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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Reviewed by Eliza DoLots
Posted February 24, 2002

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Reviewing The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a bit like reviewing a sibling. While I find plenty to hold up to criticism, just let ANYONE from outside the family make a nasty remark and I’ll be all over him. I loved this movie, much as one loves a sibling: warts/oddities and all.

The Characters:
Arguably this was the filmmakers’ greatest challenge. While technology can solve many of the physical challenges (making tiny people and big people in the same scene using regular sized actors); writing, casting and acting are all that can make a character work. And we, the Tolkien lovers, have very set pictures of these characters in our heads. We’ve loved them for decades. We’ve entertained them in our thoughts since childhood. It is inevitable that some will be surprised and/or disappointed by the portrayals in the movie.

I don’t really care for Elijah Wood as Frodo. Sorry. Scalp me now. He’s too wispy and tender looking. I picture Frodo as a “stout chap with rosy cheeks." He should be older and more mature than the other hobbits. Even allowing for the anti-aging effects of the ring, Frodo--in the book--is a mature hobbit in his 50s while the others are barely done being children, not a one of them having passed 33. Still, once I got over hating him (sorry! That’s how I felt at first, he grew on me), I like the work Elijah Wood does. He is especially touching in the Council of Elrond scene and that moment (“I’ll take it, but I do not know the way”) is the one that really got the water works going for me.

Sam (Sean Astin - son of Patty Duke and John Astin) is also unlike my expectations. I picture Sam as more fumbling and puppy like. But within 5 minutes I tossed my ideas out the window. Astin is the perfect Sam. Loving, loyal, sensible if not overwhelmed with knowledge of the world outside. I very much look forward to watching this character grow in his hands. In The Two Towers, Sam really comes into his own as a character and it should be a joy to watch.

Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan) are COMPLETELY different from my mental image. So much so, that they don’t even seem like the same characters. Rather than the Pippin and Merry I know, the movie boasts a couple of very funny clowns who are endearing, if terrifyingly stupid (let’s light a fire up here on Weathertop where no one is supposed to see us!!!). I thought the movie clowns are fine for what they are. I rather miss the sensible, perceptive hobbits that are able to see their friend’s trouble before he can speak it, and plan a way to help him before he knows he needs help. These two will be interesting to watch. They will certainly have more to do in the next movie. Perhaps they will be more reasonable and less silly after their experience with the orcs.

Gandalf is, well, Gandalf. Ian McKellen is all you really could want. The movie Gandalf is perhaps a bit more excitable than the book Gandalf. But cinema is an excitable medium and does not have the luxury of slow character build up afforded to a book.

Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) has yet to show his stuff. He is certainly charismatic and fun to watch, but the character has not had a chance to really strut. That will come. His affection for Frodo, his admiration for the Hobbits shines through. His moment in the Counsel of Elrond (when he announces his commitment to Frodo and the quest) is lovely and rings true.

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) may not rate a separate mention -- his character is as yet underdeveloped -- but since he sends my heart strings a’twangin’ I thought I would mention him. He and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) are just fine, thank you very much. It will be fun to watch their friendship develop over the next movies.

Christopher Lee would seem to be beyond reproach as Saruman. So, I feel a bit like the Grinch saying I think the character is too dark. To me, Saruman is a bit off center. Maybe even a tad mad. Throughout the book, I see a selfish, egotistical quality that Lee just does not capture. I can see Saruman gazing into the Palintir, seeing himself the leader of fabulous armies, gloating over the looks of admiration on everyone’s faces. Lee is a servant of the Dark Lord plain and simple. Given what I know Lee is capable of, I choose to toss ALL the blame for this on Peter Jackson. I strongly suspect that this (like Gandalf’s excitability) is a result of the shortcutting that is required in movie making. Saruman’s whimsical weirdness only comes through over the course of a VERY long book. Needing to convey it in three hours, Jackson simplified the character.

Boromir (Sean Bean) has perhaps the most complex role in this movie. I never had a vivid picture of Boromir, so Bean doesn’t challenge any expectations. I think the character is more admirable, less transparent than the book. Taking such a strong role in rescuing Frodo from the serpent at the door to Moria showed us his heroism and power far more than the minor “plowing snow at Cadaharas” scene he was given in the book . The death scene is too long (I started to hear John Young’s voice from Holy Grail “I’m not dead yet!…I’m getting better!”), but I, again, toss all that blame on Jackson.

Arwen (Liv Tyler) is fine, no problems. Not a huge character in the book. She’s already done more in one movie than her written character does in 1400 pages.

Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) ARGHHH! How much do I hate her? Galadriel embodies warmth and love. This character is a cold, mysterious monster. I hate the mirror scene where she turns all psycho and scary. This is the one character that misses entirely. I suspect blame for this needs to be spread between the writing/direction and acting. Blanchett does not seem to be trying to be beautiful, or welcoming, or seductive. To me, at least, she seemed to be striving for “mystical”. While Galadriel is certainly a character of power and mystery, her interactions with the Fellowship were marked by warmth and joy in the midst of sorrow. Blanchett can hardly be blamed for the mirror scene. Largely achieved in post production the scene misses the point that all would love her, she would be lightness and happiness until the ring turned her power to evil. On a positive note: we won’t be seeing her again until the very end, and then she should be pretty quiet.

