does its utmost to present that, and if it comes up short in places, well I’m inclined to say
none could have done a better job.
The look of the movie is a uneven. I read that the problem of having standard-height humans look like short hobbits next to the other actors was dealt with by
having the actor-hobbits stand or walk in trenches. Mostly this works. But when Gandalf visits Frodo in Bag End, which is scaled along hobbit proportions, there
was some rather jarring camera business. We see shots looking up and Gandalf, from hobbit height, and then jump to shots looking down at Frodo, from wizard
height. I know they did it on purpose, but it was irritating, and I was glad when it stopped. The elvish places were a disappointment to behold, being a bit twee.
They’re not cotton-candy-land, but they’re definitely not where you’d think the planet’s “grown-ups” would hang their hats.
Following some of the battle scenes, and there a quite a few, is a problem, due to shots that are way too close. For this sort of extreme first-person point of view,
I can play a video game, thank you. I’m not sure it’s the biz of a movie to put me in “you are there” land if the cost is that it’s difficult to follow the action. Strikes
me that someone’s made a bad storytelling decision. Now I knew the outcome of these fights, having read the book, but I doubt that this visual obfuscation really
heightens suspense for those who haven’t. I think it just pisses people off.
Some of the choices for character development detracted from the movie. Frodo’s hobbit companions, Merry and Pippin, are played as broad comic relief, which
wasn’t quite compatible with my recollection. Frodo’s garderner, Sam, all but tugs at his forelock in obsequiousness, forcefully reminding one that Tolkien was a
part of a very class conscious realm. And then there’s the character-to-remain-unnamed, who is so clearly shifty, without much of the book’s explanation of what
makes him tick, that one is forced to wonder why anyone would bring him along on a perilous quest to save the world and life as we know it.
Alas, the music is a major, major annoyance. The over-loud, intrusive score practically shouts “we’re making an epic here!” and then you get treated to Enya.
Yikes. For me though, the cardinal sin of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS is that I saw Sauron. The books’ Sauron is never seen. He never speaks
directly; he’s only spoken of. Here, you don’t see him for long, but he takes form. Bad choice.
So it’s a bad movie? Well no, but human nature being what it is, it’s easier to elaborate on what’s wrong than on what’s right. Since human nature is also what
we’re here to rise above, let me take a crack at it. Bag End, Frodo’s hobbit hole, was so uniformly charming and cosy that I wanted the movie to spend more time
there; in fact I wanted to move in right away. One can easily believe that Frodo would be torn about leaving this pleasant home and The Shire that surrounds it. It’s
hardly surprising that the director of THE FRIGHTENERS has done an excellent job of creating a sense of menace and fear. Suffice it to say that the, uh, places
and entities that are supposed to be scary really are, and they look great.
Also this is an exciting tale, told well and suspensefully. If you haven’t read the books, I’ll bet you will. Oh you may want to wait to see what happens next when
THE TWO TOWERS comes to theaters next December, but I’m betting you crack and head to your local library long before then. The screenplay lays out the
story very well, no mean feat considering that it had to convey an entire unfamiliar universe to the viewers. Also Christopher Lee and Ian McKellen are always fun
to watch, and Viggo Mortenson gets a chance to acquit himself well.
If you’re a fan, I think you’ll enjoy THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Ditto if you’re a Tolkien virgin. As for me, while watching this will never be as much fun
as simply re-reading the book, I plan to see the movie again, and soon.