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Robogeek Reviews FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING!!!

Hey folks, Harry here. There's only 3 more reviews from the 9 AICN homefront spies that have yet to send in their reviews. If you have been losing heart over the reviews that have been coming in the last couple of days, don't. It is always good to know that there is a possibility that a film you are greatly anticipating might possibly be less than what you have hoped. I have complete confidence that for the majority of you, this film will play like a beautiful dream of a film experience. For some, well they might not get caught up in it, and that is certainly their reaction and valid, but this is a film that the AFI has nominated BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR, that has been appearing on multiple individual mainstream critic's top ten lists and so far is the only film I've seen appear twice as number one. Just today, the critic for published her review which said:

"The most heartbreaking thing about faithful moviegoing is that awe, beauty and excitement, three of the things we go to the movies for, are the very things we're cheated of the most. The great wonder of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is that it bathes us in all three, to the point where we remember -- in a vague, pleasurably hallucinatory sensation from another lifetime -- why we go to the movies in the first place. It would be an insult to say the picture merely lives up to its hype; it crashes the meaning of hype, exposing it as the graven image it is. Advertising is dead: Long live moviemaking. " -- Stephanie Zacharek -- Click Here To Read The Complete Review

Now having said all that, Robogeek is a tough egg to crack usually. He is by no means as eager to race out and love a film and heap praises on it like me. He is far more reserved (not nearly as much as his brother), but Robo tends to spend far more time at Live Theater and Independent and Foreign films. He does imbrace Geek Cool from time to time with a frighteningly fervent enthusiasm - witness his loves for BUCKEROO BANZAI and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. So without further ado, here's Robooooooo....


Greetings, citizens of Middle-Earth! ROBOGEEK here.

If I had to limit my review of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING to just four words, without hesitation they would be...

"All my hopes fulfilled."

Beyond that, what else is there really left to say about this extraordinary film that hasn't been said already?

Is it perfect? No, of course not. But it's pretty damn close.

Is it great? Absolutely. It's an undeniable masterpiece, and one of the finest literary adaptations ever committed to film.

Is it one of the best films ever made? Well, that's just a ridiculous question to ask - much less answer - before the film's even been released. Such judgments require more time, distance, and repeated viewings.

More importantly, perhaps, I think it is a question that should be reserved until we see the entire film - that is, the approximately nine hours that will ultimately comprise THE LORD OF THE RINGS as a complete work of cinema.

Given that it was produced as a single work - and tells a single story - I think it's only fair that this is the context in which it must eventually be properly judged. THE TWO TOWERS and RETURN OF THE KING are not "sequels," as some lesser-informed mainstream media types have said - nor were they shot "back-to-back," but concurrently. They are the middle and end of a work which we have only been graced with the beginning of. But history will judge it as an epic in three acts.

In the meantime, the fact remains that while FELLOWSHIP is only a third of the complete canvas, it must also function as a film in and of itself. And in that context, it is an admirable achievement - three hours of unbridled splendor that left me in awe.

It's the kind of film I've literally dreamed of. For half my life, I've imagined what form THE LORD OF THE RINGS could take in film. And for months, I've had recurring lucid dreams of going to a theater, finding my seat, watching all three hours of FELLOWSHIP unspool before me, and then getting up to step back out into the world. (You could say I've been rather obsessed.)

So the film had a lot to live up to. And it did.


THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING opens with an exquisite shot of young Frodo Baggins, sitting under a tree in the impossibly verdant Shire - a portrait of perfect innocence and contentment that, along with the succeeding scenes in Hobbiton, represent all that's good in Middle-Earth - and all that's at stake in the story that unfolds.

Prior to this, however, we are treated to a mesmerizing prologue to the entire LORD OF THE RINGS epic, and bear witness to the titanic struggle of the Last Alliance and the history of the One Ring. Purists may find fault with revealing this part of the narrative from the outset, but it is a savvy dramatic choice on the part of the filmmakers, as it not only provides those unfamiliar with Tolkien's world the necessary context to navigate the film and keep up with its pace (which, by necessity, must be less languid than the books), but it also provides resonant foreshadowing through the contrast it strikes with the opening of FELLOWSHIP in the Shire.

At any rate, once in the Shire, we quickly follow Gandalf's arrival for his old friend Bilbo Baggins' eleventieth birthday. Throughout this entire sequence, there is magic to be savored - thanks largely to Ian McKellan's transcendent performance as Gandalf, and his chemistry with Elijah Wood as Frodo and Ian Holm as Bilbo. Immediately, I could not imagine these roles more perfectly cast.

As has been said by many, McKellan is virtually invisible, having completely transformed into his character in a way I haven't seen since his stunning turn in RICHARD III. He takes what could so easily be a stereotypical stock wizard character and makes Gandalf an utterly real person, textured with nuance and subtlety. His rapport with Wood's Frodo conveys genuine affection, and his chemistry with Holm's Bilbo reflects a decades-old friendship.