Bilbo (Ian Holm) is fine. Unlike many, I have no great affection for this character so had no preset image. I really enjoy Ian Holm and he is fun to watch in this role.

Technical Stuff:
Needless to say, this film will win a slew of technical awards. Deservedly so. To make hobbits believable is no small feat (forgive me). The use of controlled perspective and deep focus combined with computer alteration is truly remarkable. There were only a couple of moments in the movie when I thought “oh...there’s a trick”. One is in Lothlorien when Frodo is walking down to meet Galadriel. There is a distinct “shift” as the computer alters his height. I can’t recall the other, but I remember feeling the sensation a couple of times. Only one or two questionable moments out of a 3 hour movie in which virtually every frame involves some kind of scale manipulation? Amazing!

From a cinematography standpoint, the swooping shots of landscape and battles (which almost HAS to happen MORE in the next movies) suffer from a “computer generated” feel. The focus is fuzzy and gives the impression that not everything WANTS to be seen (as in, we didn’t dress all the orcs correctly so don’t get too close...maybe not true, but a logical conclusion from the way the scenes are shot). Though, the scene in Isengard with the incredible zoom down to the pits was stunningly well done. No feeling that we were going from real to computer and back again. Very fluid. Very nice.

The EARS! To some, it may seem trivial, but all of use who struggled through decades of varying ear quality on Spock have GOT to admire the ears! Both the hobbits and the elves have wonderfully believable ears. Translucent, veins showing through. No doughy plasticky look. Just very real ears. It’s these little things that make the movie. Who can enjoy a scene when they’re thinking “gee...doesn’t that ear look BAD?”

Time Condensation (aka: the script adaptation):
It HAD to happen. The story HAD to be condensed. It was impossible to make a movie people could SIT through without condensing. Next to the characters not meeting our expectation, I think this was the greatest potential pitfall. How can they do it all? But, how can they leave anything out? On this note, I think Jackson and crew have done an admirable job. One for which an academy award would be well deserved. In the book, there are many months between Gandalf telling Frodo to make for Rivendell, and him leaving the Shire. In the movie, it seems like a few days after Bilbo’s party when Frodo sets off. What do we miss by losing that time? Nothing much. But the departure, which was a bit of a “get to know the hobbits” stroll in the dark is, in the movie, a tight, scary set of scenes. The Nazgul show up fast and furious and are REALLY scary (love the horseshoes!). The fact that they are upon the Hobbits SO quickly and so relentlessly gives an urgency (a “life or death feel”) that the book lacks. The loss of Bombadil is no loss as far as I’m concerned. While I would have liked some more exposition at Bree, I understand the need to cut. I do feel that we needed more of why Pippin would spill the beans about Frodo Baggins (when he had just heard Frodo call himself “Underhill”)...okay, movie Pippin is an idiot, but is that ENOUGH of an excuse? And, I felt the Aragorn introduction was weak. We needed something more than “we have no choice but to follow him”. Why? Because he’s big? What kind of lesson is THAT? No, it would have been better to have spent the time to let this develop at least a little.

Which leads me to:

Random Scenes being criticized:
Aragorn and the little swords. “Here, these are for you”. So, exactly WHY is this big man running around with a bunch of tiny hobbit sized swords? There is NO good explanation for it. This is the one thing we miss without Bombadil: the Barrow Downs. Without that scene, the swords make NO sense. It would have been better to have them scrounge around for weapons that would “do” at Bree and then have Elrond gift them with “proper” weapons at Rivendell.

The “ring on” scenes. Funny, but you’d think if putting the ring on was such a dramatic experience, Bilbo would have realized it wasn’t just “fun”. I can understand that once the ring has crossed into the east, it is a magnet for Sauron and thus, more dramatic to put on, and so it is in the book, but every time Frodo wears it, it’s like a horrid nightmare.I have to wonder HOW they are going to handle the Shelob scenes in which Sam has the ring on for a LONG time, handles a number of orcs-even yelling at them, and of course, stabbing Shelob. Though, to praise a random scene within that criticism: it worked beautifully in the Nazgul scene at Weathertop!

The EYE of Sauron. Ummm...just a bit much, I thought. Of course, this is a “subset” of the previous criticism, since the eye only came out when Frodo was wearing the ring.

The Wizard Duel. Less horrid the second time, I still see no reason for this. It seems to me if Saruman is able to overcome Gandalf, then he would do it quickly, no WWF special effects needed.

Any time a piece is transferred from its original medium, there will be changes and criticisms. What astounds me is how very few criticisms I have. Peter Jackson has done a remarkable job under extremely difficult circumstances. My biggest complaint: I have to wait until December 2002 for the next one!

Also available: Alex Strickland's review of FotR


Related Links:
New Line Cinema's Official LOTR Website
Sir Ian McKellen's Official Webpage


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Peter Jackson

Fran Walsh
Philippa Boyens
Peter Jackson

December 19, 2001

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

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray (Theatrical editions only)

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