Good day. Since so much of our site’s content is lost in other designs, hampered by ad code messing with the pages, or surrounded by gas and low on evil, I’m going to start reprinting them for new eyes. You’ll see classic Smilin’ Jack Ruby, stuff from me when I was relevant, early Devin, and if there’s a God… some Brian Koukol. So, look for the CHUD Rerun branding and enjoy. It’s nice revisiting some of this stuff. – Nick
***END OF WARNING***
This is exhumed to prepare for my reviews of the upcoming new LOTR DVD releases.
Directed by Peter (Dead Alive, The Frighteners) Jackson
Starring Elijah (North, Radio Flyer) Wood, Ian (X-Men, Gods and Monsters) McKellan, Viggo (The Indian Runner, A Perfect Murder) Mortensen, Sean (Patriot Games, Goldeneye) Bean, Christopher (Attack of the Clones, Gremlins 2) Lee, Ian (Alien, Joe Gould’s Secret) Holm, Sean (Deterrence, The Goonies) Astin, Liv (Armageddon, Inventing the Abbotts) Tyler
Hype can be a really sharp blade, one whose cut hurts twice as bad because it’s inflicted on an eager and willing target. The arrival of The Lord of the Rings on the big screen carries with it the potential to really ambush the millions who’ve been infected with J.R.R. Tolkien’s story of magic, men, and hobbits. Think of the 16 year anguish waiting for a new Star Wars film and consider that these stories were written handfuls of decades before George Lucas even dreamed of filming the original Star Wars film. These films being realized onscreen in this way is a once in a lifetime thing, and we’ve (CHUD.COM) been as guilty as anyone in building up expectations so anything less than Earth shattering results both cinematically and financially would seem like a horrible waste of energy for all involved.
Add to that the fact that the fantasy genre has never been successfully conveyed in live action film. Sometimes when I see a film in demand like this (though few compare in terms of anticipation), I ask my readers and friends to lower their expectations in hopes of not allowing the film to shrivel up and die before them. I can think of twenty films in the past three years that’d have really hurt had I not gone in expecting nothing, only to be glad the film wasn’t "THAT BAD".
We’ve had a lot of that lately. A lot of the "well, it could have been a Hell of a lot worse". In fact, my motto of late in defense of event films that fail to meet the lofty expectations demanded of them is that they’re harmless. Better to see this vacant FX film than whatever’s on TV, right?
Things, as the currently spooky looking Bob Dylan says, have changed.
Hype isn’t so bad, as long as you deliver and The Fellowship of the Rings delivers like FedEx and UPS only dream of.
In October, I had the pleasure of seeing 30 minutes of footage from Peter Jackson’s "Middle Earth" trilogy and while it was a mixture of drama and action I feared they’d showed us the best stuff in hopes of us hyping the product based on that footage alone. It was amazing stuff, from the attention to detail to the immaculate work of Ian McKellan as Gandalf to the show stopping battle with a cave troll. Until today, I didn’t know if we’d been conned and seen the only good 30 minutes in a film well over two hours or if we’d only glimpsed the tip of an incredible iceberg.
Beginning with a comprehensive but visually amazing sequence getting us up to speed with the saga on the titular ring and its evil power, the film immediately showcases immense growth in Peter Jackson as a filmmaker. Instead of showing off he lets his love and devotion for the story seep out through sweeping looks at the world of hobbits, orcs, elves, men, and goblins in addition to scenes of sorcery, war, and a little fellow named Bilbo Baggins (Holm) and his time spent with a creature called Gollum. Jackson’s not the kid with the keys to daddy’s car, instead a tour guide sharing a world he’s dreamt of and read about with millions of other fans of fantasy literature. The crash course in Tolkien (narrated by the eloquent Cate Blanchett) does the trick. Whether it’s the series’ ultimate villain Sauron (diehards will be pleased to know he’s kept mysterious and shrouded in really cool armor) bashing dozens of armored soliders away like gnats, elf ruler Elrond (Hugo Weaving) leading his men against thousands of orcs, or the tale of Isuldur and the ring’s influence… it makes it as easy for hardcore readers to see their text come to life and for John Q. Public to immerse themselves in the universe before the story begins. Very wise, and effortlessly realized.