These early scenes really ground the film, and are enriched by evocations of the rich backstory that is THE HOBBIT through graceful shorthand, trusting that much of the audience probably had it as required reading in school. This narrative utility gracefully injects dimension and gravity periodically throughout the film, particularly when we reunite with Bilbo in Rivendell, and when Gandalf and Frodo discuss Gollum, but stops short of demanding that the viewer has read the book.

It's been years since I've read Tolkien's books myself, and while I found myself thankful for both the context and the distance, I was consistently impressed by how well the film seemed to serve the uninitiated and the devout - though obviously this is for members of those two constituencies to judge.

What was perhaps most striking to me about the film was how utterly, vividly, impossibly real it all was. Especially on the first viewing, I was both stunned and moved to see the whole of Middle-Earth and its inhabitants brought so convincingly to life at every turn, after all these years. The film has an uncanny verisimilitude that is possibly its greatest achievement. I didn't feel like I was watching a movie - I felt like I was witnessing history that I had only read about.

And seeing the film a second time, I didn't feel like I was watching a fantasy movie - I felt like I was watching the kind of great historical epic they just don't make any more.


For months, my two biggest concerns about the film were Howard Shore's score and the casting of Liv Tyler. (I wasn't concerned about any changes to the books, because I had the benefit of reading early drafts of the scripts.)

As soon as I heard the soundtrack CD a month ago, I knew I had nothing to worry about on the score front - even though I was hearing only half the music, and out of context. Having now heard all the score attached to the film, I have become a huge admirer of Shore's - which I admit I'd never really been before (and faithful readers know how obsessive I am in my love for film music).

Shore's score is a magnificent achievement, the finest work he's ever done. Some have found it lacking, but I think they aren't fully appreciating its complexity and subtleties. One of the worst things that could have happened to the film is what would have likely been the most tempting for many composers - to make the score too big. Shore's score is big when it needs to be (his scoring at the Bridge of Khazad Dum is fantastic), but also heartbreakingly small and beautifully intimate when it needs to be (the end of Frodo and Gandalf's first scene together).

It's crafted with so much thought and care, and constructed with an operatic architecture. For instance, when Sam realizes that one more step will take him the farthest he's ever been from home, Shore gives us a subtle, melancholy arrangement of the Hobbits' theme, which then gently segues into the first hints of the Fellowship theme. It's so simple, and so perfect. Shore continues to build and develop themes, weaving them with such elegant dexterity that, for example, when we finally do hear the first full statement of the Fellowship theme - when the Fellowship is formed - it carries a potent resonance that has been earned.

Of all the casting choices, the only one that gave me pause was that of Liv Tyler as Arwen (I'd hoped for Kate Winslet). But after seeing a glimpse of her performance in the full trailer ("If you want him, come and claim him.") I was sufficiently persuaded to believe that she could actually work. Having now seen the film, I'm happy to report that she does. She carries herself wonderfully, and speaks with this voice I've never heard from her before - one of maturity, gravity, elegance, grace and conviction. This, I suppose, is acting. And she nails it.

Now, I know that some people are up in arms about changes to her character of Arwen, but come on - it's not like Spidey's been robbed of his mechanical web-shooters, or anything. ;-) First of all, Arwen's role remains small but key - particularly through her relationship with Aragorn, which is an important emotional dimension of the story. And having her at the ford ultimately costs nothing and yields much. Is it so terrible that she be empowered and brave? Of course not. (She certainly isn't transformed into another Eowyn, if that's what you're worried about; she may carry a sword, but doesn't use it.) And it doesn't undermine Frodo's character, as some have argued, because he should gain strength over time. By showing how vulnerable he is at this point, the peril is that much greater, and his journey that much more compelling when he finally does choose to set out alone.


I'm not going to walk you through the movie scene by scene like a book report, because there are plenty of other reviews you can read for something like that. But I do want to reflect on a few more striking - if somewhat random - impressions.

Grant Major's production design - and the execution of that design - is nothing short of extraordinary. Alan Lee and John Howe's influence is palpable, and the totality of Middle-Earth is manifested with authenticity. I only wish that all the gorgeous sets had been preserved so that I could someday visit them (especially Hobbiton).

Andrew Lesnie's cinematography is uncompromisingly exquisite. This is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen.

RICHARD TAYLOR IS A GOD. From effects to weapons to armor to costumes (with Ngila Dickson) I'm just in awe of this man's contributions to the film. Sir, I salute you! (Now just try and do something about that cat.)

The effects work in the film is absolutely brilliant, and doesn't have that annoying CG-happy look at every turn that's plaguing everything else these days. I don't mean to pick on ILM, but I think this movie will (and should) cause them to reexamine their approach. A big round of applause to everyone at Weta, as well as the gang at Digital Domain.

In terms of action... can you say Mines of Moria and Khazad Dum? Because this is easily one of the greatest action sequences I've ever seen on film. Not just technically, but dramatically; its tragic conclusion - even though I knew it was coming - is a staggering moment.


