The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Review
Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings is the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band of novels, in that it is held as the greatest of all time and the most over-rated of all time in equal measure. Despite the endless debate, it is extremely difficult to criticise the book based on its legion of adoring fans who are fully versed on every aspect of the universe Tolkien has created. There has often been talk of a film adaptation (in fact it's a wonder it has taken so long) and an animated version of the first part of the novel appeared in 1978. Rumours spread recently that New Zealander Peter Jackson, cult director of films such as Braindead, Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles and The Frighteners had been hired to direct, and in hindsight, you wonder if anyone could have done it better.
A small Hobbit named Frodo (Elijah Wood) has inadvertently brought to his possession an entrusted ring, left to him by his role model/mentor Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). However, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) finds out to his horror that the ring is in fact the One Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron, essentially the one ring to rule them all. Fearing that the ring turns its possessor towards evil, Gandalf warns Frodo that he must embark on a dangerous quest to destroy the indestructibly powerful ring. On his quest, Fredo is not alone. He is joined by the Fellowship Of The Ring, formed by Gandalf, Legolas the elf (Orlando Bloom), Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Boromir (Sean Bean) and Frodo's three Hobbit friends Merry (Dominic Monaghan), Pippin (Billy Boyd) and faithful sidekick Samwise (Sean Astin).
For the first two hours of The Fellowship Of The Ring, it's very easy to resort to casting the film aside as another epic fantasy adaptation that is very good but sadly not magnificent. However, once you manage to get your head around the lengthy character and situation establishment, alongside overcoming the chaos of plot strands that fill out the beginning, the film is majestic on an epic proportion. Essentially, the key to the film is its confidence in itself. It knows that it is basically the first in a three-part novel, and so it doesn't compromise itself by throwing cheap thrills to a demanding audience. Tolkien's novel presented a potential anarchy to any filmmaker indulging in linear plots, yet Peter Jackson is so respectful of the material yet so in control of his film that the final result is complementary to both Tolkien and Jackson's own career. As mentioned, the film is heavy-going for the first two-thirds, but by the time the final third kicks in the characters have branded themselves on your imagination to such an extent that you are displeased at the fact that you won't see them for another year. It's probably easier to avoid direct comparisons with the book, since it's common knowledge that it's almost impractical to be totally faithful to an original source. Also, the fact that the book is so popular and so well received suggests that it's excellent at conjuring delightful imaginations amongst its readers' minds. Based on this principle, how can any film match one's own imagination? Even so, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring should be enough for the book's fans to chew on, and also serve to introduce the wonders of Tolkien to an even bigger market.
The cast are excellent, and it's pleasing to note that Jackson has followed Bryan Singer's X-Men by casting quality actors in every role. Ian McKellen gives Gandalf the necessary 'Obi-Wan-Kenobi' wisdom that you'd expect, and Elijah Wood certainly looks and plays the part of Frodo Baggins well. Deserving particular mention however, are Viggo Mortensen and Sean Bean. These two actors, not usually associated with such important roles, show that not only are they worthy of such responsibility, but that they can also carry such weight and still deliver splendidly. Sean Bean has certainly picked himself up from every critical mauling he receives, and it's time for those critics to eat their words. Mortensen, however, is the best aspect of the film, and it won't be long before he's elevated even higher than Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt on the male heart-throb scale. He carries a down-to-earth charm despite a heavy masculine persona, and his supporting role days are clearly over. Ian Holm, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett also briefly appear, with the latter two destined to have bigger roles in the subsequent sequels.
Visually, the film is as you'd expect it to be; beautiful cinematography, imaginative production design and seamless visual effects. In a way, ensuring that these qualities were on the nail was the most fundamental category of the film's production, as the look of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring needs to match the hype. Not that this is suggesting that the film is the greatest ever on a visual scale, just that visually, it delivers.
Many directors have been associated with the project, and Peter Jackson was a left-field choice for quite a few fans. They needn't have worried, as Jackson has almost overnight suggested that he can share ranks with Lucas and Spielberg based on the extraordinary effort he has given to the film. Jackson maintains the essence of Tolkien whilst still throwing in some Bad Taste references almost unnoticeably, and this subtle trademarking is a suggestion of a master at work. Based on the potential that the trilogy holds, there is an argument that The Lord of the Rings could even surpass the Star Wars trilogy, due to the latter's prequels cheapening the overall effect.
Is The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring the greatest film of the year or indeed all time? No. Why? It's only a first act, and it knows it, and on that front it's totally unsatisfactory on a closure scale. Could it be the greatest trilogy of all time? There is a strong possibility.