Lord of the Oscars
Rating 3 stars
by Christopher Tookey, Daily Mail film critic
11 December 2001
The biggest gamble in cinema is about to pay off. This is just the first part of a hideously expensive trilogy - it is rumoured to have cost upwards of £190million - that is already filmed and scheduled for release over the next two years.
The good news is that these first three hours are a landmark in cinema, an awesome feat of imagination and daring.
Critics who gave five-star ratings to Chris Columbus's competent but uninspired Harry Potter movie are going to have to find ten if they are to do justice to The Fellowship of the Ring.
Peter Jackson's adaptation of JRR Tolkien's fantasy classic is as near to perfection as makes no difference. The decision to shoot wholly in New Zealand was inspired.
Here is landscape photography of a grandeur and emotional resonance that we haven't witnessed in the cinema since John Ford revolutionised the western or David Lean took to the desert in Lawrence of Arabia.
The movie has a mythic grandeur and a profound understanding of human corruptibility that makes the Star Wars movies look like kids' stuff.
The epic battles and huge set-pieces are as impressive as anything in Braveheart or Gladiator. But the human dimension is never lost, nor a sense of humour. The performances are flawless. Tolkien has been accused of writing onedimensional characters, but the actors give the lie to that.
Two of our most talented theatrical knights, Sir Ian McKellen (as Gandalf) and Sir Ian Holm (as Bilbo), give their finest, most multi-faceted performances on film.
It is sure to sweep the board at the Oscars, where it will be a late but strong contender for best picture, director and all of the technical awards.
A loving adaptation by Jackson, his wife Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens ensures that, although Tolkien's tale has been shortened (Tom Bombadil, for example, has bitten the dust), not a single major theme has been lost.
Indeed, the film is in some ways better than the book, which is not without its stilted passages and pomposities.
Tolkien's gentle humour remains, augmented by a few neatly topical flourishes (about the quality of hobbits' tobacco and the ethics of dwarf-tossing) to make a modern audience laugh, without detracting from the film's seriousness and grandeur.
Even the most boringly obsessive of Tolkien nerds is likely to find little, if anything, to dislike. And even if you didn't care for the professor's books, you should still thrill to the movie if you have any feeling for myth, narrative, landscape or cinema.
This first third of Tolkien's saga shows how a young, distinctly unheroic hobbit called Frodo Baggins (wonderfully played, with a near-perfect English accent, by the young American star Elijah Wood) comes into possession of a ring, reluctantly passed on to him by his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm). The ring can make its wearer invisible, but also has the potential to wreak universal havoc (it has been likened by some commentators to the nuclear bomb).
It attracts the interest of a good wizard gone to the bad, Saruman (Christopher Lee), as well as the ring's original maker, the satanic figure Sauron, who dispatches nine Ringwraiths to hunt it down.
Frodo is warned by a friendly, Merlin-like wizard, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), to carry the ring to safety in the elves' land, Rivendell.
Frodo and his three hobbit friends (Sean Astin, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan) escape the Ringwraiths, with the help of a mysterious human called Strider (Viggo Mortensen) and a beautiful elfmaiden, Arwen (Liv Tyler).
But they soon discover from the elf lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) that the ring is not safe even in Rivendell.
It must be carried to the very centre of Sauron's empire, Mount Doom, and destroyed.
A fellowship to achieve this is formed of the six original travellers, plus Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom), Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) and Boromir, a nobleman (Sean Bean). Peter Jackson's direction shows wonderful flair.
It is his skill at moving the camera that makes a classic action sequence of the Ringwraiths' chasing on horseback of Arwen and Frodo.
Cate Blanchett as the elfwitch Galadriel is photographed with an ethereal glow that perfectly complements her finely judged, slightly threatening performance.
Even smaller moments of awe, such as Gandalf's firework display at Bilbo's birthday party, are richly imagined and superbly realised.
There are frightening, even horrific moments here, that will certainly make most adults jump - and will probably be too much in the cinema for the average eight year old.
I have no serious criticisms. The film does full justice to Tolkien, who has often - and erroneously - been accused of escapism.
As this movie demonstrates, he made inspired use of fantasy to grapple with the greatest trauma of the twentieth century - the degree of human corruptibility revealed by two world wars and the curse of totalitarianism.
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