I'm tempted to just say that the cast is thoroughly excellent and pretty much perfect, but then I'd have to listen to people complain in Talk Back. So...

Ian McKellan and Elijah Wood are absolutely perfect, and jointly anchor the film. They both deliver impressive, affecting performances and breath genuine life into their characters in such a way that I simply couldn't imagine anyone else playing those roles.

Ian Holm is an absolute delight as Bilbo, and one of the most inspired casting choices. He has this sparkle in his eye that makes you believe he lived the adventures of THE HOBBIT.

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn and Sean Bean as Boromir inhabit each of these iconic roles with such intensity that they outshine all previous impressions these two actors have made upon me. As the two mortal men - each with very different feelings about the Ring - they are key components of the film, and share a great scene near the end.

Christopher Lee is a GOD. He is absolutely fantastic as Saruman. His voice alone demands that you see this movie in a THX DTS theater! Granted, his hair is a bit Cher-esque (as one critic observed), but in the grand scheme of things, I'm not going to complain. His scenes opposite McKellan are electric.

Orlando Bloom's Legolas and John Rhys-Davies' Gimli are simply uber-cool. They aren't in the film as much as some might like (they are, after all, Supporting Characters), but they sure make good use of the time they're given. Bloom is a real find, Rhys-Davies is virtually unrecognizable. Both have great presence.

Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel are both appropriately otherworldly and impressive, conveying grace and power with equal aplomb as the elder statesmen of the Elves.

Billy Boyd's Pippin and Dominic Monaghan's Merry are delights. And finally, Sean Astin's Sam is solid as a rock, and should be up to the task for what's yet to come in TWO TOWERS and RETURN OF THE KING, when his role fully emerges.

In reflecting upon FELLOWSHIP, two words keep coming to mind, in large measure due to the superb screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson...


Urgency in a couple senses. First in that once Frodo and Sam (and Merry and Pippin) must flee the Shire with the Ring, the film rarely stops to catch its breath, and hurtles us on a race against approaching storm clouds of doom. Big Things are at stake, and our heroes - and their very world - are in peril. This is one of the film's great strengths, in that it compels you across the landscape of the narrative with startling efficiency.

At the same time, there's an urgency in the sense of an abbreviated and/or accelerated (take your pick) timeline. It goes without saying that it would be impossible (or at least insane) to dutifully translate every single moment of the books to film, so as a matter of pure necessity we are moved through the events of FELLOWSHIP at a brisker pace. What took months in the first book now appears to take weeks or even days.

In fact, if I were to have any minor criticism of the film, it is that it can be a bit vague as to the passage of time. For instance, we are told that it will be four days' journey through the Mines of Moria... but we don't see it - i.e. they never set up camp for a night. Of course, it'd be absolutely ridiculous to show the characters setting up camp for the night every time we need to be told a day is passing. But then again, after seeing the film a second time, I found myself wanting there to be a bit more sense of scope given to the temporal dimensions of the journey, as the film so dutifully articulates the emotional, geographic, and dramatic dimensions of it.

Which leads me to conviction. This film - at each and every moment - has a conviction to it that is perhaps its very foundation. I'm not just talking about details of production design (which are extraordinary) but every single fiber of the work resonates with absolute conviction. Characters, creatures, moments, places... an entire world that I've imagined for half my life is presented so vividly and believably - far more so than most "true" historical dramas.

And that's probably the highest compliment I could pay the filmmakers. FELLOWSHIP represents what movies are for - to completely transport the audience somewhere they couldn't possibly ever go otherwise, taking them on a compelling emotional journey with unforgettable characters to lead the way. It's everything that I hope for when I go to the movies.

When Aragorn and Boromir speak of the White City... and you know they're speaking of Minas Tirith... and that we the audience will get to go there with one of them and see it for ourselves a year from now when the next film opens... but in the meantime we must imagine what it's like... Well, stuff like that just gives me chills. And this film is full of stuff like that.

Whether or not it is one of the best movies ever made (who ever said it had to be?), it is certainly the best film I've seen this year (a title that was held for months by MOULIN ROUGE, I might add). And while many people seem fixated on how much better THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is than STAR WARS and HARRY POTTER (which it is), I think they're missing the point. This isn't a cartoon, or a kid's film.

Instead, I'd argue that it's more appropriate to compare it to, say, GLADIATOR or BRAVEHEART or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN - historical adventure dramas for adults.

Oh, and didn't two out of three of those win Best Picture Oscars?

Well, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING is better than all of them.

Get your speech ready, Peter!

- Robogeek

P.S.: And for the love of Hobbit feet, would someone somewhere in some position of power please compel Applause to manufacture more of those super cool One Ring replicas in the groovy round light-up boxes that sold out weeks before the film even opened because they were too stupid to make enough? Because I really don't want to spend $75 on ebay for something that retails for $15, dammit!

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