The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Directed by Peter Jackson

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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Long ago, man shared the world with elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, and Hobbits. Sauron, an ancient enemy of all good beings, forged a magical ring with which he sought to enslave the world, but he lost it when his finger was severed in battle. Defeated and reduced to a disembodied spirit, Sauron hid himself, searched for the ring, and rebuilt his empire. Eventually, the ring came into the possession of a Hobbit, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood). Now, with a group of companions, the Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo must set out on a quest to cast the ring into the fires of a volcano at the heart of Sauron's kingdom.

Filled with entertaining characters, stunning sets, and exhilarating conflicts, Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is often a wondrous, engaging movie. It is not, however, without a number of flaws, and these do occasionally diminish its capacity to enthrall the viewer.

The story the director tells is well paced, frequently fascinating, and enlivened with intriguing details, thrilling adventures, and numerous touching incidents. Whether he is depicting the gentle lives of the Hobbits, the Fellowship's dangerous trek across the wilderness, their passage through orc infested underground warrens, or their entrance into some Elvish kingdom, Jackson relates such a magical tale that he is often able to bewitch the viewer with the vision he has conjured up.

Fortunately, the characters around whom this narrative revolves are usually well enough crafted that they add to its charm. The heroes are, for the most part, sympathetic, nicely realized, and appealing persons, and their enemies are utterly evil, horrific, cruel beings, whose wickedness and monstrosity are brilliantly evoked. Most of these individuals are, as a result, both captivating and involving.

Peter Jackson has, regrettably, decided to use two of his characters, Merry and Pippin, to inject humor into the film. Instead of being amusing, however, the pair are constantly annoying. Other attempts at comedy, including a dreadfully unfunny reference to dwarf tossing, are equally inept and greatly detract from the quality of the film. There is no reason why an epic movie should not incorporate light-hearted moments, but nothing Jackson has included is comical, which is odd considering the humorousness of some of the director's prior efforts, as Meet the Feebles and Bad Taste.

Visually, the film is also uneven. The costumes are largely nicely realized, but the sets are not consistently successful. Some, as those used to create Hobbiton at the movie's beginning and the Mines of Moria later, are genuinely beautiful. Hobbiton is charming and homely, while the Mines are grand and terrible. Other set designs, unfortunately, are less impressive. The interiors of Rivendell, for example, include an astonishing wealth of tacky resin sculptures and abysmal paintings. I half expected to see collectable Elvis plates displayed in some corner. The style of painting used on such plates is very similar to that seen on Elvish walls.

The computer generated exteriors of Rivendell are, however, nicely realized and genuinely attractive. They are, moreover, hardly the only such images that are likely to impress the viewer. Some of these are truly awe inspiring, others are charming and lovely, and still others are utterly repellent. The Balrog, the fiery demon the Fellowship encounters in Moria, for example, is magnificently horrifying. It is undoubtedly one of film's most inventive and terrifying monsters.

In fact, the different elements included in The Fellowship of the Ring are, by and large, satisfying. While some of the acting in the movie is mediocre, much of it is very good. Ian McKellen, who plays the wizard Gandalf, is particularly enjoyable to watch. The backgrounds against which the events of the film are set are frequently absolutely stunning, and the action sequences are consistently engaging. Most are so skillfully imbued with excitement and heroism that the viewer is likely to be completely enthralled by them. Whatever its flaws, these various details do greatly contribute to the movie's overall quality.

While its faults keep The Fellowship of the Ring from being a great movie, Jackson has given the film an epic feel and allows the viewer to savor the heroism of its various characters.

Review by Keith Allen

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