Lord Of The Rings: first impressions
10 December 2001
By Paul Arendt
The Fellowship Of The Ring, the first film in epic fantasy trilogy The Lord Of The Rings, has had its UK premiere at last. Teletext critic Paul Arendt was among the first to see the movie. Here he gives his first impressions...
As the screen faded to black, 2,000 people sat in the auditorium of the Odeon Leicester Square in total silence.
Normally at this stage you'd hear the shuffling of bags, yawns...three hours is a long time to sit still, after all. But there was just the silence. And then, after what felt like an age, the applause.
With The Fellowship Of The Ring, the much-maligned fantasy genre finally has the film it deserves.
That is to say, a film that's unashamededly about wizards, goblins, elves and other such guff, but that also deals with the grandest of themes: courage, friendship, war and corruption.
We are used to film-makers and PR people telling us that their movies are about "the epic struggle between good and evil." Well, here's one that really is.
So, those big questions:
Is it any good? Yes, absolutely.
Is it better than Harry Potter? Oh, please. Harry Potter isn't even in the same league.
Is it true to the book? To the spirit of the book, certainly.
Will children like it? Yes, but it's liable to scare the living hell out of them.
'An enormous achievement'
This is the story, in case you didn't already know, of Frodo the hobbit, chosen by fate to carry a monstrously powerful magic ring to the only place it can be destroyed, the dark land of Mordor.
Essentially, it's a road-movie. Frodo is accompanied by a multicultural fellowship: a wizard, an elf, a dwarf, two men and a trio of hobbits.
They face many perils; servants of evil hunting for the ring, orcs, trolls and even a Jules Verne-style giant squid.
The first thing you notice is how beautiful the film is. Director Peter Jackson's frequently airborne camera sweeps over panoramas of mountain and forest, and travels in an eyeblink from bucolic hobbit villages to the dark, pounding caverns of Mordor.
In this landscape, it would be easy to lose sight of such slight figures as hobbits, but the film's real strength is the care it takes with character.
The cast, with one or two exceptions, is outstanding. Elijah Wood's Frodo, with his big wounded eyes and steely resolve, is a genuinely affecting hero.
Ian McKellen's Gandalf is full of wry affection, while Sean Bean, Viggo Mortensen and the rest bring volumes to roles that are - of necessity - only sketched in by the script.
Only Cate Blanchett's elf queen really disappoints. Surrounded by performances of fierce commitment, she alone seems rather embarrassed by the material.
What Fellowship has, and what most blockbusters on this scale lack, is a palpable sense of evil.
While rarely overtly gory, the film is often very frightening, and even if you know the story backwards there are moments when the Fellowship's chances seem slim indeed.
It is certainly possible to sit back and chuckle at the reams of earnest mumbo-jumbo, the elvish subtitles and silly names. But if you surrender to its spell, Fellowship leaves you both shaken and moved.
Love it or hate it, there is no doubting that this is an enormous achievement.
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