Then the tale unfolds.
Bilbo Baggins has had possession of the one true ring (pretty much the most dangerous item in existence if put in the wrong hands) ever since his time with Gollum (chronicled in The Hobbit) and while it’s granted him fountain of youth vitality its never-ending allure to take over its bearer has sapped him and made him eager to leave his hobbit village to finish his years quietly. His timing couldn’t be worse, as the forces of evil are growing and with them the ring’s desire to be reunited with its dark lord.
Enter the elder but powerful Gandalf (McKellan), coming to spend Bilbo’s birthday with him but also aware of the brewing danger. Mentor figures from Obi Wan Kenobi to Morpheus to Harry Potter’s Dumbledore owe a small debt to Galdalf just as he does to King Arthur’s Merlin. Always great to have around, but usually a step away from danger, Gandalf soon realizes that the heir to Bilbo’s item must be young Frodo (Wood).
As we meet our cast of hobbits, the Nazgul (Ringwraiths) are sent after the ring. Screeching (the theater I was in had the volume WAY too loud and their cries were like shards of glass in my ears but getting up to ask them to lower it would have resulted in me missing a frame of footage) hooded creatures on the back of pitch black steeds, they’re obviously not the kind of acquaintance most would like to make.
In fact, they force the group to take foot in hopes of making sure the ring doesn’t fall in the wrong hands.
This all transpires in the first quarter of the film, and the rest is their journey and the trials they encounter on it. You’ll have to discover that for yourselves. Let it suffice to say that the story is exciting, filled with moments of great emotion, gorgeously photographed, and absolutely and wholly fulfilling.
When the "Fellowship" is formed, a collection of men, hobbits, elves and a dwarf (played by none other than Indy’s pal Sallah), they’re a wonderful group of characters who fit comfortably in the pantheon currently occupied by Luke and Han, Neo and Trinity, Butch and Sundance, and Kirk and Spock. These aren’t paper thin carbon copies. These are THE TEMPLATES a lot of the others were created from.
Thankfully, Jackson and his casting crew (including Victoria Burrows and Liz Mullane) filled the roles with absolutely perfect performers. While Ian McKellan was the obvious and perfect choice for Gandalf, he does anything but sleepwalk through the role. He’s a man of incredible knowledge but also of strength. This is not a super powered but physically plain Magneto or the crafty Arthur Dussander McKellan has portrayed before. This is a WARRIOR. While Gandalf is an older man who uses magic, when he raises his voice you BELIEVE IT. When he reaches for a sword as orc approach, you know there’s going to be some ventilated beasts on the ground. Excellent work, and while I didn’t need any evidence to know he’s a guy who juggles art and commerce with the best of them I absolutely love him for his talent and savvy now more than ever. Elijah Wood is exceptional as the doe eyed and uncertain Frodo and he carries the film just fine. There’s no trace of a spoiled Hollywood actor here, and his accent further immerses him into the Middle Earth world. All of the hobbits are good, in fact. I found a lot of the hobbit stuff in the book to be a bit silly and thankfully it’s been toned down here and while they provide all the comic relief here (there’s nothing even close to a Jar Jarb here) it’s in character and minimal. Kudos to Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, and Dominic Monaghan.
There are two actors who I found to really rise to the occasion and blow me away.
Hugo Weaving will always be Agent Smith to a lot of people but his work here as the decision maker is very strong and iconic. I’d have liked to see more of him, because Elrond is obviously a very important and powerful character (being immortal, he witness the initial defeat of Sauron hundreds of years previous) and Weaving is effective and surprisingly charismatic.
The real champ of the film, even over Sir Ian… is Viggo Mortensen. He’s light years away from his role in the third "Texas Chainsaw" film here, as the enigmatic but absolutely BAD ASS ranger known as Aragorn. Picture Han Solo without the wisecracks mixed with and Indian scout mixed with Sir Lancelot stirred together with the leadership and loyalty of a leader we all wish we had. In the dictionary under the term "Star making performance" there should be a photo of Viggo as Aragorn. The only thing keeping him from becoming the next HUGE leading man is if he decides he doesn’t want to be. Women will love him and men will too. To top it off, he has a terrific (but brief) scene of incredible romance.
