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

(aka: The Fellowship of the Ring)



Reviews and Comments

Director Peter Jackson has done what many believed impossible. He brought J. R. R. Tolkien's masterwork to film, adapting it for the new medium while remaining true to its spirit. The beauty is in the detail: every frame is lovingly crafted. The visuals are stunning, but they are more than impressive -- they're evocative. It's not possible for a movie -- or any three movies -- to depict in detail the breadth and depth of Tolkien's world of Middle-Earth, because there is just too much for even the original novels to contain. But the movie does the next best thing by conveying the sense of that richness by providing subtle glimpses of the history and cultures of Middle-Earth. A lesser movie, such as the abominable animated adaptations made in the 1970s, would simplify the world instead, thereby bringing only the essence of the surface plot to the screen instead of the vision underneath that makes it tick.

Of course, none of that makes any difference if that surface plot isn't clear and compelling in and of itself. That it is. It's interesting to see this classic story in its new clothes in the modern day: the film's prologue gives some background information about the One Ring, about Sauron and Isildur, and it looks like every cliched fantasy epic ever made -- a magical artifact, an ancient evil, a quest to try men's hearts. But The Lord of the Rings did it first, and so Tolkien deserves credit for that vision. The story proper shows how and why the basic formula works and is so often copied. This is no mindless blockbuster. It has action and breathtaking special effects, yes, but this is a true epic, on the scale of David Lean's films from decades ago, with a complex fabric of characters and drives and passions.

It was a wise decision to film The Lord of the Rings as three separate films. One is not enough. This first chapter runs three hours long, yet I could quite happily have spent six more straight hours in the theater with the next two parts and not felt any the worse for wear.

Still, it makes for an unusual dilemma for a critic. Ideally, I would review all three films as one, because they are one. Film history is being made here. Although Star Wars could be considered a single story told in multiple movies, each Star Wars movie has its own story in addition to the larger, all-encompassing one. This is not the case with The Lord of the Rings. So far as I can tell, this is the first film series whose entries cannot stand alone. Is that a bad thing? No, I don't think so at all. The fantasy genre has been working like this in books for years now, and the freedom not to have to encapsulate whole stories in single volumes has allowed for some great epic stories that would not be possible to tell otherwise. (Granted, some authors abuse this freedom, but everything has a price.) It is natural that movies be given this freedom as well. Nonetheless, as I say, it makes more sense for me, as a critic, to review the completed trilogy as one. This first chapter is great, and it will be great even if the next two are not, but if the end of the story does not measure up to the beginning, the usefulness of this first chapter's greatness would be questionable. (Not that I'm worried. The three films were produced simultaneously, and so it would stand to reason that the quality of the script and performances will be consistent across them. But time enough for that discussion later.)

The bottom line on The Fellowship of the Ring is that I spent three hours breathlessly enraptured by the phenomenon and spectacle before me. See it in the theater. This is a larger-than-life story and deserves to be seen on a larger-than-life screen.

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