THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING / (2001) ** (out of four)
By Blake French:
(WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead.)
The only thing worse than a bad movie is a bad movie that thinks it is good. The only thing worse than a bad movie that thinks it is good is a three hour long bad movie that thinks it is good.
Case in point: "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," based on the towering trilogy of novels by J.R.R Tolkien. According to this film's production notes, this is one of the most colossal movie productions ever embarked upon, based on one of the most famous trilogies ever written. And you though "Harry Potter" had big expectations
One of the biggest movie productions ever embarked upon? That's certainly a big statement-but I believe every word. It has taken four decades for cinema technology to reach the level of sophistication to bring this story to life. Everything about the film is B-I-G. It took over one-hundred million dollars to bring the vision to life, and this is only the first installment of three. Even the film's production notes-that embody 20 pages of single-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point font-are of the longest I have seen. Peter Jackson, the film's director, has vowed to make three motion pictures simultaneously to capture Tolkien's lengthy epic in its entirety.
LOTR thinks it is hot stuff, too. With amazing special effects, astonishing makeup, impressive costumes, dazzling sets, and a production crew big enough to occupy every hotel room in Chicago, it would be easy to let all the glamour get to your head.
Case in point: The film took home a whole pile of Golden Globe nominations. It's currently ranked as the best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database. It will surely break box office records, setting a new standard for film adaptations.
Sure, the film's technical aspects are vastly elaborate, the characters well cast, and the special effects amazing. So, what else do you expect from a big budget extravaganza like this? How about a story that does not find itself distracted with every step? Or characters that are not puppets of the plot? Is it really too much to ask for a movie to obey the guidelines it sets for itself.
I guess so. The screenplay, by Jackson, Frances Walsh, and Philippa Boyens, seems to calculate every move out of a strict book of rules. Unfortunately, this book is like the English language-it appears to have an exception for every single rule. In this movie, anything can happen at anytime-as long as it doesn't interfere with the plot. This makes it quite difficult to take the movie seriously.
In this part of the trilogy, a shy young hobbit named Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) inherits a ring-but it's no ordinary ring. It is really an instrument of absolute power that could allow a grumpy old wizard to rule the planet. Frodo and a loyal fellowship of hobbits, men, a wizard, a dwarf, and an elf vow to take a journey to destroy the ring. To rid the world of this treacherous jewelry, they must travel across Middle-Earth to the place where it first was first created.
Of course, the entire course of future history is entwined with the fate of the fellowship.
Actually, it's quite humorous of what this movie makes us buy. There is an old wizard man who escapes a towering prison by summoning an enormous bird to rescue him-at the last minute, of course. Where is this great and powerful bird when the character later falls to his doom in a deep, treacherous cave?
Then there's the old evil wizard. The movie makes it obvious that this being possesses mighty powers. Powers so great he can throw a full-sized person across a large room using only his thoughts. He can even make a bolt of lightning strike a snow-covered mountain, creating a destructive avalanche. LOTR convinces us this character can do just about anything. So why doesn't this diabolical warlock just rid himself of the Fellowship of the Ring? Strike them dead with a lightning bolt? Crush them with a big rock? I will tell you why, because that would be too simple-after all, we need a three hour movie out of this installment alone.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" plays like the big fat novel it is based on. We can almost see the page turning. The chapters arriving. There are many moments of silence, where the character's process what seems like pages of thoughts. The dialogue often sounds like written English. We listen to tons of mumbo jumbo about spirits, magic, power, evil, good, and, of course, rings.
Much of it is hard to buy, even if you suspend disbelief. One scene actually inspires giggles. Two old cripples take part in a vicious supernatural battle, where their bodies fly across rooms, slamming into walls and hard, pointy objects. A simple punch should knock such a person out permanently-but these are wizards, or, more importantly, characters in this movie. Death is only real when the screenplay requires it to be. During another battle between a big, fiery monster, all of a sudden, it is possible for the old man to die.
It's difficult to review a movie when it is only the first installment of a three-part series, and it's even more difficult when you have no previous knowledge about the book or the outcome of the story. Perhaps, years down the road, after I watch the rest of the installments, I will look back and understand this movie
But I doubt it. LOTR bored me to death. The best way to tell if a book adaptation really works it to ask if the movie makes you want to read the material it is based on. Before watching LOTR, I was inspired by the great hype, and considered read Tolkien's towering novels. After watching this movie, I would not read any of the author's books if they were the last novels on the face of the planet. I fear the next two productions in this dreadful series. We can only hope they're not three hours long!
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