Wednesday, December 19, 2001
The quest to bring J.R.R. Tolkien's epic to the big screen is a huge success
By BRUCE KIRKLAND, TORONTO SUN
The Fellowship Of The Ring, the first instalment in The Lord Of The Rings film trilogy, is a magnificent spectacle.
With breathtaking verve, stylish visuals and dazzling special effects, and finally with robust performances from a huge international ensemble, the three-hour, live-action epic sweeps audiences into the fantastical world of Middle-earth.
This is the ancient realm that English professor and author J.R.R. Tolkien created in his celebrated 1954-55 novel, The Lord Of The Rings. It is populated with Wizards, Hobbits, Humans, Dwarfs, Elves, Goblins, Trolls, Orcs, Uruk-Hai and the Dark Lord Sauron, the embodiment of pure evil.
A mystical world where the forces of good do battle with the legions of doom, it's also a sophisticated adult world where courage and humility are celebrated and cowardice and selfishness are despised. It simmers with timeless metaphors for our contemporary world.
Two distinct audience groups are critical to the success of the nearly US$280-million trilogy, which will continue with part two in December, 2002, and part three in December, 2003.
The film's singular triumph is its ability to serve both these groups with a tightrope walk as thrilling as one of the many adventure scenes in the film itself.
One group is made up of Tolkienites -- fans and fanatics of the original book and its 1937 prequel, The Hobbit. New Zealander Peter Jackson, who directed, co-wrote and co-produced the film trilogy and shot it in his home country, creates a Middle-earth that perfectly mirrors that of Tolkien's description.
Just as critically, working with a script co-authored by Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, with input from a cast including such talents as Ian Holm, Christopher Lee and John Rhys-Davies as well as such valuable youngsters as Orlando Bloom and Sean Astin, Jackson also captured Tolkien's spirit.
The second group is made up of neophytes, people who have never read Tolkien's book and wouldn't know a Hobbit from a Hare or an Orc from an Archangel.
These people are also extremely well served by this film. A prologue (voiced beautifully by Cate Blanchett, who also plays an Elf princess), gives just enough information to get newcomers in on the action that follows. So don't be late.
While Jackson & Co. obviously have to simplify Tolkien -- otherwise each movie in the series would be nine hours long -- they do not savage the author's original ideas and characters. They take only minor liberties with facts (check out the expanded exploits of the Elf princess Arwen played by Liv Tyler) but it is for legitimate poetic or dramatic purposes.
That helps, because Tolkien's long passages of poetry and song are excised as a literary device that does not translate to cinema. The film needs a poetic mood. The language characters speak is also simplified, but not to stupid levels. Jackson even has Elves, as well as multilingual human Aragorn (played by the ruggedly heroic Viggo Mortensen, a potential Lord Of The Rings star), speaking Elvish, with English subtitles.
The core of the film is pure, however. This is still the entralling story of a meek Hobbit named Frodo, played with exuberance by Elijah Wood, who teams up with the wise good Wizard Gandalf -- the electrifying Ian McKellen is the spiritual core of the film. Together they lead the Fellowship, a group of nine charged with a dangerous mission: To return the One Ring to its source. It must be destroyed before evil Sauron gets possession of it and uses its awesome power to enslave Middle-earth.
By the end of this part one, audiences are eager to continue the tale. It's just a shame we have to wait another year for the second instalment and two years for the conclusion. But this is still a marvellous way to begin an adventure.
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