Not to slight the others, of course. Liv Tyler is not among my favorites, but she’s terrific here. A true hero. Orlando Bloom makes a bow and arrow as dangerous as any gun could be, and Sean Bean is wonderful as the brave and suspicious Boromir.
I expected Cate Blanchett to be stunning and central, but instead was surprised how small of a role she actually played (though when she is onscreen it’s pivotal and a bit haunting).
Basically, they’re all terrific although I didn’t see Brad Dourif as Wormtongue in there and fear he was edited out (UPDATE: IMDB had him listed as cast for this film, but a few hundred emails have informed me he’ll be central to the next films. Cool).
Another concern was if a film audience accustomed to a diet of bullet time, MTV editing, and pounding music would be able to spend two and a half hours of their time in a land where it’s a certainty they won’t hear Smash Mouth or see a helicopter carry a bus across town. Of course, in a perfect world such issues would be of no concern and thankfully neither Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or The Phantom Menace were built around them and they had no problems finding their audience. Dungeons & Dragons, well let’s just not even address that one…
Thankfully, the combat is intense, fast, and the effects are extraordinary. Like George Lucas has, Jackson has helped achieve worlds never before available through the use of elaborate sets and matte paintings through CGI. In addition, the earthy domain presented here allowed for the crew to shoot in real settings and the natural background of the film lends it a much more timeless and warm feel. When the CGI is employed, be it an elven kingdom or a hellish pit where the thousands of minions of Sauron create orc/goblin hybrids, it’s gorgeous and sometimes jaw dropping. I’ve heard a few complaints about how obviously CGI it looks, but I think almost any regular moviegoer can pick out what doesn’t exist in nature or architecture and since it’s a work of fantasy they have carte blanche.
Add to that the fact that most of this work was done by Peter Jackson’s homegrown New Zealand FX outlet WETA, and it’s impressive enough to compete with whatever Hollywood’s passing off as cutting edge. Better yet, it’s done for a reason.
There’s no moments of using the FX as a crutch to defer from a weak story. This all serves the film. The dark tower of Saruman (Lee) stretches to the clouds and is a creepy and soulless place, but not to define the character. The elves’ gorgeous mountain built kingdom is breathtaking but not to divert the viewer away from the story. This a new WORLD, and while the characters and performers bring it to life the FX, set design and costumes assist them to perfection.
This really is an epic, one that combines all the ingredients to create something rich and memorable that’ll endure for generations as The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, and so many of Disney’s films have.
Is it a kid’s movie? Not by a long stretch. There’s beheadings, monsters (three biggies in this film alone), lots of battle, and a lot of foreign tongues and story to follow… but it’s captivating and engrossing and built to last. I have no doubts that this new trilogy will be loved by my children’s children.
Or I’ll disown the little snots.
It’s everything I’d hoped it would be and more. A work of magic both on and behind the screen and something truly special to remind the jaded what cinematic storytelling is and to teach the budding film fanatics where the bar is currently set.
Very high. Thanks to Peter Jackson.
The long road to the screen for this film has seen many different names attached to it (including John Boorman, whose Excalibur was my favorite film in this genre until I exited the theater today) and an entire book can be written on the battles and creative differences regarding this one. In fact, the Tolkien family’s not even 100% behind this film!
Regardless, Peter Jackson has created a masterpiece of art and entertainment and exceeded nearly any expectations expected of a filmmaker whose body of work features two extremely gory splatter classics, a Michael J. Fox horror comedy, a vulgar puppet film, a mockumentary, and a critically acclaimed but not widely seen Kate Winslet drama.
From out of the blue (actually New Zealand), has come a director of as much depth and vision as just about any three working today (with a few obvious exceptions) and his film has taken a piece of literature and brought it to life in stunning and passionate fashion.
The Fellowship of the Rings is a classic. It’s easily the best film in two years, and after a couple of viewings with a nice big crowd may just eke its way right along films with the names "Raiders" and "Empire" in the title.
Thank you J.R.R. Thank you Peter. Thank you New Line.
9.6 out of 10