The Fellowship of the Ring - Peg's Review|
Author: Peg Aloi [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: December 22nd. 2001
Times Viewed: 17,731
We need this story now.
In the wake of September 11th's events, our collective fragility and fear and unfocused rage and bewilderment have unbalanced us. We have wished for solace, and escape, and answers. We have been distracted at work. We have snapped at our loved ones even as we have wished to draw them closer. We have looked at our lives and thought about our deaths and wondered how we'd be able to go on. But we do go on.
It is disingenuous to propose that a work of literature (even a great, enduring one like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings) could offer any sort of collective glimmer of hope or comfort. And yet if one of the reasons we are alive is to realize the best in ourselves, to live well and grow and help others, then embracing this wonderful story and our response to it is one of those things we ought to do.
At this time of year, peoples of all religious paths look back upon the year that has passed. For some it is a time of fasting, for others a time of feasting, for some there are gifts, for others, quiet reflection. For all of us, the sun's shift, from darkness to light (or the other way 'round in the southern hemisphere) marks a still point, a cusp, a moment of clarity. We look both backwards and forwards in time from this moment, and there are epiphanies gentle and profound.
Perhaps immersing ourselves in a story of hobbits and elves, orcs and wizards, is childish. We aren't teenagers playing Dungeons and Dragons anymore; this is real life, and our problems can't be solved with magical items or shining swords, any more than we can find happiness surrounded by lavish gifts and sugarplums. A movie about magic? Surely this is escapism of the highest order, even if it is literate and sophisticated , and there are no car chases or talking dogs or sexual acrobatics.
Yes, it is escapism. But the themes of this transcendent story offer many thoughtful lessons and questions for us to ponder as well. Mortality and i mmortality. Good and evil. The corrupting influence of power. Different races of people in conflict over a deadly force, whose warriors band together for a common cause. If we feel we cannot comprehend the world's intricate workings just now, placing our faith in men and women whom we trust because we have no other choice, it seems, it is also somewhat comforting to know that none of this is new, to human beings or to planet Earth. That age after age faces the heartbreak of war and every individual must struggle an entire lifetime to live well, to do what is right.
And besides, it's not all heavy and intense. There is beauty. Joy. Laughter. Adventure and magic. Love and honor and loyalty.
A great many people have read the Lord of the Rings trilogy as children or college students or adults; some may even have read it for the first time in preparation for viewing the trio of films being released over the next two years. One thing which really impressed me about the film is that it stands alone, and one need not have any familiarity with the books to find it engaging and entertaining and very moving.
I won't spoil anything in the plot by offering a point by point comparison of the book vs. film scenario. This seems pointless, anyway, since Tolkien's writing would be virtually impossible to adapt in its fullness of detail and complexity. The basic plot is solidly familiar: in a thrilling prologue, the history of the forging of the rings is told with voiceover from Cate Blanchett (who plays the intensely charismatic Galadriel, the Elf Queen), and the opening battle sequences are dizzying to behold. The film's action begins on Bilbo Baggins' 111th birthday, with the wizard Gandalf returning to the Shire (played respectively by Sir Ian Holm and Sir Ian McKellen, both perfectly cast and as impressive as they are in every role they play). Gandalf advises Bilbo to give up the ring so it won't corrupt the Shire, and it falls to his young nephew Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood in a subtle and astonishly mature performance). A meeting of humans, elves, halflings and dwarves is called and a fellowship of nine is formed, to journey with the ring to Mordor, to cast it into the underground volcano where it was forged. The rest of the film finds the fellowship enduring various challenges and hardships on their way to return the ring, whose power is so great even good, honest men are drawn towards evil by wearing it.
It is worth saying Peter Jackson's vision of this film is grand and ambitious, with very little Hollywood-style sentimentality and a very tasteful and stunning use of special effects. Those of us who have read Tolkien and imagined Middle Earth and Mordor and the many forests and mountains and mines in between all have very different pictures in our heads of these places. Jackson chose New Zealand as the location for these verdant lands and the grandeur of this landscape is heart-stopping. The forests of Rivendell, the elvish stronghold, are particularly beautiful, lit in soft blues and silver. The actors cast as elves are very convincing in their otherworldliness (Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, and Hugo Weaving), with their pale, icy beauty and eyes which have seen the trials and wonders of many centuries.
And how to convey hobbits? Half as high as humans and with those huge, hairy feet? All I can say is the effects used to show their relative size and difference was extremely well-done and never once called attention to itself. In fact, the only complaint I have about the special effects is that the combat scenes are shot with too many close-ups such that the CGI enhancement is made a bit more noticeable. But given the possibility for drenching a film such as this in horrible, glitzy effects, I was actually very much impressed at the restraint shown (much more so than with Harry Potter, for example). The production design of this film is subtle and quite organic, and everything from clothing to cottages to party decorations has a very authentic rightness to it. Not a single anachronistic moment, as if the designers had traveled to Middle Earth and returned with sketches and fabric swatches. I particularly loved the costume designs, which can really make or break a film like this. One of my favorite details occurs the morning the fellowship leaves Lothlorien, when we realize they are all wearing matching grey-green woolen cloaks and silver clasps in the shape of intertwining leaves, clearly made by the elves and gifted to them for their journey; although the book fully describes the occasion when they receive these gifts and the film does not, the detailed costume design compensates nicely.
Each race's hair and facial make-up was also carefully-conceptualized, particularly the anonymous armies of orcs: brutal fighters, berzerker-like, with slime dripping from their chins and their faces smeared with chalk-like war paints. My companion in the theatre found all the battle scenes involving the orcs somewhat disturbing. I did as well, and found myself wondering why there was such an emphasis on melee combat (talk about a D&D flashback). But I realized it was not upsetting because it was too much on-screen violence, but because this story is as much about the base, mundane and earthly struggles of just getting through life, as much as it was about high magic and lofty pursuits and championing the greater good.
Two last details I must mention: the musical score is gorgeous, with a couple of stunning songs by Enya (one of them written in elvish!) Although there are a couple of moments where the syrupy Hollywood-style "swelling strings" threaten to overwhelm an intense emotional moment, it is still a more tasteful soundtrack than most these days. I also found it wonderful to finally hear people speaking the elvish language Tolkien conceived... with the earthy cadence of Irish and the guttural tongue-twirling sounds of the East, its mysterious sound (supplemented by subtitles!) adds another layer of imagination and intricacy to this excellent adaptation. The Fellowship of the Ring is a moving, masterful adaptation of Tolkien's inimitable story, and a cinematic tour de force in its own right.
Media Coordinator - The Witches' Voice
Saturday, December 22nd., 2001
Email: [Staff Email]
"There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us." Walt Kelly
Article ID: 3769
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 5,834
Times Read: 17,731
Location: Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
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