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'Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'

'Fellowship of Ring' mostly captures Tolkien's grand vision

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

And so we come to that other movie based on a beloved series of novels in which wizards play a prominent role and small people begin to unlock their hidden potential as they prepare to battle an evil power seeking world domination.

    'Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'

Rating: PG-13 for epic battle sequences and some scary images.

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen.

Director: Peter Jackson.

Critic's call:


J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy predates J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books by nearly half a century. Ralph Bakshi attempted an animated version in 1978 that was only moderately successful artistically and ended halfway through the trilogy.

That won't happen this time. New Line Cinema committed to the simultaneous filming of three movies, one for each book in the series, to be released a year apart. If the first one -- "The Fellowship of the Ring," opening today -- flops at the box office, the studio could drown in a bath of red ink.

But that's not likely to happen. As a fan of the books myself, I'm happy to report that the movie mostly lives up to the hype. Director Peter Jackson, his production designers and computer artists have created a visually spectacular rendering of Middle-earth. The actors in general are perfectly suited to their roles as wizards, elves, dwarves, men and, of course, hobbits -- creatures that are 3 to 4 feet in height and prefer the simple pleasures but prove to be made of stronger stuff than anyone could imagine.

Although they have, of necessity, compressed portions of the narrative and cut some favorite scenes (most noticeably the Old Forest, Tom Bombadil and the barrow-wights -- even without these, the movie runs three hours), director Jackson ("Heavenly Creatures") and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens capture the book's spirit of adventure and wonder, danger and dread.

  'Lord of Rings' by the numbers

Length: Two hours, 58 minutes.

Costumes: 50 tailors, embroiderers, cobblers and jewelers created an average of 150 costumes for each of the different cultures and more than 48,000 items, including more than 1,000 suits of armor, more than 2,000 rubber and safety weapons, more than 100 weapons, more than 20,000 individual household and everyday items, more than 1,800 pairs of prosthetic feet and ears and more than 10,000 facial appliances.

Miniature sets: 64.

Extras: More than 26,000.

Production team: More than 2,400.

Equines: More than 250 horses, including a corps of 70 specially trained horses.

Number of films: Three: "Fellowship of the Ring"; "The Two Towers," next December; and "The Return of the King," December 2003.

Shooting schedule: 274 days.

Cost: More than $270 million to make all three "Rings," $93 million for "Fellowship."

Marketing costs: About $50 million.

-- Los Angeles Daily News


The movie begins with an extended prologue that explains the history of Middle-earth leading up to the events of the movie. The evil lord Sauron and his dark reign over the world was vanquished when he lost his ring of power, a golden band that ultimately corrupts and enslaves any other creature who might use it. The ring was ultimately found by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who brought it home with him to the Shire, a quaint and lovely district that is the home of his people.

Now, 60 years later, Sauron has begun to look for his ring in hopes of regaining his terrible mastery over the world. Bilbo (Ian Holm) has left the ring to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood), and it falls to the younger hobbit to lead the seemingly impossible mission to destroy the ring by casting it back into the fire where it was forged, deep inside Mount Doom in the heart of the enemy's stronghold "in the land of Mordor, where the shadows lie."

The solemn urgency of the mission and the myriad dangers they face on this part of the journey give the movie a somber tone that pays short shrift to the sense of whimsy that is part and parcel of Tolkien's creation.

For all of their courage and resolve, the hobbits are jolly creatures at heart who love to sing and especially to eat. If anything, it helps build their fortitude in the face of adversity. I regret that the movie mostly fails to capture this spirit and, if anything, turns Frodo's hobbit companions Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) into silly bumblers who manage chiefly to attract danger through their own thoughtlessness.

But their adventures are faithfully chronicled, from the violent and action-packed battle scenes to the meetings with elves and other fabulous creatures in places such as Rivendell, home of the elf lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and the enchanted woods of Lothlorien, ruled by the lovely Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). Horror-film veteran Christopher Lee makes for a worthy villain as the corrupted wizard Saruman.

There are a few scenes in which the computer effects become too obvious, but director Jackson succeeds in creating the illusion of the hobbits being half the size of the bigger characters, accomplished via photographic wizardry and clever editing.

There's a degree to which I feel the sheer amount of exposition and narrative restrict the depth of the characterizations. But the last scenes of the movie capture a tone that I trust will continue in the next segment. Frodo and his loyal friend Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) forge an emotional bond that will only deepen as the story continues, while other members of the party go off to track down the evil Orcs that have done damage to the troupe. "Let's go hunt Orcs!" cries the noble Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen).

Now that's the spirit. I'm already eager for Part 2.

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