Retro Review: The Fellowship of the Ring

New Zealand director and visionary Peter Jackson spent over two years of filming time to bring forth the vision created by fantasy guru J.R.R Tolkien. His epic masterpiece was deemed unfilmable in its whole but Jackson’s passion helped him begin an epic quest of his own. The first of three books of Tolkien’s masterpiece is the “Fellowship of the Ring”.

Young Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) is a hobbit. Hobbits are curious little people who live the simple life in a far off pocket known as the Shire in the world known as Middle Earth. Frodo welcomes the wise wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan) to his town of Hobbiton on the eve of his Uncle Bilbo’s (Ian Holm) 118th birthday. Uncle Bilbo is an adventurer and the most curious of all the hobbits in Hobbiton. But Bilbo hides a secret that could undo the very fabric of Middle Earth itself.

3000 years previous, an evil sorcerer Sauron wielded a “ring” that could destroy armies and bring Middle Earth to its knees. In the wake of that victory, a desperate human general slices off Sauron’s fingers and the ring falls into his hands. The ring is pure evil and it can bring even the strongest man to his knees. The elves plead with the general to destroy the ring but to no avail. Eventually the ring is lost and thought destroyed after the general is killed and over the course of time it falls into Bilbo’s hands. It is this ring that could destroy all of Middle Earth.

Gandalf confronts Bilbo after his birthday party about the ring and Bilbo reluctantly gives it up. Gandalf begins to realize which ring it is and isn’t sure what he must do to destroy it. All he knows is that the powers of darkness are building to reclaim the ring and bring the Dark Lord Sauron back to power.

Eventually Gandalf and the elves develop a nine member fellowship to bring the ring deep into Sauron’s domain and destroy it the fires of Mount Doom. Among that fellowship is Frodo, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Boromir (Sean Bean), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) the dwarf, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) the elf, Merry (Dominic Monaghan) the hobbit, Pippin (Billy Boyd) the hobbit and Samwise (Sean Astin), Frodo’s ever reliable friend. For the next three years we will follow these adventurers through Middle Earth as they embark on their epic quest.

Peter Jackson’s epic storytelling deserves the hype the Hollywood machine has been able to push behind it. From the truly evil monsters to the brilliant sets, “Fellowship” embraces the Tolkien vision with passion. You can tell that this film was created by people who loved the books. There is richness and eye-candy in this film like none seen this year.

The first amazing thing I noticed was how cleverly the film depicts the differences in heights of the hobbits, humans, dwarves and elves. I was always a curious to see if they could pull that feat off. They do it with flawless brilliance. The almost giant Gandalf stumbling around Bilbo’s house and thrilling battles involving a lot of different sized people.

I did love Jackson’s craftsmanship of the creatures in the film. They are utterly brilliant. I liked how each one is something we have never seen before. I loved the Black Riders and the Cave Troll. This troll is the way a troll is supposed to be and he is so more believable than say the troll in “Harry Potter”. I loved the whole troll sequence.

Jackson’s epic beginning isn’t without its faults. It truly is a site to behold if you can handle the enormous running time of 178 minutes. Theatres should acquire “lazy-boys” for this theatric experience. Tolkien’s epic masterpiece was deemed unfilmable because of the tome of content housed in the trilogy. The running time is what deemed it that. For any filmmaker it is truly hard to overcome that challenge. What makes the film’s epic running time bearable at times is the powerful score by Howard Shore. This truly is an amazing piece of filmmaking but even the most brilliant and beautiful can wear out their welcome.

Having heard the books read by my mother and having fond memories of the Ralph Bakshi version of the books, I was puzzled with the film’s depiction of Boromir. For me, Boromir was a valiant, courageous and honorable warrior who dreamed of bringing honor back to his homeland of Gondor. It isn’t until he touches the ring that his honor begins to subside and he begins a conflict of honor and desire. In the books, as I remember, Boromir was the fiercest of the Fellowship and did all he could to protect the ring and the hobbits.

Jackson’s vision of Boromir comes off as a twisted, scheming warrior who has an ulterior motive throughout. Where is the Boromir I knew? I won’t hold this factor against the film because Tolkien characters can be interpreted in different ways. I also had problems with the depiction of Elrond but that could be just me as well.

Jackson’s “Fellowship” is an utterly beautiful beginning and should be commended on a film that delivers on the hype surrounding it. “Fellowship” is all I wanted in the epic telling of the classic quest-story but being so close to the trilogy it wasn’t any more or less than I thought it would be. That truly is a compliment in these days of over-hyped extravaganzas.

4.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

Final Note: I would like to make a short statement on how this film is being handled for its release. Some of us in the press core have had a hard time seeing this film and thus the reason for my narrowly early review. I am not laying any blame. In fact I would like to commend the people who worked on the project because of the hype surrounding it has been insane. No vision this extraordinaire should be held back. My question mainly lies in will we be going through this for the next two installments? Tolkien’s vision is about honor and overcoming overwhelming odds shouldn’t we as humans aspire to this vision.

Written: December 2001

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