Lord of the Rings, Part I: Fellowship of the Ring

Written by Tanja de Bie

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With trepidation I and Saskia walked toward the cinema on that cold freezing morning, not saying much. I guess what I feared most was that it would be a complete commercial scam; debasing all that Tolkien stood for.

What does Tolkien stand for then? To me Tolkien is the epithamy of breathless storytelling. Every page of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is filled with myths, the promise of yet more stories if you but scratch the surface. It created in me so long ago the hunger to know more about this fantasy world, to live among the elves of Lothorien, to walk around the Shire, to understand the deep tragedy of Aragorn and Arewen.

Tolkien is the shape of things to come, and the sad looking back on what once was. He did not create a mockery of a generic dwarf. He created the first true dwarf Gimli, and all that followed looked upon his image as the true archetype. Tolkien breathed the ancient sadness in the elegant cultured elves and their longing to leave this mortal world. It was Tolkien who first mentioned the human race as predominant in the future despite their many shortcomings, the ultimate tragedy of the old world. Tolkien is the framework for most modern fantasy works, whether or not they are using his ideas.

So how can a movie stand up to this greatness, this monument of fantasy writing that fanatics have learned to heart? Wasn’t it doomed to failure? Many fans of Tolkien have declared foul beforehand because of adaptations made that were necessary to limit the script. Now I wondered if I agreed with their disgust.

But as the lights turned to darkness, and I was emerged into LOTR, only to wake up again three hours later as if from a dream, I knew I was not disappointed.

Yes, they have streamlined the storyline. Everything that was not essential to the quest of the ring was abandoned; including much that happened in the Shire and shortly afterwards, and a very large part of the happenings in Lothorien. But amazingly they have kept very close to the original story otherwise, though this means that people who have not read Tolkiens work (shame on you) had a hard time keeping up. A friend complained she found the story a trifle hastened; impressive though it was.

I was entranced by the way they had captured the spirit of storytelling. The special effects took a back seat, and it reinforced the movie, giving more credence to the story and the magical effect of the nature-setting used. They toned down decoration, and thus made it more strong and effective. I guess you should say the special effects were fully integrated and absolutely appropriate. For in reality, there are 1200 special effects in the movie, a new record in the film business. Among other things, they added many details to the nature background, used computer animation for the fantasy creatures, as well as the more conventional means, like large stage pieces. To ensure that the setting of LOTR fitted with the image fans had of it, they sought advice from some of the most famous Tolkien painters, among which was John Howe. The resulting effect is that most of the movie simply looks “right”. This is how I thought it would look.

The wizard Gandalf was magnificently done and well acted, that the character became very much alive, without any “powergaming”. The touch of the experienced actor shined through, even with the obligatory pointed hat. And I remembered fondly why I’ve named my son Pipin; though both he and Merry will probably be done more justice in part two, due out next year. There is something incredibly endearing about those two sidekicks.

The overlaying theme was demonstrative of the nature and celtish backdrop, which was most fitting to the atmosphere. The music suited this celtic theme as well, and stayed mostly in the background, blending with the whole. Since many fantasy gamers are so fond of the celtic persuasion, I believe it added to the feel of “rightness”.

On the way back Saskia and me listed our few gripes. The hobbits could have been a trifle more hairy, even for young ones. The orcs.. well, the orcs were not orcs, but rather looked like an even more nightmarish version of the undead; all slimy scary creatures. I mourned the fact that not more elvish details were revealed, but then that is one of my passions. I am undecided as to the fact concerning why Frodo asks Aragon permission to leave. I know it is not in the book, but it was one of the few ways they could have shown his inner turmoil without resorting to an overvoice. Finally, I later had to agree with the criticism of my friend, that for people not familiar with the Fellowship of the Ring, the end was incredible open; more like a TV-series than an epic movie. Still, you will have to blame Tolkien for that, not the director.

Overall, this is a must see. I will not be surprised to see this movie at the Oscars, something I would never have said about the D&D movie. The movie maintained it’s Tolkien class; and that was definitely it’s saving grace.

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