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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition, DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition, DVD)
Date: 23/11/10, updated on 24/11/10 (40 review reads)
Advantages: Very faithful to the book. wonderful recreation of the fantasy world, nigh on perfect casting
Disadvantages: Missing sequences will annoy purists; some will find the pace far too slow
Bringing JRR Tolkien's classic work of fantasy to the big screen was always going to be a massive ask and it was with some trepidation that fans ventured into the cinema in 2003 to see the final results which were nothing less than astounding.
There can surely be few people who don't know the basic plot outline of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part of trilogy which has become the archetype both for traditional tales of good vs. evil and for the fantasy genre more specifically. It follows the quest of four young hobbits that set out on a journey with a great Ring of Power which once belonged to the Dark Lord Sauron. Sauron is once again searching for his Ring and the hobbits must prevent it from falling into his grasp. The Fellowship of the Ring follows the first part of this journey.
Director Peter Jackson do an excellent job of translating Tolkien's opening tome to the big screen in a way which preserves its spirit, but adds some excellent 21st century special effects. This is a stunningly faithful retelling of the story, capturing the epic scale, diversity and atmosphere of Tolkien's world. If you are a fan of the books, you will instantly feel at home in the Middle Earth Jackson has recreated. If Lord of the Ring is totally new to you, you will have no problem following the storyline and will quickly find yourself immersed in the world of elves, orcs and hobbits.
This, indeed, is Jackson's crowning achievement. The world he creates is so vivid, so realistic that you will find yourself gripped by the on-screen events. Whether you know the story arc or not, you will be utterly entranced, believing completely in everything you see. Jackson's version of Tolkien's world is superbly realised. From the lush greens and primary colours of Hobbiton, through to the dark greys and miserable dank interiors of the mines of Moria, the look and feel of Jackson's film perfectly matches the detailed descriptions found in the original book. This is more than just a cinematic version of a popular book, it is a labour of love in which the incredible attention to detail can be seen in every frame of the film.
Inevitably, not all of Tolkien's adventures have made it into the film, which might annoy purists (there is no Tom Bombadil, no misadventures in the Old Forest, only passing references to Farmer Maggott). The integrity of the story, however, remains in tact. Where cuts have been made, they are both sympathetic and understandable. The missing sequences are fun, but not essential to the overall plot and whilst a tiny bit of the richness of Tolkien's world is lost, this is not a catastrophe. Indeed, if you have never read the original books, you will not even notice that anything is missing.
The special effects in the film were stunning and groundbreaking and still hold up very well today. The whole world looks utterly convincing and realistic and there are some truly stand-out moments that still have the power to make your jaw drop (the balrog, the cave troll). Yet it's not just the effects which are impressive, but the production values and attention to detail. Everything in the film seems like it has been specially created and designed for that character - even for minor players: the intricate carvings on the swords of the various characters, the hideous orc make-up all show how much love and attention has been lavished on this film.
It seems almost churlish, then, to suggest that ten years after its first release, some of the effects have dated a little, yet incredibly, that is the case. Things which looked stunning on the big screen are more obviously computer generated on the TV and lose some of their power, whilst the increase in the use of CGI over that ten year period means the audience is now more adept at spotting special effects and seeing where they don't quite work. Such is the scale and ambition of the film, though that even the odd little glitch in the effects cannot over-ride the sense of realism.
Yet pretty looks and impressive effects do not a great film make, so it's a good job that Jackson faithfully reproduces Tolkien's original narrative. It would have been too easy to turn Fellowship into an action film, removing the slower, dialogue intensive scenes. Thankfully, Jackson has retained most of these, so that for every action set piece, there are scenes which develop setting and character. Some people may bemoan the sedate pace of the film, but it helps give it a richness, a sense of depth so often missing in fantasy films.
Jackson also carefully balances the darker elements of the plot with some lighter moments of banter and real camaraderie. This balancing of light and dark (with tone gradually becoming darker and more sinister as the film progresses) gives you that feeling that you are on a journey with these characters, observing them grow and learn more about the reality of the world around them.
One of the dangers of bringing well-loved books to the big screen is that fans already have their own personal interpretations of how characters should look and behave. Perhaps my imagination just works in the same way as Peter Jackson's, but his casting instinct is almost perfect. Pick out any of the characters and they are portrayed exactly as I have always seen them in my own mind. Ian McKellan is fantastic as Gandalf, providing exactly the right amount of kindness, gravitas and menace. Viggo Mortensen is well cast as the Ranger Strider; noble, yet weighted down with sadness. In the opening film at least, the comic relief is provided with glee by the trio of Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd and John Rhys Davis (as Merry, Pip and Gimli, respectively) who are suitably immature or (in the case of Gimli) grumpy. Even Orlando Bloom's typically wooden, expressionless performance works well when he is cast as the other-worldly elf, Legolas.
The central characters of Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee are well cast too. It's true that Elijah Wood (Frodo) appears a little lightweight (relying slightly too much on a confused frown to convey every emotion); yet he also captures the "little boy lost" element, so essential to Frodo in this film. Sean Astin as Sam is probably in his best role since The Goonies and nails the stubborn loyalty of Frodo's companion.
If you're a fan of the book, there is precious little to gripe about (unless you are a major fan of Tom Bombadil). If you dislike the books due to their prodigious length and obsession with detail, you will find that Peter Jackson's vision gives you an easy way in to Tolkien's complex mythology.
Critics of the film are few and far between. If you absolutely hate fantasy and the now hackneyed world of elves, dwarves and hobbits, then this granddaddy of them all may still leave you cold. You could also argue that it's a little overlong (particularly if you plump for the special edition), yet it's this slower pace which allows for the development of plot and characters in such detail that the emotional payback is more than worth the time invested. And if your bottom can stand it, the longer special edition is well worth watching as it adds in some cut sequences which help link the film together even more strongly.
Throw in around 9 hours of extra features, which lovingly chronicle almost every aspect of the film's development and you are getting a heck of a lot of value for your money. One day all DVDs will be like this (well, we can dream!)
Fellowship was approached with hope and trepidation. Jackson delivered a landmark in cinema history.
The Fellowship of the Ring
Director: Peter Jackson
Running time: approx. 178 minutes (208 minutes - extended edition)
© Copyright SWSt 2010
Summary: A stunning work of imagination made into a stunning reality