STARRING: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Ian Holm, Liv Tyler, Christopher Lee

2001, 178 Minutes, Directed by: Peter Jackson

Description: 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.

With 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 your life!

"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 and overblown.

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).



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