The Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring

directed by Peter Jackson
(New Line, 2001)

There's no denying the landmark status The Lord of the Rings holds in the annals of fantasy literature. Now, director Peter Jackson's cinematic interpretation of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of J.R.R. Tolkien's renowned trilogy, takes its rightful place among the classics.

Sure, not everyone was convinced it could be done. A lot of die-hard Tolkien fans were certain that any attempt to bring the tale to the big screen would flop in a tremendous way. They were wrong.

The first-day audience at a local theater fell immediately silent when the movie began. The anticipation in the crowded room was palpable, almost electric, as everyone waited to see just how Tolkien's grand tale and unforgettable characters might be brought to life. No one among those I spoke with later had expected quite so bold a success.

The movie is fittingly presented in a grand scale, with an amazing scope of action -- everything big and broad and so very alive. It's a pulse-pounding epic of fantasy drama. Live actors were supplemented by computer-generated figures to provide jaw-droppingly good, seamlessly blended scenes of combat and armies on the move. While the CGI was generally flawless, supreme kudos go to a cast who managed to translate Tolkien's written descriptions of characters, human or otherwise, into breathing, walking beings.

Elijah Wood captures perfectly the wide-eyed wonder and staunch resolve of the young halfling Frodo. Ian Holm is the epitome of Bilbo Baggins, fun and frolicsome, but infected with a sense of adventure and a touch of tragedy. (I wish I could see him star in The Hobbit as well!) Sean Astin is a stalwart Samwise Gamgee, a bit thick at times but loyal and true. Billy Boyd, as Pippin, and Dominic Monaghan, as Merry, provide the comic relief.

Viggo Mortensen also shines as the scruffy, noble Aragorn. Others in the fellowship are John Rhys-Davies as the gruff dwarf Gimli, Orlando Bloom as the elf bowman Legolas and Sean Bean as the troubled warrior Boromir. Along the way, they receive aid from the ethereal Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), the fiesty Arwen (Liv Tyler) and the proud Elrond (Hugo Weaving).

And oh, who can imagine a better Gandalf than Ian McKellen? The wizard is mysterious. Jolly. Imposing. Brooding. Whimsical. Terrifying. Terribly stubborn. A bit mad. And everything else a Gandalf should be. Better yet, his magic appears very real, from the wonder of his fireworks to the clashing violence of a wizards' duel against Christopher Lee as the powerful Saruman, whose regal and fastidious air is a sharp contrast to Gandalf's ragged bearing and tangled locks.

The ringwraiths, sinister Black Riders, are as much special effects as they are men and horses -- and are terribly effective as such. Other effects, such as the fiery balrog, the cave troll and the massed armies of orcs, are visually believable as they interact with live actors. Equally effective is the filming technique which resizes the actors to suit the stature of their charactors. As for the landscape and structures of Tolkien's Middle Earth -- utterly astonishing.

Is it Tolkien's vision exactly as he saw it? Of course not. But it's a vivid reimagination of a glorious tale that has been splendidly realized -- a story brought to life in a new and wonderful way, paying the greatest amount of respect to its source material and imbuing the words with a fresh sense of awe. The wait for parts two and three -- to be released in December 2002 and 2003, respectively -- will be a long wait indeed.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 21 December 2001

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