LThis is a difficult review to write. It’s no secret that everyone I know who has seen this movie has loved it with a fever beyond normalcy. It’s well known too that J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth books were the zygotes of fantasy literature as we know it. I have to tell you, Gentle Readers, that reading the Fellowship of the Ring was comparable to having your front teeth pulled (which I had done as a child – it’s quicker). Before the firebombs get mailed to my house, let me finish: The film is much, much better than the book, and for that I must credit director Peter Jackson, not the revered Mr. Tolkein.
I am one of the fortunate but relatively few who have known Peter Jackson’s work for a while, back to Dead Alive and Meet The Feebles. Those are markedly different films from this movie, which owes more in filmmaking slickness to The Frighteners and Beautiful Creatures. In the OFCS awards, I nominated Jackson for Best Director, but not LOTR for Best Picture. LOTR is filled with what are now (but weren’t in the 1950’s) the ultimate in fantasy stereotypes – mystical talismans (rings, swords), halflings, elves, dwarves, orcs, every D&D staple from the beginning of it all. I was an enormous, addicted fantasy maven in my day, so those who do not know me please do not think that I roll my eyes at that stuff; but also keep in mind I have seen plenty of it.
Like truly classic films (Casablanca, Gone With The Wind) the idea, the sense of such a world, had to start somewhere, and it started in these books. What I found frustrating about the book was all the extraneous mystical mumbo jumbo that was irrelevant to the plot; long elven songs about warriors and whatnot that are not germane to the story being told, and such. Like the “begat” section of the Bible. Jackson mercifully dispensed with that and gave us the actual story, with all the walking and meeting singing beer-dispensers deleted and all the actual drama and excitement left in. Great score, too. Do not see it in a non-THX theatre if you can help it – the sound is mixed badly for crappy theatres.
Jackson also has the visual gift of (I presuppose) presenting on screen exactly what it was that he wants us to see – any film of LOTR has some huge shoes to fill. Die hard fans are having to wear double layers of diapers to survive their enthusiasm while watching this one. That speaks volumes about how he has touched the heartstring of the work. His gift of presentation can be as varied as hilarious undead, heroin-addicted puppets, or murderous virgins, and what you see you rarely forget. The visuals are largely computer and New Zealand nature- generated, and, like (I shudder to compare) Phantom Menace, fill the screen with beauty and minute detail. The difference between Lucas’ drivel and this is of course better source material and a better sense of what works. I especially enjoyed how the human-sized actors were seamlessly resized to be onscreen togther (with faces, not always children from behind) in their correct species proportions. Small detail but huge impact. I also hope the New Zealand Ministry of Tourism is prepared for the onslaught of travelers hoping to glimpse that small but beautiful country.
Only strong actors and a solid screen play could make Tolkein’s weepy romantic mysticism mystical again like it was for us when we were children. This interpretation comes very post-Dragonslayer, when we were all throwing money at anyone in a leather doublet with a sword, but it brings back the simple pleasures of the conventions of dwarvish pride and human arrogance. I hazard to add that in this film, I actually understood better the power of the ring, watching how it affected Frodo’s companions and of course “Ring-Wearer-Vision” where evil is white and good is black. The craft of the film is superior to the source material, in my opinion, and all of Jackson’s movies are paragons of craft. He clearly takes very close care of what he does, and his attention to visual style and meaning serve him well in such a dense tale.
I will admit that it was not my very favorite film of the year, for which I will surely be hung out to dry, but it is to be applauded, appreciated, and viewed again. I do not think anyone will be dissatisfied; I certainly was not.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/21/01
Time in minutes 178
Director Peter Jackson
Studio New Line