The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring
My Rating:

A grand masterwork of cinema based on a grand masterwork of fantasy literature.
Add 1/4 star if you are way into Tolkien.
Add 1/4 star if you are way into special FX.
Subtract 1/4 star if you don't like scary movies, for this is, in fact, a scary movie.

Bitable Bytes:
"The grandiosity of the film matches well the grandiosity of the book!"
"The monsters are great! Boo! Scary!"
"Lay back and enjoy it!"

What to do while watching:
This is really going to depend on who is doing the watching. I found myself comforting the Mrs., who found it scary.

What to eat while watching:
Funyuns. (Am I spelling that correctly?)

Seeing Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings on the big screen, I could say almost nothing besides "Wow." That's because I saw it with an old college buddy who celebrated our reunion with his customary bong-load in his van just before we went into the theater. Not having much in common anymore, I thought seeing the film together would be a good neutral activity; and the contact high that I got before the movie added something, I think, to that feeling of being engulfed that movies give you--especially movies like this. Thus, "Wow."

On a smaller screen, it's harder to feel engulfed, so film aspects like plot, character, and pacing take some of the focus from aspects like special effects, costumes, and sets. On the big screen, I really wanted to be at Rivendell, elf stronghold, doing the gavotte with all those pompous-yet-gorgeous creatures. On the small screen, I noticed that the story is basically one big chase scene. Still, the grandiosity of the film matches well the grandiosity of the book; the effort to translate the realized vision of the books onto the visual plane successfully drapes the whole endeavor in a great deal of flash (and marketing hype, by the way).

Many people know that J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a detailed series of books about an astonishingly fleshed-out world called Middle Earth. From my perspective as a junior-high Dungeons & Dragons player in 1980, Tolkien was the godfather of the fantasy genre. My hard-core friends didn't stop at The Lord of the Rings but would spend months poring over The Silmarilion (spelling unchecked), a dense Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers of the Middle Earth histories. My hard-core friends called me Bilbo, because all I read was The Hobbit.

In case you didn't know, Tolkien was a linguist, and so there is great care given to the creation of the languages of his fantasy races. There is not a lot of focus on subtlety of character, though. You'd never expect to see a Tolkien character to have a crisis of identity or to change in an unexpected way. Certainly Aragorn, played by a handsome actor whose name I just didn't feel like remembering or looking up, goes through a difficult bit of self-doubt; but as in most stories of good versus evil, the outcome is never really in doubt. But fantasy readers don't care so much about such things. For vivid fantasy worlds, there isn't a better ticket than the one from Mordor to Gondor by way of Mount Gundabad.

No, Lord of the Rings is really all about plot, especially on the television. It's one chase after another. Bilbo Baggins has spent his life being chased, and he passes the Ring of Power on to his nephew Frodo, who now gets to get chased. The dark forces of Sauron, a sort of Satan figure, are doing the chasing. Gandalf the Gray, a wizard of some repute is a valuable ally as is Samwise Jellybucket (or something like that) and Strider, AKA Aragorn and the elf guy who has an equally cool name. I forget all the names, because there are so many of them.

Even with all the variety, though, Lord boils down to one character, Frodo, an allegorical everyman, running from peril to peril, encountering friends, then enemies, then friends again. What makes the book move is the ornate trappings of fantasy, and what makes the movie move is the ornate trappings of movies, that is, special effects. The monsters are great! Boo! Scary! Orcs get ripped from bloody earth and drool black spit from between metallic fangs. A computer-animated ogre threatens the party of nine warriors just by being so huge and ugly. Little Frodo spends most of his time getting into scrapes that require him to be rescued. His main facial expression is fear and his main character dilemma is "Why me?"

Just as the experience of re-seeing this film on my home tube left me feeling unchanged after two and a half hours, the experience of writing this review seems a little aimless. I think that's because a review is beside the point. When you rent Lord of the Rings, you already know what you're in for. The tale is familiar and the cinematic style is typical in its use of dynamite production values. It's about being transported to a fantasy world. If you decide to take the trip, lay back and enjoy it.

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For your collection: The Lord of the Rings (Platinum Series Extended Edition Collector's Gift Set Classic Deluxe, Gandalf Level, Supra-DVD), The Lord of the Rings (Plain old VHS), The Lord of the Rings (1978) The animated version by Ralph Bakshi, which I will never forget for its musical numbers "Yo Ho, My Lads," "Where There's a Whip, There's a way," and "Frodo of the Nine Fingers (and the Ring of Doom)." I kid you not. Though not nearly as huge as Peter Jackson's version, Bakshi's is certainly fun and less scary. It also goes further through the storyline of Tolkien's trilogy, a good thing for those who can't wait for Jackson's next installment.

Gooden's listening to: Greg Brown's Covenant

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