'The Fellowship of the Ring' is masterful start to film trilogy
Wednesday, December 19, 2001
BY SEAN P. MEANS
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
J.R.R. Tolkien's classic trilogy finally gets the film treatment it deserves.
They said it couldn't be done, and several times they were right. They said J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastical trilogy The Lord of the Rings was too big to be put on a movie screen -- too sweeping in scope, too massive in scale, too many characters and too detailed in its internal mythology.
Finally, they are proven wrong. The astounding film of the first part of the trilogy, "The Fellowship of the Ring," captures both the grandness and the intimacy of Tolkien's masterwork. Director Peter Jackson ("Heavenly Creatures") creates a wholly realized Middle Earth with richly portrayed inhabitants. He also performs a more amazing feat: making a film that will satisfy Tolkien's diehard fans and keep the story accessible to those who don't know a Hobbit from a hole in the ground.
A stunning prologue quickly summarizes 5,000 years of Middle Earth's history before "The Fellowship of the Ring" begins in the Hobbits' home of The Shire. Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is preparing for his 111th birthday party, and his secret plan to leave the One Ring of Power -- which he acquired in The Hobbit from the mysterious Gollum (Andy Serkis) -- to his young cousin Frodo (Elijah Wood). Frodo accepts the Ring reluctantly amid dire warnings from the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to "keep it secret, keep it safe."
Frodo soon learns of the One Ring's power, the temptation to yield to its dark side, and the conspiracy of evil that is trying to retrieve it -- led by the unseen Sauron, who forged the One Ring and wants it back to rule the world. Frodo accepts Gandalf's mission, to journey through the Land of Mordor to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount Doom. Frodo is accompanied by the loyal Samwise (Sean Astin) and their less responsible pals Merry (Billy Boyd) and Pippin (Dominic Monaghan).
Along the way, the four Hobbits are protected by a Ranger, known as Strider (Viggo Mortensen), on the way to the Elf city of Rivendell. It is there that nine heroes -- the Hobbits, Gandalf, Strider, the human soldier Boromir (Sean Bean), the elf archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) -- form the Fellowship of the Ring. The Fellowship's enemies are numerous: armies of goblin-like Orcs, the black-clad riders known as Ringwraiths, and the scheming wizard Saruman the White (Christopher Lee).
"The Fellowship of the Ring" impresses with its magnitude. Director Jackson masses armies for his battle scenes, employing hordes of costumers and armorers, plus computer effects that transform hundreds of extras into thousands. Jackson and production designer Grant Major (working with veteran Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe) create distinctive settings for Middle Earth's many races, from the Orcs' fiery lair to the ethereal forests of the elf queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett).
Jackson and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens are exactingly faithful to Tolkien's good-vs.-evil saga. Unlike the slavishly adapted "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," though, this movie is not afraid to trim the fat. (Who needs all those songs, anyway?) Most importantly, the writers never lose Tolkien's vital characters in the spectacle.
It is rare for a movie this big to be noteworthy for its acting, but the ensemble here is first-rate. Lee caps off a career of screen villainy, while Holm, Blanchett, Bean and "The Matrix's" Hugo Weaving (as the half-elf warrior Elrond) do wonders in their brief appearances. Mortensen is strong as the haunted prince, McKellen brings grace and Shakespearean fury to Gandalf, and the supporting Hobbit trio of Astin, Boyd and Monaghan add some needed lightness. First and foremost is Elijah Wood, who conveys Frodo's innocence and his determination to see the quest to its end.
If there is a fault to "The Fellowship of the Ring," it is that the next two installments, "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King," won't be in theaters until Christmas 2002 and 2003, respectively. Even after three hours of "The Fellowship of the Ring," your first thought when it's over may be, "Let's watch the next one -- NOW."
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