Dec 14 2001
After all the recent hype surrounding Harry Potter's transition to the big screen, you might be forgiven for thinking that we've had our share of magical movies this year. But you'd be wrong because here's the one we've really been waiting for.
In case you've had your head stuck down a Hobbit hole for the past year, The Fellowship Of The Ring is the first of a three-part, live-action, big-screen adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings - JRR Tolkien's phenomenally successful trilogy. This is a work that critics and public alike have applauded and which has become as much a part of modern life as the TV. And the good news is that the film is fantastic.
Tolkien's books evoke the strange world of Middle-earth - a wondrous but dark place steeped in its own culture and mythology, and inhabited by dwarves, humans, elves, wizards, trolls, hobbits, and such like. Don't panic if it's already sounding too airy-fairy and complicated, this film makes your entry into his magical kingdom surprisingly welcoming.
The action opens with humble hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) hosting a massive party in honour of his 111th birthday, at his home in the Shire. But the festivities have hardly got under way before Bilbo makes an unexpected early exit.
He hopes to avoid questions about his planned retirement to elf country to finish a book he's been working on. What he does do before leaving is give away all his possessions, entrusting a magic ring to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood). Although they know it has special powers, neither hobbit realises quite what the ring is capable of.
Luckily, Frodo's friend, the wise wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), knows that the ring can be used to wield absolute power over Middle-earth, and it must be destroyed before it falls into the hands of the evil Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor (Sala Baker).
It is up to Frodo, who is now the ring's owner, to embark on a perilous quest to Mount Doom to dispose of it - an adventure made all the more dangerous because of the dark forces that the ring attracts. Along the way, Frodo has to draw on his inner strength and act as a buffer between good and evil.
Along with Gandalf and his hobbit friends Sam, Pippin and Merry, he leaves the Shire for the world outside, unprepared for the terrors and hidden dangers that lie ahead. They are joined on their journey by various humans, warriors and an elf princess Arwen (Liv Tyler) who all bond as The Fellowship. The nine friends are pitched against the might of an evil wizard, fearsome Orcs and the terrifying ringwraith riders, who are all hellbent on retrieving the ring for Sauron.
This is certainly one of the best fantasy films ever made and it will probably shoot straight into everyone's list of Top 10 films.
All the cast are uniformly brilliant, but special mention should go to Elijah Wood in a very difficult central role. Sean Bean as brave Fellowship warrior Boromir, who also has an inner battle raging against the temptations of the ring, does well, while Aussie star Cate Blanchett was born to play Galadriel the powerful but beautiful elf queen.
Yet it's the veteran stars who really stand out - Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Christopher Lee as wizard Saruman, the arch enemy of The Fellowship who is in league with Sauron. Both bring a great depth and maturity to their respective roles and impressive weight to the cast.
The film's battle scenes are to die for, involving some of the best action I've ever seen on screen. (Like Jurassic Park, it gets a PG rating but some of the scenes might be a bit too violent for the very young, so be warned.) And the melding of special effects and live action is pure genius.
At just under three hours, it is bum-numbingly long, but it's rare that I sit through a film with such a running time without wanting to stretch my legs or look at my watch. I'm happy to report that neither impulse came over me while watching The Fellowship Of The Ring.
Even the supporting cast, with Liv Tyler and Viggo Mortensen as the romantic interest, do fantastically well in their given roles. The whole thing looks amazing - as dark and sinister as anything your imagination could conjure up - and the attention to detail is astounding.
It all shoots along at breakneck speed while never ignoring important plot points or favouring action and effects above developing fully-rounded characters.
Kiwi director Peter Jackson has done wonderfully well. And let's face it, with such an ambitious undertaking he would never have been forgiven if he'd got it wrong. I'm looking forward immensely to the remaining films which are released in the next two Christmases, and just hope that they too manage to keep the magic alive.
Now I have a confession to make. I've never actually read either The Hobbit or The Lord Of The Rings. But although I suspect that fans of the books might get a little more from the movie than I did, the script is such a fabulous achievement that never once did I feel left out. And, more importantly, I haven't had so much fun in ages.
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