JUST FIXED!!!! Click Here To Get The Latest LORD OF THE RINGS Trailer Spot! Damn, there be horse heads and such in that tidal wave!!!! Freaking Awesome!!!! Enjoy...
Folks... Harry here... As I lay here in this bed of mine faced with a terrible case of Montezuma's Revenge whilst arguing passionately with an English-impaired mechanic that has a terminal case of mananas when it comes to my car... I read this. And I remember the conversation where I was asked if I wanted to go on the New York LORD OF THE RINGS Junket, and some alien being made my mouth say... "No, I would rather Mr Beaks go to that." How... who... what made me say those words... Is this what happens to the once rabidly geeky fanboy when all signs of sugar and caffiene have vacated his body for months? This is terrible, what was I thinking? GIVE ME BACK MY BRAIN!!!! Sigh.... Here's Mr Beaks... I loathe him....
THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (d. Peter Jackson, w. Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson)
Since I first marveled over a photo layout on BAD TASTE – in particular, the picture of a disheveled, bearded man spooning gray matter out of a half-decapitated noggin – in the pages of Fangoria, I’ve been a loyal fan of Peter Jackson, but to say I foresaw him directing the most widely-read and well-respected fantasy trilogy of all time would be a tad disingenuous. Quite frankly, after watching that initial go-round in gonzo, guerrilla filmmaking, I figured no sane human being with a hint of scruples would fork over dollar one for this seriously demented Kiwi to once again give a vivid pictorial tour of his depraved imagination. After reading the plot synopsis for Jackson’s second feature, MEET THE FEEBLES, I knew it was only a matter of time before this man was jailed and subjected to some CLOCKWORK ORANGE-inspired behavioral engineering.
Somehow, though, Jackson, despite ever substantially lining the studio coffers with any of his subsequent features, not only kept working, but conned those bottom-line conscious suits into bankrolling a $300 million-plus envisioning of J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, and further convinced them to allow the first part of the epic, the exposition-heavy FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, run at a full three hours.
Disaster awaits, right?
Hardly. Jackson, who earned his serious "auteur" stripes with HEAVENLY CREATURES, has delivered a fantasy extravaganza tailor-made for Gen-X geeks who felt a tad disenfranchised with George Lucas’s kiddie-skewed THE PHANTOM MENACE, as well as a leisurely-paced throwback to the Lean/Kurosawa epics of old, and if you think that’s lavishing undue praise, just wait until you get a load of Jackson’s scope compositions revealing the unspoiled New Zealand landscapes as the ideal setting for Middle Earth; this is a film stuffed to bursting with the kind of visual splendor that simply can’t be manufactured in post. And, then, there’s the story…… how should I put this? Oh, yes.
It’s like kicking off the STAR WARS saga with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
Which really makes perfect sense if you’re at all acquainted with FELLOWSHIP’s narrative, concerning Frodo "Cousin of Bilbo" Baggins’s answering of the mythic "Call to Adventure", the forming of the titular Fellowship, and eventual splintering of the group after a great, yet tragic sacrifice is made by one of its members. It’s a story that, if told exactly as laid down by Tolkien, could constitute a trilogy of its own, but Jackson proves to be a shrewd guide through Middle Earth, condensing incidents and excising unwieldy characters (bye Fatty Bolger, Glorfindel, and Tom Bombadil), whilst staying faithful to the book’s soul.
For evidence of Jackson’s economy, one need look no further than the film’s opening prologue, which slashes through pages upon pages of backstory to give audiences a miraculously concise history of Middle Earth, and, most importantly, showing how the ring came to be in the possession of one Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm). (This sequence also affords us tantalizing glimpses of Sauron in full battle fury, ferociously mowing down legions of soldiers with startling ease, and Gollum, the reclusive, covetous former owner of the ring, who will figure quite prominently in the coming installments.) It’s a visually dynamic sequence that immediately establishes the dire importance of this seemingly unadorned gold band; it also delivers the audience right into Jackson’s palm, making it far more likely for the uninitiated to trust the director while he downshifts to a more leisurely gear for the next hour.
