Fellowship of the Ring
A Movie directed by
Peter Jackson for New Line Cinema
here to order the DVD
Reviewed by Mike Williams
After reading a few
reviews on the internet, I noticed there are two schools of review
for The Fellowship of the Ring: Reviewers who have never read the
books, or have only a cursory familiarity with the great story and
Tolkien fans, who usually know every detail of the book. As a Tolkien
fan, I discovered that I could not approach a review as if this
was an independent movie experience. My fan knowledge of the book
and Tolkien literary criticism kept intruding on any positive or
negative thought I had about the movie. Most general movie reviewers
who write for professional publications or commercial web sites
are not part of the book fan base and their reviews focused exclusively
on the cinematic aspects of the movie. Their typical response to
fan concerns about the integrity of the story and themes of The
Lord of the Rings is, Well, so what, this is a movie. It's
a great movie, so stop whining. As if the fans really have
a forum to complain. It is one thing to edit the story to fit into
a movie format; it is another thing to twist the tale into a post-modern
action flick. Modern movie pundits have neglected the cinema tradition
of myth-making that flowered in Anglo-Saxon times and was diminished
by the Norman Invasion. Peter Jackson had the opportunity to bring
it back to life and discover its power of story-telling.
My quick general summary
is that The Fellowship of the Rings is a great movie, as if Tolkien
wrote a great screenplay instead of a great novel. My quick fan
summary is that the movie is essentially perfect after the Fellowship
enters the Mines of Moria. Before this occurs, events are compressed
in time and somewhat jumbled. Now, for some specific comments.
The events from Bilbo's
birthday party to the council of Elrond moderately suffer from compression.
Too much happens in too short a time. I now understand the filmaker's
dilemma in compressing LOTR into a film-manageable story. The best
a filmmaker can do is edit the book events to the point of presenting
a compelling story to people who did not read the books. This is
the larger audience. I believe Peter Jackson essentially did this.
Most reviews written by people who never read the book are extremely
positive. The movie works as a movie alone, independent of the elaborate
context provided by Tolkien in the book.
The extended context
created by Tolkien takes too much time to present in a movie. However,
some context is necessary to simply understand the plot and characters.
Otherwise, the movie descends into a jumble of incomprehensible
events for the moviegoer who did not read the book. This occurred
in the movie created by Ralph Bakshi and contributed to the negative
reviews of that movie. I have read nothing like this for the Peter
Jackson movie. The general audience apparently gets enough information
from the introduction narrated by Galadriel. Since Tolkien fans
have this context going into the movie, we can usually follow the
action without additional context presented within the movie.
Peter Jackson did some
interesting things to keep the fans hooked in. For example, when
Arwen comes into the story, Aragorn and the Hobbits are among the
Trolls turned into stone from The Hobbit. However, there is no direct
reference to this in the movie. If you did not read the book, you
likely have no idea why these trolls are in the scene. This also
occurred when Boromir confronts Frodo at Amon Hen. There is a stone
seat up on a pedestal but Frodo does not sit on it. He has his visions
while hiding from the Orcs next to the pedestal. Only Tolkien fans
know that the Fellowship is at Amon Hen and appreciate the significance
of the stone seat. This is a very effective form of editing. Rather
than have the movie bog down with contextual explanations, Jackson
assumes Tolkien fans know what is going on and the details work
for them. Presumably other moviegoers view these elements as vivid
The most important task
of the subcreator is construction of the fairy world: The
perilous realm and the air that blows in that country. This
includes the physical setting, characters and events. These must
be realistic, convincing and maintain a coherent internal consistency.
Otherwise, the fairy story appears false and cartoon-like. How well
did Peter Jackson reconstruct Tolkien's fairy world?
New Zealand is Middle-earth. If Peter Jackson had simply filmed
the actors among the fields and mountains of New Zealand he would
have depicted Tolkien's world. Jackson took this even further. Hobbiton,
Rivendell, Moria and Orthanc are depicted with perfection. In particular,
Rivendell is magnificent. I want to escape there myself. Bag End
of the movie is Bag End. The Prancing Pony and Lothlorien were good
but could have been better. They were each depicted as rather sinister
and dark. However, this is only in contrast to their depiction in
the book. The time in Lothlorien was compressed and this resulted
in depicting only a few of the nighttime scenes. Jackson also distorted
the color palette in a few scenes. This detracted from realism and
made the world appear fantastic and not enchanted.
The great redeeming feature of this movie is the physical depiction
of the every character in the story. Hobbits are Hobbits; Elves
are Elves. Gandalf is the guardian angel of Middle-earth. Jackson
even got his hat correct. Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin are perfect
young Hobbits. Legolas is not the same depiction in the movie as
he is in the book. Even at the risk of sacrilege, I will state this
in clear terms: Peter Jackson's Legolas is better than Tolkien's
Legolas. The Legolas of Peter Jackson's movie is the son of King
Thranduil, whose skill and strength of will were powerful enough
to kill a Nazgul in the night with a single bowshot. Tolkien stated
in a letter that many readers apparently missed his understanding
of the character of Legolas, seeing him as more frail than he imagined
the character. I believe this occurs because of Tolkien's ambiguous
depiction of Legolas.
There were a few minor
detractions from the characterizations. The first is the casting
of Hugo Weaving as Elrond. I kept thinking, How did that sinister
character from The Matrix get into the Lord of the Rings?
The typecasting is a shame because if he played Elrond first, I
would not have this association that detracted from his acting.
Another character problem is the depiction of Aragorn as preoccupied with doubts. Aragorn's character is revealed by events and not shaped by them. Frodo's character, like Bilbo's in The Hobbit, is shaped by events.
This aspect of Aragorn's character depiction is one of Tolkien's wonderful inventions. The reader knows that Aragorn is the King. The men of Rohan and Gondor do not know this. Aragorn must demonstrate his character by his actions. If his character was undeveloped, he would not be able to confront Sauron in the Palantir, travel the Paths of the Dead, summon the spectral army at the stone of Erech and heal the wounded from the black breath. Viggo Mortensen and Peter Jackson depict him as full of doubts. This makes him vulnerable and a more sympathetic character. I guess there are positive aspects to either depiction, but how could a King with doubts travel the Paths of the Dead?