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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (****)
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson, based on the epic by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring

Principal Cast
Elijah Wood -- Frodo Baggins
Ian McKellen -- Gandalf the Grey
Viggo Mortensen -- Strider/Aragorn
Sean Astin -- Samwise 'Sam' Gamgee
Liv Tyler -- Arwen Undómiel
Cate Blanchett -- Galadriel
John Rhys-Davies -- Gimli
Billy Boyd -- Peregrin 'Pippin' Took
Dominic Monaghan -- Meriadoc 'Merry' Brandybuck
Orlando Bloom -- Legolas Greenleaf
Hugo Weaving -- Elrond
Sean Bean -- Boromir
Ian Holm -- Bilbo Baggins
Andy Serkis -- Sméagol/Gollum
Ratings
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

The best adaptation of The Lord of the Rings is the BBC Radiophonic Workshop adaptation, now available in bookstores everywhere thanks to the movie. At 15 hours, the radio version is long enough to preserve Tolkien with a minimum of modification, the music and acting are supurb (Ian Holm is Frodo -- in the film, he is Bilbo), the dialogue uses Tolkien's own words whenever possible, and best of all it allows you to envision the Misty Mountains and Lothlorien in your mind's eye, where they are much more beautiful than any real thing.

The second best adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was Peter S. Beagle's script for the Ralph Bakshi animated film -- unfortunately Bakshi ran out of money, and the finished film is a hopeless mess with a few really good moments. But the script is wonderful. Peter Beagle is, of course, the author of The Last Unicorn and the Star Trek: The Next Generation script "Sarek."

The third best adaptation of The Lord of the Rings is currently playing in theaters, and it is very, very good. Don't let my grousing mislead you. Visually, the film is everything that could be wished. Like Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (****) it is long, mostly true to the book, with marvelous special effects and acting that is almost beyond belief. But it does not diminish my love for Harry Potter when I say that The Lord of the Rings is an incomparably greater book, while the film version is very much in the same league with the Harry Potter film.

I've seen it twice now, and discussed it in detail with people who loved it, people who hated it, people who have read the books fifty times, and people who have never read the books at all. These last found the film an absolute delight -- even artsy-fartsy critics are putting it on their ten best lists. But we who read, much as we enjoy the film, have a problem. It is not, oddly enough, a lack of respect for Tolkien. The movie has loads of that. It is a lack of respect for the audience, an unwillingness to trust the audience to pay attention, to get a point that is made verbally rather than visually, to listen. Movies, motion pictures, are about pictures rather than words. This does not have to be the case. I loved My Dinner with André. But a film that is too talky (movies used to be called talkies) doesn't play at the multiplex.

There are lines from Tolkien in the film: "Fool of a Took!" "Bilbo was meant to find the ring." We wait for them. Would there were more. But the film makers did not trust words do the job. When Bilbo and later Galadriel covet the ring the filmmakers lard on distracting special effects to drive the point home. And did the inn at Bree have to be dark and threatening instead of jolly and noisy, for the audience to know that danger lurked? Would an ugly Strider (like the Bakshi Strider) have repelled the multiplex masses?

Three major missteps, and then I'll get back to praising this marvelous film.

Sam volunteers to leave the Shire with Frodo. His willingness to go is essential. In the film, Gandalf does not give him that choice.

Strider carries the broken blade with him. It is not on display at some Rivendell gift shop. And it is reforged before the Fellowship leaves Rivendell. The film leaves out this essential element.

Gandalf falls into the pit with the Balrog. The film shows him hanging onto a ledge, leaving time for Aragorn to have grabbed his hands and saved him. Aragorn unaccountably holds Frodo back, instead of saving Gandalf. This is the most false moment in the film.

Enough complaining.

Visually, this Fellowship of the Ring is a dream come true. New Zealand was the perfect place to film, with exactly the right mix of the familiar and the exotic. The action is exciting, the landscapes grand, the recreations of Hobbiton and Rivendell as good as anything this side of our imaginations could be. The acting is near perfection. There is never a moment when you doubt the reality of the characters, despite the fact that they are very different heights from the actors who play them. This is a better film than we had any right to hope for. And the DVD will be even better, with 35 extra minutes of the Hobbit chatter that I so sorely missed.

Best of all, to judge by the conversations of the audience leaving the theater, everyone wants to go back and read the books.

Copyright © 2001 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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