Though the film does slow down to a degree, by no means does it grind to a halt. Instead, we simply slip into a Hobbitian rhythm, where enjoying generous meals by a roaring fire with good friends is the order of the day. It’s here that we meet our young, hairy-footed protagonist, Frodo (Elijah Wood) luxuriating in the peaceful confines of The Shire, where a long-expected party celebrating Bilbo’s "eleventy-first" birthday is about to be held. Joining the Hobbits in their celebration is the wizard, Gandalf the Gray (Sir Ian McKellen), who has come not only to bid his friend Bilbo farewell before his eventual disappearance from Hobbiton, but also to ensure that the aging hero of "There and Back Again" parts ways with the ring. This proves frighteningly difficult for Bilbo, who has come to covet his "precious" in much the same way as Gollum. Unnerved with the power the ring wields over its owner, Gandalf sets out to discover its origins, finding that it is indeed the "One Ring" forged by the dark lord Sauron, who has now sent out the nine dark riders – aka Ringwraiths – to find the present owner. Being that the ring has now passed into Frodo’s possession, he is now responsible with keeping it from this great, all-powerful evil, lest it consume and destroy Middle Earth.
Luckily for Frodo, he will not have to go this arduous trek alone; his ever-present, intensely loyal friend Sam Gangee (Sean Astin) is chosen by Gandalf to accompany him on his journey. The pair are also soon joined by the mischievous duo of Peregrin "Pippin" Took (Billy Boyd) and Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan), and later by the mysterious ranger, Strider, better known as Aragorn, son of Arathorn (non-Tolkien readers are no doubt scratching their heads by now, but it’s not as convoluted as it sounds). Upon reaching the House of Elrond, the party grows to include the human warrior, Boromir (Sean Bean); the Elf archer, Legolas (newcomer Orlando Bloom, a heartthrob in the making); and the mighty dwarf, Gimli (John Rhys-Davies). Frodo also connects up again with Gandalf, who has barely managed to survive an encounter with Saruman the White (the always brilliant Christopher Lee), a most powerful wizard and former ally who has been corrupted by Sauron.
Admittedly, the film is necessarily busy with exposition up until the nine set out from the House of Elrond, which does cause the pace to sag a bit, but the film rewards the audience’s patience once the party reached the Mines of Moria. It’s here that the film takes flight, as the party does battle with Orcs, a lumbering Cave Troll and a particularly nasty Balrog. Finally, Jackson is able to unleash his well-honed kinetic visual sense and unerring editorial instincts (check out the crackerjack hospital finale of THE FRIGHTENERS for further evidence of this), delivering a bravura sequence of sustained high tension that blends live action and CGI more seamlessly than any film to date.
It’s here that Jackson has to navigate the most perilous hurdle in Tolkien’s plotting; FELLOWSHIP has peaked, and the story now takes on a severely dour tone that never relents. This is where the director’s achievement moves from the impressive to the extraordinary, or, more precisely, from the popcorn pleasures of Lucas to the thematically meatier realm of Kurosawa. (Please note that this is not a knock on Lucas, but merely a distinction between the intent of the two directors.) The Fellowship is now a battle weary, doubt-laden lot rapidly splintering as they steel for one final battle. This has a peculiar effect on Frodo, who eventually flees the party, nearly escaping down the river before Sam charges out into the water to join him. It’s here that Jackson makes a beautiful commentary on the sustaining power of friendship in the face of brutal combat worthy of the best war films.
FELLOWSHIP attains this rare power through the pitch-perfect performances of the entire cast, beginning with Elijah Wood. Fully aware of the expectations of Tolkien fans worldwide, while concurrently navigating his own off-screen maturity, Wood imbues Frodo with his own insecurities and curiosity, rendering the character a natural guide through the richly imagined world of Middle Earth. He’s given a suitably intriguing foil in Sean Astin, whose emotional fragility contrasts with a fearlessly unwavering loyalty -- qualities that will make Sam Gangee an important character in the upcoming installments. As Aragorn, the idiosyncratic Viggo Mortensen cuts an atypical heroic figure, suggesting a man consumed with doubt, and leery of his worthiness as a royal heir. The film, however, is anchored by Sir Ian McKellen. Arguably the greatest Shakespearian actor of his generation, McKellen’s Gandalf recalls the Bard’s famous sorcerer, Prospero, with his portrayal of an aging wizard trapped in an old man’s impotent body. He underplays the iconic role magnificently, so much so that he probably cost himself another shot at the Best Actor Oscar.
Praiseworthy though the performance are, the creative juggernaut here is Peter Jackson and his New Zealand-based f/x workshop, WETA. Five years in the conceptualizing, this first installment in Tolkien’s epic represents the new standard for fantasy filmmaking, raising expectations for the subsequent chapters. Again, Jackson is working on a huge widescreen canvas, and his f/x team, led by Richard Taylor, fill every inch of the frame with images wondrous, but never obtrusive. No, WETA hasn’t surpassed ILM, but they’ve certainly become their equals, and filmgoers worldwide should rejoice in their achievement.
