Ain't It Cool News (www.aintitcool.com)
Review

Harry's Look At LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

It is everything I ever hoped it would or could be.

Have you noticed a curious little habit in the reviews we’ve been seeing online from movie geeks? The habit of bringing up their favorite films of all time?

I’m not going to do that. I feel no need to push a film off my top ten. Not that this film wouldn’t re-sequence the entire bloody list, but because this was a completely different experience for me.

I look at my top ten, and I must say I love a film that makes you examine that list. Like I said, I look at my top ten and they are so comfortable. Never dusty, always there for me to handle and rewatch. To lay back with and to take me from whatever state that I am at, to that state that they take me to.

My top ten films have been my top ten films for 20 years. Something doesn’t replace one of those overnight, does it? Do I push out number 10 into the ominous spot of ELEVEN? Could I do that? I mean, that’s like replacing a friend on Speed Dial… that is a major thing. Something that requires oodles of thought and deliberation.

FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is something new anyway. Due to my experiences regarding this film… well…

I came to AICN with only one qualification, Love for Film. I had not written professionally, mainly because no one would have ever given me a chance. (Nor should they have any reason to.) I came with Forrest J Ackerman in my brain. Alongside Leonard Maltin and Roger Ebert. However, it has always been Uncle Forry, who I most wanted to grow up to be like.

Visiting and talking with Ackerman changed my life. Listening to him telling stories about when his friend Ray Harryhausen first showed him the room where he animated. Listening to him talking about being friends with and being associated with some of my favorite films ever. Well, that just does something to ya.

Ackerman has this peaceful Zen-like smile… all at once cherubic and devilish. FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING made me understand that smile.

When you see older people looking at youth… get that far away look in their eyes and smile that smile of memory, that’s the smile of Forry’s that I’m talking about.

He smiled like that at me as I picked up the smoke bomb that Carl Denham hurled at KING KONG. He smiled because he remembers when Willis O’Brien gave that to him. When he told me it was ok to move the Stegie’s tail from KING KONG, he began to chuckle. He could see his love reflected. And he told me stories. Such wonderful stories about Willis and his wife. Of Harryhausen on MIGHTY JOE YOUNG…

I was transformed. I realized right then and there… I wanted to have those stories, to be able to delight others with those memories and those experiences. To talk from a first person perspective with intimate knowledge of the greatest films of all time.

In the years of running this site I’ve been blessed with having experiences with many B-movies. Films of lavish design and spectacle that just fell short on an innumerable amount of ways.

I could never hope to stare at KONG’s wall… Even Ackerman didn’t get this joy. Kong was what woke him up, he joined the fray after it. I’ve spoken with the hair stylist that worked on THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and listened to him remember Flynn’s fight with Basil Rathbone on those stairs. I remember listening to Johnny Weismuller when he was babysitting me, talking about making TARZAN AND HIS MATE.

I have had good experiences with films of other people’s times. Hell, at Butt-Numb-A-Thon 3 I had a real live Munchkin talk about being a part of an eternal thing. Something that has out-lived many of his friends, a film that will be here in people’s hearts when he himself is gone.

The love of film was in his eyes.

What does any of this have to do with me watching LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING?

Well, I can’t pretend to write a normal objective review of this movie. That’s not the experience I have had. For the first time in my life I feel exactly how I’ve always dreamed Forry felt about the movies he had touched.

If you read Moriarty’s review, he’s got the love and passion and excited bewilderment for FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, and he has it without the baggage that I have with me.

On that last day in New Zealand as I sat there with Peter Jackson in his house. The trolley car from BRAIN DEAD over my head, Peter’s collection of Famous Monsters of Filmland over my shoulder. And we chatted about why we do the things we do, Peter intimated to me with his lovely wife Fran, that he hoped that my having seen so much behind the scenes hadn’t spoiled the experience of watching the films. He told me he dreamed that he could perhaps one day erase his memory and sit like any regular film geek and just let these films he was making happen to him. And he was truly worried about being able to do that, and he was worried that the time I spent on set, with the crew, with the cast and with him… That I would never be able to separate that from the movies.

Peter… I know you are reading this. You were right, that experience altered the affect this movie had on me.

I believe I have just had the most perfect film experience in my life. The one that I struggle so hard to have has happened effortlessly.

As the lights went dark in the theater and as my film mate Patch clutched my arm, I realized that I was very much afraid I was going to have a heart attack. My pulse was racing at a humming bird’s rate. My breathing was erratic. And my arm was hurting, though that was attributed to Patch squeezing it like an empty beer can.

I’ve never been so awake, so aware, so excited, so thrilled or so conscious while watching a movie in my life. As the movie played I realized that I knew everyone in this movie. Each of those names, I know the faces to go with them. I know stories about them. I can shut my eyes and see them live.

As we first see Frodo under that tree, pipe in mouth and reading that book, my pulse increased. I wasn’t crying… I didn’t even feel tears, instead there was a different feeling. A feeling that I don’t know if I can wholly describe or not as I have no comparable feeling to join it to.

