Submitted by Gobo:
This has been a frustrating Christmas. On top of the possible "you dont have a job" issue coming early 2002, the fact that I've had a gun pulled on me, and my apartment broken into on Christmas Day (I'll explain that one later), half of Sydney is on fire thanks to morons who think don't realise arson is no longer in. Mind you, I'm not one against immolation of certain suburbs (start with mine, it may make it more attractive to prospective renters) but it's kind of unfortunate timing, what with the smoke and all.
Escaping to the solace of the boxing day cinema, I settle in to see Fellowship of the Ring and guess what? It's not longer cool to be tall. You heard it here first: 2002 will be year of the shrimp. I also had to put up with what I can only think of as half a cinema full of daytrippers from the local spastic (sorry, 'lack of mental retardation challenged') home who at the end of the (first part of a trilogy) got all pissed off. The bitching and moaning, it's like noone knew its a trilogy. THERE'S ONLY BEEN ABOUT 5 MILLION DOLLARS WORTH OF ADVERTISING THE FACT IT IS EVERYWHERE YOU LOOK. LOSERS. Best comment I heard was from some typical scrub 'girl': "Ohfuckinwhaaaat? Now eye'll hafta read the farrrkin book!'. It was all I can do not to reply: "if you can read the book, hicktard, that's a lot of dole dollars."
You just know Fellowship will irritate the living shit out of those hardcore book fans. You know, the freaks who wear cloaks, write letters to each other in elvish and think it's cool to call Crown Lager 'mead' and waitresses 'serving wenches'. It JRR Tolkien wasn't dead, he'd probably have a heart attack to see how sincerely and anally some people have taken the worship of his books. Luckily for the less rectally retentive, Fellowship is a good compromise between what can be for many a mind-numbing read ("a bunch of faggots singing songs every fourth page" ™ Mode2) and an over-simplified butchery of a classic (which no-one could accuse it of being, except aforementioned hardcore medieval looo-who---sers).
Let's establish my Tollkien credentials for the more Lord of the Rings-sensitive out there. I've read the whole book cover-to-cover maybe five times in the last 15 years. It's been a whiile, but I like the book's complexity, and it's pretty much spoilt most fantasy stuff for me as I inevitably find myself drawing comparisons to it. That's not to say it's to everyone's taste. No matter what the uberfans tell you, it is complex, some parts are quite dull, the narrative drifts around a bit, and kick that trilogy shiz to the kerb, if you take it as one long book, it's a a freakin' mission read. I know most of the chain of events in the story, and recall all the characters who do anything meaningful, and so I feel I'm qualified to comment on how the first part of the trilogy has gone.
Firstly, it's not a hollywood regulation 90 min jobbie, no sir. Coming in at around 3 hrs, the first time you see it you'll rack your brains trying to figure out when the end of the movie comes. This is because much to the hardcore's dismay, they seem to have rejigged the narrative of the story somewhat, making the square peg of the book fit into a celluloid pigeonhole.
And you know what? It works! Director Jackson has also taken liberty with some of the events of the book, and definitely has had a good time putting things in a more chronologically-friendly order, but by and large it is the book.
The parts that the hardcore monkeys will hate are pretty easy to spot. That's because it's the same parts that make the movie easy to watch. They won't like the rearrangement of the story to make each part of the movie more friendly to non-readers. The liberty that Jackson has taken with certain events will also rub them up the wrong way, but at least in the case of Fellowship, they have resisted the urge to fuck with the characters behaviour. That's right - the guys who do make a difference in the book are properly represented on film, and a surprisingly good job has been done in making them act how they 'should' without slavishly sticking to every line in the book.
The really smart part, and what is likely to be a big bone of contention amongst fans is that Jackson has ripped out the 'nice background but hardly imperative to moving the story forward' parts that do tend to fill out the book. At three hours for the 'cut down to movie size' version of Fellowship, he probably had to. This means that all that crap about the different family shit about the hobbbits is gone, all the drama about the Sackville-Bagginses and Bag End is out. It's a safe bet that in the closing part of the trilogy that the extended ending offered by the boys going back to "clean up the shire" after accomplishing their mission is likely to not be in the film (oops did I give away the end? I know it's such a spoiler - FORCES OF EVIL DO NOT CONQUER THE EARTH (or Middle Earth in this case) IN HOLLWOOD MOVIE STOP CALL THE PRESS STOP)
The story prune action is not all sweetness and light though. Some highly suspect stuff has been wiped that provides some context later on. The decision to paint Saruman as the bad guy immediately makes sense as a complexity-reduction mechanism, but reduces the shock value later on. The barrow-wight attack on the hobbits and Tom Bombadil aren't present, having been replaced with a spectacular sequence with the Nazgul (don't I sound authoritative?) attacking the hobbits in what looks like the barrow wight tomb. Bombadil's affinity with Nature is important later on in the trilogy, so it will be interesting to see how that is managed.
Normally in an undertaking like this which despite what some may say, does do a good job of projecting the spirit and the story, you pay the price with some second rate acting or budget effects. Not so in Fellowship. Sure, a lot of locations look like they're enhanced versions of Xena sets, but their scope and cunning merging with computer effects makes it a spectacular watch. The acting is first quality. Elijah Wood, who plays Frodo is utterly believeable, even if he's that most unlikely of things - a shortarse pretty boy. Ian McKellen's Gandalf is also well done, although he seems a miniscule amount softer than the books powerful wizard. The other hobbits are suitably wacky/stoic/funny, and the elves are definitely on the money - Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett both encapsulate the oft stern, ethereal quality of Tolkien's elves without trying to hog the show..
The big highlight though, (and in a marketing-mad world it should be no surprise) is Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn, who is simply right on the mf money. Not only does he look utterly like how you'd expect, but he's done a startling job of bringing Aragorn's human depth and conflict to a movie with so much emphasis on the progression of events and employment of effects. Boromir too is a delight to behold, and as you watch (just like in the book) you'll move from annoyance to fear to admiration and finally to pity as you watch his fate play out.
The effects on display are magic, and when this baby hits DVD it's going to be special and then some. It's amazing how much computer effects continue to evolve. It's gone from being able to spot casually when CGI is being used to a much more subtle affair. Now you'll find yourself identifying sequences more by their scope and what is unfolding on screen rather than by sketchy telltales. Massive panoramas of battlefields and memorable sweeping cuts of the movie's key locations are staggeringly well executed, and the battle sequence in the opening narative is sharp and a masterpiece of creativity and editing.
The bad guys are also fantastic. The orcs are ugly bastards, Sauron looks badass as fuck, but despite a fantastic buildup, the Balrog just isn't... evil enough. There's not nearly enough fear factor present, which is a shame, as Gandalf vs the Balrog is both the climax of the book and the film..
The main problem that Fellowship (and likely, it's two sequels) faces is that it's probably going to fall between two main demographics. The hardcore Tolkien freaks will hate the fact that it streamlines the narrative and seemingly changes for no real reason some events of the book. The casual cinemagoer will see the movie length, the fact that it's part one of a trilogy (and hence no real hurry to see it now as it's got a couple of years until completion) and not break their neck to see it. Obviously the film distributors are aware of this, and have attempted to compensate by throwing out a simply massive advertising campaign complete with merchandising blitz. One hopes they succeed - Fellowship is a rewarding and excellent way of introducing new readers to the book, and is a fine tale in its own right.
If the two follow-up movies turn out to be of this quality, this will for most be an accessible and superb testament to the books. Go see it.