dir: Peter Jackson
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I don't think that there's been a film quite like it, to be honest, realised on such a scale, and so lovingly. Such attention to detail, such awe-inspiring design and creativity, I almost cannot believe that such a film was
allowed to be made in the current culture of big budget film making, where the shoddy special effect is king, and inspiration and inventiveness are as alien as the concept of personal hygiene is amongst users of public transport.
Having not read any of the works of JRR Tolkien, I could potentially be at a disadvantage in discussing the source material and its transition to the big screen. What I am qualified to mention is that it is patently obvious that Tolkien has been ripped off by nearly every fantasy writer and filmmaker for the last sixty years. And perhaps they can be accused of interfering with his desiccated remains in a truly unwholesome manner in the pursuit of financial gain or sex with strange women. The same accusation cannot, I feel, be leveled at Peter Jackson, who has approached the characters and the story with such an obvious love for the source material, and an exhausting amount of dedication and creativity that more than justifies the entire venture, despite the staggering amount of merchandising.
It is THE classic adventure story: the quest of heroes told around campfires and heretic-burnings since time immemorial. Good and Evil fight it out through their various representatives. The "Evil" is absolute, untempered by humanity or any considerations of character development. The "Good" are a flawed, ragtag
bunch with competing interests and conflicting motivations, who ultimately band together to fight a common enemy. Your homework for tonight is to list the fantasy novels written over the last fifty years that *don't* have that as their basic premise.
How does one make a "classic" when all of its constituent elements have been used and abused to death and are part of common knowledge, how does one avoid appearing cliche when trying to represent the source? I'm not sure, but if you need to ask someone, ask the unfortunately named Peter Jackson, because he has managed to rebuild Middle Earth in his own image, with style and respect, and on an unprecedented scale.
It's a fucking ballsy thing to do, you have to admit, even those of you out there that will hate the film for various reasons. It takes an extraordinary amount of guts and belief in yourself to take on such an endeavour, such a hallowed classic. There is / was a lot at stake as well. If the film tanked at the box office, it might have destroyed New Line Cinema, and made a laughing stock of Jackson, forcing him to work on nothing but New Zealand soapies for the rest of his days. Some might say that such a film, no matter how shoddy or ultimately crap would always have made its money back, being such a "hot" property. I would dispute that. Picture if you will an alternate universe where Courtney Solomon or Roger Christian were hired to direct it, being the directors of Dungeons and Dragons, and Battlefield: Earth, respectively.... :)
Despite the length of the film, Fellowship of the Ring moves at what I would call a cracking pace, perhaps almost too fast. Condensing the plot, history and the mythology relevant to it all to any greater extent would have nearly impossible, and would have rendered the finished product almost indecipherable to non-fan audiences. As it stands Jackson and his screenwriting cohorts Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens took on this herculean task and have, more or less delivered the essence of the first book (or so, being mindful of the inclusion of other themes / elements from some of the other books) intact, and more than that have transformed the story into something new, on a scale that even Tolkien himself (though not his ever-complaining offspring) may have been happy with.
A story of this nature has to be bigger than the individuals that comprise it. The epic stature of the undertaking could not afford to be overbalanced by its participants. Thus, though the casting is on the most part perfectly spot on, no one character is allowed to dominate the story to emerge as bigger than the tale
itself. Though the primary focus is on Frodo, played with wide-eyed wonder by Elijah Wood, and perhaps Gandalf the Grey (in the most perfect casting of all time played by Sir Ian McKellen), there are enough other characters and actions / occurrences to ensure that the impetus of the story itself remains paramount.
Much has been left out, to the chagrin and endless howling of fanboys/fangirls everywhere. Much has been added in, with the same result. Though many have disputed the need to a) cast Liv Tyler or b) increase the importance of the Arwen character, I feel it gives the story much needed balance, beyond merely
introducing the staple of motion pictures being the 'love interest'. Though brief her role shines, and her relationship with Aragorn will make more sense down the track. Her mad dash horse gallop to the river to avoid the Nazgul is exciting, adrenalin pumping stuff, genuinely well done as well as speedily
establishing the necessary character traits in her for later on.
The bad boy Strider / Aragorn (played note perfect by Viggo Mortensen) is the essential counterbalance to the naivety and essential gentleness of Frodo and his various Hobbit crew. His introduction to the story once the plot reaches the town of Bree is spot on, where the uninitiated are unsure at first whether he is
friend or foe.
