Movie Review Grandeur, dark action add up to a lordly 'Ring'
By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic
Peter Jackson's long-awaited first installment of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Fellowship of the Ring," has finally roared onto movie screens, all three hours of it. And some of us are wondering, "Do I care?"
Those who think I've taken leave of my senses, simply cast your eyes to the accompanying review by my colleague Mary Ann Gwinn, who understands Middle-earth and can tell you whether the movie lives up to the books' esteemed reputation. I'm speaking to the rest of us that silent brethren who didn't meet Tolkien as a child, never could get into the books as an adult, and think of "ring bearers" only as little kids in wedding processions. Many of us exist, although we're keeping a low profile these days for survival purposes.
Even for "Ring" virgins, though, there's much to recommend in Jackson's often-gorgeous epic adventure. It's a treat to see a gifted filmmaker given such a huge canvas (seen his early, brilliant "Heavenly Creatures"?), and the results have an undeniable grandeur.
The lavish special effects, though, don't overpower the essential story: Frodo, a simple hobbit, must return the all-powerful One Ring to the hellfires of Mordor, whence it came, and thus save Middle-earth from ultimate evil.
(That's the bare-bones outline, but note that this film is definitely not Tolkien for Dummies, and the uninitiated may spend much of the movie sorting out the dwarves from the elves. As for such advanced questions as why hobbits have curly hair, and who sets the rules if two wizards are fighting, and why a ring this powerful doesn't at least have diamonds on it well, I'm still wondering, too.)
The cast is uniformly appealing, particularly the cherubic Elijah Wood as Frodo; Ian McKellen's wise, worried wizard Gandalf; Viggo Mortensen's soulful exile, Aragorn; and Sean Astin as Frodo's loyal sidekick Sam. Cate Blanchett (perfectly cast, as she's already got an inner glow) shines in her brief scenes as the regal elf Galadriel.
But the real star of the film is its painterly beauty. Splendidly misty mountains loom over silvery-gray forests and blue-green fields; vast armies swarm over hillsides like malevolent ants; and the Shire, home of the hobbits, is picture-postcard adorable with its wee cottages.
Despite some sunny early scenes, "Fellowship" is a dark, relentless story of constant pursuits, escapes and battles. It's scary at times; parents of young children should think carefully before bringing the family. As an allegory of war and world dominance, "Ring" is weighty stuff, and Jackson gives it appropriate resonance.
All this adds up to fine, admirable filmmaking all the more admirable considering the blockbuster-wannabe conditions under which it was made. If it wasn't magical for me well, we all find our movie magic in different places, don't we?
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