This is a retro-post. I put this online 24 December 2005 using the date it was originally sent out.
Lord of the Rings — Part One (The Movie Review)
Well, this movie is one I had been waiting for a very long time. My expectations were unobtainable and possibly unreasonable. My fear of being let down increased as the release grew near. Upon its release my hopes grew a little as reviews that were nothing short of perfect rolled in. ‘Flawless’ raved CNN, ‘Perfect’ exclaimed the Daily Mail, and all the reviews were nothing short of spectacular. I was at least confident it would be tolerable. Still, I was nervous.
I finally saw it today, my premiere viewing delayed by a brief bout with the flu. Let me begin by saying this was the shortest three-hour movie I’ve ever seen. It should have been another one hour or perhaps even two hours longer. Much was left out, though my chief complaint of omission was the barrow-wight scene. Others, such as Tom Bombadil, were mercifully excised. None of this should be taken as a complaint, there are merely observations.
Let’s start with my complaints, first, and get them out of the way. They aren’t many, but they are serious..
First, the omission of the complete Ring Poem from the film is an unforgivable sin. Sure, every fan knows it by heart. (I don’t mean the one ring part, but the entire thing of the 3, 7, and 9). It deserved to be there. Period. Also at the council of Elrond, Gandalf (in the book) utters the inscription in Sauron’s own tongue to dramatic effect. I am at a loss as to how this could be missing from the film, though if you listen carefully, you can hear it being chanted quietly whenever they zoom in on the ring. I still can recite the entire ring inscription in the original tongue from memory after over 20 years.
The casting was remarkable, perhaps one of the best casting jobs of all time. My complaints reside with Liv Tyler’s character (Arwen) and Cate Winslett (Galadriel). I excuse Miss Tyler because she acted the role as written, though I dispute changing Arwen’s character in such a drastic fashion: this was not a sin of bad acting or casting, but of writing. The character of Galadriel was ruined. She was, a beautiful, gentle, dignified, lady. In the movie she was an arrogant, snotty, bitch from hell. The writing for her character was bad and the acting was worse. Elrond didn’t look the part, being too dark and gaunt to play an elf, but I have no complaints about the writing or acting.
There are some significant errors. Arwen doesn’t rescue the party before they cross the forge to Rivendell. It is Glorfindel. The eye of Sauron cannot see into the Mirror of Galadriel. It specifically says this in the book, yet the movie shows quite the opposite. The ending has the events all out of order, I assume due to artistic license, but this isn’t as bad since it ends up alright. Upon departing from Galadriel, all the members are given a gift. Only Frodo’s is shown. This will create grave problems in the next book for it is Sam’s gift of the rope that enables them to hold Gollum in the next book. I wonder how they’ll reconcile that.
I thought the fight between Gandalf and Saruman, while technically accurate looked really stupid. It just didn’t work, at least not for me.
Lastly, I must talk of continuity. While one may say the details of their hike to the ford didn’t require the book’s ongoing a slowly deliberate description of the bugs and sounds of the night, it served to slow the pace down. The dread slowly increased instead of suddenly appeared. The movie moved too quickly in many scenes like this.
That sums up my complaints. Now, let us move on to the positives. The film, simply put, is a work of art. CNN called it the most perfect movie made since Gone With The Wind and that may be so. If you don’t compare it to the book, you’ll find only the scene with Galadriel rings false. This movie is well directed, well-acted, well shot. This film will win the Oscar for cinematography. I have seen nothing this good since, well, Gone With The Wind. The costuming was superb. The score was decent, though perhaps not an Oscar contender. Tolkien’s mythology was pulled from the Norse and not Celtic, though the music had a rustic Celtic bent to it, and although I enjoyed it, it was very out of place.
Elijah Wood is pretty, and I don’t mean just as Frodo. There I’ve said it. One ought not describe a man as pretty, but he is pretty. That is a fortunate comparison because of the constant camera dwelling on his face throughout the film. There is no man more suited to play a hobbit on this planet than Elijah Wood. He is Frodo. You believe it from the instant you see him. There is no doubt, no disbelief. I am not a fan of ‘pretty’ male actors, but it works here beyond all measures of expectations. If making the audience believe a character is a reason for an Oscar, he wins. Hands down. On many levels you can easily fall in love with this Frodo.
Aragorn/Strider (Viggo Mortensen) is a man’s man. A Sean Connery type, if you will. I probably would never have picked the actor they chose to play this part, but it works. Revealing he was Aragorn Son of Arathorn so early really took away thunder from what should have been a dramatic moment.
Legolas (Orlando Bloom), is supposed to be an elf, and if you envision an elf, this is what he’d look like. Almost effete in his characteristics, yet not feminine in any way. Gentle but strong. Quiet but noticeable.
Gimili (John Rhys-Davies), Boromir (Sean Bean), Samwise (Sean Astin), Meriadoc (Dominic Monaghan), and Pippin (Billy Boyd) were all also well done. These characters are more one dimensional so harder to comment on. Bilbo is very complex, but in this movie he’s but a bit player, but well done.
Saruman (Christopher Lee), was the only character I stopped and noticed the actor and not the character. But I’ve never been a fan of Saruman’s character, so I will not say anything about this. He looked the part, that’s for sure. Bony, spiny, and oozing evil.
Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Wow. Simply amazing. Beyond words. Frodo and Gandalf stole this movie. Besides the fact it is their movie, they own this film. If seeing is believing, I am a convert. In an interesting side note, McKellen made some humorous remarks about his sexual orientation and his being cast as Gandalf. I’ve lost the article (it was in a UK Paper) and I’ll update this review as soon as I find it.
It is no secret I am a huge fan of Sauron. I wrote my senior thesis in High School on Sauron (and got a perfect paper). I am always going to the most critical of his portrayal. Tolkien was very vague about his description in Lord of the Rings. He was always described behind shadow, dark. His form was never made clear (though in the Silmarillion this is expanded upon). I did not like the fact the movie gave shape to his form. I will say that it is still relatively accurate nonetheless.
The Ringwraiths were good but not great. If you want a proper one, see the much-maligned animated version of LOTR. Tolkien specifically describes them as riding regular black horses (not war steeds) and as being men in dark cloaks. They were overdone in the film. Yet, they still gave me the chills for they indeed radiated evil despite their inaccuracies. I am picking at nits here.
The Balrog is not well described in anything Tolkien ever wrote, however fans picture him much as a Minotaur with wings. Every picture of him I’ve even seen shows him this, and that is how the film portrays him, only magnified in terror a hundred times. Well done. The Balrog is reborn.
The Orcs and Uruk-Hai were also well done. There’s not much to say. Tolkien himself drew pictures of them so little is left to the imagination. Still they were lifelike and that was key.
Languages. Hearing proper Elfish spoken sent chills up my spine every time. The attention to detail on this warrants huge kudos.
Let us speak of the initial reacting I had upon seeing the shire. I suppose most people said ‘Cool’ or ‘Awesome’ or were rendered entirely speechless. My reaction was most odd. It was like going back to somewhere I’ve been before. It was a homecoming for me. This is significant because I was ready to lambast this world, and yet I find no fault with it. The world itself is completely and utterly flawless. Only the inhabitants of the world have flaws. The level of achievement this represents is indescribable.
This may, indeed, be one of the most perfect films ever made. Yes, I have many quibbles with it. But, despite them all, it is a damned fine film. An amazing film, a work of art, destined to be a classic. On a scale of 1 to 10. A solid 9, maybe a 9.5 after I’ve digested it.
The filmmakers have a rough battle retaining their viewers in the second part (and the weakest of the three books) to get to the smashing finale.