LOTR Review - Canada.com

Jackson lords it over 'Rings'
Joseph Ruttle 

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Rating: four stars out of five)

Lord of the Rings is a massive book trilogy about a pretty simple story: an epic journey featuring a little guy who -- in spite of or perhaps because of his humble ways -- finds himself at the heart of a monumental battle between good and evil.

Tolkien's books are so dense with quasi-religious imagery, invented worlds and outlandish characters mouthing imaginary languages that it can all seem overwhelming. How many people do you know who read The Hobbit, moved on to the big three and stalled somewhere around their 50th runic alphabet test?

I'm one of them. That's why I'm glad director Peter Jackson has obviously lived, breathed and eaten every little tidbit of Rings arcana, then distilled it into one thrilling movie. (And yes, two to follow, but you'll have to wait till December 2002 and 2003 for those.)

The first of his three-part series is an action-packed and often astonishingly beautiful film packed with details of the Tolkien original -- but also clearly focused on that simple story at the core of the author's sometimes bloated fantasy world.

A good example of Jackson's faithfulness is the rendering of slithering dungeon-dweller Golem. Seeing the creature in the half-light of a cave early on in The Fellowship of the Rings, I felt I was seeing an onscreen version of the inside of my head the first time I read about the little creep.

The characters are almost uniformly splendid: Ian McKellen as Gandalf embodies the wizened, mischievous magic man; the Elven characters walk around with a radiant presence that's part good acting, part brilliant lighting; and others, from old hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) to a cranky fight-loving dwarf, all seem to have jumped right off the page.

My only complaint is with our little hero Frodo, played with aggravating wide-eyed wonder by Elijah Wood. He's so emotive, so crazy-cute, it's hard to take him as a hair-footed hobbit. He's more overcoached child actor than anything, coming dangerously close at times to looking like a teary clown on black velvet.

The true star of Jackson's part one (which truly does end with a sense that this is merely the first episode) is the environments he creates. Mixing astounding natural scenery almost seamlessly with the constructed wonders of a computer-created prehistoric world, there's more happening in a few frames of this film visually than in most sci-fi films end to end.

But these aren't static landscapes. The camera flies and swoops and zooms through it all, without losing track of the characters who themselves are tossing about within them. And it's not pretty-pretty most of the time: lots of ghoulish orcs and devil beasts and blood-dripping death riders here to amuse the dark side.

Like Star Wars, this is a movie that sometimes skips over subtlety in its characters in order to stick close to its slightly smarmy mythic lessons. But that's OK; the creatures of Lord of the Rings are just part of the spectacular vistas it offers on a created world.

It's hard not to love an epic adventure delivered with this much adrenalin and artistic flair. And yes, I guess I loved it. Just tell that gushy Frodo guy I'm not ready for his closeup.

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