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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen
Director: Peter Jackson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 178 Minutes
Release Date: December 2001
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Kevin Conway, Martin Csokas, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, John Rhys-Davies, Andy Serkis

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

If you're of a certain age you remember the song that goes:

Three little words,
Oh how I long for those three little words,
I love those three little words...etc.

Those are the three little words that every guy dreads hearing from his steady: "Where's my ring?" If you think that only modern women would kill for a ring, you haven't seen anything yet. In Peter Jackson's lavish, muy expensive adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's blockbusting sci-fi trilogy, "Lord of the Rings," a diminutive fella is so reluctant to give up that little gold band with its really cool engraving that he fights terrible contenders for the prize: and none of them are even women (or at least he doesn't look closely enough to find out). With a faux-Shakespearean screenplay penned by the director together with Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh and at least three pairs of wide, turquoise blue eyes which may have been courtesy of Bausch & Lomb, Jackson's epic tale filmed by Andrew Lesnie across the length and breadth of New Zealand is likely to hold only its key audience age for the entire three hours.

The targeted audience, I'd wager, is not the same as the Harry Potter crowd. Raise the typical age from nine to, oh, about sixteen, and you'll find the key people to fill the seats of theaters across the U.S.--where the film opens at about the same time as it premieres to an eager band of Kiwis who spent parts of 274 days watching the entire trilogy take form. There's quite a market for a certain category of sci-fi tale, the sort that elevates stories into legends and legends into myths. If in pre-literate days (and I don't mean the current era) the bright, wide-eyed children would gather around their elders to hear tales of ghosts and goblins, elves and spirits, the current hi-tech, wired generation prefers the videogame to the verbalizer, the big screen to the story-teller.

Though the story takes part in the so-called Middle Kingdom at a time that weapons varied from the large stones known to paleolithic humankind to the bows and arrows familiar to Robin Hood and his Merry Band, its New Zealand topography evokes current events, in its most horrifying scenes the efforts by the Northern Alliance and its compatriots in Afghanistan to smoke out the evil forces hidden in the innumerable caves of Tora Bora. During an over-narrated introduction that punctuates a landscape familiar to any who have traveled into rural areas, we are introduced to a band of leprechaun-type folks, Hobbits, who are each about four feet tall and whose elder statesman is the 111- year-old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm)--who has custody of the title ring and who with the blessing of his wizard friend Gandalf (Ian McKellen) hands it for safekeeping to his adopted nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood). The presentation may not be a mistake when you look at civilization as a whole, but from the teenager's point of view the gift is a disaster. This is a ring capable of giving its possessor great power for evil, the sort of link that Osama bin Laden would love so much that he'd send scores of young men to kill themselves to get it. With it he could wreak havoc on the eighty percent of the world with infidel inclinations and about sixty percent of the people who are true believers as well. What's more the ring actually WANTS to be owned by the bad guys, so that everywhere Frodo goes he seems to be pulled in the direction of evil beings.

The Tolkien trilogy, which was filmed at a cost (including marketing) of $400 million--is the epic story of Frodo's fights with fanatics, the latter led by turncoat Saruman (Christopher Lee) who rules over assorted birds, simian-like creatures, and tentacled terrors of the marshes like a lion tamer whose charisma requires no whip. Not even the wizard Gandalf, employing the language of Milton and Shakespeare, is a match for this albino- countenanced Satan who is determined to wrest the prize from the hands of its young protector using scores of persistent horsemen and sabre-rattling devotees. Opposing them are Frodo, whose team includes the noble warrior Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), bowman Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and a Dwarf, Gimil (John Rhys-Davies), whose Scottish accent could almost charm the horse from under its misguided Mephistophelean. Hiking across Hobbiton hills into forests and Alpine-like panoramas, they are helped at one point by Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), who is queen of the elves and that tribe's princess, Arwen (Liv Tyler). Fighting back and escaping, dodging and skirmishing, the good guys relentlessly clutch to their prize, their scariest battle taking place in the murky Moria mines where they come across cadavers, are attacked by Orcs and ogres, and resume their odyssey to Mordor. Only there can this ring destroyed and the world saved.

With only a slim risk of being accused of spilling spoilers, I'd add that if you are reading this now, you can safely assume that Frodo and his fearless fellows did ultimately succeed to ravage the ring. When we troop to the theaters in December of 2002 and 2003, we go not to determine the final outcome but because we know that the journey is far more important than the destination.

While this picture is anything but an indie, New Line Cinema must be congratulated for emulating art-house distributors--for taking a risk with a young New Zealand director whose claim to fame is the critically well-received but decidedly specialized "Heavenly Creatures," a dark story of New Zealand teens whose obsessive relationship drove them to murder. In that 1994 New Zealand-produced work, Jackson uncovers a bizarre, Freudian fantasy world created by the girls, Paulie Parker and Juliet Hulme, that must have caught the attention of the producers seeking the precise man to take the helm here. "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is not the sort of sci-fi I'm accustomed to or fancy. I prefer the more credible and realistic, the type that sends up our current civilization rather than aims at widening the pupils. "Stepford Wives" is my cup of cappuccino with its parody of men's fantasies while "Logan's Run" yields epiphanies of our youth-crazed culture. There's too much one- darn-thing-after-another in Tolkien's tale, and the filmmaker who wants to remain faithful to the text must of necessity pitch a plethora of battles. After a struggle with an octopus-like killer, yet another with equestrian beings out of Washington Irving, then some fisticuffs with an ayatollah-like madman with hair as white as an elf-queens' ghostly pallor, I cry "enough!" Is it possible that our young hero holding firm to his prize could be equally wide- eyed at every adventure? I'd guess he'd be more like the twelve- year-old boy grooving on his long-haired, silver-tongued geometry teacher on the first day of the new term only to have eyes wide shut by the sixteenth time that he is frustrated trying to prove that side-angle-side does not really equal side-angle-side.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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