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Published: 2005-05-02 - 14:41:00
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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Review

By Joe Lozito

Force of Hobbit

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Director Peter Jackson undertook the impossible: to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien's much-beloved, unfilmable trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" into three movies. It would be unfair to critique the first installment "The Fellowship of the Ring" by comparing it directly to the novel. I would much rather critique Mr. Jackson's achievement (and the film is an achievement) as its own film. Is it faithful to the novel? Absolutely. Does it take license with characters, dialogue and scenes? It does, and it must; to do otherwise would not only be impossible, but down right boring. The first "Lord of the Rings" novel reads like a Fodor's (not Frodo's) Guide to Middle Earth, with its endlessly descriptive passages of the towns, creatures and songs that populate Mr. Tolkien's universe. Mr. Jackson, and his writing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have attempted to distill the novel down to its elements while retaining the wonder, magic and themes of the original stories. By and large, when you think about the amount of source material they had to work with, it worked.

The movie was actually made for people just like me. I've read the books twice, I like them a lot, but I'm not a purist. It was just thrilling to see them brought to life. Sometimes Mr. Jackson hits the nail on the head (the scenes of Frodo actually wearing the ring were particularly thrilling), sometimes he misses (the dramatic "Flight to the Ford" scene is totally botched). But the movie at all times is huge, beautiful, extremely well-acted and sometimes downright funny.

The actors are uniformly working at the top of their respective games. Ian McKellen, the obvious standout as the wizard Gandalf, actually may have become a wizard for this role. He is so in character that every puff of his pipe and wave of his staff feels completely natural. Mr. Jackson wisely makes Sir Ian our tour guide through the first quarter of the film. With few scenes to work with, Ian Holm creates such a complete rendering of Bilbo Baggins (the character from Tolkien's first foray into Middle Earth, "The Hobbit") that I almost want to see that movie made now. Viggo Mortensen, as the ranger Strider, is not as weathered or rugged as he was in the book, but he is still a valiant figure. The much-doubted (via the Internet) Liv Tyler escapes unscathed - despite a tacked on love scene - as the Elvin Arwen. Only Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith from "The Matrix") lapses into melodrama once too often as the portentous Elrond, but his scenes are kept to a minimum.

As for the hobbits themselves, they are nearly interchangeable with the exception of our hero, Frodo (Elijah Wood). Mr. Wood, with his wide eyes and tussled hair, gives a very thoughtful, sympathetic performance as the beleaguered halfling. It will be no trouble following him through the next two films. And those films promise to be stunning. Through this first installment Mr. Jackson has provided glimpses of impossibly huge battles and landscapes which should make the upcoming storylines a feast for the eyes.

The major problem with the film maybe that Mr. Jackson never takes a firm stand on what the film should be, a retelling or an adaptation. So not to offend purists, Mr. Jackson wants to include everything in the novel (to his credit, he does squeeze every possible ounce of history and exposition into the film), but he can only realistically give the scenes a few minutes of screen time. So you end up with scenes in which the characters say, "We have to get to Lothlorein!" There's not explanation of why, what or where this place is, it just has to happen. I wouldn't want them to cut Cate Blanchett's picturesque performance as Galadriel, but it just feels sloppy.

The pace of the film itself is paradoxical. Those who are not familiar with the novels may feel the length of the film because they don't know where it's going. However, those who know the books will feel - even at three hours - that the film is rushed; chapters fly by, 40-day journeys occur in a jump cut. While consolidation of material is necessary, the film is schizophrenic. It will be difficult for the completely un-initiated to follow without repeat viewings. Thankfully, if the audience has the patience, the film is good enough to warrant watching again.

What did you think?

Movie title The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Release year 2001
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy phenomenon is finally given the beautiful, epic, reverent treatment that it deserves by director/co-adapter/Hobbit-phile Peter Jackson. Jackson's love for the material both helps the film and also weighs it down. Purists may balk, but Jackson's labor of love is quite an achievement.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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