The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Directed by Peter Jackson

Adding to all that has been written about this movie seems a bit like tossing a few more grains of sand on a stretch of beach but having finally seen The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring it seems somehow obligatory.

To start, I was surprised I liked it as much as I did. I think it’s a fabulous film. Since most of the big blockbuster, mega-hyped films I’ve seen in the last few years have left me wondering what all the noise was about, I was caught of guard. I was expecting something that at best would be so-so. I was wrong.

I think there are two keys that make this special effects extravaganza work, and they both have to do with its focus on the story.

The first simply is that focus. Because the film wants to tell the story of The Lord of the Rings (although not slavishly), it anchors itself to Tolkien’s book. The film is long but doesn’t seem this way because the story is always working and carrying it along. The story, of course, is rooted in its characters and the film allows those characters to reveal themselves and become established, including the entire world of Middle Earth.

The performances of the actors are bang on. This is especially true of Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Elijah Wood as Frodo, the two key roles. But it’s equally true of the supporting cast of characters who are vital to creating this fantastic world and making it almost tangible.

The second key has to do with the special effects and how they relate to the story. Unlike many films that employ special effects, here they are rarely superfluous. They really do serve the story. Rather than a lot of flim flam with some characters spouting the odd line here and there, here the focus is on the characters and the story with the special effects augmenting and enhancing both.

Still, the effects are a big part of the film and they work better in some scenes and not so well in others. The epic panoramic shots of battles sometimes don’t quite work, at least for me. I’m not so sure this is the images themselves as it is an awareness that they are computer generated (as opposed to a Lawrence of Arabia where you know these really are hundreds of people). For me, there is still something not quite true about computer effects though I can’t say what exactly is missing or off the mark.

But this is quibbling. For me what really works are the characters, the sets and the New Zealand landscapes used for creating the world of The Lord of the Rings. And I find it particularly revealing about how good the film is when, after just shy of 3 hours, I wanted (and was ready for) the film to continue.

As far as the DVD goes … well, this is my one real bitch. The quality is pristine; no complaints there. But the special features are simply far too promotional. Almost everything in them is a teaser for another version of the DVD or the next film. I realize a lot of money went into making the film and a lot of people need to make that money back, but really … It’s just a little too tacky and a little too much like a used car lot for my tastes.

© 2003 Piddleville Inc.

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