Newsweek LOTR review
- Here's the whole thing (and again, the "last Homely House" becomes a =city=):
A ‘Ring’ to Rule the Screen
Peter Jackson’s fierce, imaginative movie takes high-flying risks and
inspires with its power and scale
By David Ansen
Dec. 10 issue — First, let me tell you where I’m coming from. Before I saw
“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” I didn’t know the
difference between an orc and an elf, or what Middle-earth was in the middle
of. This review is coming to you from a Tolkien-free zone. I went in to
Peter Jackson’s movie—the first of a trilogy—with no preconceptions. I came
out, three hours later, sorry I’d have to wait a year to see what happens
next in Frodo Baggins’s battle against the Dark Lord, Sauron, and thinking a
trip to the bookstore to pick up “The Two Towers” might be in order.
THE MOVIE WORKS. It has real passion, real emotion, real terror,
and a tactile sense of evil that is missing in that other current movie
dealing with wizards, wonders and wickedness. Jackson’s fierce, headlong
movie takes high-flying risks: it wears its earnestness, and its heart, on
its muddy, blood-streaked sleeve. The actors look deep into each other’s
eyes and swear oaths in quasi-Shakespearean language that could, were it not
for the utter conviction with which it is played, topple over into the
After a dark and stormy prologue that explains the history of the
ring, we meet our hero, Frodo (Elijah Wood), and his mentor, the wizard
Gandalf (Ian McKellen), in bucolic Hobbiton. This first half hour is shaky:
you might feel you’ve been dragged to a Renaissance Faire where diminutive
hobbits cavort with less than contagious jollity.
One-hundred-eleven-year-old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), the current possessor
of Sauron’s ring, passes it on to Frodo and unknowingly puts the boy’s life
Tolkien’s mythic tale is both very simple and very intricate: in
order to save the world from evil, Frodo must return the ring to the fires
of Mount Doom where it was forged—for only there can it be destroyed. To
accomplish this, he must form a coalition among the races of
Middle-earth—elves, dwarfs, hobbits, wizards and humans—to battle the armies
of the Dark Lord. (Is there an echo here of our current world? If you hear
it, it lends this war movie an extra urgency.) With his multispecies band of
nine brothers—the Fellowship—Frodo sets out to the land of Mordor.
Jackson’s imagination quickens at the scent of evil, as anyone who
has seen his lurid horror-comedy “Dead Alive” or “Heavenly Creatures” knows.
“Fellowship” takes hold as soon as the spectral Black Riders appear, hot in
pursuit of Frodo and his three hobbit pals. Soon, there are festering-faced
orcs, brutal urik hai warriors and a deadly cave troll in the mines of
Moria. Jackson’s camera flies like a hawk, swooping and plunging into
breathtaking scenes of blood and destruction.
For the film’s design, Jackson turned to Tolkien book illustrators
Alan Lee and John Howe. The depiction of the landscapes, architecture and
creatures of evil is stunning. But when it comes to the depiction of the
good, the movie lapses into art nouveau kitsch. Cate Blanchett’s appearance
as a golden-locked elven queen is like pre-Raphaelite calendar art. The
elven city of Rivendell runs to Ye Olde Antique Shoppe. Jackson isn’t the
first artist to be more inspired by darkness than light.
With his preternaturally wide eyes, his strong neck and his
dirt-caked fingernails, Woods makes an ideal hobbit hero, at once ethereal,
determined and funky. Jackson keeps his movie rooted in the earth—you can
almost smell the damp forests. Two of the most passionate performances come
from Viggo Mortensen as the courageous Aragorn and Sean Bean as the
conflicted warrior Boromir. McKellen is a playfully magisterial Gandalf, and
he is pitted against no less a foe than Christopher Lee as wizard turned bad
This is a violent movie—too violent for little ones—and there are
moments more “Matrix” than medieval. Yet it transcends cheap thrills; we
root for the survival of our heroes with a depth of feeling that may come as
a surprise. The movie keeps drawing you in deeper. Unlike so many overcooked
action movies these days, “Fellowship” doesn’t entertain you into a stupor.
It leaves you with your wits intact, hungry for more.
© 2001 Newsweek, Inc.
- At 05:07 PM 12/2/2001 , David Ansen of Newsweek wrote:
>I cameOK, so he does know about books. And he also knows how to spell "Baggins".
>out, three hours later, sorry I'd have to wait a year to see what happens
>next in Frodo Baggins's battle against the Dark Lord, Sauron, and thinking a
>trip to the bookstore to pick up "The Two Towers" might be in order.
In that case I'll forgive him any residual infelicity in his phrasing.
From the review's full criticisms of the Good (the Shire and Lorien),
combined with the lengthy background article that Joan posted a link to, I
am torn between wondering whether the problems lie in the reviewer's
tastes, or in Jackson's being unable to convey Tolkien's sense of good as
well as he does Tolkien's sense of evil.
Which only increases my desire to see it and judge for myself.