Fellowship of the Ring, a review

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Saruman atop Orthanc

Gandalf and the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum



Gollum in Moria

Haldir of Lorien

It's not too often that a film is released that I instantly proclaim an undisputed classic. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings is such a film. It is near a perfect and beautiful realization of an epic as it gets. I stress near, nonetheless, as the film omits certain key points from the book and takes a few liberties with others. I'll get to them at the end of this paean. Still, for sheer story-telling, adventure, the desire to do good and battle evil, this film leaves all others in its wake.

Frodo, reading under a tree

Gandalf sees the Balrog

The Nazgul confront the hobbits on Weathertop

The film was made entirely in New Zealand, which generated the ire of a few in Hollywood that believe they're the centre of the universe and no film should be made outside of US auspices. The director, Peter Jackson, portrays his native homeland as a primeval Europe, rich and ripe for legends and myth-creation. It is photogenic and lavish in nearly every shot; every hillock, rock, freshet, brook and dell looks as alive as the Third Age of Middle Earth should be. Even the gloom and desolation of Mordor is animated and real. A vast amount of attention to detail was given to this film, from the authentic Sindarin a few of the characters speak, to the intricacy of the armour and weapons.

Sam and Frodo survey the Emyn Muil

The Fellowship



Aragorn with the shards of Narsil

The Fellowship on Nen Hithoel with the Tindrock in the distance

The respect for the work of Tolkien is heavily engraved in this film. This simply isn't a movie based on a broad ideal; it is a near-faithful rendition of what Tolkien may have envisioned. To be sure, it has to fit the framework of the motion picture form, as far as continuity, dramatic thrust, plot and characterization go, but it is handled with such finesse, with such sheer passion that I'm positive it'll invoke a sense of wonder in even the most dourest of critics

Let me talk about the opening. From the opening scenes depicting the massive battle between the Last Alliance of Men And Elves and Sauron's forces, you know you are witnessing a spectacle. The courage and conviction of the armies led by Gil-Gilad and Elendil falters as Sauron himself makes an appearance, mace and Ring in hand...we see the eternal story of good versus evil, of the forces of the free world arrayed against a god-like spirit of malice such as Sauron. The summation of two Ages of the World unfolds before us...the triumph of the Last Alliance and the Ring's hold on Isildur; to his ambush in the Gladden Fields and the eventual recovery of the Ring by Déagol, to the betrayal of Gollum by the Ring and Bilbo's finding of it. It is a superb synopsis of huge and world-shaking events, superbly handled and depicted. It sets up the oncoming events with little doubt as to the motives of all concerned. Three millennia later, we are taken to the bucolic charm of The Shire and Frodo Baggins reading peacefully under a tree.

The players given the task of recreating familiar (to fantasy fans anyway) names, handle their job exceptionally well. Viggo Mortensen excels as Aragorn, Elijah Wood is simply outstanding as Frodo Baggins and Sir Ian McKellen will go into film fame as Gandalf. It's almost as if the role were custom-crafted for him. On the other hand, some of the characters have simplified roles. Legolas and Gimli have far more substance in the books than they do here; Merry and Pippin are more than just mischievous side-kicks of Frodo and Sam, and Sam's relationship to Frodo is never explained in the film. Cate Blanchett handles the fey persona of Galadriel well. It's exactly how I pictured her; tall, fair and perilous, wise beyond all mortal understanding. Hugo Weaving plays Elrond the Half-Elven with solemn dignity, and is portrayed pretty much the way Tolkien intended; timeless and world-weary.

Liv Tyler is simply wonderful as Arwen. She only has a small role in the book, but the film expands upon it to a degree and makes her a front-line character, so to speak. I was truly touched by her performance. She captures the essence of an Elven lady perfectly. Sean Bean tackles the troubled character of Boromir well; a man thoroughly distraught at the impending peril his nation of Gondor faces and his desperation to save it in any way he can. Full marks to the fine British actor. Christopher Lee plays Saruman the White exactly as you'd expect Saruman to be. The film makes a few assumptions about Saruman which I'll come to in a moment.

The Book and the Film :: The Differences and other Points

Here I'm going to be a purist and carp or comment on the myriad of differences that exist between the motion picture and the book. Most are subtle, some aren't however. One thing I do need to mention is the lack of sense of distance in the film. We see Gandalf leave for Isengard and Minas Tirith at two points in the film. Both of these places are literally hundreds of miles from The Shire and would've taken Gandalf a long time to reach them (which it did).

He did a whole lot more in the absences from The Shire that just these two deeds, namely, tracked down Gollum (mentioned in the film), learned the identity of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur, met up with Radagast the Brown, and a few other things. He also spent years doing this. For reference, I have a map of Middle Earth which may help to convey the distances involved. Isengard would be near where the R in Rohan is and Minas Tirith is the large castle like symbol at the east end of the White Mountains, right near the Anduin River. As far as the differences go, I will present them in list format for easier reading.

No doubt I've been a touch pedantic here and there, yet the film is almost flawless even with the creative license taken by Jackson. It conveys a story, and it conveys it beautifully. As a closer, I need to point something out here that irritates me. The film perpetrates the modern fantasy viewpoint that dwarves and elves hate each other, that elves are all long-bowmen experts and dwarves all gruff axe-wielders, and never the twain shall meet.

Truth to tell, both races are proud and noble and have done many great and wonderful things. There is a minor and lingering mistrust between the two Kindreds, mainly stemming from the Dwarves habit of stirring orc tribes up, which then go on the prowl in Elven lands. Tolkien portrays both races with depth and dignity, that have a vast and marvellous history. They are more than the Everquest "dorf" or the pointy-eared "treehugger". Give the Lord of the Rings a read sometime and see how wonderful these two races actually are.