I remember, I was sitting on the steps of THE FACULTY’s set where Elijah is going to be running from Robert Patrick. There was a break in shooting, because as Robert was running with the steadi-cam, he slipped and fell and they were checking all the equipment out. Elijah joined me on the steps and asked how things were going. It was mid-afternoon and I told him that I had spoken on the phone with Peter Jackson that day. That Peter was going to try and make THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Elijah had never read that book, but he had read the Hobbit, and loved that. That’s when I looked at him and told him he would be perfect to play Frodo.

There he is. He is Frodo Baggins. After all these years, all this time, there is my friend. The guy I ate bar-b-que and screened 16mm films in the backyard with… And he is Frodo Baggins. Is this pride? Satisfaction? It just felt perfect, as if this was how things were meant to be. How they should be. And you know. That memory is really quite old now. Elijah was literally just a kid then. Now he’s Frodo.

Then I see Gandalf in that cart, that horse-drawn rickshaw of explosive wonderment. As soon as I see him, I flash to chocolate in his beard and that pursed lips uttering, "Oh my, they’re going to be furious with me," as he began to smile. That same smile he smiles at Frodo. A delighted smile. Same make-up. Same look.

I’ve never ever had complete and total unconditional love and the feeling of brotherhood that I feel for FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. There is a strange calm and a wonderful warmth that comes with this. It is that dream we all have had since we were children watching Lucas’ and Spielberg’s and Harryhausen’s and all those other people’s movies.

Remember that Universal Picture "RIDE THE MOVIES" trailer thing that used to play in theaters with the Cylons and stuff? Remember how you used to think when you would go on that, that you could just walk around as they shot the movies they showed you there? How you would walk around as they were shooting JAWS?

I mean, if you go to MGM’S STUNT SPECTACULAR and you watch that re-enactment of the Airplane scene from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK… Well in a weird sort of, kinda, maybe, squint and an enormous suspension of disbelief, you can try to imagine being there as it was actually filming.

Here. As they battled the Watcher in the Water. As Frodo’s leg is snatched, as the various members of the Fellowship begin attacking it trying desperately to save Frodo… I’m right behind the camera. When Peter yelled CUT that day, I was off camera talking with Randall Cook, the effects guy in charge of the animation needed to bring that scene totally to life. I remember watching as the costume people put Sam’s backpack with all those pots and pans onto Sean Astin. I remember Orlando Bloom coming over, grabbing me, having the Polaroid person snap an instamatic of him and me, and I remember playing with Gimli’s axes, Legolas’ bow, Frodo’s Sting and Gandalf’s staff. I remember their weight. I remember the rubber versions and the real versions. The oversized versions and the normal sized versions.

I was there for that. As I watched it play out on screen, I smiled in a goofy tearful OHMYGOD sort of manner and thought of Kerwin Matthews.

What?

If you look at your DVD of SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, there’s the interview/making of feature, and Kerwin Matthews, who played Sinbad, talks about watching the finished version of the film for the first time. And how everything was so much better than he imagined it being as he was making it happen. He talks about how Ray showed him images and sketches. How Ray told him where to look. And how when he saw himself on that screen doing what he was doing against that skeleton that he had to imagine was there… and seeing that magic, that beautiful transcendent work of Hollywood Magic, he couldn’t believe that it was him on screen.

That’s how I feel. I can’t believe that’s Elijah Wood up there. I can’t believe that I’m watching that moment that I watched being filmed that day, and that this immense… awesome… incredible creature is where I was standing. As I’m typing this I have tears dripping over my pushed up cheeks because this is beautiful. The feeling I have of being there… That I’ll be able to tell my nephew about. That I can tell people these stories as I get older… that like Forry, I can remember and talk about ‘the time when I…’ Ya know?

All of a sudden I understand Clarence, the midget from THE WIZARD OF OZ. This is a memory of mine, that is preserved and will definitely be loved fondly well beyond my years and for the rest of my life, I’ll be able to share a some what unique perspective of.

That. That is why I do what it is I do. That is what I dreamed of feeling when I created Aint It Cool News. To be there. To witness the creation of the moments we love for a lifetime.

What do I think of the finished product? The film. I’ll tell you in 10 years. Because for the moment, I feel like this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. That I could just sit here and watch it play over and over and over again. The feeling in me right now is more vital than any film has ever given me. But was it the film alone?

The reason I’ve been running so many reviews. Why I will continue, is I’m fascinated with others’ experiences with seeing the movie. My father for example. Yesterday, while I was asleep, Tim League dropped by the house… on my birthday. Apparently there was a testing of the print that was showing today at the theater, and Tim dropped by on his way out to see it. I was asleep. Dad tried to wake me, but I apparently told him, "Leave me alone, it’s my birthday… SLEEP!" and I allegedly didn’t hear the words COME SEE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING NOW!

Today was Dad’s second time seeing the film. Upon walking out he proclaimed that all things considered, it was the best feature film he has seen in his 50 years of film going.

