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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Reviewed by Alex Strickland
Posted March 9, 2002

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My, my, my. . . where, oh where, to begin? I’ve seen the film four times now, spent half-a-day all told in a movie theater, and I suppose it’s about time I write my damned review. Regulars of this site and the forums know how much anticipation I’ve had towards these films, and how much I adore Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. Many of you also probably saw my flurry of emotions and stream-of-consciousness ranting that transpired the night I saw it. For those of you who haven’t read it and are curious, you can see it here: Initial Thoughts

Now. . . if you read that, you’ll probably come to the assumption that I either didn’t know what I felt or that I didn’t like the movie. To tell you the truth, I was worried that both of those might have been the case that night. I think the story is so ingrained in my mind I couldn’t really believe it was up on the screen, and couldn’t get my own visions out of my head long enough to enjoy Jackson’s. The morning after was very depressing and heart-breaking, as I didn’t know how I felt. Did I like it? Did I hate it? Why couldn’t I make sense of these stupid emotion things? I was truly worried that the movie did not live up to my expectations.

These worries consumed me on the morning of December 20th, and I vowed that as soon as 2:41 rolled around I would rush home, get ready, and go see the movie again. And. . . I don’t know what happened. That time. . . everything worked for me. It was a wondrous film. I honestly don’t know why I felt like I did (or rather, didn’t) the first time, nor why the film all of a sudden worked for me on the second time, but I can say with relative certainty that Peter Jackson and his cast and crew have brought to life a tale we have cherished in our hearts for the longest of times.

Of course, even the first time in my mix and torrent of feelings and emotions I could tell with absolute sureness that Jackson had done so many things right. The casting, I mean. . .I don’t know how this guy and his team managed to arrange such a uniformly perfect cast for this film. Everyone is great. In all honesty, they are their characters. Gandalf, Frodo, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Bilbo, Boromir, Sam, Merry, Pippin - everyone - they’re all there, up on the silver screen. It’s so hard to choose who to pick as one more deserving of praise among a cast where everyone is so absolutely perfect. Everyone is just so great. . . I hesitate to mention any of them in particular, or I’m going to have to list each and every cast member so that no one gets cheated! I guess that’s just the road we’ll have to take, though. . .

Ian McKellen. Wowzers. Amazering. Stupenderifficus. All that, and more! McKellen is Gandalf, and Gandalf means McKellen! He inhabits the character so perfectly it’s like he’s not even there. . . his friendship with Bilbo and Frodo is so wonderfully executed, and his obvious love for the hobbits and the Shire shine through, and make it all the more sad for the viewers who know what Frodo must endure. McKellen is just so. . . amazing! He has kindness, he has warmth, he has compassion and friendship and love. . . but it also becomes abundantly clear that Gandalf is not someone with whom people f$%@.

This goes for the rest of the main cast, too. They all have subtle layers of emotions, they’re people. . . they make us feel, and they make us think, and they’re real. Elijah Wood as Frodo. Damned if he doesn’t imbue the character with the perfect balance of innocence and courage and everything else that makes Frodo Frodo. And Astin as Sam Gamgee. I cannot wait until the next films so that we can see his character grow and his friendship and love for Frodo shine through as the hobbits make their way towards Mordor and Orodruin, also known as Mount Doom.

The rest of the hobbits are equally magnificent. Ian Holm as Bilbo. . . jeez, I feel like a broken record here, but it needs to be said. Perfect. One of the scenes that stands out in my mind is towards the beginning where Gandalf arrives in Hobbiton and makes his way to Bag-End. When Bilbo opens that lovely, round, green door, and he sees Gandalf again for the first time in who knows how many years. . . well, let me get this out of the way. I am usually not an emotional person when it comes to films. . . it takes a truly great work to move me. It’s very hard to do. But the warmth and friendship between Bilbo and Gandalf is so apparent and believable. . . when they hug, it’s so happy and wondrous, and. . . to think, the entire movie is filled with moments like these. And then, when Frodo meets up with Bilbo again in Rivendell, same deal. . . only towards the end of his stay in the Last Homely House there is a really bittersweet scene. I’m just telling you, if you don’t feel moved during the course of this movie, you’re callous on Ebenezer Scrooge proportions.

And of course, there’s Merry and Pippin, played by Monaghan and Boyd, respectively. These guys are funny in the true sense of the word. Yes, in this film they are mainly used as a bit of comic relief, but it’s welcome and it’s truly humorous. There aren’t any "groaners" from these two. We’re not talking "Jar Jar steps in poo" here. These guys are truly funny and they’re very likable characters. I’m eagerly awaiting how these two change during the course of the movies, I’m expecting great things from Billy and Dominic. They’re quite different than Tolkien’s Merry and Pippin, but I have a feeling they might grow into the characters we knew from the novel throughout the course of this trilogy.

Wow, looks like this review is going to be of epic proportions. I guess it’s appropriate, considering the subject matter. I just feel I can’t short change anybody or anything about this wonderful film. If I don’t praise this cast individually on their own merits I’ll regret it later. . . But now we get to Aragorn and Boromir, the men of the Fellowship. Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn. . . well, this guy is cool. He may be a bad-ass Ranger out of the wild, but he’s also the heir to the throne of Gondor and is in love with Arwen, who, by the way, I really liked. But I’ll get to her later. Viggo perfectly captures the mixed emotions that torment Aragorn. . . his uncertainty regarding his worthiness to ascend to the throne, his doubt about his ability to resist the temptation of the Ring (as his ancestor Isuldur was unable to do) and, well, you know, I’m going into too much detail. I need to move along or else this thing will never get done.

