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Retro Review: The Fellowship of the Ring

Short Attention Span Review™

The Fellowship of the Ring

4.5

The Fellowship of the RingWeighing in at very close to three hours, The Fellowship of the Ring is already a classic, without a doubt. I knew in my nerdy heart of hearts, walking out of the theater, that I'd just watched a new cinematic classic. Peter Jackson's depiction of Middle-earth is epic, atmospheric, and spot on! There is now little doubt that the remaining two movies will be nothing short of excellent.

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The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on December 19th, 2001.

Here are some updated thoughts:  I remember going to the midnight showing back in 2001.  The theater was sold out and we had to sit near the front.  Amy got a little motion sick during the swooping fly overs of the armies fighting on the slopes of Mount Doom at the beginning.  LOL!  In the review below I say that FotR became an instant classic the day it was released, and I was right.  Unfortunately Peter Jackson has gone the way of George Lucas as alluded near the end.  Not that PJ went back and monkeyed with the LotR films, but he didn’t take to heart what he learned and extend that to the new Hobbit movies.  Where the LotR movies feel epic, grand in scale, full of color, life, real locales and characters . . . The Hobbit movies feel the exact opposite.  Lifeless, fake, and full of cookie cutter character portrayals.  Watching them feels like watching someone play a video game.

Has Jackson diminished the legacy of his Lord of the Rings movies?  No.  One can easily enjoy them without partaking in the prequel nonsense that The Hobbit movies actually are.  Fifteen years from now people will still lovingly remember the LotR movies, while no one will remember The Hobbit movies.

Three rings for the Elven kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarven lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.

Mount Doom
 

BACKGROUND:

It’s been a long road that many of us trod, and now we’ve finally reached its end.

Tolkien’s literary masterpiece of fantasy had been rumored to be made into a live action film for decades.  The Ralph Bakshi version delivered to the fans back in 1978 left many people with a bad taste in their mouth . . . and an even longer wait ahead of them.  Approximately three years ago the rumors started anew.  The Lord of the Rings would become a movie!  Who would direct this epic?  Spielberg! everyone thought.  Nope.  Peter Jackson.  Who?  You know, the guy who made The Frighteners.  Who . . . Wha . . . Wait a minute!  The New Zealander wasn’t exactly known as someone who could handle telling a story of this scale . . . and he’s had a lot to live up to over the years.  Those three years have passed, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent, numerous production photos have been leaked, and Peter Jackson managed to finish the project without having a heart attack, or killing anyone.  More importantly, hundreds of millions of fans across the globe have been waiting for the one movie that probably rivals the Star Wars series when it comes to fan and media expectations.  How did it turn out?  Let’s take a look.

THE STORY:

For those who haven’t read the books or aren’t familiar with the story, I’m going to keep this simple.  The story revolves around Frodo Baggins (a hobbit) who inherits a ring from his uncle who found it on an adventure in his youth (see The Hobbit).  As it turns out the ring is in fact The One Ring, created by the Dark Lord Sauron (who is basically a fallen angel) to control the rings of power in possession of the three major races in Middle-earth.  Seven rings for the Dwarf Lords, three rings for the Elven Kings, and nine rings for Mortal Men . . . doomed to die.  Sauron put most of his power into the ring when he forged it, and he’s been searching for it for centuries.  If he finds it his power will grow to what it once was and he’ll plunge Middle-earth into war and will rule over all the free lands.  Gandalf guides Frodo along with the Fellowship on a journey to Mt. Doom (where the One Ring was forged) in order to destroy it, and thus destroy Sauron forever.  The introduction narration does a good job setting up the background . . . including scenes of a 3000 year younger Sauron the power of his “youth” when he was in possession of the One Ring.

How does the movie compare with the classic book?  Very close actually.  Most of my complaints are very minor and revolve around the small changes that were made to be able to compress the first book down to a manageable three hours of screen time.  I won’t go into every one of them, but suffice to say that only die-hard fans will notice the small changes, and it affects the story-line in no way whatsoever.  But, there are two things that I must complain about: Arwen (Aragorn’s love interest) and Lurtz (Saruman’s head orc).

