LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
STARRING: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean
Astin, Ian Holm, Liv Tyler, Christopher Lee
2001, 178 Minutes, Directed by: Peter Jackson
Based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship. The
saga centers around an unassuming Hobbit named Frodo Baggins who inherits
a Ring that would give a dark and powerful lord the power to enslave the
world. With a loyal fellowship of elves, dwarves, men and a wizard, Frodo
embarks on a heroic quest to destroy the One Ring and pave the way for the
emergence of mankind. —
the disappointing 1978 animated version of Tolkien's mammoth
Lord of the Rings novels being the most substantial movie adaptation of the
books, it was inevitable (especially with recent advances in special effects)
that a live action movie would be made some day. And here it is, following
shortly on the heels of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,
another fantasy tale with a very dedicated following.
This latest film version arrives on the big screen with the same level
of fanaticism, dedication and loyalty accorded to the novels by its cultish
followers who labor under the misapprehension that Lord of the Rings
is the greatest work of literature of the 20th century (actually it is
Catch 22 - Rings fans should read more).
This big budget movie only recounts the events of the first novel in
the trilogy (Fellowship of the Ring; wisely the producers skipped
the juvenile The Hobbit prequel). It is epic in its running time:
it clocks in at three hours! That means that if the rest of the novels
to be released as movies, The Two Towers in 2002 and The Return
of the King in 2003, receive similar treatment, then watching all
three movies on video one day would take a whopping nine hours out of
"Actors in tights and pointy ear
make-up spout pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue . . ."
While it still beats slogging through Tolkien's doorstop of a novel and
fans might delight in such a slavish devotion to the source material,
the rest of us will no doubt still suffer. That is, from seriously numb
bums. For like the recent Harry Potter movie, this movie suffers
from the same faults, namely an overlong running time and a fear of offending
fans by excising superfluous material.
These faults are particularly acute in Lord of the Rings. The
original plot never consisted of more than an extended travelogue. While
the director tries to juice up the proceedings with some Hollywood blockbuster
style action sequences, the aimlessness of it all becomes apparent at
about the movie's halfway mark. Our group of heroes travels a bit, there
is a sword fight with the bad guys, and then they carry on, and so it
goes on. And on.
Tolkien's original novel was a bit short on action. Ironically there
is a lot of traveling for a novel that is actually about the perils of
travel - danger lies beyond the known Shire inhabited by the little dwarfish
guys known as hobbits (the novels are quite conservative in their fear
of the unknown). Unlike the Potter movie though, it has a much
more tangible sense of evil and dread. That is until about the halfway
mark when one is weighed down by the film's own self-importance.
Like the books, the film is really largely a
humorless affair; its own
sense of seriousness and inflated worth drags it down. How many times
can one listen to actors in tights and pointy ear make-up spout pseudo-Shakespearean
dialogue without wanting to chuckle?
This is after all a tale featuring
wizards, elves, dwarves and the like! Unfortunately I was too often reminded
of sci-fi author Michael Moorcock's remark about Sauron (the chief villain):
"Just how bad can anyone who hates hobbits be?" Leave all notions
of irony at the cinema entrance . . .
The movie tries its damnedest to overcome the novel's weaknesses though.
For example, the bad guys aren't painted in strictly racial terms. The
roles of minor women characters have been inflated so that it wouldn't
seem too much like a boy's own affair. The action sequences are handled
deftly, the production values from the CGI effects to the costumes are
good, the acting is okay even though the expressions of worry on the faces
of some of the characters get a bit wearisome (how do they manage to look
all that worried all the time?), the music is pompous
Most genre fans should have a great time. Me? Once again the movie made
obvious what I disliked about Tolkien's novels, namely their inherent
political and social conservatism. Its Manichean simplification and insistence
that evil is an external force that can almost be traced in the same way
one does weather patterns (incidentally the much better Lord of the
Flies was published in the same year). It's just a fantasy tale some
would insist. Probably so, but I'm obviously not the only one that takes
it too seriously . . .
Followed by Lord of the Rings: The Two
Towers (2002) which feels less aimless and Lord of the Rings:
Return of the King (2003).