I don’t know for certain that THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING will prove accessible for the casual moviegoer, but the very potent undercurrent of bravery in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity may just strike a chord with those still troubled in the wake of September 11th. What *is* for certain is that Jackson’s film is not the standard escapist fare many expect from this genre, which may spell trouble for a picture featuring big-footed Hobbits and a wizard wearing a pointy white hat. I’ll be surprised, though, if, gazing off uncertainly at the hills of Emyn Muil, audiences don’t share with Frodo and Sam their determination to forge onward to the next chapter in their adventure.
Click here to E-Mail Mr Beaks With 1000 and 1 Questions About FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS, He is Your Able Bodied Servant!
Meanwhile, across the pond in London AICN's own Vertigo has just stumbled dumbstruck from a theater... Remember these emotions? Here ya go....
Vertigo here, not entirely sure where to begin following the screening I've just seen for Lord Of The Rings. So I tell you what -- I'll start at the very beginning ---
It's 1977 and I'm 7. On a balmy afternoon, I've just come out of the cinema having seen Star Wars, and I'm flying. My Dad can't keep control of me and my heart is pumping at double speed. I'm begging him to let me sit in the front seat of the car for once so I can pretend to be Luke in his X-Wing, or Han in the Falcon, I forget which -- frankly it could have been either. Whatever, I've just been immersed in a whole new world, and I don't want it to end.
It's December 2001. I'm 31 and on a cold winter night, I'm coming out of the Odeon cinema in Covent Garden, and I'm flying again. And to be honest, I have no idea what emotion I'm feeling. It's just so alien for me to come out of the cinema like this. And then I remember that trip to Star Wars, that trip to Raiders even, and I remember -- I feel like a child again because a film has won me over so completely, transported me so effectively, that I didn't want it to end. I'm giggling for Christ's sake -- I can't start a sentence or a conversation with my (equally bowled over) friend without giggling like a child.
And then I remember how much I hate Hollywood these days. How much I hate the fact that I get blockbusters that promise the world and deliver nothing. I'm talking about your Godzillas, your Tomb Raiders, your interminable Batman sequels, your Pearl fucking Harbors. The reason I haven't felt like this for so many years isn't because I got cynical and selective and imbued with the movie snobbery that only age can bring -- it's because the films got crap. They got cynical; they became marketing exercises, tested before release, branded, labelled, put on a shelf in Toys R Us and stuck in a bubblegum wrapper in the supermarket. I remember why I hate Hollywood. It kept dangling carrots in front of me for years, and then snatched them away, laughing as I gave them my money.
It took Lord Of The Rings to do that, because it's the exception that proves the rule.
I read the book, once, when I was about 13 -- I loved it, but it didn't overtake my life. No Tolkien nut here. I remember thinking it could make a great film if only someone could do it right. Peter Jackson has nailed it. He made me wait a couple of decades, but he nailed it. It's a perfect adaptation -- not slavish to the source, but retaining the integrity of it. Integrity -- there's a word you don't normally associate with blockbusters these days.
The realisation is exactly as I imagined it reading the book all those years ago. Pictures get painted in your head, and that can be the problem with films like this, when the director's vision doesn't match up with yours. In this case, the visuals don't just match up with how I imagined them to be; they practically dovetail. The Shire, Bree, The House of Elrond, Mordor -- they were real, right before my eyes.
The characters are perfectly realised, from Elijah Wood to Liv Tyler -- for 3 hours, hobbits, elves, dwarves and orcs are real things. The cave troll and the Balrog -- both masterfully realised and in the latter case, terrifying. There were moments in the film where I nearly caught myself crying, not because of high emotion, but because it was so damn good. Oh, and Sir Ian McKellern isn't in the film. Just Gandalf. They must have hired the real deal somewhere along the way and forgot to tell us.
So can I reach deep into my critic's brain and pull out one tiny misanthropic hair to split. OK, if you insist, sometimes John Rhys Davies' accent gets a bit too silly (it's kind of och-aye Scottish). That's it one tiny imperceptible flaw to prove that man isn't greater than God.
I loved it. I wanted the projectionist to rewind the film and start it over again immediately. The "Lucas/Jackson is going to kick Jackson's/Lucas' ass" talkbacks can continue until everyone is old and grey as far as I‚m concerned, but much as I love the Star Wars films Lucas is going to have to pull a very large rabbit out of a very large hat to match this.
Vertigo, still flying.
PS ˆ Liked your article in Total Film by the way. You lucky son-of-a-bitch.