Let’s start with Arwen.  In the books she is a very minor character who is the daughter of Elrond (Hugo Weaving), displying little power remaining to Elves in Middle-earth.  In the movie she is some sort of elf warrior who saves Frodo from the Nazgul at the ford near Rivendell.  She replaces a bona fide Elf-lord, namely Glorfindel.  Poor Glorfindel . . . no respect given.  In Bakshi’s animated version he was replaced by Legolas.  In addition, it appears Arwen commands magic and can control water.  None of these are true.  She doesn’t save Frodo (not even in the scene), and cannot command magic to control water.  It is her father Elrond that causes the river to rise up against the Nagzul because he possesses one of the three Elvish rings (though never mentioned in the film).  The whole reason she exists in the first movie is to provide a strong female character in divergence to all the male characters, and to flesh out a minor plot line involving romance with Aragorn.

Then there’s Lurtz.  This chief orc of Saruman never existed.  He was added (as far as I can tell) to give the Fellowship something menacing to strike back at when confronted with Saruman’s Uruk-hai . . . sort of an extension of Saruman’s physical evil and influence on screen.  Admittedly, he’s pretty damn cool, and I can certainly live with it . . . be he was never a character.

Other than these two additions, the story is spot on.  The right things were cut (chiefly Tom Bombadil) and the right things tweaked to keep the story VERY faithful to the first book.  The council of Elrond was very short though, and I wished the Balrog was on the screen more.  Speaking of the Balrog.  Wow.  Very nice indeed.  Almost exactly how I imagined it . . . but more on that in the FX section.  So, Tolkien fans . . . be very happy.

The Fellowship of the RingFrodo Baggins lives a peaceful life in the Shire until he inherits his uncle Bilbo’s curious magic ring.  He is soon caught up in a quest to destroy the One Ring . . . the ring borne by Sauron and the ring that carries the essence of his power.  If Sauron regains the One Ring he will bend all of Middle-earth to his will.  Frodo sets out with a fellowship of friends, strangers, and one potential traitor on a quest to unmake the ring Sauron so covets.  But to do so he must dodge Ringwraths, orcs, and trolls on his way to the very doorstep of Sauron’s lands.

The Fellowship of the Ring
Director:  Peter Jackson
Starring:  Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin
Cate Blanchett
Genre:  Fantasy
Media:  Film, 178 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Year: December 19, 2001
4.5 out of 5 stars

THE CAST:

As I’ve stated previously, the casting is brilliant, except for Liv Tyler as Arwen (an elf).  ALL of the cast put in top notch performances and deliver the goods.  It’s hard to deliver a line in a fantasy movie without sounding corny and geeky, but they manage to pull it off.  Absolutely no complaints in this department.

THE FX:

The special effects is the other part of the puzzle that makes this movie so wonderful and true to Tolkien’s work.  The hobbits look like Tolkien intended, as proportionally small humans.  There are a couple scenes where the matting and scaling is noticeable . . . but the rest of the movie is quite seamless.  All the great shots from the book are there.  Giant citadels, vast armies, a glimpse of Gollum, Mordor, the watcher in the water, Moria, Rivendell, and of course the Balrog.

Though the confrontation between Gandalf and the Balrog is short, it is nothing short of spectacular.  Most FX shops probably would have gone all out to show us how adept they were are creating detailed and frightening creatures.   Not Jackson and WETA . . . that’s not what a Balrog is.  It is a creature of flame, shadow, and death.  As such it is shown as a giant seething, flaming, black, smokey demon wielding it’s flaming sword and whip.  You can’t get a real good look at him because he’s on fire, or shrouded in smoke.  Extremely cool, and as I mentioned above exactly as I would have imagined it!!!!   The cave troll battle within Moria was also great.  And speaking of Moria . . . the vastness is there.  Vast, ancient, decrepit, dark . . . full of dank death and orcs.

The imagination put into some of the CGI sets is exactly as I pictured it.  Probably because most of the work was based on art and concept art that most Tolkien fans already know, namely by Alan Lee.  Orthanc for instance (Saruman’s citadel), looked exactly like many artists have imagined it over the years.

BOTTOMLINE:

Weighing in at very close to three hours, The Fellowship of the Ring is already a classic, without a doubt.  I knew in my nerdy heart of hearts, walking out of the theater, that I’d just watched a new cinematic classic.  Peter Jackson is about to be put up on a pedestal next to George Lucas when it comes to a fan driven franchise, with all the good and bad that comes along with it.  There is now little doubt that the remaining two movies will be nothing short of excellent . . . and very faithful to the books.  The problem is we have to wait a whole damn YEAR!!!!

Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen
Editor/Webmaster - Engineer by training, nerd by passion. Speculative fiction has influenced me since I was a kid, guiding me to the career I have now, and likely saving me from myself during times in my young life when the path was fraught with a minefield of choices. I dabble in tech, game, film, fiction, and writing. These are my true passions, and have been since the summer of '77.