But, Sean Bean as Boromir was also great. I like the character even more than I did in the books, he just makes you feel for him a lot more and you begin to understand him. I don’t know how the rest of you will like him, but I think he worked marvelously. Legolas and Gimli? Great! They kick ass! I would dearly love to extrapolate more on their badassitude but I’m worried I’m going overboard. Let’s just say they kick ass and I can’t wait to see how their friendship develops in The Two Towers through Return of the King. "Let them come! There is yet one dwarf in Moria who still draws breath!" Totally frickin’ cool, I tells ya!

Now, as most of you know, the books and obviously the movies, too, are more male dominated than female. But the female characters that are here work. I, actually. . . I think Liv Tyler as Arwen worked more than Cate Blanchett as Galadriel. I just really dig Arwen, she’s great. She’s beautiful, she’s strong, she’s got a presence. . . and her voice! Equally beautiful! The Elvish just flows from her tongue like honey, it’s so damn cool to listen to. . . in fact, I would recommend ignoring the subtitles during her Elvish scenes just so you can stare into those beautiful eyes and listen to the sounds of Tolkien’s language roll around you. But, uh, I guess I went off on a tangent there. . . anyway, I liked Arwen. How can you not love a gorgeous Elven woman? In the book, her marriage to Aragorn was a complete surprise unless you looked at the subtext of the whole Luthien Tunuviel thing, or read the appendices. . . but. . . I completely agree with Jackson’s decision to expand her character in this first film. It makes a lot more sense.

As for Galadriel. . . well. . . she’s really odd. I like her, but her manner and personality are not how I pictured them in the book. I guess you’ll form your own opinions on her. I’m guessing a lot of you won’t like her, and a lot of you will, and a lot of you won’t know what the hell to think.

Now, let’s get onto other things. . . I’m sure you’ve heard enough of me praising the cast. It’s just so hard not to love everything. For one thing, New Zealand is beautiful. Absolutely, hands-down, totally f$&#ing beautiful. It is Middle-Earth. The cinematography is amazingly wondrous, and fills every inch of the screen with Middle-Earthy goodness. There is also the set design, which doesn’t even seem like they’re anything but real, honest-to-God places. Hobbiton and the Shire are better than even I imagined. I would move into Bag-End in a heart-beat. . . provided I were a few feet shorter. And Moria? My God. Moria! It’s both beautiful and haunting; you could imagine what it was like in its heyday. And Lothlorien is much more beautiful than I imagined, whatever my reservations might be about Galadriel.

However great and spectacular the film is, though, it’s not without its flaws. For someone who’s loved the books and read them incessantly, the film is a bit jarring upon first viewing. Once you adjust to Jackson’s vision, which is neither better or worse than your imagining of Tolkien’s world, merely different, then you will have a blast despite the film’s flaws. Most of the special effects are amazing. The height difference between the actors is done spectacularly, and the only scene I found fault with was the scene where-in Frodo places the Ring on the pedestal in Rivendell. Other than that, it was near-perfect. I found myself wondering how they did some of these things in many scenes. . . I was wowed. The cave troll is appropriately remarkable, and works wondrously, but not so much as the Balrog. Zat eez vone cool Balrog, I veel tell you!

Also impressive is the use of the MASSIVE software to create the armies seen in the prologue as the Last Alliance of Elves and Men battle Sauron’s forces. The shot where the camera swoops close to a cliff to see Orcs falling to Elven archers, before plummeting down to give us a bird’s eye view of the battle? That gave me shivers. The kind of shivers you get when you know something kicks total ass. Unfortunately, not all of the effects work as well as the best of them. Some of them look a tad fake, I’m sad to say. It really pains me, because for a film of this magnitude I would hope that WETA would work equally hard on every part of the movie to try and make it as realistic as could be. Some stuff just doesn’t work. Gwaihir the Wind Lord, the Eagle who saves Gandalf, looks too cartoony as it flies majestically over snow-capped peaks. And however bad-ass he may look afterwards, and believe me he does, our first look at Sauron looks remarkably cheesy. Is it just me, or does Sauron have a beer belly in that shot? This is very unfortunate because he really rocks later on. . . I don’t see why they had to leave in the shot of Sauron looking like an overweight hick who found a suit of armor one night after a Budwieser binge.

There is also one scene in the movie that just does not really work. That would be the infamous wizard duel scene. The first time, I found it horribly embarrassing; the second time, I thought it would work, but it desperately needed to be cut down. Maybe one or two attacks, maximum. It went on way too long, and as such I felt didn’t work. I have a few other minor quibbles, but they’re not really important.

But before I go, I want to address Howard Shore’s score. In a word? Perfect. The way it weaves in and out, and addresses the scene, and enhances the emotion - without it, the film wouldn’t be nearly as good. The way you’ll hear a touch of the hobbit’s theme interwoven into a scene at the right time. . . goddamn, man, it’s genius. Pure genius.

Peter Jackson and gang have created a masterpiece that will stand for ages. There is no question that it is one of my favorite films of all time. I have some issues with it, but many of those will most likely be put aside with the appearance of the deleted scenes come the DVD; so for now, I’m counting down the days until Jackson continues Tolkien’s epic tale in The Two Towers. Frodo lives!

Also available: Eliza Dolots 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

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