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The Fellowship of the Ring

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Release: 2001, New Line
Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Orlano Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett
Director: Peter Jackson
MPAA Rating: [PG-13] violence
Genre: Fantasy/Drama

In the mythical world of Middle Earth, there is an epic struggle between good and evil. A fellowship of nine must destroy a magical ring of unimaginable power before it can be reclaimed by the dark lord Sauron. Based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring is the first part in a trilogy that constitutes the greatest fantasy story ever told.

What's Good
the greatest fantasy epic comes to life in a big way
excellent performances from a first rate cast
packed with action, drama, horror, and a superb story
a fairly faithful adaptation of the original novel

What's Bad
some of the other-worldly creatures come across as fruity
moments of severe melodrama

Excerpt from The Lord of the Rings

Reviewer: Andrew Manning (12/01)

In the 1950s, author J.R.R. Tolkien created the greatest fantasy epic of all time--a six-book saga published as a trilogy that has since become the universally accepted standard of the fantasy genre. Now, nearly half a century later, The Lord of the Rings explodes onto the silver screen in a big way, combining the remarkably vibrant story with perfectly cast actors and the technical magic of modern Hollywood.

The Lord of the Rings is a classic tale of good versus evil set in Middle Earth, a mythical land populated by humans, elves, dwarves, and hobbits. In this realm of swords and sorcery, the evil Dark Lord Sauron has forged a magical Ring of unimaginable power. But in a twist of fate, the One Ring has made its way into the hands of a young hobbit named Frodo. With the help of friends, including the mysterious wizard Gandalf, he must destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom before Sauron can reclaim it and cast the world into Darkness. The trilogy's first installment focuses on the formation of the title group of nine heroes and the beginning of their quest to the destroy the Ring. The Fellowship's daunting task faces peril at every turn from hordes of evil minions and the formidable Ringwraiths, Sauron's nine Grim Reaper-ish lieutenants.

The Fellowship of the Ring is a first rate story that leverages movie magic to transport audiences to another world and bring a writer's imagination to vivid life. The execution is so enthralling that even at a runtime of three hours, the movie never overstays its welcome and never feels too long. This is one of those rare films that just about has it all: action, horror, high adventure, a dash of comedy and romance, and a spellbinding story with big time special effects to boot.

The action is abundant, and goes just about as far as it can with the film's PG-13 rating. As Aragorn the Ranger, Viggo Mortensen takes out entire droves of evil creatures singlehandedly; and as Legolas the Elf, Orlando Bloom kicks ass Robin Hood style with a bow and arrow as he dispatches foes with uncanny marksmanship (although one wonders why he never seems to run out of arrows). The more supernatural enemies are dark and menacing as few screen villains are: when the dreaded Ringwraiths appear, you just know that some sh*t is about to go down; and the Balrog, a fiery demon that Gandalf battles near the end of the movie, is a major bad ass. The only problem with the fight scenes is that they often lack style--rather than the graceful lightsaber duels of The Phantom Menace, you get jumbled carnage that is sometimes hard to discern.

Rounding out the merits of the film is a flawlessly selected cast of actors. While many of the names are familiar, there are no instances of stardom outshining talent. Quite simply, the actors who are best suited to the roles have been cast regardless of marketability--a praiseworthy practice too often lost in Hollywood. Ian McKellen is the perfect embodiment of Gandalf, and seamlessly transitions between the frailties and strengths required for the character. Elijah Wood easily captures the role of the reluctant hero as Frodo. And I don't think they could have gotten anyone better than Cate Blanchett to play Lady Galadriel--her quiet mix of beauty and class makes her the ideal choice for an Elven Queen.

(This brings up a significant point for those unfamiliar with The Lord of the Rings: the Tolkien elf isn't the miniature toy-and-cookie-making bastard depicted by American pop culture. Rather, they are akin to humans, but generally taller, fairer, thinner, and with Spock-ears. And with Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett as the movie's prominent examples of the race, one sees that the Tolkien Elf-chick is basically a beautiful human.)

Sadly, Blanchett's character falls into a surprisingly overdone moment when she is tempted by the Ring and goes all Attack of the 50 Foot Woman on Frodo. And that's not the only instance of the movie's vision turning into cheese. A half-goblin/half-orc monster in the final fight scene is the too-obvious product of a Hollywood creature shop, painted up like Mel Gibson in Braveheart and running through the woods like Mel Gibson in The Patriot. Most of his fellow orcs also look like a mutant muppet lab gone crazy, resulting in a bunch of fruity creatures that aren't as easy to believe in as their less artificial counterparts.

Fanatics may be put off by some of the changes made in the transition from the page to the stage--various excluded scenes and the expanded role of Liv Tyler's character Arwen. But most of the straying from the novel has been done in the interest of making a better movie that is accessible to more people. And in the final analysis, the integrity of the central story has still been kept in tact.

Despite minor flaws, many of which may be the imagined products of lofty expectations, The Fellowship of the Ring is a great piece of cinema that is easily one of the very best films of the year. Screw Harry Potter: this is what the fantasy epic is all about. And while it may have taken nearly fifty years for Tolkien's vision to make a worthy leap to the big screen, it's a good thing to know it was worth the wait.

Rating: 9 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)

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