Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours, 58 min.
Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 5; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it;then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved.
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
By now you know, even if you have not seen it, that Peter Jackson’s epic film version of Tolkien’s novel is pretty faithful to the original work. Set in the distant past when elves, dwarves, wizards and other legendary inhabited what he called Middle Earth, it is a classic tale of the battle between Good and Evil. The plot concerns the attempt of a band of eight sturdy adventurers charged with setting forth upon a perilous adventure. In most quest stories the heroes go forth to obtain an object that will become a boon. Tolkien has his hero already in possession of the object, but it is anything but a boon—it is a ring that has become the focus of evil in the world, and therefore must be destroyed. This can be done only within the fiery mountain in which it was forged, located at the very heart of the domain of the evil Sauron, who has sent forth his dark servants to recover it. With the ring in his possession, Sauron will be able to complete his plans to conquer the world.
The hero of most quests is a stalwart warrior, such as Jason leading his Argonauts, or Sir Galahad questing for the Grail. Again, Tolkien departs from the norm by setting forth as the Ring Bearer a Hobbit named Frodo. Standing little over four feet high, gentle little Frodo would much prefer to live peacefully at home to traveling the dangerous byways of far off lands. Along with the creation of the first Harry Potter film, I think we are witnessing the beginning of a classic series of films that will appeal to viewers of any age, as long as they hold onto and nourish evergreen imaginations.
Like most fans of the books, I rejoice that Peter Jackson has filmed not only the first, but most of the other two parts of the trilogy as well. This gives us something to look forward with keen anticipation to the years 2002 and 2003. In the meantime, we have the first film to savor and enjoy. For those who have not availed themselves yet of the privilege of reading the books, we provide the following annotated list of characters that should help keep in mind the many major characters of the epic.
Frodo Baggins (Elijah Woods), a Hobbit or Halfling, nephew of Bilbo Baggins, the hero of the first adventure, The Hobbit.
Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), the ancient wizard, friend, and sometimes companion, first of Bilbo, and now of Frodo.
Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin), Frodo’s gardener who accompanies him and becomes his most loyal supporter and friend.
Aragorn, first known as Strider (Viggo Mortensen), descendent of an ancient line of kings and now a wandering defender against the rising powers of darkness.
Legolas (Orlando Bloom), noble elf warrior who joins up with Frodo and company.
Borimir (Sean Bean), the warrior eldest son of Denethor, Steward of Gandor, the kingdom in the southern realm of Middle Earth.
Pippin, a.k.a. Peregrin Took 9Billy Boyd), a Hobbit and close friend of Frodo, who becomes a member of the Ring Fellowship.
Merry, a.k.a. Meriadoc Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan), cousin of Pippin and member of the FOR.
Gimli 9John Rhys-Davies), the ax-wielding Dwarf warrior and member of the FOR.
Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), whose finding of the evil ring is chronicled in Tolkien’s first book The Hobbit, and who bequeaths it and most of his possessions to his nephew Frodo when he goes off to write his memoirs.
Suriman the White (Christopher Lee), once the wisest of wizards but now corrupted by the evil power of Sauron.
Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Founder and Lord of Rivendell, the abode of the elves, he calls the council at which Frodo and his companions are constituted as the Fellowship of the Ring.
Arwen (Liv Tyler), daughter of Galadriel and beloved of Aragorn.
Galadriel (Kate Blanchett), whose name means “Lady of Light,” queen of the Elves, gives a special gift to each of the FOR members.
Celebron (Marton Csokas), husband of Galadriel and member of the Council.
Gollum/Smeagol (Andy Serkis), a Hobbit transformed into a grotesque creature by his evil lusts that led him to murder his cousin for possession of the Ring. Losing it long ago to Bilbo, he plots to regain it from Frodo.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, created what many regard as the greatest fantasy epic of the 20th Century. So complex are its many plots and subplots, and so awesome its scenery and spectacular battle scenes, that his publisher decided that it must be printed as a three-volume work. Few thought it could ever be brought successfully to the screen. Their doubts were born out by animator Ralph Bakshi’s confusing version in 1978 (I remember watching this at the time, totally dependent upon my Tolkien-loving daughter Rebecca to orient me as to who was who and what important events were left out so as to be able to make sense of the jumbled scenes we were watching!) Now, however, the right man has come along that possesses both the love of Tolkien’s work and the skill to adapt it to the screen.
