Movie Review
J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
By Thomas Barclay

TITLE: Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring
AUTHOR: J.R.R. Tolkien
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
STUDIO: Wingnut?
WEBSITE: Official Movie Website
MOVIE TYPE: Epic Fantasy Adventure
LENGTH: 3 hours 10 minutes
ACTORS: Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Hugo Weaving (Elrond HalfElven), Liv Tyler (Arwen), Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins), Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee), Dominic Monaghan (Meriadoc Brandybuck), Billy Boyd (Pippin Took), John Rys-Davies (Gimli), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Sean Bean (Boromir), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Ian Holm (Bilbo Baggins), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel)

Review Back to Top

Probably the grandaddy of all modern fantasy novels, the trilogy Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. If you haven't read the books - STOP RIGHT NOW AND GO HERE, BUY THEM, READ THEM- and then carry on reading this review or go to see the movie. I'm going to make a reference or two to things from the book and, although you don't need to read the books before seeing the movie (they explain some of the basics), the book will provide subtext and context beyond what the movie can do even in 3 hours.

WARNING! WARNING! THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS! The books are published. It isn't like the plot is a secret. The design is publicly known, only the implementation detail is novel.

Now, to business!

The first thing to mention is that Orcs, Dwarves, Hobbits, and the like don't exist in the real world. To find three feet tall people with fuzzy feet, six and a half foot tall people with pointy ears, and short gruff individuals that are 4 feet tall but built to last.... these aren't simple feats. We haven't reached the realm of the purely computer generated movie yet (at least, not ubiquitously... Final Fantasy: Spirits Within, Shrek, Toy Story I and II, Bug's Life and Ants are the thin-edge of this wedge). But LOTR:FOR, though it does make extensive use of CGI, is confronted with the task of making real people look somewhat like these races, at least enough to calm the more moderate Tolkien-o-philes.

One of the tricks used to achieve this end is avoiding too many shots with everyone standing side by side... and some of those are done with computers. So the camera angles play with our perceptions and we can believe John Rys-Davies is Gimli and that Elijah Wood is Frodo. They aren't quite as described in the books, but the effort has been taken and they are passable to any but the true Tolkien fanatic.

So, how was the acting? How did the characters compare to their print counterparts? I think that the effort was made to remain true to the original source. Particularly well fleshed-out were Gandalf, Elrond, and Legolas. Samwise was also very well represented. Merry and Pippin were "side characters" and Gimli was perhaps a little too stereotypically Dwarvish, but we only have that stereotype because of all the Tolkien inspired dwarves seen over the last several decades in modern fantasy. Aragorn and Boromir were well represented. Arwen I don't have a very fair judgement of - I'm a sucker for a drop dead gorgeous gal like Liv Tyler, but I thought she did the small part she played well. Overall, you'd have to say the characters were fairly well represented. If I had to pick a best and worst, I would say Gandalf was the best (Ian McKellen was a perfect choice) and perhaps Gimli was the worst (mostly on account of how stereotypical he seemed, even though it is true to the source).

The depiction of Saruman as a corrupted White Wizard and a servant of Sauron was interesting. And Elrond was shown in a much more forceful way (and Hugo Weaving deliciously made this portrait of an Elf Lord come to life) than one might have suspected. Boromir's troubles and his eventual momentary breakdown were well represented.

The sound effects blended well with the movie as did the music - nothing sticks out in my mind as jarring. It was all appropriate and made fit the mood. The visuals were, for the great part, stunning. The depictions of all the foreign landscapes were breathtaking - their scope was vast. They depicted middle earth (places like the Shire, Gondor, Moria, Rivendell, the passages into Gondor, Loth-Lorien, Isengard, and Mordor) in a way that seemed to match well with my recollections of the books. Onlly once or twice did I feel the CGI was a little awkward and identifiably computer-generated - particularly on the run through one of the main halls in Moria. But for the most part, you were literally swept up in the epic vision the animators and computer artists helped put together.

The bad guys factor heavily into this. We never quite see Sauron outside of his armour, but we do see his initial confrontation with Isilduhr and his initial parting from the One Ring at the huge battle at the beginning. We see him as a very powerful giant who can lay waste to armies at a whim. We see Saruman as a corrupted Magi, but one kick-ass sorcerer no doubt about it. We see the Nazgul and their pursuit of Frodo and they are pretty slimy. We see the regular orcs and they are pretty ugly critters, until of course you see the Uruk-Hai then you realize what ugly is. The Uruk-Hai appear to be very determined and nasty characters. My only complaint was, unlike the Elvish speech, they didn't subtitle Orcish or Dwarvish. Someone I know suggested this was because probably no standard for Orcish exists that would please the purists (unlike Elvish). But other than that minor complaint, I thought the villains of the piece were well represented. Even the CGI Balrog was quite fearsome!

Overall, I'd have to say the picture hung together well. The world it created was believable (mayhap in part due to our desire to believe) and the villains were evil or corrupted and the heroes were good although sometimes flawed. The visual environment was stunning, as befits an epic tale, and the action scenes and sword fights were very well done, if sometimes a little chaotic (I'm sure this was intentional). I'd have to say it was an extremely enjoyable and accurate rendition of the original story and I'm sorely disapppointed that I have to wait until Christmas 2002 to see The Two Towers.

Lastly, I'll conclude by recapping my two most vivid thoughts from the movie: 1) Liv Tyler is really cute and she does the elf-babe thing really well, 2) if I was building a fellowship to safegaurd the ring, I'd scrap the humans, dwarves, and all the hobbits but Frodo in favour of 8 more Elves like Legolas the Elven Gatling Gun. He was a whirling dervish of destruction and made me think "Gee, maybe living forever does give you a chance to be a kick-ass warrior!".

It was good. Go see it. See it repeatedly to take it all in. Have your friends see it. Encourage people to make this kind of epic fantasy more often - there are many other great tales that could be told. I know I plan to go see it again at least once!

Rating Back to Top

Story: 9.0/10
Acting: 8.0/10
Visual FX & Imagery: 8.0/10
Audio FX & Music: 7.0/10
Overall: 9.0/10