Although comparisons to “Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer’s Stone” are inevitable, a more apt parallel
to Peter Jackson’s triumphant epic “Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring” is “Star Wars,” for
both films are about the ultimate struggle between good and evil.
Although no movie can perfectly adapt a book, especially one as
painstakingly elaborate as J.R.R. Tolkien’s three-volume
opus, “Fellowship” comes close, and stands out as one
of the best films of the year and one of the best adaptations of
all time.

Thousands of years ago, in the realm of Middle Earth, the dark
lord Sauron forged many rings of power for the peoples of the
world, but he also made one for himself that controlled all the
other rings and gave him the power to rule the world. The ring,
which holds all the strength and evil of Sauron, has an
intoxicating power over anyone who tries to use it. But the ring
has been lost for roughly 3,000 years, until a Hobbit named Bilbo
Baggins (Ian Holm) finds it in a cave in the Misty Mountains.

Years later, when Sauron discovers that the ring is being kept
in the Shire (the home of the three-foot-tall Hobbits), Gandalf the
Grey (Ian McKellan), a powerful wizard and friend of Bilbo, decides
action must be taken, entrusting the ring to Frodo Baggins (Elijah
Wood), Bilbo’s nephew. Along with fellow Hobbits Sam (Sean
Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), Frodo
begins a long journey to destroy the ring in the fires of Mount
Doom, where the ring was forged. Frodo and his hobbit companions
are joined by Gandalf, the Elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gimli the
Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies), the ranger Strider (Viggo Mortensen) and
Boromir (Sean Bean), son of the Steward of Gondor. They have much
help along the way, from all manner of creatures, such as the
elves, including Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett),
a powerful witch who resides in the woods.

This film has the rare quality of being able to completely draw
you in from start to finish. Despite its near three-hour length, it
is a riveting narrative that will make you crave a second viewing.
Part of the reason for this is the intense reality that is given to
the various landscapes, from the peaceful and hidden Shire to the
dark and foul realm Mordor, the home of Sauron. Every craggy tree,
misty river and winding mountain road has a vitality to it that
sucks you into this fantasy world and wraps you up in every sight,
sound and smell.

The action sequences — with raging battles between elves,
men and the slimy and evil Orcs — are breathtaking, and the
computer graphics used to simulate both the battle scenes and the
fantastic battlefields are almost flawless.

The acting is top notch with no weak link. Ian McKellan is
perfect as Gandalf, a kind and wild-haired wizard who has a
dangerous and powerful side that is always close to the surface but
hidden. His face holds years of distress and hardship as well as
wisdom. He has the ability to laugh with his eyes, and he is able
to show fear without losing his Merlin-esque air of mystery and

Another high point is Christopher Lee, who plays Saruman the
White, a powerful wizard who was once Gandalf’s superior but
has joined forces with Sauron in the hopes of increasing his own
power. Lee, who is most famous for his Dracula movies of the 1970s,
is unbelievably creepy with his gaunt face and severe dark eyes
contrasting with his bright white hair and cloak.

The hobbits provide comic relief that is blended flawlessly with
the action. Merry’s and Pippin’s antics, many of which
are not in the original text, are a welcome addition, and Sean
Astin’s fiercely loyal Sam is his best role since the
inhaler-toting Mikey of “The Goonies.”

One of the most difficult undertakings in the movie is making
all the actors look like the characters that they are supposed to
be, for Dwarves are short and stout and Hobbits are even shorter,
yet non-little people play all of these roles. A combination of
camera tricks and stand-ins are used to provide this effect, and
only occasionally is it noticeable. However, you will most likely
miss these flaws, as the film is fast paced and has no moments that
lack momentum and allow you to notice imperfections.

One thing that people unfamiliar with the “Lord of the
Rings” books should know is that the quest to destroy the
ring does not end with this film. Instead, “Fellowship of the
Ring” has more of a “The Empire Strikes Back”
type ending, leaving questions unanswered and fates uncertain. The
story will continue with “The Two Towers” and
“The Return of the King,” which will be released in
December of 2002 and 2003.

Movie Review: 5 out of 5 stars

— Jan. 7, 2002

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