That shook me. Dad wasn’t in New Zealand. In fact I remember him being quite pissed that he wasn’t going. Patch, she’s barely able to walk. Quint looks like he’s a heroin addict. The film was knocking people’s teeth out. They are all enthusing about the film.

Me, I’ve had a very personal reaction. It is the realization of everything that I’ve said I was hoping this would be. It is an uncompromisingly perfect telling of a fantasy tale aimed directly at the intended audience with 0% pandering, told by a team of artists helmed by a director of singular vision inspired by the God’s of old. He wasn’t setting out to "SHOW LUCAS HOW TO MAKE A MOVIE!" He set out to make the best movie he could make. To do it right as he saw it.

The reason so many people bring STAR WARS into their reviews is that for many geeks, STAR WARS was the focal point for their love of cinema. It is what made them first pick up magazines about film, to click on websites that give them information about films. Now this movie happens. A movie that hits them as hard and as note perfect as STAR WARS hit them as children, only they aren’t children anymore. Now they’re adults, and many of them were disappointed by PHANTOM MENACE. Many loved that film too. I loved feeling like a little kid in the theater again… that’s the greatest. This is different though.

This is a movie that straddles the fence between great popcorn movies and great movies and important movies and cinema. It doesn’t waffle back and forth, it is simply all those things at all times.

The screening today was attended by AICN’s Austin Spy Branch of Quint, Father Geek, RoboGeek, El Cosmico, Perfect Tommy, Dorothy Parker, Massawyrm, Patch and myself. 9 reviewers to match the 9 of the film.

There was not a single negative review in the mix. They are each bringing their own experiences or lacks of experiences to their reviews. They range from being in High School to being College Drop Outs to being Graduates to Intellectuals and so on. Male, Female, Yuppie, Hippie, Student, Loafer, Video Store Clerk, Artist, Screenwriter and a Computer Technician. Some have read the book, some have never touched it. Some have met young Frodo Baggins, most have not.

They all love film.

Me, I ponder how many times I will watch this film in the coming years. I know right now that I love it. That I love it more than I’ve ever loved a film. I know that I feel protective of it, that I cherish it deep in my heart. I know that I am evangelical about the movie. I know that the movie makes me feel better than 3 hours of prime copulation in a warm waterbed of delight. I know the movie fits me like a fork and a spoon and a knife.

As I watched that Balrog fight Gandalf, I did not breathe. I didn’t scream out, I didn’t howl with "YEAS!!!!" and pump my arm… Instead I stared in awe.

I know that the scene that kills me. Wounds me. Opens up my heart is not a scene that I knew about. A scene I don’t recall from the books. It showed Boromir teaching Merry and Pippin how to fight with swords. The warmth of the scene wasn’t done front and center. It was just something that was going on while more important things were being attended to. But it was who Boromir was.

Though I hesitate to highlight moments and individual scenes. I hate it when people take out a two minute movement from a masterful symphony and play it over and over again. To me, the marvel is in the whole. That complete emotional journey that the work takes me on.

Was there a complaint? Only in regards to the theater that I saw it in. The TINSELTOWN SOUTH, a CINEMARK theater. I pleaded with New Line to move the screening. They did not. They consulted the local film critic for the Austin American Statesman, Chris Garcia for a second opinion. Reportedly he told them that this substandard indoor drive-in of a rat nest was as good as any place to screen the film. I told the folks at New Line that this theater is the worst in town. That it did not have THX, that they did not have balanced sound, that more often than not they show films that seem to come from center channel mono only. That their projection is muddy from low-light bulbs. However, Chris Garcia has apparently never noticed this sub-standard performance there. I can only assume that his lack of attention to the details of the theater’s exhibition standards is similar to his acumen in regards to film itself.

This morning’s screening had well over 100 incidents of the sound popping out, warbling and distorting like a heat warped eight-track in a 74 Ford Pick Up with a faulty alternator. In otherwords, IT SUCKED BALLS!!!

From this experience I have many recommendations. First, never ever listen to Chris Garcia in regards to the performance quality of a theater. Second, if you are seeing LORD OF THE RINGS in Austin, do not see it at the TINSELTOWN SOUTH, but rather THE GATEWAY or ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE NORTH. And Third, New Line… If I were your regional booker, I would pull the film from release at the TinselTown and move it across the Highway to the METROPOLITAN, which is the best theater in Austin all things considered for the exhibition of giant screen super sound films. I really hope that New Line is paying attention to the theaters that they are screening this film to Press and Awards Show Voters, because substandard projection and sound… Never a good thing.

Peter Jackson and the wizards in New Zealand that worked years of their lives to make this masterpiece deserve better than to have their film eviscerated by crappy venues.

It enrages me that this film could ever be shown short of perfect conditions. Despite the hell that was this screening, the film had a power and a majesty that I do not know if I have ever seen in film before.

Peter Jackson has made a film that at the very least is for me. I will not presume to tell you that this is your favorite movie, I do not know you, your heart or your loves. I know mine, and I love this film. I hope you do as well.

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