The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings is notable because not only is it great reading, people also consider it great literature. Tolkien fans have been rabidly craving a big budget adaptation of his novels (especially after a so-so Ralph Bashki adaptation), and this new film is definitely worth the wait. Director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners), who shot the three films that compromise the trilogy back-to-back, had the arduous task of condensing hundreds of pages into three movies. The Fellowship of the Ring, the first novel, is three hours, yet omits many things and adds others. Jackson and Francis Walsh (The Frighteners, Jack Brown Genius) and Philippa Boyens do manage to retain the spirit of the novel in their changes, so hardcore fans may actually be satisfied. The result is a dazzling, fantastic adventure full of heroes and villains (both obvious and not-so-obvious) and elements of romance, humor, betrayal, drama, and all other factors that make a film truly epic on proportion. The Fellowship of the Ring is easily accessible to people who have never read Tolkien, and a treat for fans.

The Fellowship of the Ring follows the young hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood, Black and White, The Faculty) and his quest to destroy a magic ring. The ring belonged to the dark Lord Sauron, who after many years is slowly regaining his power. Any use of the ring will alert Sauron to Frodo's whereabouts, and also slowly corrupt him. Hobbits are small, peaceful folk that dwell in Tolkien's Middle Earth. Humans, dwarves, elves, orcs, and goblins also populate the landscape. Of all these races, hobbits are by far the meekest, which makes it all the more unbelievable that one should be responsible for wielding and destroying such a powerful weapon. To guide him on his quest, eight others join with him to lead him to Mount Doom, where Frodo must cast the ring back into the fires that built it. Chief among Frodo's fellowship is the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, X-Men, Cirque du Soleil: The Journey of Man), who has more knowledge about the ring that most.

Sauron's agents are already looking for Frodo, which makes his quest all the more dangerous. A significant portion of Fellowship involves Frodo and company journeying. Jackson shot the film in his native New Zealand, utilizing its diverse landscapes. It gives a sense of largeness to Frodo's quest. He journeys through forbidding forests, rugged, mountainous areas, peaceful valleys, and blizzard-like passes. Jackson uses natural landscapes (sometimes with a little help with paint and/or computers) to vividly create Middle Earth. His use of long angles only furthers the fact that Frodo and company have a long way to go. This world looks like the real world, but just different enough to make it special, and brimming with imagination. The costumes, make-up, and CGI effects blend seamlessly together. One of the reasons Jackson wanted to make this adaptation was because with current technology, he could adequately convey his take on Tolkien's world. Along with all the special effects are simple tricks. Hobbits are really short. Jackson uses simple camera tricks to show this. Oversized furnishings and houses are the norm. When looking at hobbits, he films down. When looking at humans, he films up. What is really mind-boggling is when he has both on screen at the same time. McKellan looks nearly twice as large as Wood on screen, although in real life this is not the case. As for the other races, orcs and goblins look surprising frightening. Elves are tall and willowy, and dwarves stout and ill tempered. In other words, everybody looks like they should.

There is a lot of plot in Fellowship. Aside from Frodo's quest, Jackson is trying to bring forth much of the current political upheaval in Middle Earth. Heck, he recaps The Hobbit in about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, some of the detail does not come through, but Jackson does hew closely to his overall theme. Apparent through the entire movie is the underlying battle between good and evil, and the seemingly impossible odds that Frodo must face. Also, because of time constraints, Fellowship is not able to delve deeply into many of the supporting characters. The one with the most screen time is Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen, 28 Days, A Walk on the Moon), the last heir to a kingdom who decides to aid Frodo. This is Wood's largest role to date, and he is up to the task. Sadly, other good actors like Ian Holm (From Hell, Bless the Child), Cate Blanchett (Bandits, The Gift) and John Rhys-Davies (Scorcher, The Gold Cross) do not have enough time to really flex their acting muscles. At the same time, Jackson needs to lay the foundation for the next two films, so he includes small segments with even more characters. Judging by his performance here, The Two Towers and The Return of the King will (hopefully) be just as good if not better, and with a year to go before the next release, the anticipation will surely be high.

Haro Rates It: Really Good.
2 hours, 58 minutes, Rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images.

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