Wednesday, December 19, 2001
By DREW McANULTY -- Ottawa Sun
Frodo Baggins is taught in the Fellowship of the Ring that size doesn't matter, that even the smallest can affect the outcome of the future.It's a lesson obviously not lost on filmmaker Peter Jackson, who was handed the terrible responsibility of bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's classic Lord of the Rings trilogy to the screen.
While Jackson's work is a sprawling wonderment of epic proportions, it never forgets the little things -- a wizard's smile, a look of amazement in a hobbit's eyes or a tear on the cheek of a warrior -- that bring home even the most fantastic situations.
Tolkien, an English professor of medieval literature who took nearly two decades to complete his mythological fantasy of life in Middle Earth, found success by creating a world and characters so detailed they were almost palpable.
Tolkien is considered by many the finest author of the 20th century and his writings are followed by a legion of fans who stretch to every corner of the globe.
When they step into theatres Dec. 19, those fans will be happy to know Jackson hasn't let them down. And for neophytes to the land of orcs and wizardry, the adventure, void of any preconceptions, might be more rewarding.
The film opens with a prologue that nicely encapsulates the tale of how magical rings were handed out to the leaders of Middle Earth who unwittingly fell under the power of the evil Sauron, who possessed the one ring that controlled them all.
In a dazzling, computer-generated battle scene that is breathtaking in scope, the allied forces of the humans, elves and dwarves defeat Sauron and his army but fail to destroy the ring. Some 3,000 years later it is discovered by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) in the lair of a creature known as Gollum, and slowly over time, Bilbo falls under the spell of his new-found treasure.
The tale begins in ernest 60 years later with a celebration of Bilbo's 111th birthday (the ring has slowed his aging) at the shire of the hobbits, peace-loving "halflings" whose most notable qualities are their small stature, large hairy feet and unquenchable appetite for life.
When one of his guests, the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), discovers Bilbo possesses the ring, he convinces his old friend he must turn it over to his young cousin Frodo (Elijah Wood), unaware of the danger in which he is placing the boy.
Finding himself in the role of reluctant hero, Frodo sets off to save the world from evil by disposing of the ring in the molten rock of Mount Doom in Mordor.
Of course, in a tale of biblical proportions, nothing is that easy. In hot pursuit are the Ringwraiths, nine former kings on black steeds who are neither alive nor dead and whose only goal is to return the ring to Sauron. There are also thousands of orcs, a cave troll and a demon to deal with along the way.
In order to succeed, Frodo must also form a fellowship of the split factions which originally defeated the Dark Lord while withstanding the call of the ring to, dare we say, join the dark side.
Joined by fellow hobbits Sam (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), the four eventually join up with the humans Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Boromir (Sean Bean), the son of the elf king Legolas (Orlando Bloom), the axe-wielding Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Gandalf.
The cast also includes Cate Blanchett as the elf queen Galadriel, Liv Tyler as the stunningly beautiful elf Princess Arwen and Christopher Lee as the snake-in-silk-clothing Saruman the White.
Using rollercoaster pacing, Jackson milks the three-hour running time for all it's worth, the peaks and valleys of the adventure giving the characters, particularly Frodo, time to develop while allowing the audience time to catch its breath.
The battle scenes, while void of gore, are extremely violent, but not to the point that it should deter you from taking a child along.
The special effects are brilliant, particularly when the grotesquely mutilated orcs fill the screen or the full-sized characters interact with the shorter hobbits and dwarf.
Wood, McKellan and Lee lead an inspirational ensemble. While not the picture of a hobbit one dreams up after having read the book, Wood, all wide-eyed and lovable, perfectly balances the reluctance and commitment his character struggles with. Lee throws away his over-the-top Hammer Film personas to create a much more subtle evil while McKellan is the embodiment of Gandalf, his performance of Oscar quality.
But what really drives this film, much like the book, is its intelligence. Jackson treats Middle Earth as if it were real, the characters are extensions of its history, their actions dictated by the writings of Tolkien.
Mark it down as just one more reason to look forward to the holiday season.
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