The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Tolkien's remarkable multi-part fantasy arrives on the big screen with grace and mastery.
This series of books has been a personal delight for me since the initial reading some thirty years prior. Of course, I started with 'the Hobbit'. The stories are fairy tale like in their simplicity and yet beneath remain unimaginably complex. It is this inherent complexity that has stymied movie makers until the advent of CGI. Even so, much of the telling would have to be condensed or the movies would be many hours long. I have read each of these books many times and could easily enjoy them again.
Tolkien, as a professor of linguistic studies at Oxford University, has created several languages for this epic series. Many have sought to connect the tales of 'middle earth' to world events corresponding to the second world war. Tolkien in fact stated long before his demise that he had no such corollaries in mind, and that these stories were meant to entertain his son who was away from home with the war effort.
It is easy to understand why these tales have such broad appeal. It is also easy to understand why many people can't deal with it! The five or more languages of the series require separate names for each plot element. As invented languages, many of the words and phrases are fair jaw crackers to pronounce! The series demands those quality linguistic skills possessed of an educated person, and insists upon capacity enough to suspend any intellectual approach to reality. A true dichotomy. A perfect film for Star Trek lovers.
The actual tale begins with one hobbit (though little is stated in this film). Bilbo Baggins stumbles upon a great ring of power while fleeing a nefarious mob of 'Orcs' (preternatural creations of the dark power). In a time honored tradition of 'middle earth', Bilbo 'wins' the ring in a game of riddling from 'Gollum', it's previous owner. The one ring struggles to return to its' maker and has chosen to drop from 'Gollum's' finger in a dark tunnel. 'Gollum' will become a key player as the plot unfolds. Bilbo accidentally slips the ring onto his finger and discovers... among other gifts... invisibility. The ensuing tale introduces us to the many players featured in the 'fellowship' whose task it is to unmake this evil ring.
The film has fabulous special effects. Middle earth is created with detailed attention to the text. Tolkien lovers will be delighted with what is shown. The movie is well cast. Ian McKellan is the text book perfect wizard (and protagonist) 'Gandalf'. He is at once somewhat endearing, aloof and also quite dangerous. Elijah Wood portrays a fine Frodo Baggins though with a less round face. It is Frodo who inherits the one ring from Bilbo and is beset by a variety of evil doers bent on claiming the ring. Hobbiton is quite well represented with round green doors and the many simple, furry footed dwellers there about. Liv Tyler's role as Arwen Evenstar is far more active than in the books, but then I guess one needs to have a female lead as well. I wonder if Tolkien knew how much New Zealand resembles 'middle earth' for that is where the fabulous location shooting is done.
Some plot elements go unmentioned and will have to be well stated before the next movie enjoys continuity. Pipe weed is a favorite past time of middle earth. It is the very enjoyment thereof that provides a clue to the plots eventual outcome. The friendship of Merry and Pippin, and also that of Sam Gamgee with Frodo is not well represented. Some elements from succeeding books are placed very early in the tale. Saruman gazes into the Palantiri and so we learn that he has already revealed himself to the the dark lord 'Sauron'. 'Strider' is revealed early on as the king 'Aragorn' removing suspense associated with his identity throughout the second book 'the Two Towers'. The tale of Goldberry and Tom Bombadil is completely missing as is the tale of 0ld Man Willow and that of the 'Barrow Wights'. However, the 'Balrog' and the 'Ring Wraiths' are fabulously portrayed. The story is properly integrated with the many peoples who occupy 'middle earth' and their journey towards co-operation.
Three movies were shot and directed all at once... a rare and apparently efficient method of film making. In recent weeks there has been some clamor from fans unwilling to wait until Christmas of 2002 for the second of three installments. Fortunately it is the kind of movie you can see over and over. The DVD is expected to be released in August 2002 along with a good deal of additional footage. At this writing the film has generated some 300 million in domestic box office. That will most likely double owing to the timelessness of the tale and the growing DVD marketplace.