Cinematic creativity is taken to new insane levels with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, a film that will be heralded as one of the greatest fantasy-adventure movies of all time.
Undertaking the enormous task of filming J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel is director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures). Jackson filmed The Lord of the Rings trilogy all at once and will release the sequels—The Two Towers and The Return of the King—in 2002 and 2003, respectively. What he has managed to put on screen in the trilogy’s first installment is a masterful, groundbreaking achievement that will elate fans of the book and make those who haven’t read it bolt for Barnes & Noble.
For those not familiar with Tolkien’s masterpieces, Jackson provides a helpful prologue showing the history of the ring, forged thousands of years ago and now sought after by the dark lord Sauron for its evil ruling powers. After inheriting the ring from his cousin, the legendary hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) leads a fellowship of hobbits, humans, elfs, dwarfs and a wizard on a mission to cast the ring into Mount Doom—the only way it can be destroyed.
It’s a three-hour journey that feels like far less, a fantastically paced epic that improves with every minute. While some sequences and characters from the book have been removed to streamline things, this is a faithful adaptation. This is a movie that contains all the wonder, dread and joy that the books provided, and while Jackson has made an overall uplifting movie, he’s not afraid to show the darkness and evil Tolkien mixed into his story.
Having read the books many years ago, I had forgotten some details, but it all came back to me as the film unfolded. The hobbits are no more than 4 feet high, with big hairy feet. The Black Riders are menacing personifications of all that is bad on their ugly horses, and the Mines of Moria are a scary place to travel. To those of you unfamiliar with these things and places, you will be gleefully initiated after seeing this movie.
Jackson’s decision to film in New Zealand was a wise one: The landscape, with a little computer finessing, provides the perfect base for Tolkien’s Middle Earth universe. The technical crew has succeeded in creating an atmosphere the trilogy deserves, complete with an assortment of creatures that seems never-ending.
While recent blockbuster epics like Harry Potter lack sentimentality and emotion, Fellowship has plenty of heart and fine acting to go with its technical wizardry. These are much beloved characters that millions of readers have been picturing in their skulls for many years, and the people Jackson cast seem well aware of the task of embodying them properly. There’s not a bad performance in the lot.
As Frodo, Elijah Wood provides a sweet soul for the film, as well as having a perfect face for a hobbit. Viggo Mortensen is mysterious and heroic as Strider, one of the two humans in the fellowship. Most incredible is Ian McKellen as the good wizard Gandalf the Grey, that rare, award-worthy performance within an action-fantasy film.
The cast is too huge to fully examine here, but I will say that there is no better choice for Bilbo Baggins than Ian Holm, and Christopher Lee makes a memorable, scary impression as the wizard Saruman.
Before seeing The Fellowship of the Ring, the blockbuster film I most anticipated was the next Star Wars, coming out this May. After Fellowship, I’m looking beyond May to December 2002, when Frodo’s magical quest continues. I have a feeling it will be worth the wait.