Part 1 of The Lord of The Rings Trilogy
The Lord of The Rings, a novel by JRR Tolkien, was written over a long period during the 20th Century. Early source material dates back as far as 1917 and the book itself was first published as three volumes from 1954 to 1955.
The film rights were originally sold by Tolkien to fund the education of his grandchildren and the first plan was to produce a live action movie. Unfortunately, the scale of the project and the scope of the special effects required prevented this from happening. Instead, an animated film was produced of just half the complete work, which, while ground-breaking in its approach, died an unhappy death at the box office.
Making the Film
The film was directed by Peter Jackson and produced by Jackson and Barrie M Osborne. The screenplay was by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson.
Born and raised in New Zealand, it was only natural for Jackson to choose New Zealand as the location for shooting this project. Startling scenery and large areas of undeveloped land were required to produce the appearance of a bygone age.
Unusually though Jackson took the decision to make the entire book, all three volumes, in one long and gruelling production schedule. Completion of the project depended heavily on the success of the first film - thankfully, the film's reception was more than sufficient to fund the rest of the films.
The Lord of the Rings is essentially a fictional myth, or fantasy, considered by many to be the greatest novel of the 20th Century. The plot focuses on the adventures of a small group of hobbits, especially one Frodo Baggins, in their quest to rid Middle-Earth of the One Ring.
The One Ring, the Ruling Ring, is sought by its maker the Dark Lord, Sauron, who seeks to conquer the world. The hobbits are aided in their quest by a variety of other characters, including a diverse group of companions who become known as The Fellowship of the Ring.
This film covers the period from when Frodo acquires the ring from his Uncle Bilbo, his flight from the Shire to Rivendell and concludes with the breaking of the Fellowship on the banks of the river Anduin.
The scenery is excellent and provides an beautiful backdrop to the development of the film. Clearly Jackson has allowed himself to be influenced by the many illustrators inspired by the book. The dialogue also owes much to the original text of the book, with many classic lines and adaptations or re-wordings coming close enough to pass casual scrutiny. The basic plot is well developed with a useful introduction showing the origin of the One Ring and tracing its history through to its chance discovery by Uncle Bilbo. The principal characters are also well established, with some nice comic moments in amongst the high drama.
The casting is good, even excellent for some parts, with Sir Ian McKellen turning in a strong performance, while Elijah Wood brings just the right amount of innocence to the role of Frodo.
Overall the special effects are brilliantly executed. The seamless shrinking of actors playing the hobbits alongside the other characters is very well done and Gandalf's fireworks are nothing less than spectacular. However by far the best sequence is the passage through the Mines of Moria. Also watch out for Frodo's altered perceptions when he dons the ring.
As a note to parents, although the violence is graphic, it is not gory.
The film is long (186 minutes) and appears drawn out in some sections, notably the time spent in Rivendell. It compensates in other areas though with vast distances covered very quickly.
It may appear on first inspection that parts of the film are over-acted. However as a counter to this it should be noted that at times the book itself can become irritating when characters start trading clichés. It should also be remembered that Tolkien planned The Lord of The Rings and his other great work, The Silmarillion, along the lines of mythology. These books were written in a style derived from those of Beowulf, The Iliad, etc that carries through to the style adopted in the film.
This is an epic tale that will draw audiences, particularly among older children and those who can remember reading the book as a teenager.
Variations From The Book
Inevitably, the film does not faithfully follow the storyline of the book. The main areas of change though occur in the early sequences as Frodo flees from the Shire, pursued relentlessly by the Nine, the Nazgul or Ringwraiths.
A nice touch and tribute to Tolkien is the consistent use of original artwork. All of the maps including Thorin's map from the Hobbit appear exactly as in the books. Even the drawing of the gates of Moria has been followed faithfully.
Sections missing are the trek through the Old Forest, the meeting with Tom Bombadil (an enigmatic character in the book) and the Barrow Downs.
Some of the Tale of Arwen and Aragorn has been included. Arwen adopts a more dynamic role subsuming the role of Glorfindel and is oddly shown summoning the waters of the Bruinen to dispose of the Ringwraiths. In addition, Aragorn seems to be portrayed as a King in exile, full of doubts and reluctant to pursue his destiny.
The formation of the Fellowship at Rivendell is troublesome, but reasonably contrived nonetheless. Some oddities stand out though; Bilbo and Gloin are absent from the council, Legolas is well-known (as though a resident of Rivendell) and Aragorn is already known of by Boromir.
Saruman plays a more significant part in the film with Gandalf's pleas for assistance culminating in a wizard battle in the tower of Orthanc at Isengard. This comes across as an improvement over the narrative provided by Gandalf at the Council of Elrond.
The passage through Moria provides a well-developed opportunity to display good quality special effects, although some purists will no doubt be disappointed at the appearance of the Balrog, particularly the wings. Gollum also makes a brief appearance and the eyes are particularly realistic.
The passage through Lothlorien is brief and the boat trip down Anduin uneventful, conveying little of the torment felt by Boromir.
Finally, the breaking of the Fellowship is a little disappointing, with Frodo virtually packed off to Mordor by Aragorn in the midst of a battle with the Uruk-Hai.
Not another Star Wars, but a lot better than it could have been. Jackson has treated the story with care and although this is clearly his interpretation, enough of Tolkien's original imagination shines through to make this worth seeing.