Mark Reviews Movies


4 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm

MPAA Rating: (for epic battle sequences and some scary images)

Running Time: 2:58

Release Date: 12/19/01

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Review by Mark Dujsik

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is the most influential piece of fantasy literature of the past century, and I can see that now. Its influence is apparent in just about every piece of fantasy to come along since, from the Star Wars trilogy to the Harry Potter series. I have yet to read the actual novels, but watching director Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the first installment of the series, I could tell why the novels are so important to the world of literature. The story is rich in detail—full of archetypes and fascinating mythology. There’s a whole world created—wondrous in locales and containing creatures big and small, kind and horrible. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring captures a grand scope and vision unlike anything I have had the pleasure of seeing in some time. It’s a film of incredible vision and surprising emotional involvement—a rich tapestry of old-fashioned storytelling and modern-day technical marvels. At its heart is an allegory of the travel from innocence to maturity. This is the rarest type of event movie. It not only lives up to the hype it’s created, it transcends it and truly becomes an instant classic.

From its opening frames, a narration over a black screen, I was grabbed into the film’s story, and it maintained my enthrallment through its entire three-hour running time. From the narration, we learn about the creation of a set of rings, equal to the number of rulers in each race of Middle Earth, by Sauron, and in turn, the creation of a single ring that holds power over all of these. The dark lord’s trick worked, and he became ruler over the world, creating havoc and terror in the hearts of Middle Earth’s population. Eventually, the ring is forced from Sauron’s control and, after centuries of travel, comes into the possession of hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). On his one-hundred and eleventh (or "eleventy-first") birthday, Bilbo decides to leave his home, the Shire, and travel, leaving the ring to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood). Also present for the celebration is the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who discovers the origin of the ring and sends the young and apprehensive Frodo on a quest to keep the ring out of the hands of Sauron’s followers.

Along the way, Frodo meets a wide assemblage of characters, some of whom are fully integrated into this story and some of whom whose importance in later installments is hinted at. There are Frodo’s fellow hobbits who unwittingly but eagerly join him on his quest. Then there are a wide assortment of warriors and royalty, elves and dwarves (yes, there is a difference), villains and henchmen. Some of these make up the fellowship of the title, and others are out to destroy it. Even the ring itself becomes an important character, obviously representing the evil Sauron. The task at hand is a perilous one, and the film has a constant sense of urgency about it. Perhaps it is because of the ever-present evil, or perhaps it is simply Jackson’s skill in developing an amply dark atmosphere and taking time in generating actual suspense instead of simply culling it from thin air. Either way, the film has a grand build to go along with its scope.

The world Jackson and his crew has created is a triumphant marriage of art direction, makeup, special effects, and cinematography. Each of the locales we travel to and creatures we meet are feasts for the senses. The Shire is a lovingly constructed village, integrating the small size of its citizens into both a joke for the normal-sized Gandalf and a real sense of home for Frodo and his fellow hobbits. The backdrop of New Zealand’s gorgeous landscape just emphasizes the otherworldliness, and it is lavishly capture by cinematographer Andrew Lesnie. The rest of the places are equally impressive, including a dark and rainy travel town where Sauron’s forces corner the hobbits, an elf village where trees are interconnected to form a city, and a dark mine turned tomb where something from another time lurks in the shadows. The creatures of Middle Earth are a combination of makeup design and special effects. There are frightening orcs, a gigantic ogre, and a giant squid, to name a few. Most frightening of all, though, are dark riders, followers of Sauron who are essentially black cloaks on horseback. Even though special effects are used abundantly, they are well-integrated into the story and the look of the film. Compare the battle with an ogre here with the one in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and you’ll see how a movie can integrate special effects successfully.

And somehow through all of this, the film manages to be about these characters’ quest, not just the quest itself. We spend time getting to know these characters. Their victories and defeats are our own as well. The performances here are perfectly suited to the material. McKellen adds a tremendous amount of respectability and wisdom to Gandalf, and young Elijah Wood is in complete control as the hobbit hero. Much gratitude to Jackson and fellow screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens for taking the time to develop their characters and hinting at future developments as well. There’s a love story started here between the heir to the throne Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and elf Arwen (Liv Tyler) which obviously will play an important part later, even though it is only established in this outing. Instead of springing it on us later when it becomes necessary, the filmmakers are thinking to the future of their series—a feeling we get throughout the film.

And there are most certainly more developments to come as the series plays out over the next two years. As the film approaches its cliff-hanger ending, I sat wanting the next film to roll immediately (all right, maybe after a short intermission). This trilogy is probably the biggest and most ambitious risk in Hollywood history (all three movies were greenlighted and filmed at the same time), but whatever the financial future of The Lord of the Rings may be, the promise that The Fellowship of the Ring sets up is equal to or easily surpasses that of almost every film franchise that has come before it. Until we see if and how the promise is fulfilled, The Fellowship of the Ring stands on its own as an epic for the ages.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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