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

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Score: 9/10

Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 58 min.

Release Date: December 19th, 2001 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Peter Jackson Actors: Elijah Wood, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Sean Astin, Marton Csokas, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen, Dominic Monaghan, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd

I

n the Second Age, a forging of great rings gives each species of Middle Earth the strength and will to govern their races. Three are bestowed upon the wise elves, seven to the dwarf lords, and nine to the humans – who desire power above all else. But the dark lord Sauron secretly creates a master ring in the fires of Mount Doom, in the land of Mordor, to control all the others. The free lands of Middle Earth fall to the wicked powers of the ring, causing an uprising of rebels that plan a climactic attack on Mount Doom, where Sauron is finally defeated. But the young king Isildur is corrupted by the golden band, failing his one chance to destroy it forever, and through the course of 2500 years, its existence becomes but a legend – until it is eventually entirely forgotten. When lowly creature Gollum stumbles upon it, he too is overcome by its hatefulness – for another five centuries.

When an unlikely hero, diminutive hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), recovers it in Gollum’s cave, he guards it for sixty more years. At his home in the Shire, he plans a grand birthday celebration heralding his retirement to a neighboring land with the elves – but not before passing the ring on to his nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood). When the judicious wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) learns of its survival, he discovers that Sauron’s life force is bound to the mystical circlet, with the evil sorcerer’s faithful servants in Mordor awaiting his return – to cover the lands in a second darkness. They torture Gollum for information, and he gives up the name Baggins, forcing Frodo to journey across Middle Earth in a desperate gambit to destroy it at its origination point – the fires of Mount Doom. Along the way, a fellowship is amassed, intent on protecting the ring’s custodian on the treacherous crusade.

The plot is deceptively simple – but it houses some of the most detailed, absorbingly complex characters, creatures, and battle sequences in decades. In its introduction of dozens of key personas, it presents tongue-twistingly peculiar names (like something out of “Star Wars,” though the source material by J.R.R. Tolkien predates that series by more than twenty years), dwelling in curiously dubbed locales. Of particular confusion is the dark lord’s name Sauron, when another villain, the allied conjurer Saruman (played by the instantly recognizable Christopher Lee), comes into the picture. But from a technical standpoint, the movie is unequaled, boasting special effects, costuming, props, armaments, and makeup of august proportions (hideously disfigured orcs and goblins are of special note, while even the effects for shortening hobbits and heightening humans prove credible). Magical capabilities aren’t succinctly defined, however, resulting in the occasional sense of spontaneously improvised solutions to harrowing predicaments (with Gandalf frequently appearing too weak to combat the outnumbering enemies).

Well balanced and stimulating, the film alternates between intense action, light comedy, and sincere drama (a few moments are even reserved for romance). Backdrops change from lush forests to snowcapped peaks to underground caverns, all with overzealous cinematography vertiginously rushing about as oversized monsters nip at the travelers’ heels. And morality and mortality are served in equal measure through steady adventure as the heroic expedition faces regular impasses and hectically – and creatively – choreographed fight scenes. It is perhaps the most epic of all fantasy stories (rivaling the release of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” a month earlier), made more apparent by the lengthy – but heartily packed – running time.

While its visual scope is immense, an unavoidable sense of truncation exists, not just from the book-to-film adaptation, but for the story, which cuts off at the conclusion to make way for the sequels. Armies are assembled, protectors are gathered, undisclosed identities revealed, a quest is determined, and responsibilities are assigned, but each action leads up to an arguably overdramatic climax that still feels like it’s just the beginning. Fortunately, the sheer amount of exciting developments squeezed into the outset (along with the thrilling resolution of formidable, primary henchman Lurtz, leader of the Uruk-hai orc hybrids) marks “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” as a striking cinematic experience, worthily helmed by Peter Jackson, whose previous credits of “The Frighteners” and “Dead Alive” certainly didn’t concede the confidence and momentum (and skill with a sizable budget) with which he directed this first part to an undeniably groundbreaking trilogy.

– Mike Massie

 

 



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