In what must have been one of the largest efforts in cinema history, New Zealander Peter Jackson has filmed not one, but all three of the Ring adventures, thus insuring the continuity of actors and support staff for all three films. The first of the three films more than justifies the huge financial gamble that relatively small New Line Cinema took in backing the project. Just as the Harry Potter films have thrilled youth and young-at-heart adults, LOR is thrilling adults, both those who have cherished the novels for 50 years, and those who are new to the wonders of Middle Earth.
The film has a Prologue, helpful for those new to Tolkien, that recapitulates the evil history of the Ring, as well as referring to incidents in The Hobbit. It was Bilbo Baggins who first found the ring and kept it hidden away for many years, unaware of its evil nature. Because of its great power, he has both lived longer than most Hobbits and withstood the ravages of the aging process. The present story opens in the peaceful Hobbit land called the Shire, with preparations for Bilbo’s eleventieth birthday party, at the height of which he departs for a far off realm to work on his book. Bilbo has named his loving nephew Frodo his heir, with the ring being a part of the inheritance. But Frodo will not get to enjoy his uncle’s cozy house for long, because the fearful black riders are abroad seeking to find the Ring for their master Sauron, the brutal Lord of Darkness whose power will become supreme when he regains possession of the Ring.
Gandalf the wizard, a friend of both Bilbo and Frodo, instructs his little charge to leave home with the Ring. Already sinister, black-robed creatures are approaching the Shire to learn the whereabouts of the Ring. Thus Frodo sets out, accompanied by his faithful gardener Sam, and his best friends Merry and Pippin. Soon they are joined by the mighty human warriors Aragorn and Borimir, the elf warrior Legolas, and the fierce dwarf Gimli. The action scarcely lets up, with many perilous adventures besetting our band at break-neck speed. And yet, director Jackson, knows when to let up the pace, coming in close to the characters when they exchange thoughts and fears (several times the distraught Frodo admits that he wishes he had never encountered the Ring). During a moment of overwhelming grief, we are drawn into the sorrow of the company. Though filled with spectacular special effects, these do not overwhelm the story and its focus upon the relationship of the characters and their struggle to overcome their well-founded fears. Both movie and novel celebrate this struggle, reminding us, even as the events in New York on 911, that heroism is not the sole possession of the powerful, but can arise in the bosom of the smallest of creatures.
Joseph Campbell would have loved this adaptation, I am sure, so well does it incarnate his beloved theme of the Hero’s Journey. Only this time, as pointed out earlier, the perilous quest is not in order to obtain a talisman or special object, but to destroy one. Possessing the Ring is more dangerous than the quest itself. Tolkien has a deep understanding of the power of evil to appear as good, thereby corrupting even a good person who seeks it. Indeed, Lord of the Rings can be seen as an object lesson on Temptation, a Midrash of the two great Temptation stories in the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures found in Genesis 3 and the 4th chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Bilbo himself, at the moment when he is to hand over the Ring to his nephew, has to struggle against the dark impulse to keep it for personal gain. Gandolf solemnly urges Frodo never to use it himself before destroying it. The wizard refuses to bear the Ring because he knows that, despite his powers of magic, he would succumb to its evil powers, even as its previous owners had, to their everlasting regret and sorrow.
There were those who wanted to read into the trilogy the events of WW2, and then later, of the struggle against Communism, but the author always rejected any such allegorizing of his works. He did no agree with his fellow Inkling, C.S. Lewis, that Christian theology should be presented in this way. Tolkien’s work is pure fantasy, with no references to God, nor did he create any ancient form of religion (as in George Lucas’ “Star Wars’). This is up to the reader to provide, though in his novel Tolkien does infer that there is something, or Someone, underling the seen world, when Gandolf, speaking of the series of events in the passing of the Ring from hand to hand, tells Frodo: “Behind that there was something else at work beyond any design of the Ring maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, p.81.)
Another good scene worth reflecting upon, the first of many laments by Frodo: To Frodo’s wish that he had not come into possession of the Ring nor experienced the fearful events that threaten to destroy them, Gandolf replies, “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us…”