Though on first watching much of the dialogue may be incomprehensible, the dialogue (with two extreme exceptions, one of which I'll mention later) remains mostly both intelligent and true in spirit to the source (in my opinion), which was extremely gratifying from my point of view. One particularly favourite section involved a conversation between Frodo and Gandalf regarding the inherent sanctity of life, and though the film involves much death and destruction, having that idea affirmed warmed the cockles and sub-cockles of my cold heart.
Also well conveyed is the power of the ring to corrupt those around it, those that yearn for it, showing that few, if any are immune to its charms. The ring itself, in terms of filmspeak, is the ultimate macguffin, a term coined by Alfred Hitchcock to describe a particular plot device, the purpose of which is to elicit desire and begin the action. Everyone wants the ring. The assortment of those who want it stretches as long as the cast list. Most importantly, the ring is desired by its creator Sauron, the story's ultimate Big Bad, whom the
"Fellowship" of the title both flee from (in the form of his minions) and journey towards in their quest to destroy the ring.
On that quest are various and sundry characters, whom I'll allow prospective audiences to see for themselves. Perhaps in the establishment of the Fellowship, there was something slightly lacking in depth, in terms of why certain characters were even there, what their motivations were for wanting to join the
quest, for which I haven't the faintest idea, but I'm glad they were there all the same. Specifically I'm thinking of the elf archer Legolas (played by the beautifully named Orlando Bloom). He's a bad motherfucker with the bow, to be sure, perfectly realised in the numerous fight scenes, but I'm not sure why he's there as per established in the film, but I'm glad he's along for the ride.
One could ramble on rhapsodically for as many hours as the film took to unfold in regards to the superbly realised locations and sequences, I'll attempt to restrict myself. They're all beautifully represented. The Shire, Rivendel, Lothlorien, Isengard, the Dwarven Halls, Mount Doom itself, the fight between Aragorn and the Ring Wraiths in some twilight ruins, the Nazgul themselves, the Balrog at the bridge of Khazad Dum, Sauron on the battlefield, they're all so well realised that it hurts in my heart. And there's more, plenty more, there is so much put into the film, so much detail, so much love. If all people involved in film making in all its aspects, from the creatively technical to the technically creative put this much effort and love into all their films,
critics the world over could expire with happy grins on their faces, safe in the knowledge that they were no longer required. Many would wish that it would happen now anyway, but that's by the by.
The film does have its flaws, surely, and there are parts of it and certain elements that I did not care for at all, some that had me laughing unintentionally. The wizardly combat betwixt Gandalf and another character did little for me. The portentous and doom-laden manner in which some of the dialogue was delivered had me rolling my eyes, appropriate as it may have been. Some of the combat sequences were edited with such brevity (deliberately, I know, for MPAA rating purposes) that it left me cold.
The CGI work, in my estimation, exceeds and surpasses anything I've seen so far in all my days. It is debatable whether it is overused or not, but surely its critics wouldn't want to return to the days of the stop-motion animation of Ray Harry Hausen? :) No-one, not even Lucas has used it so effectively and so well
integrated in recent times. It makes crapfests such as the recent Mummy movies, Phantom Menace and other attempts at fantasy / sci fi pale and dwindle in comparison.
The soundtrack as well deserves mention. Despite (or perhaps for the less cynical, because of ) the presence of Enya, Howard Shore's orchestral work is superlative, and I am inestimably grateful that he scored the film instead of Hans Zimmer or, dare I say it, that bombastic blowhard John Williams *shudder*. It rises to the occasion, with ample blood pumping moments and more thoughtful, beautiful passages as well. It is a perfect compliment to such a stirring film, though it did feel somewhat 'familiar', though not negatively so.
In some ways it becomes less and less possible to be objective about film. We are privy to the process through every stage of development these days, exposed to the thousands of varying hateful or sychophantically-blowjob inducing opinions of those with vested interests and those with none. We are members of the audience to far more films than former generations, with so much product being pumped out by the raw sewerage pipe of Hollywood that the actors themselves and the movies become interchangeable. The problem of high expectations is almost negated by the fact that people's expectation of movies
in general has been so lowered by the saturation of our consciousness with substandard, disappointing and downright insultingly bad films.
When a beautifully made, considered, epic film comes along, are we even capable of seeing it for what it is anymore, or are we so desensitised by prolonged exposure to ludicrously aggressive marketing and hype that the only emotion elicited is something in the realm of a collective shrug of the shoulders, a belch and a muttered statement along the lines of "It was awright, bit long, shame there weren't more tits in it"? I truly hope not. I had extremely high expectations for this film, and it delivered, for me. To those that will be
disappointed with it or downright angered that it was even attempted, I'm sorry we couldn't share this experience together.
10 out of 10
"Is it secret? Is it safe?" - Fellowship of the Ring