There are two kinds of people in this world: those who divide people into two groups and those who don't. More to the point, there are those who read and loved and became obsessed with the three "Lord of the Rings" books, and those who’ve never read them. Since I have a tattoo that contains an elvish letter, you would be correct in assuming I am in the first category. But to give an honest review of this movie I have to be of two minds and try to see it from both points of view.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: Fellowship Of The Ring is the first movie in a trilogy, all directed by Peter Jackson (BAD TASTE, DEAD ALIVE, THE FRIGHTENERS). The screenplay was written by Mr. Jackson along with Fran Walsh (DEAD ALIVE, THE FRIGHTENERS) and Philippa Boyens (her first movie), of course based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkein.
There is an unfortunate tendency in fantasy stories to begin by deluging their audience with a sort of "world history" lesson. Tolkein himself did this with a prologue in the first book that relates the details of "The Hobbit" (his first book and not part of the trilogy, though it is part of the overall story) as well as some details about the history of Middle Earth. In a book it's bearable because you can skip it if you want but in a movie you can't (not until it's on tape or DVD). This movie starts out with a history lesson that contained some cool effects and (for a Middle Earth scholar) interesting details, but for the average viewer it's just boring exposition and just leaves you with a "who did what now?" kind of feeling. In the book the major characters don't know what the ring is or what it's dark purpose may be and we discover it along with them.
The movie should have done the same.
The movie really begins in the Shire, a pleasant land of rolling green hills on the vaguely European-looking but entirely mythical continent of Middle-Earth (some unbelievably stupid reviewers have assumed "Middle Earth" meant it was underground. No.). The Shire is inhabited by a humanoid race known as "hobbits" (sometimes called "halflin"). Hobbits are small, have big hairy feet and live in well-furnished underground houses. They are pleasant people but like to mind their own business and never travel very far. The one exception to the traveling rule is a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm: ALIEN, eXistenZ). His single long trip (the subject of a book he’s been working on for the last 60 years or so, called "There and Back Again") was described in the book "The Hobbit", but you don't need to know that to enjoy the story. In fact the Shire is preparing to celebrate Bilbo's 111th birthday. Hobbits are long lived (you're not considered an adult until you're in your 30's) but even so 111 is up there.
Arriving for the party is a wizard named Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan: APT PUPIL, X-MEN), an old friend of the Baggins family. Gandalf is warmly greeted by Bilbo's nephew Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood: THE FACULTY). Frodo is the central character of the trilogy.
Gandalf provides magical fireworks and a good time is had by all, until Bilbo gets up to make a speech. He announces that it's high time he went out and saw the world again. At that moment he surreptitiously slips a simple-looking gold ring on his finger and promptly vanishes, startling everyone. This ring was one of many valuable items Bilbo recovered on his previous adventure. At first it just seemed to have the ability to make it's wearer invisible, but lately Gandalf has begun to suspect it may be much more than that.
Before Bilbo leaves town Gandalf has a talk with him about the ring. Bilbo had told Gandalf that he was giving the ring to Frodo, along with all his other belongings. But now Bilbo seems oddly drawn to the ring, as though giving it up would be unthinkable. In a supreme effort of will power Bilbo drops the ring on the floor and runs from the house. Gandalf finds he can't bring himself to touch it, and waits for Frodo to do that for him.
Frodo is confused when Gandalf tells him to keep the ring hidden and then immediately leaves, but he does as asked. Soon after strange, hissing creatures dressed in black and riding black horses are seen near the Shire. Gandalf returns and asks for the ring, which he promptly tosses in the fireplace. The flames don't hurt the ring – instead they make an inscription visible, which Gandalf translates as "One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." His worst fears are confirmed. This is the One Ring.
For the newbies: There is an evil Demon named Sauron who once tried to rule all of Middle Earth. He did this by tricking the leaders of the three major races (humans, elves and dwarves) into wearing rings of power. What they didn't know is that Sauron had made himself a single ring that could control all the others. In a war fought 2500 years ago, Sauron almost succeeded but a great human warrior cut off Sauron's ring finger. Since Sauron had poured all his power and life force into the ring he could not live without it. His physical form was destroyed but his spirit remained.
Gandalf tells Frodo he must leave the Shire at once. A noise outside alerts them to the presence of Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin: THE WILLIES), Frodo's good friend and manservant. Having apparently overheard everything Gandalf presses Sam into service and tells him to keep Frodo safe. They all agree to meet up at an inn in the nearby human town of Bree. Gandalf has another stop he has to make first.
Gandalf heads south to the castle of his good friend and leader of the order of wizards, Saruman (Christopher Lee: CITY OF THE DEAD, DRACULA: HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, THE WICKERMAN, SLEEPY HOLLOW). Gandalf is there to seek advice, now that he knows he has found The One Ring.
Meanwhile Frodo and Sam set off on their journey. They try to be as secretive as possible but still stumble into a couple more hobbit friends (and the movie's comedy relief), Merry (Dominic Monoghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd: URBAN GHOST STORY).
Gandalf is not waiting for them at the Inn of the Prancing Pony as planned. Instead they meet an unsavory looking character named Strider (Viggo Mortensen: THE PROPHECY, PSYCHO ). He helps the group reach Rivendell, an elf city run by the elf lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving: THE MATRIX).
It's at Rivendell that the title finally makes sense, for here a council of the various races and kingdoms is called to decide what to do about the ring. Some want to use the power of the ring but just like the dark side of the force, the power of the ring will corrupt any who use it, turning them into a dark lord. It is finally agreed that the ring must be destroyed, thus destroying Sauron once and for all. Unfortunately the ring can only be unmade in the place it was made: the volcanic fires of Mount Doom, deep in the land of Mordor. A fellowship is put together to accompany Frodo on his journey. It consists of Frodo's three hobbit friends, Gandalf (who has returned from his own journey), Strider, an elf named Legolas (Orlando Bloom: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN), a dwarf named Gimli (John Rhys-Davies: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, WAXWORK) and a human prince named Boromir (Sean Bean). Boromir is the one strongly advocating using the ring themselves, because his home kingdom of Gondor is near Mordor and will be the first to feel Sauron's wrath. The fellowship sets off and then . . . well, you'll see.
There are a great many wonderful scenes in this movie but they were kind of few and far between. This is almost a three-hour film but if Jackson had included every detail it could easily have been six (serious fans will be disappointed that characters like Tom Bombadil are missing entirely). Even so a lot of time could have been saved skipping exposition (show, don't tell) and spending less time on greetings and introductions (when this movie comes out on DVD you could have a drinking game where everybody has to do a shot whenever someone says, "Hello, old friend.").
The lure of the ring is well played, as everyone who comes near it clearly toys with the idea of giving it a try, thinking, "It won't corrupt me if I just wear it for a little while." And the friendship between the characters is believable and devastating when some are lost. I enjoyed every minute of it just because I enjoyed seeing Middle Earth brought to life. I was tempted to give this movie two ratings, one for fans of the books and one for those who are not, but that's too wishy washy. I have to take into account the flaws I mentioned above and give THE LORD OF THE RINGS: Fellowship Of The Ring three shriek girls.
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