Written by Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh
Running Time: 2:58
as Frodo Baggins
From top to bottom, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, is a brilliant piece of filmmaking. It is easily one of the best films of the year.
The movie opens with an introduction to what we're about to see. Thousands of years ago, three groups were given rings, rings that were to grant them powers over their respective dominions. Three rings for the elves, seven rings for the dwarfs, and nine rings for the humans. But the rings were not what they appeared to be. They were in fact created by the Dark Lord Sauron who also created a ring for himself, a ring that held all the powers of evil. One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them. And with this ring, Sauron marched through Middle Earth, capturing and killing anyone that got in his way. Until one man was able to cut the ring off Sauron's finger, killing him instantly, and leaving his army of darkness powerless. The ring should have been destroyed, but the evil power of the ring corrupts all who come near it, and it was taken away from Mt. Doom. But men would kill for that ring, and in fact the man with the ring was killed, and the ring lost for thousands of years, and almost forgotten.
A creature named Gollum found the ring at the bottom of a lake, and for decades lived with it in his cave, slowly driving him insane. By chance, he loses the ring, and a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) finds it, and takes it to the Shire where he lives. The movie then opens 60 years later, with Bilbo now over 100 years old, and not looking a day older than when he found the ring. His friend, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) recognizes the ring, and knows that it must be destroyed. But Bilbo no longer can deal with the world he lives in, and he heads off to the land of the elves, leaving the ring with his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood). While Gandalf goes to figure out how to get rid of the ring, Frodo, along with his friends Sam (Sean Astin), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and Merry (Dominic Monaghan), travel to the land of the elves. Along the way the Ringwraiths, the nine humans who were given the rings of power by Sauron, and now are trapped between life and death, always searching for the One Ring, track down Frodo. The eye of Sauron is always watching them, always following their every move. He was not killed thousands of years ago, because his being is tied to the ring. Until the ring is destroyed, Sauron will always be around.
Gandalf, while turning to his mentor, Saruman (Christopher Lee) for help, is betrayed and cannot meet Frodo and his friends. He is trapped in a skyscraping prison from where he cannot escape. But Strider (Viggo Mortensen), a mysterious ranger finds them and helps them on their way. He knows what Frodo carries, and understands the power it possesses. During their trip to the elves, Frodo is injured and can only be saved by elfin magics. A beautiful woman (Liv Tyler as Arwen) rescues him, and out runs the Wraiths to her home. There, Frodo is treated and finds Gandalf who has, with the help of a butterfly, managed to escape. When they get to the land of the elves, a meeting is held between all the groups of Middle Earth, to decide what to do with the ring. It is decided that the ring must be destroyed, and the only way to destroy the ring, is to bring it back to where it was created, Sauron's home in Mt. Doom. A Fellowship of Nine is created to bring the ring back. Boromir (Sean Bean), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) join Frodo, Sam, Pippin, Merry, Gandalf and Strider. Their path is difficult and fraught with danger. The group is slowly torn apart by the power of the ring, and tragedy strikes the group on more than one occasion. In the end, we are left wondering what will happen to the group and the powerful Ring. I have never read the books, so forgive me if my recap is a bit off. There are a lot of strange names in the story, and keeping track of them can be difficult.
The Fellowship of the Ring deserves all the praise it has been given. It is an absolutely stunning picture. Visually it is probably the most beautiful film I've ever seen. Peter Jackson would not have been my first choice to helm this picture, but I take my hat off to him, cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, editor John Gilbert, and especially production designer Grant Major. Words cannot do justice to the beauty of the film. Every scene, every location, every shot was as close to technically perfect as I have seen. The battle scenes were fast and furious, the scenery was rich and lush and full of life.
It's hard not to compare this to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, two beloved books taking place in mystical and mythical lands. But this is the movie Harry Potter should have been. While I love Potter and I love the books, and the movie was great, it didn't have the look and feel I wanted. It felt cold and distant and too real. The Fellowship of the Ring felt like I was actually in a magical land, full of creatures and beings that we don't see here. Potter felt like I was just in another part of London (which admittedly we were supposed to be in, but it didn't have to actually look like we were), while with the Ring I felt like I was in Middle Earth, a place where none of us had gone before. From the rich greens of the fields in the Shire, to the haunting beauty of the lady of the woods, to the underground lairs of the creatures of the dark, every location was wonderfully created with serious attention paid to the littlest details.
For someone who had not read the books, I was immediately drawn in to the story. The opening sequence was an ideal way to get people like me into what the movie was going to be about. In just five minutes I understood the evil of Sauron, the importance of the ring, and who was about to take the journey to destroy the ring. And the opening also set the tone for the rest of the film with the massive battle sequence between Sauron's army and the people trying to stop him. The movie runs just under three hours, but I never noticed the time, and in fact was left hanging at the end, eagerly anticipating the sequel due out Christmas 2002. I would have been more than happy to sit there for another six hours to watch the next two parts.
I was very impressed by the combination of set design and computer animation. Some of the shot sequences were very impressive, moving at a rapid pace from one location to the next, without a break, and still showing an amazing amount of detail. One sequence in particular stood out, where there was a battle in the woods and the camera seemed to be hanging from a wire overhead. That portion of the battle started on one end of the woods, and was shot from above with out break for about 30-45 seconds as the camera moved across the top of the fighting. That sort of camera work happened often, taking us from outside a cave, through a hole into the underground dwellings, without cutting from scene to scene. It allowed me to feel more like I was part of the action, rather than just watching it.
I enjoyed the class of actors involved in the film. Ian McKellen as Gandalf was extremely powerful. Viggo Mortensen as Strider/Aragon was calm and unflappable and I believed he was ready to lay down his life to protect Frodo and the Ring. But my favorite character had to be Orlando Bloom as Legolas. He didn't say much, but his abilities with the bow and arrow were cool to watch. Elijah Wood as Frodo was good, but after a while he started to get on my nerves with his puppy dog, scared look in his eyes. At least towards the end of the movie he started to build a spine as he continued his trek to Mt. Doom. I was disappointed that Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett, so prominently featured in the trailers and promotion, actually had pretty small roles in this film. They will however have roles in the next two films, but I'm not sure how big they will be. I also loved the really bad guys that were dug up from underneath the trees (needs to be seen to be believed). They are truly evil and a dark force that show no mercy.
The music was fairly standard for this type of mythical action-drama. It hit the bass notes when needed, and hit the frothy notes at other times, but for the most part stayed in the background. I found at times some of the dialogue, especially when Gandalf would whisper, was hard to understand. Since a lot of the names and some of the rest of the dialogue was in another language, or at least hard to understand, it made it doubly hard to understand when they would be inaudible. For the most part however, the story was straightforward enough to comprehend, and the characters and who they were and what their motivation was, was easy enough to follow. I never felt like I was lost or at a loss to grasp why they would do certain things.
So overall, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was a magical and magnificent film. Having a Harry Potter bias, and almost feeling like there was a competition between the two films, I went into Rings hoping it wouldn't be good. But I was immediately converted into a fan. Chris Columbus, I hope you're paying attention; this is what a movie should look like. Peter Jackson and his crew should be commended for taking a book that millions of people love and cherish, and turning it into a movie for all time.
© 2001 Wolfpack Productions