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The Fellowship of the Ring: The Greatest Fantasy Film Ever Made?
Reviewed by Mark Finn, ©

Format: Movie
Genre:   Fantasy
Released:   December 19, 2001
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   10/10 (What Is This?)

It's been the talk of the Internet for a year now. Every paste-eating ex band fag online has been rubbing their hands together in glee: finally, a film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Even the movie and media freaks were excited. After all, the project was helmed by Peter Jackson (The Frighteners, Meet the Feebles). And for the average man, there were impressive sets, elaborate special effects, and an all-star cast. Yes, we were all excited. Even me.

See, I have a confession to make. I'm not a huge Tolkien fan. I read the books when I was a youth, but they never stuck with me. I enjoyed them, more or less (okay, less), but that was it. Tolkien wasn't my first exposure to fantasy writing, unlike scads of other people. I caught Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard first, and let me tell you, there's a world of difference (and several hundred pages) between Burroughs and Tolkien. When I sat down to read the trilogy, I kept being distracted by the endless pages of travelogue, over every hill and into every valley, past every tree and every rock. And the food! Every meal consumed. Every song sung. Christ, how British. The action in Tolkien's trilogy is so memorable because it only happens after pages of interminable blather about the characteristics of Frodo's traveling biscuits.

But, hey, I am a geek. I ate paste, too. I played Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, I was actually looking forward to this movie more than any other fantasy film of the last ten years, and for one simple reason. I have no emotional or personal attachment to the source material. I'm familiar with it, but I don't love and respect it. That was my attitude when I sat down to watch the movie. I knew there would be shortcuts, amalgamated characters, truncated plots. And I was very okay with that. The question is, does it work?

Absolutely. From the opening exposition to the final scenic vista, you can see Peter Jackson's love of the source material in every frame. I was mildly surprised to see so much information included (elements of the The Two Towers and a lot of plot explanations were artfully re-arranged for the non-Tolkien fans who will turn up in droves to watch the movie). Putting all the cards out on the table now, rather than later, was, I think, a smart move. It kept the pace moving, and boy, it had to, because the damn thing is three hours long! That's right, three friggin' hours. It's a butt-number. Frankly, though, I don't think it could have been any shorter and retained its integrity to the main plot: the quest to Mordor to dispose of the One Ring. Lots of subplots get thrown away in service to this, and, again, I think it's smart. The average movie-goer will be dazzled, and may even go read the book for the first time. As a geek and a book lover, that's the icing on the cake.

You can see a lot of Peter Jackson in the movie, from the visuals and the color palette of the scenes, to his trademark cinematic billowy cape trick on the ring wraiths (duh). The only other person who maybe could have taken a crack at the movie would be Terry Gilliam, and he still can't bring the Watchmen movie down under four hours. Jackson had a lot of tough decisions to make, notably in the cutting and trimming of several key scenes. It's to his credit that as much of the book made it up on the screen in the first place.

Visually, this is how all fantasy movies should look from now on. It's seamless. From the height discrepancies between the elves, humans, dwarves, and hobbits, to the larger battle and action scenes, it delivers, and delivers big. By now we've seen what CGI is capable of; finally, it's been integrated with the actors to such a degree that it's difficult to tell what's practical and what's imaginary.

If you're a dyed-in-the-wool Tolkien fan, check yourself before you go see the movie. You know how Hollywood is. You know what they do. No book (not even Harry Potter) makes a 100% conversion to the movies. Don't expect a slavish recreation. That thinking is what kept the film from being made for twenty years. If you still can't let go of it, then just get lost in the spot-on casting, make-up, and sets. You'll be pleased at the visual accuracy, if nothing else.

If you're not a Tolkien fan, you'll have a ball. LOTR is a movie for everyone to enjoy, and it does a great job of being entertaining. I've been trying to come up with a movie that does as good a job of capturing the scale and scope of a story like this, and I'm still drawing a blank. Forget the Star Wars trilogy. This may be the best fantasy film ever made.


Mark Finn can also be found at www.clockworkstorybook.com. His novel, Gods New and Used, is available at your local bookstore or from Amazon.com.

 
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