Verdict: One of the best - if not THE best - movies of the year.
Review: "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."
When English don J.R.R. Tolkien wrote this ominous incantation decades ago for his epic trilogy, "Lord of the Rings," he certainly never envisioned a zillion movie-goers spellbound in darkness. Yet that's the enchantment director Peter Jackson and his superb cast and crew have created in "The Fellowship of the Ring," the first installment of Tolkien's immensely popular masterwork (100 million copies sold and counting).
Reviewers in Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, etc. have felt compelled to reveal their Tolkien credentials - or lack thereof. Here are mine: I read the books in the late' 60s and while I can't remember every elfish rune or recite the major characters' genealogy, the books were so powerful that something of them has remained with me ever since.
The miracle Jackson has managed is that you can know every nook and cranny of Tolkien's Middle Earth by heart or you can never have gotten any closer to it than your Burger King Frodo goblet to be entranced by this film.
"The Fellowship of The Ring" has the size, the excitement, the sheer movie-ness of such unforgettable films as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" " and "The Empire Strikes Back." You could even throw in more weighty epics like Akira Kurosawa's "Ran" or David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia." Jackson's film is not as multi-layered but it shares their cinematic sweep, their emotional richness and their visual splendor. Whatever it is that makes great movies stand apart from great theater or great literature, this film has it.
There's little reason to relate much more than plot essentials and a who's who of the characters. The story is too good to give anything away.But here's a brief overview.
In an action-packed prologue with massive battle scenes that rival "The Mummy Returns " or "Braveheart," Jackson sketches the Ring's convoluted history and how it came to belong to an affable Hobbit (three-foot-tall hairy-footed folk) named Bilbo (Ian Holm.)
The film proper begins in Bilbo's bucolic home, the Shire. During his 111th birthday party, attended by his wizard friend, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Bilbo bequeaths the Ring to his young cousin, Frodo (Elijah Wood.) Gandalf determines that this is the One Ring, forged by the evil lord, Sauron, eons ago. The only way to destroy the Ring and its malevolent power is to take it to the land of Mordor and throw it into the flames of Mt. Doom where it was formed. The proverbial ordinary soul caught up in extraordinary events, Frodo accepts the Ring's burden: "I will take it, though I do not know the way."
To help him on his onerous and dangerous quest, a fellowship is formed, consisting of Frodo and Gandalf; Frodo's loyal Hobbit friend and servant, Sam (Sean Astin) and the mischievous Hobbit pair, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) ; the mysterious and brooding ranger known as Strider (Viggo Mortensen); the strong-armed warrior, Boromir (Sean Bean); the elfin archer, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the gruffly stalwart dwarf, Gimli (John Rhys-Davies).
Opposing them are Orcs, trolls, Ringwariths (like a combo of Sleepy Hollow's Headless Horseman and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), the monstrous mutant army known as the Urki-Hai, and the fellowship's own weaknesses which the Ring preys upon mercilessly.
Also in the mix are Saruman the White (Christopher Lee), a wizard as powerful as Gandalf; Arwen (Liv Tyler), an elvish warrior-princess; Galadriel (Cate Blnchett), the regal and beautiful elf-queen of Lorien; and the barely-glimpsed Gollum who,as Gandalf says, "still may have a part to play for good or evil."
Some characters have been cut. Others have been amplified or diminished. But Jackson's exceedingly well-crafted script (co-written with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens) employs these changes to the picture's advantage. Characters are used to advance the plot and the plot is used to develop the characters.
The large ensemble cast is flawless, though special mention must be made of Wood, McKellen and Mortensen. As for the way the film looks (both actual locations in New Zealand, where it was filmed, and computer-generated special effects), no matter how you imagined Tolkien's detailed fantasy world would look, Jackson has somehow rendered it exactly as you imagined.
Just as the One Ring waited for thousands of years for the right time to become known again,"The Lord of The Rings" trilogy seems to have waited as well, until the movies' technological magic could match Tolkien's visionary words. The second and third installments are due Christmas 2002 and 2003. The thought of waiting a year to experience more wonders from Jackson and Tolkien is excruciating. My advice: go see "The Fellowship of the Ring" again. And again.
Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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