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    Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
    Rated:PG-13
    Stars:Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin
    Score:***

    Unlike virtually every other geek in the known world (and I'll probably lose my membership card and magic decoder ring for saying this), I have never read any of Tolkien's books. Therefore, I was largely unfamiliar with the Lord of the Rings saga. The movie looked interesting based on the previews and trailers, yet I felt no great compulsion to rush out and see the first installment of New Line Cinema's $270 million gamble. However, when my friends (who are fans of Tolkien and who were counting the days to the movie's release) were planning to purchase advance tickets for opening night, I signed up both my wife and myself.

    Not being familiar with the Lord of the Rings mythology gave me a couple distinct advantages: first, I could watch the movie as a stand-alone entity, not constantly comparing it to my pre-conceived notions; second, and most importantly, I wouldn't be able to write a review which nit-picked all the details, no matter how minor, where the movie strayed from the books. You're welcome.

    On a frigid December evening, we drove down to the city's newest multiplex, met our party, and laughed at those who bothered to dress themselves up as their favorite character (we especially found the people dressed up as Hobbits amusing: walking around in the sub-freezing weather like any good Hobbit: barefoot). My wife has full permission (and the duty) to punch me in the neck if I ever dress up like a character in a movie I'm attending.

    We sat around in our own little section of the theater, talking, until the lights started to dim (a full minute and a half before my atomic timeclock-synchronized watch indicated the proper showtime. See, I'm still a geek even though I don't know Tolkien by heart). A few minutes beforehand, an employee stood at the front of the theater and advised the patrons to go to the bathroom before committing to the three+ hour event. Sound advice, I say.

    The movie opens with a narrative setting the story. The narrative is lengthy, but nowhere near the snooze-inducing prologue in the movie Dune, which was starting to come to mind as this one wore on. Necessary as though it was, the narrative seemed to me like a prelude to disappointment.

    That was certainly not the case, as my above score indicates. Learning about the lavish world of Middle Earth and its seemingly endless array of players became interesting and compelling, and I felt myself drawn into the epic plot. This was a gradual process, as the common observation that the movie starts slowly is not entirely unwarranted. It felt like a train, struggling to apply enough friction to overcome Newton's first law. But as soon as the inertia built, little could stop it (except, of course, the fact that this is the first part of a trilogy, and as such couldn't possibly encompass the entire saga).

    Let's talk visuals. Tolkien's books, so I've heard, have been rich in descriptive accounts of the mythical land. One of Peter Jackson's major tasks in directing this trilogy was to recreate Tolkien's world in all its literary glory. In my opinion, he succeeded in spades. I was bowled over not only by the lavish surroundings, but also in the way those surroundings, whether natural or masterfully computer-generated, were seamlessly integrated. I've always been a sucker for massive, ancient feats of architecture and craftsmanship, so this movie had more than enough eye candy for me.

    This lush, detailed continent of Middle Earth is populated by all sorts of creatures, existing in their own pockets of land. The different races in this world, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, have long been the inspiration for many a favored geek pastime, including dice-based role playing games, multi-user dimensions, and massively-multiplayer Internet games. I dabbled in MUD's a bit in college (the place where you're supposed to try everything at least once), and found that the world had a strangely addictive factor to it. I never really understood the depth of the influence this fantasy world had on real-life geek culture until I saw Fellowship of the Ring. Of course, many creatures are too surreal to be played by human actors, so a large number of characters are completely computer-generated. For the most part, they look sufficiently realistic not to be a distraction. The attention to detail was impressive.

    A large number of the actors and actresses were unfamiliar to me, not like that's a bad thing, and I found they all played their roles well. The one exception would be the character Elrond, a member of the Elf race, who was played by the same character as the over-annunciating Agent in The Matrix. He didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the race; in fact, he looked about as out-of-place as Keanu Reeves doing kung fu. So I guess it all works out in the end.

    Now, the biggest problem with Fellowship of the Ring is that, once they hook you for the first installment, you're pretty much locked in on the next two. That's fine by me; I can think of far worse ways to spend my $22.50. As I write this (exceedingly late, of course), the $270 million cost of the trilogy looks like it has almost been recovered in just this first installment. That means clear sailing ahead for New Line Cinema. The next two movies, set to release over the next two years, are just gravy. Hmmm. I just realized how much I hate that phrase. Why use the word "gravy" to epitomize pure reward? Sure, gravy is good on mashed potatoes or turkey on Thanksgiving, but I can think of far more desirable items to use for this embodiment. How about "chocolate," or "Mountain Dew," or "Internet bandwidth." You don't need to be a Tolkien junkie to be a geek, and you don't need to be a geek to enjoy Tolkien. I, personally, will be anxiously awaiting part two: The Two Towers.

     
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