Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring

Blazing across the screen like the masterstrokes of a true artist, “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” is true epic entertainment in every sense of the word. Director Peter Jackson so perfectly captures the very essence of J.R.R.


Tolkien’s trilogy of books that you are instantly transported into the mythical Middle-Earth inhabited by wise wizards, heroic hobbits and humans, brave elves and dwarves, all consumed in the ultimate battle between good and evil.

Like the books, “Fellowship of the Ring” is the first act of a film trilogy. The second installment, “The Two Towers,” arrives Christmas 2002, with the final episode “Return of the King” due Christmas 2003. Jackson shot all three films back to back, spending 16 months in New Zealand bringing Tolkien’s massive work to life.

Unlike other first films in a series, “Fellowship of the Ring” doesn’t feel top heavy. Writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson have done a superior job of laying out the groundwork without weighing down the film. The screenplay is extremely accessible without being insulting, allowing newcomers and devoted fans to share in the excitement.

There’s more than enough excitement in “Fellowship of the Ring” to fill three movies. After a brief prelude that efficiently explains the history of the rings and the war to control them, we’re immediately thrown into the world of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Woods), a wide-eyed Hobbit living with his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm), who is celebrating his 111th birthday. Attending the celebration is Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), a friend of the family and a wise wizard.

When Gandalf learns that Bilbo is in possession of the ring of the evil lord Sauron, a ring that will give Sauron ultimate power of Middle Earth, he demands that Bilbo get rid of it. Then Gandalf finds out that Frodo has the power to see the hidden message on the ring, indicating that he has been chosen as the ringbearer, the one who must return the ring to its point of origin to be destroyed forever.

Frodo is accompanied on his treacherous trek to Mount Doom by fellow hobbit Sam (Sean Astin), and later by shire troublemakers Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin Took (Billy Boyd). While Gandalf reasons with fellow wizard Saruman the White (Christopher Lee), who has fallen under Sauron’s spell, Frodo and his fellow hobbits find themselves on the adventure of a lifetime.

They are quickly joined by human “Ranger” Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), a big and burly ax- wielding dwarf named Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), elf bowman Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Boromir of Gondor (Sean Bean), a human whose loyalty is constantly under question. Rejoined by Gandalf, the nine member fellowship makes their way through numerous deadly encounters and close calls, all vividly brought to life by Jackson and his talented team of magicians.

The performers are so perfect in their roles that we immediately get a sense of who their character is. From the moment we meet Frodo we know that we’re in the company of a wide-eyed innocent. Frodo grows a lot in “Fellowship of the Ring,” and Elijah Wood makes the transition believable. His wide range of emotions allow him to navigate the plots many highs and lows.

Ian McKellen conjures up a winning performance as the wise Gandalf, who has seen his share of evil. It’s not a costume performance, but one filled with humor and pathos. When McKellen isn’t on the screen we miss him. Christopher Lee is absolutely chilling as the possessed Saruman, whose army of Orcs is one of the films most memorable visuals.

Unlike “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Fellowship of the Rings” features dark and scary creatures that are really dark and scary. The evil unleashed by the evil lord Sauron, determined to retrieve the ring at all cost, is truly terrifying. Fire monsters, sea creatures, monstrous Orcs, and the Nazgul, known as the “Black Riders,” provide the film with an edge that might give some members of the audience nightmares.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of heroics to offset the onslaught of evil. Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, John Rhys-Davies, and Orlando Bloom are excellent as the full-sized members of the fellowship, while Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd rise to the occasion as the pint- sized members of the team. Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett are lovely as elf queens who help the men in their quest, while Holm is engaging as Frodo’s misguided uncle Bilbo.

Jackson spent a lot of money bringing the trilogy to the screen, and every penny is up there on the screen. Even though he draws upon state of the art digital effects, Jackson also utilizes detailed miniatures that lend a surreal mood to the film. His use of in-camera trick photography, especially in scenes featuring small and tall characters, is absolutely amazing.

At first you wonder how in the world he did it, then after about two minutes you totally buy into it. You accept that we’re in world where dwarves and elves co-mingle with hobbits and humans. We accept everything we see, from the familiar to the fantastic. Mythology is so difficult to pull off because one slip can expose the fantasy. Jackson avoids the problem by making a film that is completely seamless. Once you’re into the story, that’s where you stay for three hours.

Three hours is just the start. When “Fellowship of the Ring” ended, not only did the audience applaud, they were very verbal in their desire to see the next one. Several people said they couldn’t wait. I heard children ask their parents what happens next, only to be told that they would have to read the books. Wow. Here’s a film that not only fulfills its obligation to entertain, it also inspires audiences to pick up the book to learn more.

Jackson and his crew are to be commended for their passion. “Fellowship of the Ring” isn’t cookie-cutter filmmaking, but a unique experience that obviously required a lot of love and labor. All that effort is visible on the screen. Every frame is a reminder that in the right hands, great literature can translate into great cinema.

ENGAGEMENT RING

Big screen adaptation of Tolkien book filled with wonder

LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

Elijah Woods, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Christopher Lee, Orlando Bloom. Directed by Peter Jackson. Rated PG-13. 178 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $7.00



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