Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 00:06 GMT
Fellowship scores on all levels
By BBC News Online's Jackie Finlay
It must be at least 20 years since I last read The Lord of the Rings.
I can hardly compete with those die-hard Tolkien fans who could (probably) recite, say, the Silmarillion from start to finish, or who meet monthly to play orc vs hobbit games.
But I was worried, as "fans of the book" have always been from Shakespeare to Harry Potter, that the movie would be a dreadful disappointment - a poorly-imagined Willow, a feature-length rendition of Xena: Warrior Princess.
And if I was worried - well, The Lord of the Rings fans are not known to be a tolerant bunch.
Ralph Bakshi's animated and unfinished version, released some 20 years ago, was watchable precisely because it was animated, still leaving plenty to the imagination.
Would it be tacky if "made flesh",
brought into the realms of the every day - or worse, of Hollywood?
But director Peter Jackson avoids almost all of the traps to deliver a powerful, intense and beautifully realised movie that interprets the novel - well, almost to perfection.
The Fellowship of the Ring covers the first book of the novel, with two more "parts" to come in 2002 and 2003.
It spans a fictional world that includes
the Middle Earth lands of the hobbits, the elves and the evil
The ensemble acting is all good, setting the movie apart from lesser fantasy films.
But the acting still plays second fiddle to the grand New Zealand panoramas and impressive digital effects.
Visually, each major character looks just like they should - Sir Ian McKellen a craggy and fierce Gandalf, Orlando Bloom a lightfooted and blond-haired elf.
Perhaps only the chiselled Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn could be darker and more brooding - Sean Bean, now the warrior Boromir, is said to have wanted the part.
The make-up is a tour de force. The ears are great, the hairy feet as natural as hairy feet can be, while the orcs are truly disgusting.
Elijah Wood is well-cast as the hero Frodo. And the close friendship between him and fellow hobbit Samwise Gamgee, something that could have got lost amid the sheer scale of the project, is given due prominence.
The opening of the three-hour movie is unfortunately its weakest point.
Our 15-minute "scene-setting" sojourn in Hobbiton feels more like a Sunday teatime BBC children's serial, with sentimentally cheery music and surprisingly bad acting from the principals.
Jackson clearly could not wait to move on to the darker period of the film - and once this literally raises its ugly head, his creativity bounds into play and the film streaks to a higher plane.
The most powerful moments come when Frodo puts on the ring around which the action revolves, to be transported to a shadowy world of pure evil - and when other characters are tempted by the ring.
Jackson manages to balance the emotional themes of the novel - friendship, loyalty, temptation - with superb adrenaline-pumping battles (and this is a woman talking).
A couple of tiny flaws: scenes of high drama and emotion are accompanied by haunting pipe music similar to that which must have given the strictly average Titanic its mass appeal.
And the mass orc armies do sometimes look as if they have just invaded from the set of The Mummy Returns.
But these are the only nods to the Blockbuster Director's Manual 2001 in an otherwise exciting and original three hours.
So, how many days to the release of the second film?
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