A Review of “The Fellowship of the Ring”
Directed by Peter Jackson
for New Line Cinemas
by Dr. Bob Hieronimus, December 10, 2001

For over a year, we have been anxiously awaiting the premiere of New Line Cinema’s production of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The first installment, “The Fellowship of the Ring”, directed by Peter Jackson with special effects by WETA Workshop and Richard Taylor, premieres nationally on December 19th, but we got a sneak peak at it yesterday, and I’m so excited about it, I have to share my experience with you. That’s right, I was actually IN “Middle Earth” yesterday morning, while my physical body was sitting in the historic Senator Theater in Baltimore courtesy of Allied Advertising and Kevin Perkins.

There was never a doubt in our minds, after we saw the two trailers, that this was going to be the best production ever of Tolkien’s masterpiece, and I have to say, it was not excellent in all details -- but superlative! This film is a masterpiece that even the Master himself, J.R.R. Tolkien, would have embraced. At three hours long, you’d think the audience would grow restless, but whenever I came to my senses enough to notice the audience full of film critics around me, all I noticed was rapt entrancement and awe. I also noticed I was not the only one dampening my handkerchief regularly.

I just wish the film were three hours longer! You know, when you listen to “The Fellowship of the Ring” on unabridged audio cassette, it runs over 22 hours, so Director Peter Jackson’s great challenge was to distill and edit the essence down to a more traditional movie-length. Inevitably there are going to be numerous important scenes omitted, and indeed many things were changed in the need for expediency.

But I have to say, that is one of the things I appreciated most about this film is the creative way the story was telescoped -- almost retold in a sense. That way I can enjoy watching it over and over again as its own creative achievement, and still enjoy re-reading the books or listening to the unabridged audiobooks over and over again for the differing versions. This is perhaps one reason why J.R.R. Tolkien and his son Christopher had such a disenchantment with any treatment of the Master’s work, and were so apprehensive about any film adaptations. At first I was disappointed not to have seen the film depict some of my favorite characters or scenes, like Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, Farmer Maggot, Old Man Willow and some of the scenes from Bree, but what was gained by their loss was well worth it. What was gained was a successful approach that immerses the viewer into an alternate reality.

In the weeks preceding the film’s release, I have re-read the entire “Fellowship” as my “homework”, so I was on my guard and noticed numerous little changes to the original text that were made throughout the film. The alterations were made so carefully and cleverly, however, that none of them bothered me. As I recall the memory of watching the film to mind, I’m left with more of an impression of “when I was visiting Middle Earth the other day” rather than “when I was watching that movie the other day”. In other words, this is much more a ticket to visit and live through a version of the events we are already familiar with, rather than to watch one film company’s interpretation of a familiar story

What really makes this film a totally believable masterpiece is the great attention to detail that is apparent everywhere. The actors chosen for each and every elf, Hobbit, dwarf, and mage did honor to their roles. I was so impressed with director Peter Jackson’s work-ethic and how he encouraged every member of the cast to steep themselves in Tolkien’s works. They lived their parts, and it showed.

Peter Jackson and WETA Workshop have set a new, and very high, standard for any future fantasy film. You can’t even compare this production to any of the three previous animated versions of the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings or any of the audio tape dramatizations. They all pale in comparison.

My problem now is how I’m going to fit in repeated viewings of “The Fellowship of the Ring”. I’ll have to wait another 10 days like everyone else to relive that power, grandeur and love that went into the making of this masterpiece. I don’t hesitate to predict that this first segment of the Lord of the Rings must win many Academy Awards. At least Peter Jackson wins for Director and WETA Workshop wins for Special Effects. On a scale of 1-10 this production rates a 20. To think we must wait an entire year for part two of the Tolkien trilogy is the only thing I wish we could change. I can think of only three words to describe this film. Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant!

Visit the official movie website at http://www.lordoftherings.net.

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